Justification is what happens when we first give our lives to the Lord and are reconciled to the Lord. It is being born-again. It is what happened at Billy Graham Crusades when people walked forward to repent and pray the sinners prayer.
Sanctification is the process by which, after being reconciled to God, Christians are progressively conformed to the image of Jesus. We all start at different places on the continuum toward Christlikeness, but all Christians should be moving in that direction.
Glorification occurs upon the Christian’s death and spiritual resurrection whereby the Christian is given a glorified body and enters into eternal life.
Unfortunately, evangelical Christianity has for too long been focused almost entirely on justification and, to a lesser extent, glorification. We have been quick to count how many people raise their hands or get baptized and less concerned about seeing them discipled and developed into Christlike human beings.
You may say, “So what? Isn’t their ‘salvation’ what is most important?”
The answer: “Most important to whom?”
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). God is not interested in merely populating heaven but in changing the world, and it is not the justified, but the sanctified, who change the world.
I just finished reading Eric Metaxes’s book, Bonhoeffer, and what struck me was how impotent, passive, and ineffective Christians were when it came to opposing Hitler and the atrocities committed by his government. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was different. He was a man well down the path of sanctification. He paid the ultimate price for his discipleship. The camp doctor at the concentration camp where the Nazi’s executed Bonhoeffer did not know at the time who he was watching but would write years later of Bonhoeffer:
I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.
Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship, is considered a classic, and God has used it to change many lives in no small part because the book’s author lived the life of a disciple. He was a man well down the path toward Christlikeness.
It is your sanctification, not your justification, that changes the world. GS