Two great theological words are justification and sanctification. Justification refers to the judicial declaration of God. When a person believes in Christ, God declares them to be righteous. They are justified. “To the one … who believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Sanctification refers to the process of being made holy. Paul commands those in Rome, “Just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Romans 6:19).
Now, the order of these two words is of great importance. We are justified first. Then, we seek sanctification in our lives. In other words, through our faith in Jesus, God declares us to be righteous. We then respond in love to Him with efforts at sanctification, becoming more and more like Jesus.
Too often, people mess up the order of these two words. They think that they need to pursue sanctification first. Then, when God sees how good they are, He will justify them. But, this is totally wrong. This will lead to damnation.
The Biblical way is just the opposite. By grace, God forgives us of our sin and justifies us in His sight through the blood of Jesus. And our response is to seek Him and grow in our likeness to Him. Don’t mess up the order. It is justification then sanctification.