Switch and Dimmer image

Illustration of Justification and Sanctification

A while back an image formed in my mind that I thought would be helpful in illustrating an important theological concept.  The image is that of an electrical circuit; one containing both a switch and a variable resistor.  The theological concept that it illustrates is that of the distinction between “justification” and “sanctification.”

People, even theologians, often confuse the two.  This can be frustrating at best, or at worst it can obscure God’s gift of salvation.  This simple electrical concept makes a good analogy because you’ve likely seen it at work already in your own home.  A variable resistor is known in more common terms as a “dimmer switch.”  Whereas a simple switch only allows you to turn a light on or off, a dimmer allows you to make your lights bright or dim to your liking.   How can this example from electronics help illustrate the theological concepts of justification and sanctification?  To understand, let’s turn to the Bible …

  1. The act of God forgiving a person who has sinned, by their faith in the righteous life, suffering and death of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21) on their behalf is called “justification.” Read Romans 3:22-24. It clearly states that we all fall into this category, but it is God’s grace alone through the work of Jesus Christ that entitles us to be saved-or as the NIV text reads, “justified.” Romans 4:5 and Ephesians 2:8-9 further clarify that this justification is not based on any worthiness or merit of our own (see also Romans 3:28, Galatians 3:3). How the electrical circuit analogy helps us better understand this concept of justification is this: just as a simple switch is either on or off, so a person is either saved or condemned (Mark 16:16). There is no middle ground. Just as a woman cannot be only “somewhat pregnant,” we cannot only be “partially saved.”  This means, that their is nothing for us to add to our salvation, nor can we weaken it by our sins.
  2. It is important to note that the act of justification is not to be confused with the process of “sanctification.” Whereas justification (also referred to as salvation or conversion) is a one-time completed action, sanctification is an ongoing process. The Apostle Paul, as sanctified as he was, acknowledged that he had not attained perfection (Philippians 3:12); none of us ever will during this life. We can, however, strive to become more Christ-like in our actions (Philippians 3:10). This process is called sanctification. Sanctification can be stated in simple terms as “the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life” (Titus 3:5). Or, put another way, “my demonstration of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’” (Galatians 5:22-23). While our justification is not dependent upon us (Acts 16:31), mankind is entirely capable of embracing or resisting the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (John 14:15). It is our “resistance” to the Holy Spirit’s work that is represented by the dimmer!  You can think of it this way: the “light” of the Holy Spirit in your life is on because of your justification.   How brightly it shows in your life, however, is determined by how much you welcome or resist the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51).  In electrical terms, a bright light meets with little resistance from the dimmer switch, whereas a dim light encounters a high measure of resistance.

Now what does this mean for you? It means that because your salvation (justification) is dependent only upon the completed work of Jesus Christ, you need never fear that your earthly life and deeds are not good enough to get you into heaven!  John 3:16 says nothing about our works. Furthermore, you have the assurance that nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). You are secure.  And your ability to profess (and believe) “Jesus is Lord,” shows that you have the Holy Spirit in you (1 Corinthians 12:3).  This gift of salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then creates a life change in you that compels you to live according to God’s commands (Psalm 119:41-48).

It is great news that the Lord loves you just as you are (Romans 5:8)!  … But He loves you too much to leave you just as you are.  The Father justifies the sinner through His Son, and sanctifies the spiritually re-born “saint” (one made holy in Christ) through His Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit in you will continually work to conform you to the image of His Son Jesus until that day He calls you home!

If you want to better understand justification, sanctification, or the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, send me an email, give me a call, or stop by on Sunday!

In His Holy Name,

Pastor Augie