Justification, sanctification and salvation. Have you ever wondered what the difference between all of these terms were? I know I have. And when discussing important subjects defined by these terms, it is especially necessary to know the difference between them!
Also, particularly when discussing them with non-Catholics, it is very important to realize the other person may have a very different definition of the words being used. Such semantic confusion often results in additional and needless division.
Below are the definitions of each of these terms from the Modern Catholic Dictionary.
In biblical language the deliverance from straitened circumstances or oppression by some evil to a state of freedom and security. As sin is the greatest evil, salvation is mainly liberation from sin and its consequences. This can be deliverance by way of preservation, or by offering the means for being delivered, or by removing the oppressive evil or difficulty, or by rewarding the effort spent in cooperating with grace in order to be delivered. All four aspects of salvation are found in Scriptures and are taught by the Church.
Being made holy. The first sanctification takes place at baptism, by which the love of God is infused by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Newly baptized persons are holy because the Holy Trinity begins to dwell in their souls and they are pleasing to God. The second sanctification is a lifelong process in which a person already in the state of grace grows in the possession of grace and in likeness to God by faithfully corresponding with the divine inspirations. The third sanctification takes place when a person enters heaven and becomes totally and irrevocably united with God in the beatific vision.
The process of a sinner becoming justified or made right with God. As defined by the Council of Trent, “Justification is the change from the condition in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam into a state of grace and adoption among the children of God through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior” (Denzinger 1524). On the negative side, justification is a true removal of sin, and not merely having one’s sins ignored or no longer held against the sinner by God. On the positive side it is the supernatural sanctification and renewal of a person who thus becomes holy and pleasing to God and an heir of heaven.
The Catholic Church identifies five elements of justification, which collectively define its full meaning. The primary purpose of justification is the honor of God and of Christ; its secondary purpose is the eternal life of mankind. The main efficient cause or agent is the mercy of God; the main instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is called the “sacrament of faith” to spell out the necessity of faith for salvation. And that which constitutes justification or its essence is the justice of God, “not by which He is just Himself, but by which He makes us just,” namely sanctifying grace.
Depending on the sins from which a person is to be delivered, there are different kinds of justification. An infant is justified by baptism and the faith of the one who requests or confers the sacrament. Adults are justified for the first time either by personal faith, sorrow for sin and baptism, or by the perfect love of God, which is at least an implicit baptism of desire. Adults who have sinned gravely after being justified can receive justification by sacramental absolution or perfect contrition for their sins.