Regeneration, Justification, and Sanctification

by | Jan 1, 2007

We must make a clear distinction between regeneration and justification—the primal experiences of the Christian life—and sanctification, which in its fullest sense, as Bishop Merrill explains, is a process of cleansing which goes on and on through all the experience of growth, maturity, and perfection.

In initial sanctification, which is concurrent with the new birth, the heart is washed from the defilements of the old sins. “It is general experience that the full cleansing of entire sanctification follows a season of deep self-abasement. The ‘filthiness of the flesh and spirit’ must be loathed before it can be washed away.

“But the provision for entire sanctification is ample, and the Spirit of God is always ready to respond to a longing desire for it.


As soon as the soul feels the need of this great deliverance and takes hold of the atonement as efficacious to this end, the merit of the cleansing blood is applied, and the Spirit reveals the result as suddenly as faith will apprehend the evidence given.”

Let us also consider the following:

Regeneration is God’s work done in us, rectifying the attitude of the will toward Him and holy things. Justification is God’s work done for us, making us at peace with His law and government. Sanctification is the work of God purging the whole being. Regeneration changes the state, the character of the will, toward sin and plants within us the germ of the divine life.

Justification secures the pardon of actual sin. But sanctification removes inbred sin, and by correcting the nature of the whole being, confirms the will in obedience.

Justification remits the penalty of the broken law. Regeneration plants the principle of obedience, and breaks the reigning power of sin and makes us children of God. But sanctification so “cleanses from filthiness and idols” and puts within the soul such “a new heart and a new spirit” that the whole man reinforces the will, and perfect obedience and a holy heart are secured.

Justification brings the favor of God. Regeneration gives a relish for holiness and a longing for the image of God. But by sanctification, we are “transformed into the same image from glory to glory,” and we are “made partakers of the divine nature.” The longings for holiness and the image of God become realized.

In short, regeneration brings renewing, justification brings forgiveness, and sanctification brings cleansing. Rev. William McDonald further contrasts the difference between regeneration and sanctification, emphasizing that in regeneration sin is suspended, while in sanctification it is destroyed.

Regeneration is salvation from the voluntary commission of sin, as he adds; sanctification is salvation from the body of sin; regeneration is the “old man” bound; sanctification is the “old man” cast out and spoiled of his goods; regeneration is sanctification begun; entire sanctification is the work completed.

The Rev. Aaron Merritt Hills (1848–1935) was a well-known educator and author in the American holiness movement. The above selection, edited and condensed by the editor, is from Hill’s well-known work Holiness and Power (1897), published by the Revivalist Office, Cincinnati.