Saved? Repentance? Justification? What Do These Words Really Mean?

Saved? Repentance? Justification? What Do These Words Really Mean?

The words saved, justification, sanctification, and repentance are often used in theological discussions but can easily be misunderstood on either side of the conversation. A correct understanding of what the Bible means when it uses them is essential to accuracy of the gospel. Below, you'll find definitions. Click the corresponding Scripture references to learn more. 


What does it mean to be saved?

To be saved is to be born again (John 3:3-8), to have passed from death to life (John 5:24), to have become a child of God (John 1:12-13). When someone is saved, this means they have received eternal life (Rom. 6:23) and will not experience the wrath of God (John 3:36), eternal death (John 11:25-26), or the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). It means they have been rescued from the penalty of their sins, forgiven and set free.

One is saved by putting their trust in Jesus Christ, the One who paid the penalty of sin with His own blood and rose again from the dead. (John 3:14-17, Rom. 1:16, Rom. 5:8, Rom. 8:34, 1 Cor. 1:21-24, 1 Cor. 15:1-4)


Repentance comes from the word repent, which is "metanoia" in Greek and means a change of mind or a change in the inner man (Rom. 2:4-5, 2 Tim. 2:25-26). To repent is to think ("pent") again ("re"). In the context of salvation, it means changing the mind from unbelief to belief, or going from a lack of faith in Christ to having faith in Christ. (Acts 17:29-31, Acts 19:4)

Repentance is the opposite of impenitent or unrepentant (Rom. 2:5), ("ametano├ętos" in Greek meaning "admitting no change of mind"). It is not remorse (feeling sorry or grieved for your sin). Feeling grief and sorrow over sin can lead to repentance. (2 Cor. 7:9-11) 


To be justified means to be declared righteous. It is a legal term. When one becomes a Christian, they are justified by faith. This means that all of the sin that was on their "account" before God is wiped away, and they are given the righteousness of Christ. (Rom. 3:19-26, Rom. 5:9, Gal. 2:16, 2 Cor. 5:21)

Here's a simple illustration. Say a man named Larry stole a car and was arrested. He goes before a judge and is convicted. He is guilty, so grand larceny is now on his criminal record. He is sentenced to jail. Along comes his friend, Pete. Pete loves Larry and convinces the judge to let him take responsibility for the crime, to put it on his record and take the place of Larry in jail. Pete didn't do anything wrong, but goes to jail in Larry's place. The judge then clears Larry's record—even though he was truly guilty, because he actually stole the car—and applies the crime to Pete. Now, legally, Larry is innocent and Pete is guilty. Pete goes to jail. Larry goes free. With the crime paid for, the requirements of the law are now satisfied. No one owes anything more. Even though Larry actually did the deed, in the eyes of the law, he is justified. He is not guilty.

When it comes to our justification as believers, our Judge is God the Father who loves us. He sent His own Son to pay the price for us so we can be free. In our case, our sentence is death. When Jesus went to the cross, all of our sin was placed upon Him. When we trust He did this for us, our sin account is cleared and we become, in God's eyes, not guilty. (1 Cor. 6:9-11)


To be sanctified means to be set apart. It's reminiscent of holy things that are set apart in a temple for use by a priest in service to God. (2 Tim. 2:21, 1 Peter 1:2) We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit and Jesus (Rom. 15:16, 2 Thess. 2:13, Acts 26:18, Heb. 10:10, 14), set apart as children of God, filled with the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is a lifelong process that begins once someone is saved and sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14, Titus 2:11-14). It is walking in the Spirit and growing in faith and holiness (1 Thess. 4:3-4, Gal. 5:16-26), becoming conformed to the image of Christ (Col.3).