(Doctrine & Covenants 20:79, italics added)
Some time ago as I sat during the sacrament pondering the words of the blessing on the water, I wondered about the meaning of Christ's blood. Because I was taking the water “in remembrance of the blood” of Jesus Christ, I decided I needed to study its symbolism more.
Certainly, the blood of Jesus Christ has far more spiritual meaning and relevance than I can relate in a blog entry let alone discover in a lifetime. But my study did lead me to a better understanding of two related doctrines which always confused me: justification and sanctification.
Justification by Blood
According to Paul, we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:9). As a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder D. Todd Christofferson wrote of justification in the June 2001 Ensign:
Because of “the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice,” Jesus Christ can satisfy or “answer the ends of the law” on our behalf. Pardon comes by the grace of Him who has satisfied the demands of justice by His own suffering, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). He removes our condemnation without removing the law. We are pardoned and placed in a condition of righteousness with Him. We become, like Him, without sin. We are sustained and protected by the law, by justice. We are, in a word, justified. (italics in the original)
In other words, we are no longer condemned by the law because we have been set free or justified by the blood of Jesus Christ who suffered himself to pay the penalties demanded by justice. President Harold B. Lee said, "Justify means to pronounce free from guilt or blame, or to absolve" (Stand Ye in Holy Places, 52-53). According to Strong's Concordance, the Greek meaning of “justification” as used in Romans 4:25 and 5:18 is “the act of God declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to him.”
Another word which describes this process of justification is remission. In D&C 27:2, the Lord said
For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.
The Lord taught this principle of remission to his apostles while giving them the sacrament. He said, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). According to Strong's Concordance, the Greek definition of remission is “forgiveness or pardon, of sins (letting them go as if they had never been committed), remission of the penalty.”
So by the blood of Jesus Christ, we are justified. In other words, his blood was shed for the remission of our sins.
Sanctification With Christ's Blood
By the Savior's blood are we also sanctified. In his epistle to the Hebrews, Paul wrote, “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Hebrews 13:12).
Defining sanctification, Elder Christofferson wrote, “To be sanctified through the blood of Christ is to become clean, pure, and holy (D. Todd Christofferson, “Justification and Sanctification,” Ensign, Jun 2001, 18). Strong's Concordance confirms the definition of sanctification as used in the New Testament as “consecration, purification.” Note the way Peter uses the term sanctification in 1 Peter 1:1-2:
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
According to Strong's Concordance, an alternative to the term sprinkling is purification. When read with purification in place of sprinkling, this verse makes it clear that sanctification through the blood of Christ leads to purification.
In addition to purification, Elder Christofferson likened sanctification through the blood of Christ to becoming clean. Alma did the same:
[T]here can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins.
John the Apostle also indicates the eternal importance of the cleansing power of Christ's blood:
5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
In summary, let me share my understanding of the relationship between sanctification and justification. Our sins cause two problems which doom us. The first is that by committing sin, we violate laws; as a result, justice requires a penalty. However, through justification, Christ pays that penalty and we are pardoned. The second problem is that our sins make us filthy, and no unclean thing can enter into God's presence. So even if we are pardoned through justification, we are still filthy. But through sanctification, we can be purified until we are “cleansed from all stain” and can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Most importantly, this justification and sanctification come about by the blood of Jesus Christ.