CBM Logo Icon 57x57.jpg The Children's Bread

Menu

Sanctification

What Does it Mean for a Christian to Be Sanctified?

 

  

Jesus had a lot to say about sanctification in John 17. In verse 16 the Lord says, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it,” and this is before His request: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (verse 17). In Christian theology, sanctification is a state of separation unto God; all believers enter into this state when they are born of God: “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV). The sanctification mentioned in this verse is a once-for-ever separation of believers unto God. It is a work God performs, an intricate part of our salvation and our connection with Christ (Hebrews 10:10). Theologians sometimes refer to this state of holiness before God as “positional” sanctification; it is the same as justification.

While we are positionally holy (“set free from every sin” by the blood of Christ, Acts 13:39), we know that we still sin (1 John 1:10). That’s why the Bible also refers to sanctification as a practical experience of our separation unto God. “Progressive” or “experiential” sanctification, as it is sometimes called, is the effect of obedience to the Word of God in one’s life. It is the same as growing in the Lord (2 Peter 3:18) or spiritual maturity. God started the work of making us like Christ, and He is continuing it (Philippians 1:6). This type of sanctification is to be pursued by the believer earnestly (1 Peter 1:15; Hebrews 12:14) and is effected by the application of the Word (John 17:17). Progressive sanctification has in view the setting apart of believers for the purpose for which they are sent into the world: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (John 17:18–19). That Jesus set Himself apart for God’s purpose is both the basis and the condition of our being set apart (see John 10:36). We are sanctified and sent because Jesus was. Our Lord’s sanctification is the pattern of and power for our own. The sending and the sanctifying are inseparable. On this account we are called “saints” (hagioi in the Greek), or “sanctified ones.” Prior to salvation, our behavior bore witness to our standing in the world in separation from God, but now our behavior should bear witness to our standing before God in separation from the world. Little by little, every day, “those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14, ESV) are becoming more like Christ.

There is a third sense in which the word sanctification is used in Scripture—a “complete” or “ultimate” sanctification. This is the same as glorification. Paul prays in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). Paul speaks of Christ as “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) and links the glorious appearing of Christ to our personal glorification: “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). This glorified state will be our ultimate separation from sin, a total sanctification in every regard. “We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

To summarize, “sanctification” is a translation of the Greek word hagiasmos, meaning “holiness” or “a separation.” In the past, God granted us justification, a once-for-all, positional holiness in Christ. Now, God guides us to maturity, a practical, progressive holiness. In the future, God will give us glorification, a permanent, ultimate holiness. These three phases of sanctification separate the believer from the penalty of sin (justification), the power of sin (maturity), and the presence of sin (glorification).


Recommended Resource: Pleasing God: Discovering the Meaning and Importance of Sanctification by R.C. Sproul

GotQuestions.org, "What is Sanctification", https://www.gotquestions.org/sanctification.html

The word translated “sanctification” in most Bibles means “separation.” It is used in the New Testament, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, of the separation of the believer from evil, and it is the result of obedience to the Word of God. Progressive sanctification is what gradually separates the people of God from the world and makes them more and more like Jesus Christ.

Sanctification differs from justification in several ways. Justification is a one-time work of God, resulting in a declaration of “not guilty” before Him because of the work of Christ on the cross. Sanctification is a process, beginning with justification and continuing throughout life. Justification is the starting point of the line that represents one’s Christian life; sanctification is the line itself.

Sanctification is a three-stage process – past, present, and future. The first stage occurs at the beginning of our Christian lives. It is an initial moral change, a break from the power and love of sin. It is the point at which believers can count themselves “dead to sin but alive to God” (Romans 6:11). Once sanctification has begun, we are no longer under sin’s dominion (Romans 6:14). There is a reorientation of desires, and we develop a love of righteousness. Paul calls it “slavery to righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).

The second stage of sanctification requires a lifetime to complete. As we grow in grace, we are gradually – but steadily – changing to be more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18). This occurs in a process of daily spiritual renewal (Colossians 3:10). The apostle Paul himself was being sanctified even as he ministered to others. Paul claimed that he had not reached perfection, but that he “pressed on” to attain everything Christ desired for him (Philippians 3:12).

The third and final stage of sanctification occurs in the future. When believers die, their spirits go to be with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Since nothing unclean can enter heaven (Revelation 21:27), we must be made perfect at that point. The sanctification of the whole person—body, soul, and spirit—will finally be complete when the Lord Jesus returns and we receive glorified bodies (Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:35-49).

God’s work in sanctification involves all three members of the Trinity. God the Father is constantly at work in His children “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). He changes our desires, making us want to please Him, and He empowers us to do so. Jesus earned our sanctification on the cross and, in essence, has become our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30) and the “perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). The Holy Spirit is the primary agent of our sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2), and He is the one who produces in us the fruit of sanctification (Galatians 5:22-23).

Our role in sanctification is both passive and active. Passively, we are to trust God to sanctify us, presenting our bodies to God (Romans 6:13; 12:1) and yielding to the Holy Spirit. “It is God's will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thessalonians 4:3), and God will have His way.

Actively, we are responsible to choose to do what is right. “Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (1 Thessalonians 4:4). This involves putting to death the “misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13), striving for holiness (Hebrews 12:14), fleeing immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), cleansing ourselves from every defilement (2 Corinthians 7:1), and making every effort to supplement our faith (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Both the passive role and the active role are necessary for a healthy Christian life. To emphasize the passive role tends to lead to spiritual laziness and a neglect of spiritual discipline. The end result of this course of action is a lack of maturity. To emphasize the active role can lead to legalism, pride, and self-righteousness. The end result of this is a joyless Christian life. We must remember that we pursue holiness, but only as God empowers us to do so. The end result is a consistent, mature Christian life that faithfully reflects the nature of our holy God.

John makes it clear that we will never be totally free from sin in this life (1 John 1:8-10). Thankfully, the work God has begun in us He will finish (Philippians 1:6).


Recommended Resource: Pleasing God: Discovering the Meaning and Importance of Sanctification by R.C. Sproul

GotQuestions.org, "What is Progressive Sanctification", https://www.gotquestions.org/progressive-sanctification.html

Previous
Next