Category: Sanctification


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).

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Jesus had a lot to say about sanctification in the Book of John, chapter 17. In verse 16 the Lord says, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world,” and this is before His request: “Sanctify them in the truth: Thy word is truth.” Sanctification is a state of separation unto God; all believers enter into this state when they are born of God: “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). This is a once-for-ever separation, eternally unto God. It is an intricate part of our salvation, our connection with Christ (Hebrews 10:10).

Sanctification also refers to the practical experience of this separation unto God, being the effect of obedience to the Word of God in one’s life, and is to be pursued by the believer earnestly (1 Peter 1:15; Hebrews 12:14). Just as the Lord prayed in John 17, it has in view the setting apart of believers for the purpose for which they are sent into the world: “As Thou didst send Me into the world, even so send I them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth” (v. 18, 19). That He set Himself apart for the purpose for which He was sent is both the basis and the condition of our being set apart for that for which we are sent (John 10:36). His sanctification is the pattern of, and the power for, ours. The sending and the sanctifying are inseparable. On this account they are called saints, hagioi in the Greek; “sanctified ones.” Whereas previously their behavior bore witness to their standing in the world in separation from God, now their behavior should bear witness to their standing before God in separation from the world.

There is one more sense that the word sanctification is referred to in Scripture. Paul prayed in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “The God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul also wrote in Colossians of “the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel” (Colossians 1:5). He later speaks of Christ Himself as “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) and then mentions the fact of that hope when he says, “When Christ, who is our Life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with Him be manifested in glory” (Colossians 3:4). This glorified state will be our ultimate separation from sin, total sanctification in every aspect. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

To summarize, sanctification is the same Greek word as holiness, “hagios,” meaning a separation. First, a once-for-all positional separation unto Christ at our salvation. Second, a practical progressive holiness in a believer’s life while awaiting the return of Christ. Third, we will be changed into His perfect likeness—holy, sanctified, and completely separated from the presence of evil.

 Ephesians  4:13 says that the spiritual gifts are given to build up the body of Christ  “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God  and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  Some translations say that we will become “perfect” (instead of “mature”), and  from this some people have mistakenly thought that we can reach sinless  perfection in this life. The Bible teaches that, while we are in the flesh, we  will always struggle with a sin nature (see Romans  7:14-24). No one will be “perfect” (sinless) until we reach heaven.

The word translated “mature” in Ephesians  4:13 is the Greek word teleios. It is used throughout the New  Testament to mean “perfect,” “complete,” “full-grown,” and “mature.” What Ephesians 4:13 teaches is  that, the more we grow in Christ, the stronger and more unified we will be as a  church. The verse does not teach that we will stop sinning.

Another  passage that sometimes causes confusion is Colossians  1:28, which says, in some translations, that Paul wants to “present every  man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Also, in Colossians  4:12 Paul prays that we would “stand perfect and complete in all the will of  God.” In both verses, the word perfect should be translated as “mature”  or “full-grown,” not “perfect,” in the sense of having no sin.

As human  beings we are bound under the curse of Adam in this world. No matter how hard we  try not to, we will still sin against God. The apostle Paul rebuked Peter for  showing favoritism (Galatians  2:11-13). Late in his ministry, Paul calls himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy  1:15). Peter, James, John, and Paul all admitted that they were imperfect.  How could you or I claim anything different?

True perfection will not  come until the Rapture of the church, when we rise to meet Jesus in the air (1  Thessalonians 4:17). At that time we will receive a new body (Philippians 3:20,21; 1  Corinthians 15:54). We will attend the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10)  where our works will be judged and rewards will be given (1 Corinthians  3:9-15). We will then live forever and reign with Christ in sinless  perfection.

Hebrews 5:11-14

Many modern-day inventions are designed to help us accomplish tasks more quickly. The microwave, for example, shortens cooking time drastically, while washing machines and computers speed up other chores. New technology has the added effect of increasing our already-fast pace as well as our desire for instant solutions.

Not every process, however, lends itself to acceleration. Consider our growth in Christ, which is known as sanctification. Being a Christian is neither an event nor a quick fix. Rather, it is a journey. There are things for us to learn along the way, and while we may unwisely choose a longer path than necessary, there really are no shortcuts.

Sadly, certain people grow little after salvation. Some are not encouraged in their faith or discipled well. Others fail to pursue maturity through prayer, meditation on Scripture, and fellowship within the body of believers. God is not pleased when His children opt for comfort and complacency. That’s why His Word tells us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17).

Consider how spiritual development benefits believers. By learning God’s ways, we can walk in obedience and live content, purposeful lives for His glory. We also gain the ability to discern truth from distortion.

Do you notice any change in your life and character since the day you were saved? Can you detect spiritual growth over the last year? Your heavenly Father wants to mature you. So make a continuous effort to cooperate with Him by reading Scripture, praying, fellowshipping, and repenting of all known sin in your life.