121 sanctification

Sanctification is a act of grace by which God attributes to the believer the justice and holiness of Jesus Christ and involves him in it. Sanctification is experienced through faith in Jesus Christ and is effected by the presence of the Holy Spirit in man. (Romans 6,11, 1, John 1,8-9, Romans 6,22, 2, Thessalonian 2,13, Galatians 5, 22-23)


According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, sacred means "singling out or keeping something holy," or "purifying or liberating from sin."1 These definitions reflect the fact that the Bible uses the word "holy" in two ways: 1) a special status, ie, to be singled out for God's use, and 2) moral conduct - thoughts and actions that are appropriate to a sacred status, Thoughts and actions that are in tune with God's way.2

It is God who sanctifies his people. He is the one who singles it for his purpose, and it is he who is capable of holy conduct. There is little controversy about the first point that God separates people for His purpose. But there is controversy regarding the interplay between God and man in the sanctification of behavior.

The questions include: What active role should Christians play in sanctification? To what extent should Christians expect to be successful in aligning their thoughts and actions with the divine standard? How should the church admonish its members?

We will present the following points:

  • Sanctification is made possible by the grace of God.
  • Christians should try to reconcile their thoughts and actions with the will of God as revealed in the Bible.
  • Sanctification is a progressive growth, in response to God's will. Let's discuss how sanctification begins.

Initial sanctification

Humans are morally corrupt and can not choose for themselves. Reconciliation must be initiated by God. God's gracious intervention is required before a person can have faith and turn to God. Whether this grace is irresistible is controversial, but orthodoxy agrees that it is God who makes the choice. He selects people for his purpose and sanctifies them or separates them for others. In antiquity God made the people of Israel holy, and within that people he continued to sanctify the Levites (eg 3Mo 20,26, 21,6, 5Mo 7,6). He singled them out for his purpose.3

However, Christians are separated in another way: "The Saints in Christ Jesus" (1Kor 1,2). "We have been sanctified once and for all by the sacrifice of the Body of Jesus Christ" (Hebr 10,10).4 Christians are made holy by the blood of Jesus (Hebr 10,29, 12,12). They were declared sacred (1Pt 2,5, 9) and they are called "saints" throughout the New Testament. That's their status. This initial sanctification is like justification (1Kor 6,11). "God first chose you for salvation in the sanctification of the Spirit" (2Th 2,13).

But God's purpose for his people goes beyond a simple explanation of a new status - it is a disclaimer of his use, and his use involves a moral transformation in his people. People are "destined to be obedient to Jesus Christ" (1Pt 1,2). They are to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (2Kor 3,18). They should not only be declared sacred and just, they will also be born again. A new life begins to develop, a life that should behave in a sacred and just manner. Thus, the initial sanctification leads to the sanctification of behavior.

Sanctification of behavior

Even in the Old Testament, God told his people that their sacred status includes a change in behavior. The Israelites should avoid ceremonial impurity because God had chosen them (5Mo 14,21). Her sacred status depended on her obedience (5Mo 28,9). The priests should forgive certain sins because they were sacred (3Mo 21,6-7). Devotees had to change their behavior while they were singled out (4Mo 6,5).

Our election in Christ has ethical implications. Since the Saint has called us, Christians are admonished "to be holy in all of your walk" (1Pt 1,15-16). As God's chosen and holy people, we should show heartfelt mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Kol 3,12).

Sin and impurity do not belong to God's people (Eph 5,3; 1Th 4,3). When people purify themselves of nefarious intentions, they are "sanctified" (2T in 2,21). We should control our body in a sacred way (1Th 4,4). "Holy" is often associated with "blameless" (Eph 1,4; 5,27; 1Th 2,10; 3,13; 5,23; Tit 1,8). Christians are "called to be holy" (1Kor 1,2), "to lead a holy walk" (1Th 4,7; 2T in 1,9; 2Pt 3,11). We are instructed to "pursue sanctification" (Hebr 12,14). We are encouraged to be holy (Rom 12,1), we are told that we are "made holy" (Hebr 2,11, 10,14), and we are encouraged to continue to be holy (Offb 22,11). We are sanctified in us through the work of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. He changes us from within.

This short word study shows that sanctity and sanctification have something to do with behavior. God singles out people for a purpose as "holy" so that they lead a holy life in following Christ. We are saved so that we can produce good works and good fruits (Eph 2,8-10, Gal 5,22-23). The good works are not the cause of salvation, but a consequence of it.

Good works are the proof that a person's faith is real (Jak 2,18). Paul speaks of "obedience to the faith" and says that faith is expressed through love (Rom 1,5, Gal 5,6).

Lifelong growth

When people come to believe in Christ, they are not perfect in faith, in love, in works, or in behavior. Paul calls the Corinthians saints and brothers, but they have many sins in their lives. The numerous admonitions in the New Testament indicate that readers need not only doctrinal instruction, but also admonition regarding behavior. The Holy Spirit changes us, but he does not oppress the human will; a holy life does not automatically flow from faith. Every Christ has to make decisions, whether he wants to do right or wrong, even as Christ works in us to change our desires.

The "old self" may be dead, but Christians have to drop it (Rom 6,6-7, Eph 4,22). We must continue to kill the works of the flesh, the remnants of the old self (Rom 8,13, Kol 3,5). Although we have died of sin, sin is still within us, and we should not let it reign (Rom 6,11-13). Thoughts, emotions and choices need to be consciously shaped according to the divine pattern. Sanctity is something to chase after (Hebr 12,14).

We are commanded to be perfect and to love God with all our hearts (Mt 5,48;
22,37). Due to the limitations of the flesh and the remnants of the old self, we are unable to perfect it. Even Wesley, who courageously spoke of "perfection," stated that he did not mean complete absence of imperfection.5 Growth is always possible and ordered. If a person has Christian love, he or she will strive to learn how to express it in a better way, with fewer mistakes.

The apostle Paul was brave enough to say that his behavior was "holy, just and irreproachable" (1Th 2,10). But he did not claim to be perfect. Rather, he reached out to this goal and warned others not to think they had reached their goal (Phil 3,12-15). All Christians need forgiveness (Mt 6,12, 1Joh 1,8-9) and must grow in grace and understanding (2Pt 3,18). Sanctification should increase throughout life.

But our sanctification will not be completed in this life. Grudem explains, "If we estimate that sanctification includes the whole person, including our body (2Kor 7,1; 1Th 5,23), then we realize that sanctification will not be complete until the Lord returns and we receive new resurrected bodies."6 Only then will we be freed from all sin and receive a glorified body such as Christ has (Phil 3,21, 1Joh 3,2). Because of this hope, we grow in sanctification by purifying ourselves (1Joh 3,3).

Biblical admonition to sanctification

Wesely saw a pastoral need to exhort the faithful to the practical obedience that results from love. The New Testament contains many such admonitions, and it is right to preach them. It is right to anchor the behavior in the motive of love and finally in
our unity with Christ through the Holy Spirit, who is the source of love.

Although we give glory to God and realize that grace must initiate all our behavior, we also conclude that such grace is present in the hearts of all believers and we exhort them to respond to that grace.

McQuilken offers a practical rather than a dogmatic approach. 7 He does not insist that all believers in sanctification must have similar experiences. He advocates high ideals, but without presupposing perfection. His exhortation to serve as the end result of sanctification is good. He emphasizes the written warnings about apostasy, rather than being limited to theological conclusions about the perseverance of the saints.

His emphasis on faith is helpful because faith is the foundation of every Christianity, and faith has practical consequences in our lives. The means of growth are practical: prayer, the Scriptures, fellowship, and a confident approach to trials. Robertson exhorts Christians to greater growth and testimony without exaggerating the demands and expectations.

Christians are exhorted to become what they already are, according to God's declaration; the imperative follows the indicative. Christians are supposed to live a holy life because God has declared them to be sacred, destined for their use.

Michael Morrison

1 RE Allen, ed. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 8. Edition, (Oxford, 1990), p. 1067.

2 In the Old Testament (AT), God is holy, his name is holy, and he is the holy one (more than 100 times). In the New Testament (NT), "holy" is used more often on Jesus than on the Father (14 times three times), but more often on the mind (ninety times). The AT refers 36 times to the Holy People (devotees, priests, and the people), usually in terms of their status; the NT points 50 times to the holy people. The AT refers 110 times to sacred sites; the NT only 17 times. The AT refers to holy things about 70 times; the NT only three times as a picture for a holy people. The AT points to sacred times in 19 verses; the NT never describes time as sacred. In terms of places, things, and time, holiness refers to a designated status, not moral behavior. In both testaments, God is holy and holiness comes from him, but the way holiness affects people is different. The New Testament emphasis on holiness refers to people and their behavior, not a specific status for things, places and times.

3 Especially in the Old Testament, sanctification does not mean salvation. This is obvious because things, places, and times have also been sanctified, and these refer to the people of Israel. A use of the word "sanctification", which does not refer to salvation, can also be found in 1. Find Corinthians 7,4 - a non-believer had been put in a special way in a special category for God's use. Hebrews 9,13 uses the term "holy" as a reference to a ceremonial status under the Old Covenant.

4 Grudem notes that in several passages in Hebrews the word "sanctified" is approximately equivalent to the word "justified" in Paul's vocabulary (W. Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan 1994, p. 748, note 3.)

5 John Wesley, "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection," in Millard J. Erickson, ed. Readings in Christian Theology, Volume 3, The New Life (Baker, 1979), p. 159.

6 Grudem, p. 749.

7 J. Robertson McQuilken, "The Keswick Perspective", Five Views of Sanctification (Zondervan, 1987), p. 149-183.