Embraced  by  Truth . . .
                                    reflections on theology and life

Theology > Salvation > Work of Salvation > Sanctification


To sanctify means to make holy, and to be holy is to be set apart, set apart from sin and set apart to Christ. The concept of being set apart is anchored in the Old Testament; the Hebrew word is qadhash, meaning “set apart,” “sanctify,” “holy”: sacrificial animals were holy (Lev. 27:14, 16); furniture and utensils used in the Tabernacle and Temple were holy (Lev. 8:10-11); and the gold of the Temple was holy (Matt. 23:17, 19). All of these things were set apart for God, and being devoted to God was understood as the essence of holy.

In the New Testament it is a process that begins with regeneration and culminates with glorification. The work of sanctification continues throughout the earthly life, and is the progressive work whereby God enables one to develop and mature in the Faith, without ever reaching perfection.

It is the act of God whereby He progressively delivers the believer from the defilement and dominion of sin, for the initial forgiveness of sin does not mean freedom from sin. Thus, the focus of sanctification is the sin that is in the believer’s life. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” and “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I Jo. 1:8, 10). Statements in both Testaments provide definition and insight into the essence and operation of sanctification:

For I am the Lord your God . . . you shall be holy; for I am holy . . . you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (Lev. 11:44-45; see: 19:2; 20:7);

Therefore you shall be perfect, just as you Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48);

But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (I Pet. 1:15-16).

Sanctification is God’s continual work in the believer: “it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). And His work is to empower the believer to live righteously as he is conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29); actually, Christ is our sanctification (I Cor. 1:30; 6:11). The believer is dead to sin but sin is not dead in the believer, meaning that in principle sin is removed but in practice it still remains and at times dominates. In this sense sin is still the curse of the believer.

Sanctification is progressive deliverance from the pollution of sin, which is a continual maturing that challenges one to pursue after holiness. Because it is constant and ongoing in this life, it is never completed on earth, so sinless perfection is not possible for the believer. The good deeds of the believer are not meritorious but are demonstrative; they do not merit favor with God or affect one’s standing before God, rather, they are demonstrations of the working of God in the life which brings transformation of thought and practice. From this perspective sanctification is a process whereas justification is an act; the former is a development, while the latter is instantaneous.

The believer has been sanctified (Acts 20:32; 26:18; I Cor. 1:1-2, 30; 6:9, 11; Eph. 5:26; perfect and aorist tenses are used), is being sanctified (I Thess. 4:3-5; 5:23; I Pet. 3:18; Phil. 3:13-14), and will be sanctified (Phil. 1:6; I Thess. 5:23). Every day the believer struggles with sin; the believer is dead to sin in the sense that he no longer is satisfied by his sin but is convicted of and mourns over his sin, and yearns for deliverance from his sin. Therefore, the life of the believer is a life of struggle; sanctification is the struggle of the believer to live the life of the believer.

The believer is admonished to “put off” and to “put on” (Eph. 4:17-24), that is, wrong is to be rejected and right is to be embraced. Through daily living the believer more and more comes to understand the warfare between the flesh and the Spirit; holiness is the goal, but perfection is never reached in this life. The development begins with regeneration, whereby the believer is given new life (new desires and motivations); and then throughout life there is the process of growing in holiness, of overcoming the power of sin in the life; and after death there is resurrection and glorification, with the realization of full perfection.

Sanctification extends to the whole man: the will, emotions, intellect, thinking—man as man is being sanctified. In sanctification the one who has been declared holy is made holy. And this is the life of the believer. The believer is sanctified by the truth (Jo. 17:17, 19) and sanctified by the Spirit (I Pet. 1:2).

Sanctification is a double work, the work of God and the work of man. In the Old Testament God sanctified the people: Ex. 13:13; Lev. 20:8; 21:8; and in the New Testament God sanctifies people: Jo. 17:17-19; I Cor. 1:2;; Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:11; I Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20-21. In the Old Testament the people were to sanctify themselves: Lev. 11:44; 20:7; Num. 11:18; and in the New Testament believers are to struggle after holiness: Matt. 5:16, 48; Jo. 15:8; Rom. 6:19; I Pet. 1:15; II Pet. 3:11.

Part of the believer’s responsibility in the midst of the struggle is repentance, for there is never a time when the believer does not need to repent. The believer must repent because of the deeds of the flesh that are contrary to the fruits of the Spirit. The need for sanctification is seen in this struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-25; Paul’s describes the believer’s struggle in Rom. 7:14-23).

To be sanctified is to be a saint (Rom. 1:7; I Cor. 1:2; II Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2).

having these promises, beloved,
let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,
perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
II Cor. 7:1

Return to: Work of Salvation; Next Article: Preservation and Perseverance

For overview of THEOLOGY, see: Site Map - Theology
Copyright © Embraced by Truth
All rights reserved.
Materials may be freely copied for personal and academic use;
appropriate reference must be made to this site.
Links are invited.