Sanctification, Part 2

Sanctification, Part 2

Today, I’d like to examine some of the historical developments of the doctrine of sanctification.  I think it will help to lay a foundation as to how the doctrine has developed over the course of time.  We’ll begin by taking a look at the Scriptures.

Historical Development

In order to better comprehend how God maintains our sanctification, it is essential to wrestle with the terminology as used in Scripture.  In the New Testament, sanctification is rendered from the Greek hagios, meaning literally “not of the earth.”[1]  In its biblical usage it is defined as “set apart as sacred to God; make holy, consecrate; regard as sacred; purify, cleanse.”[2]  “In this sense, holiness in the New Testament means two things: (1) separation from the sinful practices of this present world and (2) consecration to God’s service.”[3]

There is much debate as to the genesis of sanctification in the life of the believer.  Some scholars suggest sanctification is part of the justifying act of salvation,[4] others suggest it is immediately subsequent to justification,[5],[6] while still others propose sanctification is an experience that can occur some time after one is justified.[7],[8]  Justification and sanctification, while linked in the Scriptures, are also spoken of as separate occurrences.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, the Apostle Paul speaking to believers states, “Now may the God of peace Himself, sanctify you…” and in John 17: 17 Jesus prays that God would “Sanctify them in the truth.”  These Scriptures seem to indicate that sanctification is something yet to be done.  Other Scriptures, however, seem to suggest sanctification begins at the time of justification.  Romans 6:6 states, “…our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”

Whenever the initial act of sanctification in the believer may be, it is clear that sanctification is a work unmistakably connected with Christ’s death and resurrection.  In 1 Corinthians 1:30, the Scriptures state that Jesus “became for us…sanctification.” Ephesians 5:25-26 states, “Christ…loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it.”  Understanding this, one can see that “Christ is the perfect and adequate Savior.  His death not only had justifying power but also sanctifying power.”[9]

Positional and Progressive Sanctification

In sanctification, believers are positionally set apart to God.  This work comes about because of the Christian’s new faith in Christ.  It is illustrated in Romans 6: 6-8 where the Apostle Paul states, “our old man is crucified with Him [Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin.  Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we also shall live with Him.”  Positionally, each believer has been crucified with Christ that they may be freed from the bondage of sin.  The writer of Hebrews states, “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10).  In essence, Christ’s work was a one time offering to set the believer apart for service unto God.

Whereas positional sanctification changes our status before God, there is also an understanding in the Scriptures of progressive or experiential sanctification.  Colossians 3:5 urges believers to “put to death what is earthly in you” and Galatians 5:16 states, “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” and other bible passages argue for a subjective sanctifying experience.  Whereas positional sanctification is an act accomplished at or near salvation, progressive sanctification is a lifelong journey whereby we are conformed to the image of Christ day by day.



[1] Bowdle, Donald N. Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Cleveland: Pathway Press 1972) 94.

[2] Newman 1994, 2 Aland, Barbara, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger, eds. 4 ed. The Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994) 4.

[3] Hoekema, Anthony A.  Created in God’s Image. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986) 63.

[4] Hoekema 107-111

[5] Arrington, French L.  Christian Doctrine (Cleveland: Pathway Press, 1993) 230.

[6] Roberts, Philemon. Holiness: God’s Will for God’s People (Cleveland: Pathway Press, 1958) 46.

[7] Oden, Thomas C. John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994) 247-248.

[8] Jacobsen, Douglas, ed. A Reader in Pentecostal Theology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006) 83.

[9] Arrington 231

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