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The Agent of Sanctification

God sanctifies the believer in Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23). The Holy Spirit is the divine agent of our sanctification. We cooperate with Him in our progressive sanctification, but we do not sanctify ourselves (Rom. 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1 Cor. 6:11).

One of the greatest mysteries in the Christian’s life is his sanctification. We have been sanctified; we are being sanctified and we shall be sanctified. We have been set apart to God, and we are progressively cleansed from the defilement of sin and more and more “transformed” after the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

It is impossible for us to diagnose the secret workings of the Holy Spirit even though we must realize our complete dependence upon Him.

 We must cooperate with His activity in our lives and realize at the same time that we must not rely upon our own strength of determination or purpose. We have been and are being saved by grace. We are progressively sanctified by grace through faith. True Biblical sanctification stresses a sense of humility and repentance which is the work of the Holy Spirit.

The sanctifying process is dependent upon the death and resurrection of Christ. The power of the resurrection is available to the Christian through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the risen Christ lives in us. The apostle Paul describes this process in Second Corinthians 3:17-18. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

The Holy Spirit progressively transforms us to the image of Christ. He takes the things of Christ and shows them to the believer who beholds “as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (cf. John 16:14, 16; 14:16, 17).

The word “sanctify” means “to set apart,” to devote, to consecrate to God, to recognize as holy, and as belonging to God. In the New Testament sanctification has to do with whole-hearted surrender to an intimate personal fellowship with God and the rule of the Holy Spirit.

Believers are not left to live the Christian life in their own strength and creativity. The Holy Spirit dwells in them and enables them to live on a standard they could never attain by themselves. The Holy Spirit has made His permanent home in the believer.

The work of the Holy Spirit is to make holy the Christian’s life. The prevailing characteristic of every regenerate person is the pursuit of holiness.

This is not mechanical or magical, but is wrought out by God’s Spirit in daily fellowship with the believer as he makes himself available to his indwelling Guest. It is a progressive growth in holiness that grows in capacity, in character and the stature of the full maturity in Christ. 

The Holy Spirit does not work on us; He lives and works in and through us. The Holy Spirit is at work in us as we make ourselves available to Him to renew our minds so we can work at our full capacity.

The Means of Sanctification

The Holy Spirit is the controlling and directing agent in every regenerate person. The believer’s sanctification is the “will of God,” and the Holy Spirit uses various means to sanctify us (1 Thess. 4:3; 1 Pet. 1:2). We are sanctified by our vital union with Christ. In deed, we are “sanctified in Christ” and Christ is our sanctification (1 Cor. 1:2, 30). The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God (John 17:17; 1 Tim. 4:5), the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:13; 13:12), and "By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10, NET). We are sanctified by the choices we make (2 Tim. 2:21, 22), and faith in Christ (Acts 26:18).

The regenerate person is “spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:14, 15; Rom. 7:22; 1 John 3:9; 5:18; 1:8; 2:1; 5:16; 4:1-4). The Scripture is not saying the Christian is sinless, but a new principle is set into motion. “Sin is dethroned in every person who is effectually called and regenerated.” The effectual calling unites us to Christ (1 Cor. 1:9), and if we are united to Christ we are united to Him in virtue of His death and the power of His resurrection. We are “dead to sin,” the old man has been crucified, the body of sin has been destroyed, and sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom. 6:2-4, 14).

Victory is ours once for all by union with Christ (Rom. 6:14; 1 John 3:9; 5:4, 18). That union is through the efficacy of His death and resurrection.

Christians are to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 6:17; 7:1; Gal. 5:16). The root idea of sanctification is to set apart unto a holy purpose.

We are constantly dependent upon the Holy Spirit as the supernatural agent of our sanctification who progressively works within the conscious life of the believer. The believer is not passive in this process.

Because God is at work in us we also work. We are admonished to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12, 13). This working out of salvation on our part is the result of God at work in us. He causes the willing and the doing. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Cf. Romans 12:1-3, 9-21; 13:8-14; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Galatians 5:13-26; Ephesians 4:17-32; Philippians 3:10-17; 4:4-9; Colossians 3:1-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:8-22; Hebrews 12:14-16; James 1:19-27; 2:14-26; 3:14-18; 1 John 2:15-17, etc.

The believer is to be vitally active in the process of spiritual growth because of the high goal of being predestined to be conformed to the image so God’s Son.

Sanctification involves the whole person at the core of his personality; it is the consecration of our heart, mind, will, and purpose. We “are renewed after the image of God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.” 

Key Scriptures

1 Thessalonians 4:3; 5:23; Romans 15:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 30; 6:11; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; John 16:14, 16; 14:16, 17; 17:17; 1 Timothy 4:5; Hebrews 9:13; 13:12; 10:10; 12:14; 2 Timothy 2:21, 22; Acts 26:18 1 John 3:9; 5:4, 19; Philippians 2:12; Romans 12:1-2

Abiding Principles and Practical Applications

1. Sanctification involves the whole person—body, mind, will.

2. We are renewed after the image of God in knowledge, righteousness and holiness.

3. Because God is at work in us we work. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent in our sanctification.


For Further Study

Our Eternal Sanctification by the Blood of Jesus Christ 
Lordship of Christ and our Salvation 
Sanctified through Blood Jesus 
Sanctified by the Word of God 
Sanctified by the Holy Spirit 
Believers Glory in Jesus Christ 






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Unless otherwise noted "Scripture quotations taken from the NASB." "Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE" © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from the NET Bible copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://www.bible.org/. All rights reserved.

Wil is a graduate of William Carey University, B. A.; New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Th. M.; and Azusa Pacific University, M. A. He has pastored in Panama, Ecuador and the U. S, and served for over 20 years as missionary in Ecuador and Honduras. He had a daily expository Bible teaching ministry head in over 100 countries from 1972-2005. He continues to seek opportunities to be personally involved in world missions. Wil and his wife Ann have three grown daughters. He currently serves as a Baptist pastor and teaches seminary extension courses in Ecuador.


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