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Sanctification--Distinctions from other doctrines

It is important in any study of sanctification to clearly distinguish the differences between it and other doctrines of salvation.

For example, regeneration is the implanting of new spiritual life in a person who was “dead in trespasses and sins.” This new life comes from God, and is the beginning or inception of the Christian life. It is so dynamic that when a person receives this new life he is said to be “born again” or “born from above.” Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, 5, 6, 8) and by this act the believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul describes such a person as “spiritual” rather than “natural” (1 Cor. 1:12-14).

What is Sanctification?

Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Sanctification is specifically the work of the indwelling and directing Holy Spirit in the life of the regenerated person.

Calling is addressed to our consciousness and elicits a response in our consciousness. We are converted when we turn from our unbelief and trust in Christ as our Savior.

What is Regeneration?

Regeneration is renewal which registers itself in our consciousness in the experience of faith and repentance, love, and obedience.

What is Justification?

Justification is the deliverance from sin’s penalty, where as sanctification is the deliverance from the power of sin. Justification is the judicial act of God at the beginning of the Christian life, whereby we are at once acquitted and forgiven of all our guilt, and accounted legally righteous on the basis of the substitutionary atoning death of Jesus. It is a once-for-all declaration by God as the Judge acquitting the believing sinner.

It is imperative that we keep in mind that justification makes no actual change in us. Justification is a declaration by God concerning our relationship with Him. However, justification and sanctification belong together, and one cannot be justified without being in principle sanctified because our positional sanctification takes place at the same time. Progressive sanctification deals with how the justified person should live the Christian life (2 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 5:13). It involves the daily Christian life.

What is Glorification?

Glorification is the consummation of God’s work of sanctification. It takes place when we stand before Jesus Christ at the end of this earthly life.

However, sanctification begins when an individual becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, and it continues progressively until death brings him into Christ’s presence.  

The Westminster Confession of Faith succinctly sums up sanctification: “They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.”

We gain the victory in the spiritual war as we walk in the Spirit. “Through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome: and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Sanctification is dependent upon the transforming power of the Holy Spirit over the entire length of the Christian life. It is a progressive change in the character of the person who has been instantly justified by grace through faith in Christ.

God’s goal in sanctification is the complete conformity of the believer to the image of Christ. It is the process whereby we are renewed in the inner man after the image of God (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 12:1, 2; Phil. 3:14; Heb. 6:1; 2 Pet. 3:18).

Christ is our sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30), and His goal is no less than conformity to His character (Rom. 8:29). “You shall be holy as I am holy” (Lev. 11:45; 1 Pet. 1:16; Matt. 5:48).

There is both a positional, judicial element in sanctification and a progressive, experiential aspect. God has executed judgment on our sin with a view to our deliverance. In progressive sanctification we actually experience this deliverance. In our experience of salvation there is a definite once-for-all permanent break with the dominion in which sin reigns (Rom. 6:1-14).

Progressive sanctification is built upon our positional sanctification. The commands to an obedient walk have their ground on the fact that we have been made obedient (Col. 3:2, 3; Phil. 1:6).

Everyday and in every way we should be more and more like our Savior in character. This is the work of sanctification. It is God imputing and imparting to us holiness. God desires that His children should be holy like Himself.

The LORD God is holy with absolute holiness. His holiness has no degrees. He is not progressive in His holiness. This attribute of holiness belongs to Him alone.

Christ died on the cross to cleanse us of all sin. By virtue of His atoning sacrifice we stand in a right relationship with Him when we believe on Him and are born spiritually. “In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us.” (Ephesians 1:7-8a).

We will not experience in this life absolute holiness which belongs only to God. One day we will be holy as He is holy when we stand before Him in glory in heaven. We will be clothed with the robes of His righteousness in His presence. There is a relative and dependent holiness which He shares with angels and seraphim in heaven and with the redeemed men on earth as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. This is the area where the Holy Spirit is at work in the believer. He shares it with the redeemed by imputation and by impartation. The Holy Spirit works in the believer to acknowledge confess and repent of all known sin in our daily life. “If we walk in the light as he Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). When “we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). That is sanctification at work in our lives.

The person who is justified will always show it by striving for righteousness. The sanctified life is a life of personal fellowship with Christ day by day in which the Holy Spirit rules the inner spiritual and outward expressions.

Key Scriptures

John 3:3-8; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 13:4; Galatians 5:13; Romans 8:29; 12:1-2; Philippians 1:6; 3:14; 2 Peter 3:18;

Abiding Principles and Practical Applications

1. The person who is justified by faith will always show it by striving for righteousness in his personal life.

2. Sanctification is justifying faith at work. It is God the Spirit in us conforming us to the likeness of Christ.

3.  Glorification is the completion of sanctification.

For Further Study

Goal of Justification
Justification
Justification and Glorification
Romans 8:28-30 Salvation in Five Words 

Message by Wil Pounds and all content on this page (c) 2005 by Wil Pounds. Anyone is free to use this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold under any circumstances whatsoever without the author's written consent. Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible (c) 1973, and 1995 Update by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. 

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