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“Because of infinite holiness, God Himself—Father, Son and Spirit—is eternally sanctified.” He is absolutely holy. No one in the entire universe is holy as He is holy. It is one of His eternal attributes. “I the Lord, who sanctifies you, am holy” (Leviticus 21:8).

Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Christ is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. He is absolutely holy as the Father is.

Christians are called “saints.” They are saints by their present calling from God, and are already sanctified, set apart, classified, “holy brethren” who are therefore “saints.”

The Greek word hagios literally means “separated.” A person who is hagios is one who is separated from the world in order to be consecrated to God.

“Sanctify” means “set apart,” or “the state of being set apart.” The sanctified person or thing has been set apart, or separated from others who are unholy to a position and relationship before God. The word “holy” refers to the position of being set apart, or being separated, from that which is unholy.

It is important to consider all that the Scriptures teach on the subject of sanctification and let these Scriptures interpret our experiences. Our experiences must not be substituted for the clear teaching of the Bible. Let the Word of God explain and help us to understand our religious and emotional experiences. Sanctification is not limited to our experiences. Every experience, which comes from God as a source, will be found to be according to Scripture.

It is also important to keep a balance between sanctification and other Christian doctrines. Let’s be careful not to overstate or emphasize one doctrine and understate others. We should also keep clearly in mind the distinctiveness of each doctrine.

The terms “holy” and “sanctification” do not necessarily imply sinless perfection. The Bible refers to a “holy nation,” “holy priests,” “holy prophets,” “holy apostles,” “holy men,” “holy women,” “holy brethren,” “holy mountain,” and a “holy temple.” However, none of these were sinless in the eyes of God. They were separated from the world’s use for God’s special purpose. They were reserved for His unique use, just as when you reserve a table in a fine restaurant for your own personal use. No one else can use that table while you are there. It is for your exclusive use alone.

In the Scriptures we find many inanimate things that were sanctified or set apart to God’s use alone. These objects could never be related to the question of sin. It is important to keep in mind that the patriarchs, prophets, kings, apostles, disciples, etc. were repeatedly called to higher degrees of holiness. They were set apart again and again for God’s unique use. People or things, became holy as they were set apart for some chosen purpose. 

Our being a saint is not subject to progression. It is our position before God. We have been set apart to God. That is what makes us a saint. Every born-again person is as much a saint the moment he is saved, as he ever will be in time or eternity. You cannot lose that position. The whole church which is His body is a called-out, separated people. They belong to Him alone and to no one else. All believers are saints. Even the most carnal church in the New Testament was called His saints. They were redeemed and set apart.

Need for sanctification

The need for progressive sanctification is very clear in the Scriptures. The fact that we have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ and born again does not eliminate all sin from the heart and life of the new believer. We have been delivered from its power and defilement, but we are not yet sinless and will not be until we see Jesus face to face in heaven. 

However, there is still indwelling sin that we have to deal with (Rom. 6:20; 7:14-25; 1 John 1:8; 2:1). We have not yet been perfectly conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. We are not yet holy as He is holy.

Progressive sanctification has as its goal the elimination of all sin and complete transformation of our lives to the image of Jesus Christ. The goal is that we will be holy as the Lord is holy. That will not be realized until the body of our humiliation will be transformed into the likeness of the body of Christ’s glory. In that moment the corruptible will put on incorruption and the moral will put on immortality (Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 John 3:2).

God takes all sin in the life of a believer seriously. Sanctification and sins in the life of the believer is a serious matter. Every sin in the believer’s life is in opposition of God’s holiness. It is true that we are justified and there is now no judicial condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1). But that does not excuse the sin which resides in the believer and which he commits. It does provoke the anger of our heavenly Father (1 John 2:1; 3:3; 2:16).

Sin in the believer affects his fellowship with the Father and causes conflicts in his heart and personal life (Rom. 7:14ff; 1 Cor. 5:1ff; 6:1ff; 7:1ff). Sin in any amount in the believer produces tension in that person because the Holy Spirit dwells within him. The Holy Spirit is holy and He will not tolerate sin in His presence.

The more sanctified a believer is the more conformed he will be to the image of Christ.

The deeper and more intense his relationship with God is, the more mindful he will be of the seriousness of the sin which remains and the more opposed he will be to its presence in his life.

As the believer get closer and closer to the holiest of all, the more he is aware of his own personal sinfulness and must cry aloud, “O wretched man that I am” (Rom. 7:24). 

The Bible is very clear that sin does not have to have mastery over the believer (Matt. 5:48; 1 Jn. 3:3). Spurgeon said, “It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another to live in sin.”

Sanctification is not sinless perfection in this life

How good must the saved person be?

God’s standard for man is complete perfect moral righteousness. He is to have nothing lacking of the glory of God. He is to be blameless as the Lord. No individual lives up to God’s standard. Nothing you will ever do in this life will be perfect. Only what God does is perfect. If you are to reach perfection that God requires, it must be as a result of what God does for you and in you as a believer.

There is no reason to conclude that the Christian is getting better and better so that he will be able to say he no longer sins. The truth is just the opposite (1 John 1:8-2:2; Phil. 3:12-14; Rom. 7:14-25).

God will be true to His holy nature, and His purpose for the Christian is to make you become like Jesus. He will perfect us completely in all ways at the moment of our death. Until then we struggle with indwelling sin. God cannot ignore sin in our lives.

It is helpful to remember that sanctification is not primarily negative in the New Testament. Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit in the believer (Gal. 5:22-23). It is the overflowing His life within us as we make ourselves available to Him.

Sanctification is not a sudden miraculous gift. There are no shortcuts to sanctification. It is the ongoing process of being conformed to the character and likeness of Christ.

The essence of sanctification in the first century church was a Christ-like purity. Anything less is a sinful compromise.

The apostle Paul denied that he was already “perfect” (Phil. 3:12-13). But that did not keep him from reaching for the goal of being “complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28). He was shooting for perfection. The root telei does not mean sinless perfection or incapable of sinning. Paul has in mind reaching the appointed end, finished, complete, mature, yes, perfect. It has the idea of bringing to an end by completion or perfecting.

This maturity is clearly part of the Christian’s goal. However, Paul’s denial that he is already “perfect,” and his exhortations to progressive sanctification, shows that he does not think a final, perfect sanctification can be claimed in this life.

Paul’s solution is found in Romans 6:11-16. "So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness?" (Romans 6:11-16, NET).

It is the Father’s perfection we must strive toward. The word “perfect” sets before us clearly in our mind that we are to be “perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is the highest possible standard and God expects us to press on until we attain them. Who would ever have reached it?

In Matthew 5:48 the word “perfect” means “brought to completion, full-grown, lacking nothing.” Jesus says His disciples must be “perfect.” He exhorts His disciples to be mature followers reaching the goal for which God called them.

The apostle John said, “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8). He does not think the believer has reached sinless perfection (1:7-2:2). That is also implied in 3:3-10, where John details some fourteen reasons that the Christian ought not to continue to practice sin. He constantly deals with the now and the yet to be in the Christian life. 

The Christian grows more sensitive to sin in his own life as he lives nearer to God. The believer will become more sensitive to any sin in his life and will repent and seek God’s forgiveness. He will never make excuses.

In this life the Christian does not attain absolute Christlikeness. Sin remains in humanity until death and therefore spiritual perfection is impossible in this life. However, the goal toward which the devout Christian should strive is to appear before God without spot or blemish even though we will never reach that goal until the sinful body is laid to rest.

The struggle for completion in our daily life will not go unrewarded. The victory is assured for those who strive for the goal (Phil. 1:6; 3:12-14; 2 Tim. 4:7-8).

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14, NASB 1995).

Key Scriptures

Matthew 5:48; Leviticus 21:8; Romans 6:20; 7:14-25; 1 John 1:8-2:2; Philippians 1:6; 3:12-14; Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; Romans 6:11-14

Abiding Principles and Practical Applications

1. God is holy and He demands that His people be holy. Anything less is to compromise a holy God and His Word.

2. God calls His children "saints" because that is what they are. All believers in Jesus Christ are saints.

3. Regeneration does not remove all indwelling sin from the heart and life of the believer. Sin nature is not eradicated in the Christian. The Holy Spirit works in the believer to conform us the character of the Son of God.

4. The deeper and more intense our relationship with God the more aware we are of sin in our lives.

 5. The Christian will not attain absolute Christlikeness in this life. We will never reach the goal until the sinful body is laid to rest, but when we see Jesus we will be like Him.


For Further Study

What is Sanctification? 
Why Christians Must be Holy 
Holiness Made Practical






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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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