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Here are two good answers.

First, the Westminster Shorter Catechism (question 35) answers that sanctification is:

 the work of God’s free grace [2 Thess. 2:13] whereby we

  • are renewed in the whole man after the image of God [Eph. 4:23-24], and
  • are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness [Rom. 6:4, 6; 8:1]

Anthony A. Hoekema (1913-1988), in Saved by Grace, defines it as follows:

That gracious operation of the Holy Spirit,

involving our responsible participation,

by which he

  • delivers us from the pollution of sin,
  • renews our entire nature according to the image of God, and
  • enables us to live lives that are pleasing to him.

And here is a helpful chart from Andy Naselli’s helpful Let Go and Let God? showing a bit of the diversity of the way the concept is understood in the NT:

Past

Present

Future

Initial sanctification (occurs simultaneously with justification and regeneration) Progressive sanctification Perfect, complete, or final sanctification (i.e., glorification)
“I am (or have been) sanctified.” “I am being sanctified.” “I will be sanctified.”
Sets a believer apart positionally from sin’s penalty and/or experientially from his “old man” in Adam (Rom. 6; Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; Heb. 10:10, 14) Sets a believer apart from sin’s power and practice (John 17:17; 2 Cor. 3:18; 7:1; Phil. 1:6) Sets a believer apart from sin’s presence and possibility (Rom. 8:29-30; Phil. 3:21; 1 Thess. 3:12-13; Jude 24)

 


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7 thoughts on “What Is Sanctification?”

  1. Inchristus says:

    Just thinking out loud here….

    Since our “life is now hidden with Christ” (Col 3:3), we have been given a unique orientation, which is looking up and leaning forward. Scripture is replete with examples of this new perspective. Paul, for instance, writes “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way” (Philip 3:13-15). Hebrews admonishes us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb 12:1-2). As we look up to Jesus we lean forward in holy living. John tells us that “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself [present tense] as he is pure” (1 Jn 3:2-3). Our certain future necessarily impacts our present living.
    In fact, Peter insists that looking up and leaning forward has a significant impact on our ethical living, because
    “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Pt 3:10-14).

    I honestly believe that if our daily lives were governed more by the anxious expectation of our Lord’s appearance and its implications for our lives, there would be far less psychosis and far more hope-filled believers who anxiously live for Christ. Indeed, it is this forward focus that propels our new life in Christ. It provides a fresh and exciting orientation for living our lives as men of God whose identity is found solely in Christ Jesus.

    You see, when Christ enters our lives we are set on a new course. Quite simply, being born again means that something happens to us at the deepest level of our existence. Being born again is the activity of God whereby he radically transforms our moral, mental, emotional, and volitional fiber through the unique power of the Holy Spirit. Our value systems are wholly renovated, not just modified as old impulses and habits are gradually yet certainly replaced with new ones (Gal 5:19-24; Col 2:11-12). In our second birth a spiritual death takes place of the old self or nature (Gal 2:20), which was dominated by sinful desires and activities (Rom 6:1-11), and we are given a new life that is inclined to love and serve the living God who by grace alone through faith alone saved us to a living hope that is never to be corrupted (1 Pt 1:4). Being born again begins this new journey, also called “sanctification,” which broadly defined is the gradual but certain transformation of our lives in growing conformity to Christ’s life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Thomas says:

    InChristus, I kinda like how the profound brevity of the definitions listed by Justin Taylor hit the mark.

  3. Bruce says:

    I wonder if they ever considered the following clause…

    That gracious operation of the Holy Spirit (as an Agent of the Father to qualify His children for the New Creation)…

    This seems to balance the Holy Zapping quality of the WCF definition. Thoughts?

  4. HUW THOMAS says:

    Adam was created in the perfect state in the image and likeness of the Eternal Almighty. Adam was created in perfection, but not immutable. In the fall he lost his perfection and passed on the fallen state or character to all that came after.
    In the recreation into which the heirs of salvation are re-birthed we are set on the road of perfecting the work being done in us. Through many trials and tribulations we shall be perfected and that is sanctification. We know that He who began the work shall perfect it, because we certainly can’t.

  5. kyle says:

    This “three tense sanctification” makes a lot of sense if we think of man as composed of body, soul, and spirit. Sanctification would then operate progressively in each part of our fallen being to separate us unto God and saturate with God. Paul connects sanctification with a “whole” definition of human anthropology in 1 Thes. 5:23.

    In “Gleanings in Genesis”, A.W. Pink relates Andy Naselli’s chart, specifically using the main words “penalty, power, and presence” of sin to man’s threefold constitution.

    I think there’s great benefit also, if we understand sanctification as a subjective operation of the divine life within the believer’s constitution, not just an ethical influence or change in the believer’s practice. In other words, the WAY a believer is set apart from the power, practice, presence, and possibility of sin is by the inward operation of the divine life. Rom. 6:22 makes this connection.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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