Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
Throughout the Scriptures we are reminded that God is holy. He is high, exalted and set apart, distinct from everyone and everything else. All else is created, He alone is Creator.
God does not just justify those whom He loves, He also sanctifies them. He does not simply save, He also cleanses. The church is the body of those who are said to be sanctified.
There are two aspects of sanctification. One is an event which occurred at conversion and the other is a process which continues until death. We cannot deny either without doing serious injustice to Biblical revelation.
The Event of Sanctification
The Scriptures say that we were sanctified (past tense) and are sanctified (present tense). You can see this in the epistles of Paul in which he addresses those who are called “saints”1 and “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus”2 and “saints”. This is also seen in such passages as 1 Corinthians 6:11 and Hebrews 10:10. These pictures show that one very important aspect of our sanctification is a past and present reality. Those who have been justified have also been sanctified. This is a precious truth.
The Process of Sanctification
While the Scriptures certainly teach the past and present aspects of sanctification, they also inform us of the ongoing and future progression into sanctification. This truth does not contradict the event of sanctification, but merely complements it. Those who are holy are being made holy. Though it is difficult to understand, it is impossible to deny.
After writing in Hebrews 10:10 that “we have been sanctified,” the author writes in 12:14 “pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” The author was not content with merely saying “you are already sanctified so you can take it easy.” Rather, he presents the pursuit of holiness as a matter of life and death.
The Means of Sanctification
Sanctification, like all of God’s promises and gifts, flow through the work of Jesus upon the cross. Our holiness was purchased by His blood.
Furthermore, holiness comes through the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through Him, we are made to be what we are declared to be at conversion.
This picture of sanctification, both past and future, is appropriated by faith. As Paul has written in Galatians 3, we continue by that by which we began. This does not, however, mean that we are therefore free from the responsibility to work. Remember, Hebrews tells us to pursue. We must certainly work for sanctification. However, our work neither merits the gift of holiness, nor is it done apart from the Spirit. As Philippians 2 tells us, we are to work out our salvation, but only because God is working in us to make us willing and able to do so. As in all things, God gets the glory and is the sovereign and effective doer.
Sanctification is a complex subject, but it need not be complicated. We know that we have been sanctified and that we are being sanctified. We know that we are called to work for sanctification, but that ultimately even those very efforts are grounded in faith by the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, according to the will of the Father.
- John 17:17
- 1 Corinthians 1:2
- 1 Corinthians 6:11
- 1 Thessalonians 5:23
- 2 Thessalonians 2:13
- Hebrews 10:10, 14
- Hebrews 12:14
- 1 Peter 1:2
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1 The word “saints” is a translation of the Greek word for holy, sacred, blameless or consecrated.
2 See 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2