Scholar's Article by Wayne Grudem (may not be edited)
Chapter 38 from Systematic Theology. An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 1994)
"Sanctification (Growth in Likeness to Christ). How do we grow in Christian maturity? What are the blessings of Christian growth?"
Used with permission. Copyright 1994 Wayne Grudem. All Rights Reserved.
Explanation and Scriptural Basis
The previous chapters have discussed several acts of God that occur at the beginning of our Christian lives: the gospel call (which God addresses to us), regeneration (by which God imparts new life to us), justification (by which God gives us right legal standing before him), and adoption (in which God makes us members of his family). We have also discussed conversion (in which we repent of sins and trust in Christ for salvation). These events all occur at the beginning of our Christian lives.
[Although the initial saving faith by which we are justified occurs only at the time of conversion, faith and repentance do continue throughout our lives as well (see chapter 35, pp. 717-18). Similarly, although regeneration, justification, and adoption are instantaneous one-time events that occur at the beginning of the Christian life, the results of all of these continue throughout life: we continue to have the spiritual life we receive from regeneration, the legal standing we receive from justification, and the membership in God's family we receive from adoption.]
But now we come to a part of the application of redemption that is a progressive work that continues throughout our earthly lives. It is also a work in which God and man cooperate each playing distinct roles. This part of the application of redemption is called sanctification: Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.
Differences Between Justification and Sanctification
The following table specifies several differences between justification and sanctification:
| Legal standing
| Internal condition
| Once for all time
| Continuous throughout life
| Entirely God’s work
| We cooperate
| Perfect in this life
| Not perfect in this life
| The same in all Christians
| Greater in some than in others
As this chart indicates, sanctification is something that continues throughout our Christian life. The ordinary course of a Christian’s life will involve continual growth in sanctification, and it is something that the New Testament encourages us to give effort and attention to.
Three Stages of Sanctification
Sanctification Has a Definite Beginning at Regeneration.
A definite moral change occurs in our lives at the point of regeneration, for Paul talks about the “washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Once we have been born again we cannot continue to sin as a habit or a pattern of life (1 John 3:9), because the power of new spiritual life within us keeps us from yielding to a life of sin.
This initial moral change is the first stage in sanctification. In this sense, there is some overlap between regeneration and sanctification, for this moral change is actually a part of regeneration. But when we view it from the standpoint of moral change within us, we can also see it as the first stage in sanctification. Paul looks back on a completed event when he says to the Corinthians, “But you were washed, you were sanctified you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). Similarly, in Acts 20:32 Paul can refer to Christians as “all those who are sanctified.”
[The Greek expression is τοι̂ς ἡγιασμένοις, from ἁγιάζω (G39), a substantival perfect passive participle that expresses both a completed past activity (they were sanctified) and a continuing result (they continue to experience the sanctifying influence of that past action).]
This initial step in sanctification involves a definite break from the ruling power and love of sin, so that the believer is no longer ruled or dominated by sin and no longer loves to sin. Paul says, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus....For sin will have no dominion over you” (Rom. 6:11, 14). Paul says that Christians have been “set free from sin” (Rom. 6:18). In this context, to be dead to sin or to be set free from sin involves the power to overcome acts or patterns of sinful behavior in one’s life. Paul tells the Romans not to let sin “reign in your mortal bodies,” and he also says, “Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God” (Rom. 6:12-13). To be dead to the ruling power of sin means that we as Christians, by virtue of the power of the Holy Spirit and the resurrection life of Christ working within us, have power to overcome the temptations and enticements of sin. Sin will no longer be our master, as once it was before we became Christians.
In practical terms, this means that we must affirm two things to be true. On the one hand, we will never be able to say, “I am completely free from sin,” because our sanctification will never be completed (see below). But on the other hand, a Christian should never say (for example), “This sin has defeated me. I give up. I have had a bad temper for thirty-seven years, and I will have one until the day I die, and people are just going to have to put up with me the way I am!” To say this is to say that sin has gained dominion. It is to allow sin to reign in our bodies. It is to admit defeat. It is to deny the truth of Scripture, which tells us, “You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). It is to deny the truth of Scripture that tells us that “sin will have no dominion over you” (Rom. 6:14).
Sanctification Increases Throughout Life.
Even though the New Testament speaks about a definite beginning to sanctification, it also sees it as a process that continues throughout our Christian lives. This is the primary sense in which sanctification is used in systematic theology and in Christian conversation generally today.
[There is a different usage of the word sanctified in the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition within Protestantism. In these circles the experience of sanctification is sometimes viewed as a single event subsequent to conversion in which a Christian attains a higher level of holiness, a level sometimes known as "entire sanctification" or "sinless perfection." Within this tradition, sanctification is seen as an experience one seeks for in the Christian life and is sometimes able to attain. (See the systematic theologies listed under the category "Arminian" in the bibliography at the end of this chapter.) Therefore, while most Protestants would say, "I am being sanctified," some within the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition would say, "I have been sanctified," referring not to the initial break with sin that comes with conversion, but to a subsequent experience in which they began to know freedom from conscious sin in their lives. The difficulties with this position are outlined in section 4 below, "Sanctification Is Never Completed in This Life."] Although Paul says that his readers have been set free from sin (Rom. 6:18) and that they are “dead to sin and alive to God” (Rom. 6:11), he nonetheless recognizes that sin remains in their lives, so he tells them not to let it reign and not to yield to it (Rom. 6:12-13). Their task, therefore, as Christians is to grow more and more in sanctification, just as they previously grew more and more in sin: “Just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification” (Rom. 6:19; the words “just as...so now” [Gk. ὥσπερ...οὕτως] indicate that Paul wants them to do this in the same way: “just as” they previously yielded to more and more sin, “in just the same way” they are now to yield themselves to more and more righteousness for sanctification).
Paul says that throughout the Christian life “we all...are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). We are progressively becoming more and more like Christ as we go on in the Christian life. Therefore he says, “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” (Phil. 3:13-14)—this is in the context of saying that he is not already perfect but he presses on to achieve all of the purposes for which Christ has saved him (vv. 9-12).
Paul tells the Colossians that they should not lie to one another, since they have “put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10), thus showing that sanctification even involves increasing likeness to God in our thoughts as well as our words and deeds. The author of Hebrews tells his readers to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1), and to “strive for...the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). James encourages his hearers, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22), and Peter tells his readers, “Be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15).
It is not necessary to list multiple additional quotations, because much of the New Testament is taken up with instructing believers in various churches on how they should grow in likeness to Christ. All of the moral exhortations and commands in the New Testament epistles apply here, because they all exhort believers to one aspect or another of greater sanctification in their lives. It is the expectation of all the New Testament authors that our sanctification will increase throughout our Christian lives.
Sanctification Is Completed at Death (for Our Souls) and When the Lord Returns (for Our Bodies).
Because there is sin that still remains in our hearts even though we have become Christians (Rom. 6:12-13; 1 John 1:8), our sanctification will never be completed in this life (see below). But once we die and go to be with the Lord, then our sanctification is completed in one sense, for our souls are set free from indwelling sin and are made perfect. The author of Hebrews says that when we come into the presence of God to worship we come “to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). This is only appropriate because it is in anticipation of the fact that “nothing unclean shall enter” into the presence of God, the heavenly city (Rev. 21:27).
However, when we appreciate that sanctification involves the whole person, including our bodies (see 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 5:23), then we realize that sanctification will not be entirely completed until the Lord returns and we receive new resurrection bodies. We await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ from heaven, and he “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). It is “at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:23) that we will be made alive with a resurrection body and then we shall fully “bear the image of the Man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).
[See chapter 42 on glorification (that is, receiving a resurrection body when Christ returns).]
We may diagram the process of sanctification as in figure 38.1, showing that we are slaves to sin prior to conversion, (1) that there is a definite beginning to sanctification at the point of conversion, (2) that sanctification should increase throughout the Christian life, and (3) that sanctification is made perfect at death. (The completion of sanctification when we receive resurrection bodies is omitted from this chart for the sake of simplicity.)
I have shown the progress of sanctification as a jagged line on this chart, indicating that growth in sanctification is not always one-directional in this life, but that progress in sanctification occurs at some times, while at other times we realize that we are regressing somewhat. In the extreme case, a believer who makes very little use of the means of sanctification, but rather has bad teaching, lacks good Christian fellowship, and pays little attention to God’s Word and prayer, may actually go for many years with very little progress in sanctification at all—but this is certainly not the normal or expected pattern of the Christian life. It is in fact highly abnormal.
Sanctification Is Never Completed in This Life.
There have always been some in the history of the church who have taken commands such as Matthew 5:48 (“You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”) or 2 Corinthians 7:1 (“let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God”) and reasoned that since God gives us these commands, he must also give us the ability to obey them perfectly. Therefore, they have concluded, it is possible for us to attain a state of sinless perfection in this life. Moreover, they point to Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly” (1 Thess. 5:23), and infer that Paul’s prayer may well have been fulfilled for some of the Thessalonian Christians. In fact, John even says, “No one who abides in him sins” (1 John 3:6)! Do these verses not point to the possibility of sinless perfection in the life of some Christians? In this discussion, I will use the term perfectionism to refer to this view that sinless perfection is possible in this life.
On closer inspection, these passages do not support the perfectionist position. First, it is simply not taught in Scripture that when God gives a command, he also gives the ability to obey it in every case.
[See chapter 24, p. 499, for a discussion of the fact that God's commands in Scripture do not always imply that we have the ability to obey them.] God commands all people everywhere to obey all of his moral laws and holds them accountable for failing to obey them, even though unredeemed people are sinners and, as such, dead in trespasses and sins, and thus unable to obey God’s commands. When Jesus commands us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48), this simply shows that God’s own absolute moral purity is the standard toward which we are to aim and the standard for which God holds us accountable. The fact that we are unable to attain that standard does not mean that it will be lowered; rather, it means that we need God’s grace and forgiveness to overcome our remaining sin. Similarly, when Paul commands the Corinthians to make holiness perfect in the fear of the Lord (2 Cor. 7:1), or prays that God would sanctify the Thessalonians wholly (1 Thess. 5:23), he is pointing to the goal that he desires them to reach. He does not imply that any reach it, but only that this is the high moral standard toward which God wants all believers to aspire.
John’s statement that “No one who abides in him sins” (1 John 3:6) does not teach that some of us attain perfection, because the present-tense Greek verbs are better translated as indicating continual or habitual activity: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6 niv). This is similar to John’s statement a few verses later, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9 niv). If these verses were taken to prove sinless perfection, they would have to prove it for all Christians, because they talk about what is true of everyone born of God, and everyone who has seen Christ and known him.
[1 John 5:18 is to be understood in a similar way.]
Therefore, there do not seem to be any convincing verses in Scripture that teach that it is possible for anyone to be completely free of sin in this life. On the other hand, there are passages in both the Old and New Testaments that clearly teach that we cannot be morally perfect in this life. In Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple, he says, “If they sin against you—for there is no man who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46). Similarly, we read a rhetorical question with an implied negative answer in Proverbs 20:9: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin’?” And we read the explicit statement in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”
In the New Testament, we find Jesus commanding his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins as we also have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matt. 6:11-12, author’s translation). Just as the prayer for daily bread provides a model for a prayer that should be repeated each day, so the prayer for the forgiveness of sins is included in the type of prayer that should be made each day in a believer’s life.
As we noted above, when Paul talks about the new power over sin that is given to a Christian, he does not say that there will be no sin in the Christian’s life, but simply tells the believers not to let sin “reign” in their bodies nor to “yield” their members to sin (Rom. 6:12-13). He does not say that they will not sin, but says that sin will not dominate or “have...dominion” over them (Rom. 6:14). The very fact that he issues these directions shows his realization that sin will continue to be present in the lives of believers throughout their time on earth. Even James the brother of our Lord could say, “We all make many mistakes” (James 3:2), and if James himself can say this, then we certainly should be willing to say it as well. Finally, in the same letter in which John declares so frequently that a child of God will not continue in a pattern of sinful behavior, he also says clearly, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Here John explicitly excludes the possibility of being completely free from sin in our lives. In fact, he says that anyone who claims to be free from sin is simply deceiving himself, and the truth is not in him.
[See chapter 24, p. 498, n. 16, for a discussion of the view that 1 John 1:8 does not necessarily apply to all Christians.]
But once we have concluded that sanctification will never be completed in this life, we must exercise pastoral wisdom and caution in the way we use this truth. Some may take this fact and use it as an excuse not to strive for holiness or grow in sanctification—a procedure exactly contrary to dozens of New Testament commands. Others may think about the fact that we cannot be perfect in this life and lose hope of making any progress in the Christian life—an attitude that is also contrary to the clear teaching of Romans 6 and other passages about the resurrection power of Christ in our lives enabling us to overcome sin. Therefore, although sanctification will never be completed in this life, we must also emphasize that it should never stop increasing in this life.
Moreover, as Christians grow in maturity, the kinds of sin that remain in their lives are often not so much sins of words or deeds that are outwardly noticeable to others, but inward sins of attitudes and motives of the heart—desires such as pride and selfishness, lack of courage or faith, lack of zeal in loving God with our whole hearts and our neighbors as ourselves, and failure to fully trust God for all that he promises in every situation. These are real sins! They show how far short we fall of the moral perfection of Christ.
However, recognizing the nature of these sins that will persist even in more mature Christians also helps to guard against misunderstanding when we say that no one will be perfect and free from sin in this life. It is certainly possible that many mature Christians at many times during the day are free from conscious or willful acts of disobedience to God in their words or their deeds. In fact, if Christian leaders are to “set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12), then it will frequently be true that their lives will be free from words or deeds that others will count as blameworthy. But this is far removed from attaining total freedom from sin in our motives and in the thoughts and intents of our hearts.
John Murray notes that when Isaiah the prophet came into the presence of God he could only cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5). And when Job, whose righteousness was earlier commended in the story about his life, came into the presence of almighty God, he could only say, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Murray concludes from these examples and from the testimony of other saints through the history of the church:
Indeed, the more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God. The deeper his apprehension of the majesty of God, the greater the intensity of his love to God, the more persistent his yearning for the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, the more conscious will he be of the gravity of the sin that remains and the more poignant will be his detestation of it....Was this not the effect in all the people of God as they came into closer proximity to the revelation of God’s holiness?
[John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied p. 145.]
God and Man Cooperate in Sanctification
Some (such as John Murray)
[Ibid., pp. 148-49.] object to saying that God and man “cooperate” in sanctification, because they want to insist that God’s work is primary and our work in sanctification is only a secondary one (see Phil. 2:12-13). However, if we explain the nature of God’s role and our role in sanctification clearly, it does not seem inappropriate to say that God and man cooperate in sanctification. God works in our sanctification and we work as well, and we work for the same purpose. We are not saying that we have equal roles in sanctification or that we both work in the same way, but simply that we cooperate with God in ways that are appropriate to our status as God’s creatures. And the fact that Scripture emphasizes the role that we play in sanctification (with all the moral commands of the New Testament), makes it appropriate to teach that God calls us to cooperate with him in this activity. [On the other hand, if we wish to say that sanctification is entirely God's work, and that we use the means of sanctification in order to contribute to it (or some similar expression), the meaning is the same. I am simply concerned that if we say sanctification is entirely God's work, we can be misunderstood and encourage an excessively passive role on the part of Christians, who may be led to think that they need to do nothing in the process of sanctification in their lives.]
God’s Role in Sanctification.
Since sanctification is primarily a work of God, it is appropriate that Paul prays, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly” (1 Thess. 5:23). One specific role of God the Father in this sanctification is his process of disciplining us as his children (see Heb. 12:5-11). Paul tells the Philippians, “God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13), thus indicating something of the way in which God sanctifies them—both by causing them to want his will and by giving them power to do it. The author of Hebrews speaks of the role of the Father and the role of the Son in a familiar benediction: “Now may the God of peace...equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever” (Heb. 13:20-21).
The role of God the Son, Jesus Christ, in sanctification is, first, that he earned our sanctification for us. Therefore Paul could say that God made Christ to be “our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Moreover, in the process of sanctification, Jesus is also our example for we are to run the race of life “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Peter tells his readers, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). And John says, “He who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6).
But it is specifically God the Holy Spirit who works within us to change us and sanctify us, giving us greater holiness of life. Peter speaks of the “sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Peter 1:2, author’s translation), and Paul speaks of “sanctification by the Spirit” (2 Thess. 2:13). It is the Holy Spirit who produces in us the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23), those character traits that are part of greater and greater sanctification. If we grow in sanctification we “walk by the Spirit” and are “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16-18; cf. Rom. 8:14), that is, we are more and more responsive to the desires and promptings of the Holy Spirit in our life and character. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of holiness, and he produces holiness within us.
[See chapter 30, pp. 642-43, for a further discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification.]
Our Role in Sanctification.
The role that we play in sanctification is both a passive one in which we depend on God to sanctify us, and an active one in which we strive to obey God and take steps that will increase our sanctification. We can now consider both of these aspects of our role in sanctification.
First, what may be called the “passive” role that we play in sanctification is seen in texts that encourage us to trust God or to pray and ask that he sanctify us. Paul tells his readers, “Yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life” (Rom. 6:13; cf. v. 19), and he tells the Roman Christians, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1). Paul realizes that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit’s work to grow in sanctification, because he says, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Rom. 8:13).
Unfortunately today, this “passive” role in sanctification, this idea of yielding to God and trusting him to work in us “to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13), is sometimes so strongly emphasized that it is the only thing people are told about the path of sanctification. Sometimes the popular phrase “let go and let God” is given as a summary of how to live the Christian life. But this is a tragic distortion of the doctrine of sanctification, for it only speaks of one half of the part we must play, and, by itself, will lead Christians to become lazy and to neglect the active role that Scripture commands them to play in their own sanctification.
That active role which we are to play is indicated by Romans 8:13, where Paul says, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” Here Paul acknowledges that it is “by the Spirit” that we are able to do this. But he also says we must do it! It is not the Holy Spirit who is commanded to put to death the deeds of the flesh, but Christians! Similarly, Paul tells the Philippians, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Paul encourages them to obey even more than they did when he was present. He says that obedience is the way in which they “work out [their] own salvation,” meaning that they will “work out” the further realization of the benefits of salvation in their Christian life.
[This verse does not use the word "salvation" to refer to initial justification, but to the ongoing process of experiencing more and more of the blessings of salvation; here, "salvation" is roughly equivalent to "sanctification."] The Philippians are to work at this growth in sanctification, and to do it solemnly and with reverence (“with fear and trembling”), for they are doing it in the presence of God himself. But there is more: the reason why they are to work and to expect that their work will yield positive results is that “God is at work in you—the prior and foundational work of God in sanctification means that their own work is empowered by God; therefore it will be worthwhile and will bear positive results.
It is important that we continue to grow both in our passive trust in God to sanctify us and in our active striving for holiness and greater obedience in our lives. If we neglect active striving to obey God, we become passive, lazy Christians. If we neglect the passive role of trusting God and yielding to him, we become proud and overly confident in ourselves. In either case, our sanctification will be greatly deficient. We must maintain faith and diligence to obey at the same time. The old hymn wisely says, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
[Comparing our life to a tree with two large roots, John Livingstone said, "Satan strikes . . . either at the root of faith or at the root of diligence" (quoted in D.M. McIntyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer [Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1969], p. 39).]
Sanctification Affects the Whole Person
We see that sanctification affects our intellect and our knowledge when Paul says that we have put on the new nature “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10). He prays that the Philippians may see their love “abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9). And he urges the Roman Christians to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Although our knowledge of God is more than intellectual knowledge, there is certainly an intellectual component to it, and Paul says that this knowledge of God should keep increasing throughout our lives: a life “worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” is one that is continually “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). The sanctification of our intellects will involve growth in wisdom and knowledge as we increasingly “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and find that our thoughts are more and more the thoughts that God himself imparts to us in his Word.
Moreover, growth in sanctification will affect our emotions. We will see increasingly in our lives emotions such as “love, joy, peace, patience” (Gal. 5:22). We will be able increasingly to obey Peter’s command “to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). We will find it increasingly true that we do not “love the world or things in the world” (1 John 2:15), but that we, like our Savior, delight to do God’s will. In ever-increasing measure we will become “obedient from the heart” (Rom. 6:17), and we will “put away” the negative emotions involved in “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander” (Eph. 4:31).
Moreover, sanctification will have an effect on our will our decision-making faculty, because God is at work in us, “to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). As we grow in sanctification, our will will be more and more conformed to the will of our heavenly Father.
Sanctification will also affect our spirit the nonphysical part of our beings. We are to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1), and Paul says that a concern about the affairs of the Lord will mean taking thought for “how to be holy in body and spirit” (1 Cor. 7:34).
[See chapter 23, pp. 473-77, for a discussion of the fact that "soul" and "spirit" are used roughly synonymously in the Bible.]
Motives for Obedience to God in the Christian Life
The Beauty and Joy of Sanctification
It would not be right to end our discussion without noting that sanctification brings great joy to us. The more we grow in likeness to Christ, the more we will personally experience the “joy” and “peace” that are part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and the more we will draw near to the kind of life that we will have in heaven. Paul says that as we become more and more obedient to God, “the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom. 6:22). He realizes that this is the source of our true joy. “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). As we grow in holiness we grow in conformity to the image of Christ, and more and more of the beauty of his character is seen in our own lives. This is the goal of perfect sanctification which we hope and long for, and which will be ours when Christ returns. “And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
Questions for Personal Application
Can you remember in your own experience the definite beginning to sanctification that occurred when you became a Christian? Did you sense a clear break from the ruling power and love of sin in your life? Do you really believe that you are even now dead to the ruling power and love of sin in your life? How can this truth of the Christian life be of help to you in specific areas of your life where you still need to grow in sanctification?
As you look back over the last few years of your Christian life, can you see a pattern of definite growth in sanctification? What are some things that you used to delight in which no longer interest you? What are some things that you used to have no interest in that now hold great interest for you?
As you have grown to greater maturity and holiness in the Christian life, have you become more conscious of the weight of sin that remains in your heart? If not, why has this not been so? Do you think that it would be helpful if you had a greater consciousness of the sin that remains in your own life? If you had this, what difference would it make in your own life?
How would it affect your life if you thought more about the fact that the Holy Spirit is continually at work in you to increase your sanctification? In living the Christian life, have you maintained a balance between your passive role and your active role in sanctification, or have you tended to emphasize one aspect over the other, and why? What might you do to correct this imbalance, if there is one in your life?
Have you thought previously that sanctification affects your intellect and the way you think? What areas of your intellect still need quite a bit of growth in sanctification? With regard to your emotions, in what areas do you know that God still needs to work to bring about greater sanctification? Are there areas or aspects of sanctification that need to be improved with respect to your physical body and its obedience to God’s purposes?
Are there areas where you have struggled for years to grow in sanctification, but with no progress at all in your life? Has this chapter helped you regain hope for progress in those areas? (For Christians who have serious discouragement over lack of progress in sanctification, it is very important to talk personally to a pastor or other mature Christian about this situation, rather than letting it go on for a long period of time.)
Overall, has this chapter been an encouragement or discouragement to you in your Christian life?
(For an explanation of this bibliography see the note on the bibliography to chapter 1, p. 38. Complete bibliographical data may be found on pp. 1223-29.)
Sections in Evangelical Systematic Theologies
1. Anglican (Episcopalian)
1882-92 Litton, 330-45
1930 Thomas, 199-209, 223-35
2. Arminian (Wesleyan or Methodist)
1847 Finney, 423-81
1875-76 Pope, 3:27-100
1892-94 Miley, 2:355-84
1940 Wiley, 2:440-517; 3:7-102
1960 Purkiser, 305-92, 428-41
1983 Carter, 1:521-69
1767 Gill, 2:93-107, 141-51, 364-557
1887 Boyce, 409-25
1907 Strong, 869-81
1917 Mullins, 417-32
1983-85 Erickson, 967-84
1947 Chafer, 3:355-63; 6:162-298
1949 Thiessen, 283-89
1986 Ryrie, 300-306
1917-24 Pieper, 3:3-86
1934 Mueller, 384-435
6. Reformed (or Presbyterian)
1559 Calvin, 1:684-725, 833-49 (3.6-10, 19)
1724-58 Edwards, 2:173-85
1861 Heppe, 565-80
1871-73 Hodge, 3:213-465
1878 Dabney, 674-87
1887-1921 Warfield, SSW 2:325-28; Perf., 3-464
1889 Shedd, 2b:553-60
1937-66 Murray, CW 2:277-317; RAA 141-51
1938 Berkhof, 527-44
1962 Buswell, 2:196-215
7. Renewal (or charismatic/Pentecostal)
1988-92 Williams, 2:83-117, 411-45
Sections in Representative Roman Catholic Systematic Theologies
1. Roman Catholic: Traditional
1955 Ott, 254-69
2. Roman Catholic: Post-Vatican II
1980 McBrien, 2:903-1099
Alexander, Donald L., ed. Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
Berkouwer, G.C. Faith and Sanctification. Trans. by John Vriend. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952.
Bockmuehl, Klaus. “Sanctification.” In NDT pp. 613-16.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry. He That Is Spiritual. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967.
Coppedge, Allan. The Biblical Principles of Discipleship. Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1989.
Downs, Perry G. Teaching for Spiritual Growth: An Introduction to Christian Education. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.
Hoekema, Anthony A. “Sanctification.” In Saved by Grace. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and Exeter: Paternoster, 1989, pp. 192-233.
Murray, John. “Sanctification.” In Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955, pp. 141-50.
Packer, J.I. Keep in Step With the Spirit. Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1984.
Prior, K. The Way of Holiness. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1967.
Ryle, J.C. Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots. Westwood, N.J.: Revell, n.d.
White, R.E.O. “Sanctification.” In EDT pp. 969-71.
Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.
Ziesler, J.A. The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972.
Scripture Memory Passage
Romans 6:11-14: So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
“Take Time to be Holy”
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in him always, and feed on his Word.
Make friends of God’s children; help those who are weak;
Forgetting in nothing his blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct his likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy, let him be thy guide,
And run not before him, whatever betide;
In joy or in sorrow, still follow thy Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in his Word.
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul;
Each thought and each motive beneath his control;
Thus led by his Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.
Author: William D. Longstaff, 1887
Alternate hymn: “Trust and Obey”