Q35: What is sanctification?

A: 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. 4:24), and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness (Rom. 8:1).


I. Sanctification in general denotes three things.

A. Separation: being set apart to a holy use or service (Ps. 4:3).

B. Purification: the taking away of pollution (2 Cor. 7:1).

C. Preparation: a thing or person is made fit for use or service (2 Tim. 2:21).


II. Sanctification of a soul is twofold.

A. Definitive (or “initial”) sanctification is the implanting of grace in the soul in regeneration (Acts 20:32; 1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Jn. 3:9). This precedes justification, and herein the sinner is passive.

B. Progressive sanctification is the process of change that is carried on by degrees (2 Cor. 3:18). This continues throughout the saint’s life and is perfected in death. This follows justification, and herein the saint is active.


III. Sanctification: its Author, cause, and subjects.

A. Author: this work in a special manner is attributed to the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Thess. 2:13): the Father and Son are also said to sanctify (Eph. 5:26; Jude 1).

B. Cause: solely free grace (Tit. 3:5), as there is nothing foreseen in man pleasing to God (Rom. 8:8; 1 Cor. 1:26-27).

C. Subjects: the elect (Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13); even from the womb (Jer. 1:5).

1. The whole man is sanctified (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Thess. 5:23).

a. The darkened understanding is renewed (Col. 3:10); the naturally rebellious will is bent towards good (Eph. 4:22-24); the affections are changed (Ps. 119:97); the body is now a temple of the Holy Spirit and the members are instruments of righteousness to God (Rom. 6:13; 1 Cor. 6:15, 19).


IV. Sanctification: its parts, process, and means.

A. Parts: mortification and vivification.

1. Mortification: the believer is progressively enabled to die unto sin as the Spirit applies the virtue of Christ’s death (Rom. 6:4, 6).

a. The believer is admonished to put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5), which follows Paul’s insistence that the believer is dead to sin (Rom. 6-7; Col. 3:3): conform the processive experience with sin to definitive death to sin. Be what you are. [See Appendix G]

2. Vivification: progressively enabled to live unto righteousness (Rom. 6:4).

a. The believer is other-worldly (Phil. 3:20), being conformed to that likeness and not conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2).

3. Put off/put on: these two parts of sanctification are described like changing clothes (Eph. 4:20-24; Col. 3:5-10).

B. Process: carried on by degrees (2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Pet. 3:18).

1. The Spirit implants grace, inclining the soul towards holiness (Heb. 8:10); preserves that grace (1 Pet. 1:5); excites and quickens grace (Phil. 2:13); provides new supplies of grace (2 Cor. 12:9-10) completes at death (Heb. 12:23) when the new man is brought to its perfect stature (Eph. 4:13).

2. This process is a continual and irreconcilable war (Ga. 5:17) between the renewed man and the body of death that still clings to him (Rom. 7:14-25).

a. Perfectionism refuted (1 Jn. 1:8-10).

3. Believer is active in this process (Phil. 3:12-13; 1 Tim. 4:7; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).

C. Means: the ordinances and providences of God.

1. Ordinances: the reading and preaching of the Word (Jn. 17:17; Acts 20:32; 1 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 2:2); receiving and attending the sacraments (Rom. 6:3, 11; 1 Cor. 11:24-25; Ga. 3:27); prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (Phil. 4:6; Ja. 4:3; 1 Jn. 5:14-15); corporate fellowship (Acts 2:42-46; Heb. 10:25).

2. Providences: whether smiling or frowning, all serve to perfect the child of God; especially the latter (Isa. 27:9; Ps. 119:67, 71; Rom. 2:4).


V. Sanctification: its effects and goal.

A. Effects: practical holiness (Ga. 5:13-16; Ja. 1:19-27; 1 Jn. 2:3-11; etc.).

B. Goal: the glory of God (Phil. 1:11; 1 Pet. 5:10).


VI. Application.

A. Use, of knowledge.

1. Sanctification is not by man’s effort (the error of asceticism, e.g., self-flagellation). Work of God enabling man to strive after: synergistic, progressive, employs means, and must flow from justification.

B. Use, of testing.

1. Sanctification produces holiness (Heb. 12:14), and will be evident to some degree in every saint; it is not partial change or moral change (2 Cor. 5:17).

2. Humility is the great virtue. The believer becomes more holy yet more aware of his unworthiness before God.

a. Analogy: a man falls into mud on a dark night. At a distance he sees a great light and walks towards it. The nearer he gets to the light, the more dirt he tries to get rid of. And yet, because he is getting nearer to the light, it is also true that he is able to see more clearly how dirty he is.  Likewise the Spirit constantly shows the believer more of Christ, the holiness of the law, and leads him to cleanse himself of his old sin. They become less sinful, yet because they see more and more clearly what they ought to be, they also feel more and more that they are unworthy.  The holiest men are therefore the humblest.

C. Use, of exhortation: sinners and saints.

1. Sinners. Nobody is too unholy that he cannot be made holy (Isa. 1:18-19).

2. Saints. Sanctification is a process, despair not over your failings, draw hope from the fact that you are in the war, and that God will finish His work (Phil. 1:6). Be not content (Phil 3:12), attend and improve upon the means of grace. Let not your afflictions push you from God, but trust their wise design in providence for your sanctification: God’s will (1 Thess. 4:1-3; cf. 1 Jn. 5:13-14).

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