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Sanctification [N] [T] [E]

The generic meaning of sanctification is "the state of proper functioning." To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. A pen is "sanctified" when used to write. Eyeglasses are "sanctified" when used to improve sight. In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God's design and purpose.

The Greek word translated "sanctification" (hagiasmos [aJgiasmov"]) means "holiness." To sanctify, therefore, means "to make holy." In one sense only God is holy ( Isa 6:3 ). God is separate, distinct, other. No human being or thing shares the holiness of God's essential nature. There is one God. Yet Scripture speaks about holy things. Moreover, God calls human beings to be holy — as holy as he is holy ( Lev 11:44 ; Matt 5:48 ; 1 Peter 1:15-16 ). Another word for a holy person is "saint" (hagios [a&gio"]), meaning a sanctified one. The opposite of sanctified is "profane" ( Lev 10:10 ).

From time to time human beings are commanded to sanctify themselves. For example, God commanded the nation of Israel, "consecrate to me every firstborn male" ( Exod 13:2 ). God said through Peter, "in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord" ( 1 Peter 3:15 ). One sanctifies Christ by responding to unbelievers meaningfully, out of a good conscience and faithful life. God calls his own to set themselves apart for that which he has set them apart. Sanctify, therefore, becomes a synonym for "trust and obey" ( Isa 29:23 ). Another name for this action is "consecration." To fail to sanctify God has serious consequences ( Num 20:12 ).

Human beings ultimately cannot sanctify themselves. The Triune God sanctifies. The Father sanctifies ( 1 Cor 1:30 ) by the Spirit ( 2 Thess 2:13 ; 1 Peter 1:2 ) and in the name of Christ ( 1 Cor 6:11 ). Yet Christian faith is not merely passive. Paul calls for active trust and obedience when he says, "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" ( 2 Cor 7:1 ). No one may presume on God's grace in sanctification. Peter reminds believers to be diligent in making their calling and election sure ( 2 Peter 1:10 ).

A person or thing can be sanctified in two ways according to God's creative purpose or according to God's redemptive design. All sanctified in the first sense are used by God in the second sense. Not all God uses in the second sense are sanctified in the first sense.

Sanctification According to God's Creative Design. God created the universe and human beings perfect (i.e., sanctified). Everything and everyone functioned flawlessly until Adam and Eve believed Satan's lie. The fall plunged the human race and the universe into a state of dysfunction ( Gen 3:14-19 ). Neither was so distorted by the fall so as to obliterate God's original purpose and design completely. Fallen human beings still bear God's image ( James 3:9-10 ). Fallen creation still witnesses to God's existence and attributes ( Psalm 19:1-6 ; Rom 1:20 ). Yet both, depending on the analogy employed, are skewed, broken, fallen, dysfunctional, "unsanctified."

The imperfect state of creation is a reminder that God's fully sanctified purpose for it has been disrupted by sin. Evil is the deprivation of the good that God intends for the creation he has designed. The creation groans, awaiting its sanctification when everything will be set right ( Rom 8:21-22 ; Rev. 20-21 ).

Human beings, made in God's image, were the pinnacle and focus of his creation. The sanctification of human beings, therefore, is the highest goal of God's work in the universe. God explicitly declared it to be his will ( 1 Thess 4:3 ). He purposed that human beings be "like him" in a way no other created thing is. Human beings are like God in their stewardship over creation ( Gen 1:26-31 ). Yet this role is dependent on a more fundamentally important likeness to God moral character. By virtue of God-given discretionary autonomy (faith), human beings may so depend upon God that his moral character (communicable attributes) are displayed.

The unsanctified state of fallen humanity is not caused merely by lack of effort or poor motivation. It constitutes an inherent structural flaw. When Adam sinned, he and his race forfeited that which made it possible for them to function as designed the presence of God himself. Adam and Eve's prefallen sanctification was not a result of their inherent capabilities. God's indwelling presence was responsible for the manifestation of his attributes in them. Sanctification always requires God's presence. His presence is more than his "being there" a corollary of his omnipresence. It is his dynamic presence, producing fruit for which he alone is the source. "Indwelling" is not God's way of getting close to us sensually. It is a theological, rather than experiential, reality; it is "experienced" by faith, not by feeling.

Human beings "fall short of God's glory" ( Rom 3:23 ) because they lack God's presence, which produces glory. "Glory" is always the manifestation of the attributes of God resulting from the presence of God. God's presence was the essential missing factor in Adam and Eve's postfall state. God called out to the fleeing man, "Where are you?" ( Gen 3:9 ). God was not seeking information. He was clarifying to sinful humanity that his presence was now lost.

God sought Adam and Eve, indicating that restoration of the original purpose would be undertaken by him. Sanctification, therefore, is exclusively the work of God in grace ( Lev 21:8 ; Ezek 20:12 ; Heb 2:11 ; Jude 1 ). Functioning moral likeness to God, lost in the fall, is restored through God's redemption in Christ ( Eph 4:23-24 ; Col 3:9-10 ). Human beings are "made holy" through Christ's work. The blood of Jesus Christ sanctifies ( Heb 13:12 ) because his substitutionary atonement reversed all of the dysfunctional, as well as legal (i.e., guilt), effects of sin. Human beings are progressively sanctified now through faith in Christ and by the indwelling Spirit ( 2 Cor 3:18 ), while awaiting full sanctification at the resurrection. Believers under both the old and new covenants are sanctified the same way by grace through faith.

Sanctification According to God's Redemptive Purposes. In addition to designing the goal of creation (functioning human beings in a fittingly perfect environment), God has also designed the means of achieving that goal. He not only wants to make the universe, especially human beings, sanctified. He also uses sanctified (set-apart) means to accomplish his end.

God calls specific people at specific times to be sanctified for a particular role in his redemptive program. God uses all people for his purposes, even those who defy him ( Rom 9:21-22 ). For example, God used Pharaoh even though he did not let Israel go ( Rom 9:17 ). God also used Cyrus, a pagan ruler, to discipline Israel ( Isa 45:1 ). The Scripture, however, is largely the story of how God wants to use willing "vessels." He set apart some to be kings, priests, and prophets. God sanctified Jeremiah even before birth for his prophetic ministry ( Jer 1:5 ). The Holy Spirit "set apart" Paul and Barnabas for missionary service from among the gathered church ( Acts 13:2 ). Every believer has a "calling" or "vocation" based on "gifting." Just as each Israelite had a role in the corporate life under the old covenant, so the church functions by the ministry of gifted and called individuals. Each one has a gift. The prominence of ministry will vary from person to person. Yet each sanctifies his or her calling through faithfulness.

It is possible, to one's peril, to confuse God's calling to "be redeemed" and God's calling to "be a redemptive agent." The former is a prerequisite for the latter. The latter cannot substitute for the former. Many Israelites were unsanctified personally because they presumed that their calling to be a redemptive nation guaranteed God's sanctifying grace. They disregarded God's Word, lacked faith in God ( Heb 4:2 ), and became proud of their achievements. Jesus spoke his harshest words against the unsanctified Pharisees ( Matt 23 ). God judged Israel as a nation by setting them aside as God's channel of blessing for the world ( Matt 21:43 )this but for a time. God is determined to fulfill all of his promises to his redemptive channel ( Rom 11:25-29 ). God used Israel, nevertheless, as a disobedient people. From a remnant within ethnic Israel, God built his church. Paul confronted an oft-posed question, "How can an elect [i.e., sanctified] nation be lost?" (Rom. 9-11). He reminded his Jewish audience that when God elected Israel to be a redemptive agent ( Gen 12:1-3 ), he did not guarantee redemption for every Israelite. Paul also warned non-Israelite believers, likewise blessed as redemptive agents (the church), not to confuse privilege with standing when he said, "Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches [Israel], he will not spare you either" ( Rom 11:20b-21 ).

Jesus Christ: The Sanctifier and Model of Sanctification. The singular means of God's sanctifying grace is Jesus Christ: "We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" ( Heb 10:10 ). Christ was qualified to sanctify because he himself had been sanctified through suffering ( Heb 2:10-11 ). First, Jesus Christ was the only human being since the fall to live a continuously, perfectly sanctified life. He was without sin, therefore, without guilt or dysfunctionality. He was sanctified from the moment of his conception ( Matt 1:18-20 ; Luke 1:35 ). He was rightly called the "Holy One of God" ( Mark 1:24 ), sanctified by the Father ( John 10:36 ). In his character, therefore, Jesus Christ was morally sanctified. Second, he was vocationally sanctified. Christ did what the Father called him to do ( John 5:19 John 5:30 John 5:36 ; 6:38 ; 8:28-29 ; 12:49 ). He accomplished his vocational purpose through time, yet he continually fulfilled his moral purpose. He sanctified himself by fulfilling his unique calling as the Messiah ( John 17:19 ), being declared the Son of God at his resurrection ( Rom 1:4 ). Jesus Christ, therefore, is the model human being for both moral and vocational sanctification ( Php 2:5-11 ).

Just as all forgiveness of sin was provisional until the ministry of the Messiah was complete, so all sanctification was provisional ( Heb 9:13-14 ; 10:10-12 ). The incarnation was an indispensable means for sanctifying humanity because it was necessary that the sanctifier be from within humanity ( Heb 2:11 ). Christ's sacrificial offering of himself to God achieved comprehensive sanctification for all people ( Hebrews 10:10 Hebrews 10:14 Hebrews 10:29 ; 13:12 ). In addition, the return of Christ will mark the beginning of remade heaven and earth ( 2 Peter 3:10-13 ).

Anything that prefigured the work of Christ was holy in a redemptive sense. Something need not be inherently holy to serve a sanctifying purpose. Though God instructed his people to choose animals for sacrifice that were "without spot, " this was technically impossible. Only the unblemished Lamb of God was qualified to sanctify the world. Nevertheless, the lambs, bulls, and goats used in the ceremonial sacrifices in the Old Testament were sanctified because they anticipated the one sacrifice for sins forever. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king. Yet many of these are not numbered among God's faithful. Everything is rendered holy by its proper use. The New Testament emphasis is that everything can be sanctified in a redemptive sense. When the believer glorifies God by thanking God for everything ( 1 Cor 10:31 ; 1 Thess 5:18 ), the believer thereby sanctifies everything. Nothing that God has created is unclean in itself. Its misuse renders it unclean.

God has ordained specific means, however, by which the church sets Christ apart. For example, participation in the new covenant "Table of the Lord" sanctifies the believer. Apart from what Christ has done, the exercise of eating bread and drinking wine would be common. God sanctifies a believer through his or her faithful remembrance of Christ's redemptive work according to the command of the Lord. People may so profane the Lord's Supper so as to receive judgment prematurely from God ( 1 Cor 11:27-32 ).

Worship under the old covenant foreshadowed Christ. Israel was ever conscious of the "sanctuary" (hagion [a&gion])the place where God resided and which he loved ( Mal 2:11 ). During Israel's captivities, the people were separated from the sanctuary and, hence, alienated from the assurance of God's saving blessings. It was the geographical and spiritual center of the nation's life.

The material used for the earthly sanctuary was made "holy" by virtue of its use. God stipulated strict standards for the sanctuary's construction (Exod. 25-40) and operation (Leviticus). Everything to do with the tabernacle and temple was holy: garments ( Exod 28:2 ), anointing oil ( Exod 30:25 ), crown ( Exod 39:30 ), linen tunic ( Lev 16:4 ), convocation of the people ( Lev 23:2 ), water ( Num 5:17 ), vessels ( Num 31:6 ), utensils ( 1 Kings 8:4 ), ark ( 2 Chron 35:3 ), day ( Ne 8:11 ), and place ( Exod 28:29 ; 1 Kings 6:16 ). The items and procedures had typological significance. Although every typological feature cannot be established with absolute precision, Scripture indicates that the tabernacle and temple, including its priestly service, foreshadowed Christ ( Heb 8:5 ; 9:23 ).

The old covenant sanctuaries were merely provisional. Only Christ could take away sin, "perfecting for all time those who are being sanctified" ( Heb 10:14 , marginal reading ). The Hebrew writer contrasts the earthly sanctuary of Israel with the heavenly sanctuary. It was the latter that Christ entered and opened for all who come to God through him ( Heb 8:1-6 ; 9:23-26 ; 10:19-22 ).

Old and new covenants are linked by Christ. For example, the Sabbath and other designated days were to be kept "holy" ( Gen 2:3 ; Exod 20:11 ; Num 29:1 ). Christ is the Sabbath rest for believers ( Heb 4:1-11 ). Because of the sanctifying ministry of Christ, each day may be lived equally to the glory of God. Even in cases when believers differ in this matter, Paul urges all to live each day for the Lord ( Rom 14:5-12 ) for he is the "substance" ( Col 2:16-17 ). God's name is to be sanctified ( Psalm 103:1 ; Isa 29:23 ). We sanctify God's name when we worship him properly. Christians are "sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy" ( 1 Cor 1:2 ). Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father hallowed [sanctified] be your name" ( Matt 6:9 ). Praying in Jesus' name sanctifies our prayers ( John 15:16 ).

Key Concepts. God's usual modus operandi is to sanctify common things for his redemptive purposes, rather than to employ perfect heavenly things ( 1 Cor 1:26-31 ). He sanctified common coats of skin to cover Adam and Eve's nakedness ( Gen 3:21 ). He sanctified a common man, Abram of Ur, in order to make a great nation ( Gen 12:1-7 ). He sanctified a common bush in the Sinai desert from which to commission a man to lead Israel out of bondage. Moses stood on "holy ground" ( Exod 3:5 ), on a "holy mountain" ( Eze 28:14 ). God made Jerusalem a "holy city" ( Neh 11:1 ; Isa 48:2 ). In dramatic fashion, God sanctified the common womb of a common virgin girl by which to incarnate his Son. God's presence was with her ( Luke 1:28 ). Jesus sanctified the world by his presence, "tabernacling" with us ( John 1:14 ). God's method is grace. He alone is to be credited.

God's law is holy ( Rom 7:12 ). Christ sanctified God's Law by fulfilling it ( Matt 5:17 ). That means Christ fulfilled the ceremonial purpose of the Law by being the antitype of all that it prefigured, and fulfilled the moral demands of the Law by living perfectly according to its standards. The "law of Christ" ( Gal 6:2 ) is synonymous with the moral demands God places on all humanity. We sanctify God's Law by obeying it. Obedience is not contrary to faith. It is not works-sanctification. Biblical faith is a faith that works (James 2). The New Testament is full of commands, imperatives laws. God is pleased when the believer does "good works, " for he designed them from the beginning ( Eph 2:10 ).

It is understandable why some downplay or even deny any present usefulness of "law" in the sanctification of believers. They appeal to such verses as, "you are not under law, but under grace" ( Rom 6:14b ). They are right that "law" is not the dynamic that sanctifies ( Heb 7:18-19 ). But the Law was never given for that purpose ( Gal 3:21 ). Its purpose for unbelievers is to show them how far from the original design they have come. It has an evangelistic purpose ( Gal 3:24 ). Its purpose for believers, however, is to guide them to where grace is leading them. The old covenant anticipated a fuller application of the Law. God said to Old Testament Israel that he would inaugurate a new covenant in which he would put his Law within them, and write it on their hearts ( Jer 31:33 ; Heb 8:10 ; see Ezek 36:27 ). Jesus reiterated, however, the continuing sanctifying function of the moral law, which can never be superseded ( Matt 5:17-20 ).

Legalism threatens sanctification by distorting the biblical teaching about the Law to the opposite extreme. In short, legalism is substituting law for grace, achievement for faith. The Pharisees followed the Law, having first tinkered with its meaning and application. Yet they would not come to Christ ( John 5:39 ). The Judaizers followed after Paul, preaching a pregospel "gospel" of legalism. Paul flatly condemned it ( Gal 1:6-9 ; 2:16 ; 3:11 ). It is legalism when one obeys in order to glorify self before God or others ( John 5:44 ). Similarly, insisting that forgiveness from unremitted guilt requires more "work" or "penance" from the supplicant is legalism masquerading as humility.

Sanctification is applied justification. By its very nature justification does not have a progressive character. It is God's declaration of righteousness. The focus of justification is the removal of the guilt of sin. The focus of sanctification is the healing of the dysfunctionality of sin. Since all spiritual blessings, justification and sanctification included, are the Christian's the moment he or she is "in Christ" ( Eph 1:3 ), sanctification is total and final in one sense ( Acts 20:32 ; 26:18 ; 1 Cor 6:11 ). Yet, unlike justification, sanctification also continues until it will be consummated when Jesus Christ returns. For then we will be like him ( 1 John 3:2 )perfect and complete. Sanctification, therefore, has an initial, progressive, and final phase. A believer's present preoccupation is with progressive sanctification ( 2 Cor 3:18 , note the present continuous tense, "are being transformed" ), by which the child of God lives out the implications of initial sanctification with an eye to the goal of final sanctification. The sanctified life is victorious ( Rom 8:37 ), though it is lived out in the context of temptation and suffering. God promises the "overcomers" in Revelation 2 and 3 to restore all that was lost in the fall ( Romans 2:7 Romans 2:11 Romans 2:17 Romans 2:26 ; Romans 3:5 Romans 3:12 ). In sanctification, the believer is simply applying the implications of his or her justification.

The Holy Spirit is the dynamic of sanctification. Jesus said that he had to go away so that the Holy Spirit would indwell believers ( John 14:16-20 ). The "Holy" Spirit is so named not because he is more holy than the Father and the Son, but because his specific ministry vis--vis salvation is sanctification ( Rom 15:16 ; 1 Thess 4:3-4 ; 2 Thess 2:13 ; 1 Peter 1:2 ). The Spirit that inspired the Word of God now uses it to sanctify. Jesus, therefore, prayed concerning his own, "Sanctify them by the truth" ( John 17:17 ). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth ( John 16:13 ). The blessing of the new covenant is the presence of the Spirit ( Ezek 36:27 ; Gal 3:14 ).

The Holy Spirit not only is the restoration of the presence of God in believers; he also equips believers to serve the church and the world. As the fruit of the Spirit are the result of the reproduction of godly character in believers ( Gal 5:22-23 ), so the gifts of the Spirit ( Rom 12:4-6 ; 1 Cor 12 , 14 ) are the means by which believers serve others.

Though God sanctifies by grace, human beings are responsible to appropriate God's grace by faith. Faith is "the" means of sanctifying grace. The Bible indicates that there are other means at the disposal of believers to promote the direct faith the Word, prayer, the church, and providence. The Word reveals God's will ( John 17:17 ). Prayer allows the believer to apply faith to every area of life. The church is the context in which mutual ministry takes place. Providence is God's superintendence over every detail of life so that a believer will always have a way to grow in grace. Whether abounding or not ( Php 4:11 ), whether certain of the outcome or not ( Est 4:11-5:3 ), the people of God may sanctify each situation knowing that God has allowed it and is present in it. In the case of temptation, the believer knows that there always will be a sanctifying faith response available ( 1 Cor 10:13 ). When God disciplines his children, it is for their good, that they may "share in his holiness" ( Heb 12:10 ).

God detests sacrifices that are not offered by faith ( Psalm 40:6 ; Heb 10:5-7 ). On the other hand, a person is sanctified by presenting to God offerings that he proscribes ( 1 Sam 16:5 ; Job 1:5 ). In New Testament language, we present ourselves as "living sacrifices" ( Rom 12:1 ). According to the old covenant, sacrifices are usually slain. Yet in the new covenant a believer dies with Christ in order to live a new holy life in the power of Christ's resurrection and in identification with Christ's suffering ( Rom 6:1-11 ; Gal 2:20 ; Php 3:8-10 ).

A believer grows in sanctification by living according to his or her new identity. Before being "in Christ" the believer was "in Adam" ( Rom 5:12-21 ). To be "in Adam" is to be spiritually dead. Death means "separation, " not "annihilation." A spiritually dead person is separated from God, the Life which alone can make one "godly." While separated from God, the unbeliever develops a working relationship with three related counter-sanctifying influences the world, the flesh, and the devil. "The world" provides an allure to which "the flesh" readily responds, so that the believer has a topsy-turvy outlook that places created things before the Creator ( Rom 1:23-25 ). All the while "the devil" Satan, the liar and slanderer of God along with those under his sway, give hearty approval.

Faith in the gospel places the believer "in Christ, " where everything becomes new ( 2 Cor 5:17 ). Scripture calls all that the "new" believer was outside of Christ the "old man" or "old self." That identity has passed away through faith-solidarity with Christ in his death. The new identity is characterized by faith-solidarity with Christ in his resurrection so that "we might bear fruit to God" ( Rom 7:4b ; cf. Rom 6:1-11 ; Col 3:1-4 ). Formally, the transformation by faith is immediate, but does not automatically result in changed thinking or behavior. The world, the flesh, and the devil still operate in their usual insidious way, but the power of each has been rendered inoperative ( Rom 6:6 ; Heb 2:14 ) for those who live by faith according to their new identity. Faith includes repentance identifying and forsaking everything that characterizes the "old man." Faith also includes trust living in the light of everything that characterizes the "new man, " even if it doesn't "feel" right. All of this is done in hope, or forward-looking faith confidence that God will carry out his sanctifying purposes to the end. When Christ returns to complete his work, he will remake the world, resurrect believers, and banish Satan eternally.

Sexual purity is a frequently mentioned application in Scripture of a properly functioning sanctified life ( 1 Cor 6:18-20 ; 1 Thess 4:3-8 ). This is so, in part, because marriage is the most revealing context from which to understand Christ's sanctifying purpose for the Church ( Eph 5:25-30 ). Believers' bodies are sanctified by controlling them in such a way that God's purposes are being fulfilled by them ( Romans 6:19 Romans 6:22 ; 12:1-2 ; 1 Thess 4:4 ).

Sanctification has a negative and positive orientation. Negatively, sanctification is the cleansing or purifying from sin ( Isa 66:17 ; 1 Cor 6:11 ; Eph 5:26 ; Titus 3:5-6 ; Heb 9:13 ). The laver in God's sanctuary provided a place for those offering sacrifice to God to ritually cleanse themselves. Christ cleanses the sinner once for all. The believer testifies to this through a lifestyle of self-denial ( Matt 16:24 ). Biblical self-denial is not asceticism withholding pleasure or causing pain as an inherent means of spiritual growth. It is placing the interests of God before the interests of self. Believers do not deny or ridicule legitimate human desires. These desires, however, need to be continually prioritized according to God's purposes ( Matt 6:33 ).

Positively, sanctification is the growth in righteous attitudes and behavior. Good deeds ( Eph 2:10 ), godliness ( 1 Peter 1:15 ), Christ-likeness ( 1 Peter 2:21 ), and fulfilling the demands of the Law ( Rom 8:4 ) are all ways of referring to the product of sanctification. The believer "presses on" by laying hold by faith on the promises of God ( Php 3:12 ), striving according to his indwelling resources ( Col 1:29 ).

The initial avenue of spiritual experience is the mind. Faith must have an object. God transforms believers from a worldly perspective and lifestyle by renewing the mind ( Rom 12:2 ). The Word of God makes us wise ( 2 Tim 3:15 ), for "faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" ( Rom 10:17 ). We need the mind of Christ ( Php 2:5 ), by which we take every thought captive ( 2 Cor 10:5 ).

The result of sanctification is glory the manifestation of God's presence. Glory is symbolized by a fire that does not consume ( Exod 3:5 ), by a visible pillar of cloud and fire hovering above the Holy of Holies ( Exod 40:34-35 ), by fire and violent quaking accompanying the giving of the Law on Sinai ( Exod 19:18 ), and by the splendor that will accompany Christ's return to earth ( Rev 19 ). God's sanctifying presence among people results in the manifestation of his glorious moral attributes. The new covenant brings greater glory than the old ( 2 Cor 3 ). The Spirit occupies the place in the new covenant that the Lord did in the old covenant ( 2 Cor 3:17 ). He progressively grows believers into God's likeness from glory to glory ( 2 Cor 3:18 ). So, whereas sanctification has been accomplished fully and finally in Christ and all those who are in Christ are positively sanctified, the Christian is progressively sanctified through the Spirit's ministry.

The New Testament stresses moral, not ritual sanctification. Christ's atoning work put an end to the ceremonial foreshadowing of Israel's cultic practice. Jesus' reference to the temple altar in Matthew 23:19 was from the perspective of the practice he came to supersede.

A sanctified believer has assurance that he or she is Christ's. The call to sanctification reminds the Christian that he or she cannot presume upon justification. Professing believers are to "pursue" sanctification ( Heb 12:14 ). Apart from God's sanctifying work in human beings, "no one will see the Lord" ( Heb 12:14 ). God will judge any person claiming identification with Christ while not actively engaged in pursuing sanctification ( Matt 7:21-23 ). John bases assurance on a faith that perseveres in sanctification ( 1 John 2:3-6 ; 5:2-4 ). Though sanctification is never complete in this life ( 1 John 1:8-10 ), it is not an optional extra tacked on to justification.

Bradford A. Mullen

See also Ethics; Spirituality; Union with Christ

Bibliography. D. L. Alexander, ed., Christian Spirituality; J. S. Baxter, Christian Holiness: Restudied and Restated; G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification; M. E. Dieter, et al., Five Views of Sanctification; S. B. Ferguson Know Your Christian Life: A Theological Introduction; D. C. Needham, Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are?; J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit; W. T. Purkiser, et al., Exploring Christian Holiness.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Sanctification'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.
Sanctification [N] [T] [B]

involves more than a mere moral reformation of character, brought about by the power of the truth: it is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the whole nature more and more under the influences of the new gracious principles implanted in the soul in regeneration. In other words, sanctification is the carrying on to perfection the work begun in regeneration, and it extends to the whole man ( Romans 6:13 ; 2 co 4:6 ; Colossians 3:10 ; 1 John 4:7 ; 1 Corinthians 6:19 ). It is the special office of the Holy Spirit in the plan of redemption to carry on this work ( 1 Corinthians 6:11 ; 2 th. 2:13 ). Faith is instrumental in securing sanctification, inasmuch as it (1) secures union to Christ ( Galatians 2:20 ), and (2) brings the believer into living contact with the truth, whereby he is led to yield obedience "to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come."

Perfect sanctification is not attainable in this life ( 1 Kings 8:46 ; Proverbs 20:9 ; Eccl 7:20 ; James 3:2 ; 1 John 1:8 ). See Paul's account of himself in Romans 7:14-25 ; Phil 3:12-14 ; and 1 Timothy 1:15 ; also the confessions of David ( Psalms 19:12 Psalms 19:13 ; 51 ), of Moses ( 90:8 ), of ( Job 42:5 Job 42:6 ), and of ( Daniel 9:3-20 ). "The more holy a man is, the more humble, self-renouncing, self-abhorring, and the more sensitive to every sin he becomes, and the more closely he clings to Christ. The moral imperfections which cling to him he feels to be sins, which he laments and strives to overcome. Believers find that their life is a constant warfare, and they need to take the kingdom of heaven by storm, and watch while they pray. They are always subject to the constant chastisement of their Father's loving hand, which can only be designed to correct their imperfections and to confirm their graces. And it has been notoriously the fact that the best Christians have been those who have been the least prone to claim the attainment of perfection for themselves.", Hodge's Outlines.

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Sanctification". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .

The act of making a thing pure and holy.

For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your SANCTIFICATION, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in SANCTIFICATION and honour. ( 1 Thessalonians 1:1 Mark 4:2-4 )

Source: A King James Dictionary. (Used with permission. Copyright © Philip P. Kapusta)

Bibliography Information

"Entry for 'Sanctification'". A King James Dictionary.





1. In the Old Testament

2. In the New Testament


1. Transformation of Formal to Ethical Idea

2. Our Relation to God as Personal:

New Testament Idea

3. Sanctification as God's Gift

4. Questions of Time and Method

5. An Element in All Christian Life

6. Follows from Fellowship with God

7. Is It Instantaneous and Entire?

8. Sanctification as Man's Task



The root is found in the Old Testament in the Hebrew verb qadhash, in the New Testament in the Greek verb hagoazo. The noun "sanctification" (hagiasmos) does not occur in the Old Testament and is found but 10 times in the New Testament, but the roots noted above appear in a group of important words which are of very frequent occurrence. These words are "holy," "hallow," "hallowed," "holiness," "consecrate," "saint," "sanctify," "sanctification." It must be borne in mind that these words are all translations of the same root, and that therefore no one of them can be treated adequately without reference to the others. All have undergone a certain development. Broadly stated, this has been from the formal, or ritual, to the ethical, and these different meanings must be carefully distinguished.

I. The Formal Sense.

By sanctification is ordinarily meant that hallowing of the Christian believer by which he is freed from sin and enabled to realize the will of God in his life. This is not, however, the first or common meaning in the Scriptures. To sanctify means commonly to make holy, that is, to separate from the world and consecrate to God.

1. In the Old Testament:

To understand this primary meaning we must go back to the word "holy" in the Old Testament. That is holy which belongs to Yahweh. There is nothing implied here as to moral character. It may refer to days and seasons, to places, to objects used for worship, or to persons. Exactly the same usage is shown with the word "sanctify." To sanctify anything is to declare it as belonging to God. "Sanctify unto me all the first-born .... it is mine" (Exodus 13:2; compare Numbers 3:13; 8:17). It applies thus to all that is connected with worship, to the Levites (Numbers 3:12), the priests and the tent of meeting (Exodus 29:44), the altar and all that touches it (Exodus 29:36), and the offering (Exodus 29:27; compare 2 Maccabees 2:18; Ecclesiasticus 7:31). The feast and holy days are to be sanctified, that is, set apart from ordinary business as belonging to Yahweh (the Sabbath, Nehemiah 13:19-22; a fast, Joel 1:14). So the nation as a whole is sanctified when Yahweh acknowledges it and receives it as His own, "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5,6). A man may thus sanctify his house or his field (Leviticus 27:14,16), but not the firstling of the flock, for this is already Yahweh's (Leviticus 27:26).

It is this formal usage without moral implication that explains such a passage as Genesis 38:21. The word translated "prostitute" here is from the same root qadhash, meaning literally,, as elsewhere, the sanctified or consecrated one (qedheshah; see margin and compare Deuteronomy 23:18; 1 Kings 14:24; Hosea 4:14). It is the hierodule, the familiar figure of the old pagan temple, the sacred slave consecrated to the temple and the deity for immoral purposes. The practice is protested against in Israel (Deuteronomy 23:17), but the use of the term illustrates clearly the absence of anything essentially ethical in its primary meaning (compare also 2 Kings 10:20, "And Jehu said, Sanctify a solemn assembly for Baal. And they proclaimed it"; compare Joel 1:14).

Very suggestive is the transitive use of the word in the phrase, "to sanctify Yahweh." To understand this we must note the use of the word "holy" as applied to Yahweh in the Old Testament. Its meaning is not primarily ethical. Yahweh's holiness is His supremacy, His sovereignty, His glory, His essential being as God. To say the Holy One is simply to say God. Yahweh's holiness is seen in His might, His manifested glory; it is that before which peoples tremble, which makes the nations dread (Exodus 15:11-18; compare 1 Samuel 6:20; Psalms 68:35; 89:7; 99:2,3). Significant is the way in which "jealous" and "holy" are almost identified (Joshua 24:19; Ezekiel 38:23). It is God asserting His supremacy, His unique claim. To sanctify Yahweh, therefore, to make Him holy, is to assert or acknowledge or bring forth His being as God, His supreme power and glory, His sovereign claim. Ezekiel brings this out most clearly. Yahweh has been profaned in the eyes of the nations through Israel's defeat and captivity. True, it was because of Israel's sins, but the nations thought it was because of Yahweh's weakness. The ethical is not wanting in these passages. The people are to be separated from their sins and given a new heart (Ezekiel 36:25,26,33). But the word "sanctify" is not used for this. It is applied to Yahweh, and it means the assertion of Yahweh's power in Israel's triumph and the conquest of her foes (Ezekiel 20:41; 28:25; 36:23; 38:16; 39:27). The sanctification of Yahweh is thus the assertion of His being and power as God, just as the sanctification of a person or object is the assertion of Yahweh's right and claim in the same.

The story of the waters of Meribah illustrates the same meaning. Moses' failure to sanctify Yahweh is his failure to declare Yahweh's glory and power in the miracle of the waters (Numbers 20:12,13; 27:14; Deuteronomy 32:51). The story of Nadab and Abihu points the same way. Here "I will be sanctified" is the same as "I will be glorified" (Leviticus 10:1-3). Not essentially different is the usage in Isaiah 5:16:

"Yahweh of hosts is exalted in justice, and God the Holy One is sanctified in righteousness." Holiness again is the exaltedhess of God, His supremacy, which is seen here in the judgment (justice, righteousness) meted out to the disobedient people (compare the recurrent refrain of Isaiah 5:25; 9:12,17,21; 10:4; see JUSTICE). Isaiah 8:13; 29:23 suggest the same idea by the way in which they relate "sanctify" to fear and awe. One New Testament passage brings us the same meaning (1 Peter 3:15): "Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord," that is, exalt Him as supreme.

2. In the New Testament:

In a few New Testament passages the Old Testament ritual sense reappears, as when Jesus speaks of the temple sanctifying the gold, and the altar the gift (Matthew 23:17,19; compare also Hebrews 9:13; 1 Timothy 4:5). The prevailing meaning is that which we found in the Old Testament. To sanctify is to consecrate or set apart. We may first take the few passages in the Fourth Gospel. As applied to Jesus in John 10:36; 17:19, sanctify cannot mean to make holy in the ethical sense. As the whole context shows, it means to consecrate for His mission in the world. The reference to the disciples, "that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth," has both meanings:

that they may be set apart, (for Jesus sends them, as the Father sends Him), and that they may be made holy in truth.

This same meaning of consecration, or separation, appears when we study the word saint, which is the same as "sanctified one." Aside from its use in the Psalms, the word is found mainly in the New Testament. Outside the Gospels, where the term "disciples" is used, it is the common word to designate the followers of Jesus, occurring some 56 times. By "saint" is not meant the morally perfect, but the one who belongs to Christ, just as the sanctified priest or offering belonged to Yahweh. Thus Paul can salute the disciples at Corinth as saints and a little later rebuke them as carnal and babes, as those among whom are jealousy and strife, who walk after the manner of men (1 Corinthians 1:2; 3:1-3). In the same way the phrase "the sanctified" or "those that are sanctified" is used to designate the believers. By "the inheritance among all them that are sanctified" is meant the heritage of the Christian believer (Acts 20:32; 26:18; compare 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; Ephesians 1:18; Colossians 1:12). This is the meaning in Hebrews, which speaks of the believer as being sanctified by the blood of Christ. In 10:29 the writer speaks of one who has fallen away, who "hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing." Evidently it is not the inner and personal holiness of this apostate that is referred to, especially in view of the tense, but that he had been separated unto God by this sacrificial blood and had then counted the holy offering a common thing. The contrast is between sacred and common, not between moral perfection and sin (compare 10:10; 13:12). The formal meaning appears again in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, where the unbelieving husband is said to be sanctified by the wife, and vice versa. It is not moral character that is meant here, but a certain separation from the profane and unclean and a certain relation to God. This is made plain by the reference to the children:

"Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." The formal sense is less certain in other instances where we have the thought of sanctification in or by the Holy Spirit or in Christ; as in Romans 15:16, "being sanctified by the Holy Spirit"; 1 Corinthians 1:2, to "them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus"; 1 Peter 1:2, "in sanctification of the Spirit." Paul's doctrine of the Spirit as the new life in us seems to enter in here, and yet the reference to 1 Corinthians suggests that the primary meaning is still that of setting apart, the relating to God.

II. The Ethical Sense.

We have been considering so far what has been called the formal meaning of the word; but the chief interest of Christian thought lies in the ethical idea, sanctification considered as the active deed or process by which the life is made holy.

1. Transformation of Formal to Ethical Idea:

Our first question is, How does the idea of belonging to God become the idea of transformation of life and character? The change is, indeed, nothing less than a part of the whole movement for which the entire Scriptures stand as a monument. The ethical is not wanting at the beginning, but the supremacy of the moral and spiritual over against the formal, the ritual, the ceremonial, the national, is the clear direction in which the movement as a whole tends. Now the pivot of this movement is the conception of God. As the thought of God grows more ethical, more spiritual, it molds and changes all other conceptions. Thus what it means to belong to God (holiness, sanctification) depends upon the nature of the God to whom man belongs. The hierodules of Corinth are women of shame because of the nature of the goddess to whose temple they belong. The prophets caught a vision of Yahweh, not jealous for His prerogative, not craving the honor of punctilious and proper ceremonial, but with a gracious love for His people and a passion for righteousness. Their great message is:

This now is Yahweh; hear what it means to belong to such a God and to serve Him. "What unto me is the multitude of your sacrifices? .... Wash you, make you clean; .... seek justice, relieve the oppressed" (Isaiah 1:11,16,17). "When Israel was a child, then I loved him. .... I desire goodness, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than bunt-offerings" (Hosea 11:1; 6:6).

In this way the formal idea that we have been considering becomes charged with moral meaning. To belong to God, to be His servant, His son, is no mere external matter. Jesus' teaching as to sonship is in point here. The word "sanctification" does not occur in the Synoptic Gospels at all, but "sonship" with the Jews expressed this same relation of belonging. For them it meant a certain obedience on the one hand, a privilege on the other. Jesus declares that belonging to God means likeness to Him, sonship is sharing His spirit of loving good will (Matthew 5:43-48). Brother and sister for Jesus are those who do God's will (Mark 3:35). Paul takes up the same thought, but joins it definitely to the words "saint" and "sanctify." The religious means the ethical, those "that are sanctified" are "called to be saints" (1 Corinthians 1:2). The significant latter phrase is the same as in Romans 1:1, "Paul .... called to be an apostle." In this light we read Ephesians 4:1, "Walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called." Compare 1 Thessalonians 2:12; Philippians 1:27. And the end of this calling is that we are "foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29). We must not limit ourselves to the words "saint" or "sanctify" to get this teaching with Paul. It is his constant and compelling moral appeal:

You belong to Christ; live with Him, live unto Him (Colossians 3:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:10). It is no formal belonging, no external surrender. It is the yielding of the life in its passions and purposes, in its deepest affections and highest powers, to be ruled by a new spirit (Ephesians 4:13,10,23,24,32; compare Romans 12:1).

2. Our Relation to God as Personal:

New Testament Idea:

But we do not get the full meaning of this thought of sanctification as consecration, or belonging, until we grasp the New Testament thought of our relation to God as personal. The danger has always been that this consecration should be thought of in a negative or passive way. Now the Christian's surrender is not to an outer authority but to an inner, living fellowship. The sanctified life is thus a life of personal fellowship lived out with the Father in the spirit of Christ in loving trust and obedient service. This positive and vital meaning of sanctification dominates Paul's thought. He speaks of living unto God, of living to the Lord, and most expressively of all, of being alive unto Golf (Romans 14:8; compare Romans 6:13; Galatians 2:19). So completely is his life filled by this fellowship that he can say, "It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20). But there is no quietism here. It is a very rich and active life, this life of fellowship to which we are surrendered. It is a life of sonship in trust and love, with the spirit that enables us to say "Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). It is a life of unconquerable kindness and good will (Matthew 5:43-48). It is a life of "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6), it is having the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). The sanctified life, then, is the life so fully surrendered to fellowship with Christ day by day that inner spirit and outward expression are ruled by His spirit.

3. Sanctification as God's Gift:

We come now to that aspect which is central for Christian interest, sanctification as the making holy of life, not by our act, but by God's deed and by God's gift. If holiness represents the state of heart and life in conformity with God's will, then sanctification is the deed or process by which that state is wrought. And this deed we are to consider now as the work of God. Jesus prays that the Father may sanctify His disciples in truth (John 17:17). So Paul prays for the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:23), and declares that Christ is to sanctify His church (compare Romans 6:22; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 2:21; 1 Peter 1:2). Here sanctification means to make clean or holy in the ethical sense, though the idea of consecration is not necessarily lacking. But aside from special passages, we must take into account the whole New Testament teaching, according to which every part of the Christian life is the gift of God and wrought by His Spirit. "It is God that worketh in you both to will and to work" (Philippians 2:13; compare Romans 8:2-4,9,14,16-26; Galatians 5:22). Significant is the use of the words "creature" ("creation," see margin) and "workmanship" with Paul (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:10; 4:24). The new life is God's second work of creation.

4. Questions of Time and Method:

When we ask, however, when and how this work is wrought, there is no such clear answer. What we have is on the one hand uncompromising ideal and demand, and on the other absolute confidence in God. By adding to these two the evident fact that the Christian believers seen in the New Testament are far from the attainment of such Christian perfection, some writers have assumed to have the foundation here for the doctrine that the state of complete holiness of life is a special experience in the Christian life wrought in a definite moment of time. It is well to realize that no New Testament passages give a specific answer to these questions of time and method, and that our conclusions must be drawn from the general teaching of the New Testament as to the Christian life.

5. An Element in All Christian Life:

First, it must be noted that in the New Testament view sanctification in the ethical sense is an essential element and inevitable result of all Christian life and experience. Looked at from the religious point of view, it follows from the doctrine of regeneration. Regeneration is the implanting of a new life in man. So far as that is a new life from God it is ipso facto holy. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit teaches the same (see HOLY SPIRIT). There is no Christian life from the very beginning that is not the work of the Spirit. "No man can (even) say, Jesus is Lord, but in the .... Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). But this Spirit is the Holy Spirit, whether with Paul we say Spirit of Christ or Spirit of God (Romans 8:9). His presence, therefore, in so far forth means holiness of life. From the ethical standpoint the same thing is constantly declared. Jesus builds here upon the prophets:

no religion without righteousness; clean hands, pure hearts, deeds of mercy are not mere conditions of worship, but joined to humble hearts are themselves the worship that God desires (Amos 5:21-25; Micah 6:6-8). Jesus deepened the conception, but did not, change it, and Paul was true to this succession. "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ is in you, .... the spirit is life because of righteousness" (Romans 8:9,10). There is nothing in Paul's teaching to suggest that sanctification is the special event of a unique experience, or that there are two kinds or qualities of sanctification. All Christian living meant for him clean, pure, right living, and that was sanctification. The simple, practical way in which he attacks the bane of sexual impurity in his pagan congregations shows this. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honor. For God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:3,4,7). The strength of Paul's teaching, indeed, lies here in this combination of moral earnestness with absolute dependence upon God.

6. Follows from Fellowship with God:

The second general conclusion that we draw from the New Testament teaching as to the Christian life is this:

the sanctification which is a part of all Christian living follows from the very nature of that life as fellowship with God. Fundamental here is the fact that the Christian life is personal, that nothing belongs in it which cannot be stated in personal terms. It is a life with God in which He graciously gives Himself to us, and which we live out with Him and with our brothers in the spirit of Christ, which is His Spirit. The two great facts as to this fellowship are, that it is God's gift, and that its fruit is holiness. First, it is God's gift. What God gives us is nothing less than Himself. The gift is not primarily forgiveness, nor victory over sin, nor peace of soul, nor hope of heaven. It is fellowship with Him, which includes all of these and without which none of these can be. Secondly, the fruit of this fellowship is holiness. The real hallowing of our life can come in no other way. For Christian holiness is personal, not something formal or ritual, and its source and power can be nothing lower than the personal. Such is the fellowship into which God graciously lifts the believer. Whatever its mystical aspects, that fellowship is not magical or sacramental. It is ethical through and through. Its condition on our side is ethical. For Christian faith is the moral surrender of our life to Him in whom truth and right come to us with authority to command. The meaning of that surrender is ethical; it is opening the life to definite moral realities and powers, to love, meekness, gentleness, humility, reverence, purity, the passion for righteousness, to that which words cannot analyze but which we know as the Spirit of Christ. Such a fellowship is the supreme moral force for the molding of life. An intimate human fellowship is an analogue of this, and we know with what power it works on life and character. It cannot, however, set forth either the intimacy or the power of this supreme and final relation where our Friend is not another but is our real self. So much we know: this fellowship means a new spirit in us, a renewed and daily renewing life.

It is noteworthy that Paul has no hard-and-fast forms for this life. The reality was too rich and great, and his example should teach us caution in the insistence upon theological forms which may serve to compress the truth instead of expressing it. Here are some of his expressions for this life in us:

to "have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5), "the Spirit of Christ" (Romans 8:9), "Christ is in you" (Romans 8:10), "the spirit which is from God" (1 Corinthians 2:12), "the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 3:16), "the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19), "the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:17), "the Lord the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). But in all this one fact stands out, this life is personal, a new spirit in us, and that spirit is one that we have in personal fellowship with God; it is His Spirit. Especially significant is the way in which Paul relates this new life to Christ. We have already noted that Paul uses indifferently "Spirit of God" and "Spirit of Christ," and that in the same passage (Romans 8:9). Paul's great contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit lies here. As he states it in 2 Corinthians 3:17: "Now the Lord is the Spirit." With that the whole conception of the Spirit gains moral content and personal character. The Spirit is personal, not some thing, nor some strange and magical power. The Spirit is ethical; there is a definite moral quality which is expressed when we say Christ. He has the Spirit who has the qualities of Christ. Thus the presence of the Spirit is not evidenced in the unusual, the miraculous, the ecstatic utterance of the enthusiast, or some strange deed of power, but in the workaday qualities of kindness, goodness, love, loyalty, patience, self-restraint (Galatians 5:22). With this identification of the Spirit and the Christ in mind, we can better understand the passages in which Paul brings out the relation of Christ to the sanctification of the believer. He is the goal (Romans 8:29). We are to grow up in Him (Ephesians 4:15). He is to be formed in us (Galatians 4:19). We are to behold Him and be changed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:17). This deepens into Paul's thought of the mystical relation with Christ. The Christian dies to sin with Him that he may live with Him a new life. Christ is now his real life. He dwells in Christ, Christ dwells in him. He has Christ's thoughts, His mind. See Romans 6:3-11; 8:9,10; 1 Corinthians 2:16; 15:22; Galatians 2:20.

This vital and positive conception of the sanctification of the believer must be asserted against some popular interpretations. The symbols of fire and water, as suggesting cleansing, have sometimes been made the basis for a whole superstructure of doctrine. (For the former, note Isaiah 6:6; Luke 3:16; Acts 2:3; for the latter, Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 10:22; Revelation 1:5; 7:14.) There is a two-fold danger here, from which these writers have not escaped. The symbols suggest cleansing, and their over-emphasis has meant first a negative and narrow idea of sanctification as primarily separation from sin or defilement. This is a falling back to certain Old Testament levels. Secondly, these material symbols have been literalized, and the result has been a sort of mechanical or magical conception of the work of the Spirit. But the soul is not a substance for mechanical action, however sublimated. It is personal life that is to be hallowed, thought, affections, motives, desires, will, and only a personal agent through personal fellowship can work this end.

7. Is It Instantaneous and Entire?:

The clear recognition of the personal and vital character of sanctification will help us with another problem. If the holy life be God's requirement and at the same time His deed, why should not this sanctification be instantaneous and entire? And does not Paul imply this, not merely in his demands but in his prayer for the Thessalonians, that God may establish their hearts in holiness, that He may sanctify them wholly and preserve spirit and soul and body entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 5:23)?

In answer to this we must first discriminate between the ideal and the empirical with Paul. Like John (1John 1:6; 3:9), Paul insists that the life of Christ and the life of sin cannot go on together, and he knows no qualified obedience, no graduated standard. He brings the highest Christian demand to the poorest of his pagan converts. Nor have we any finer proof of his faith than this uncompromising idealism. On the other hand, how could he ask less than this? God cannot require less than the highest, but it is another question how the ideal is to be achieved. In the realm of the ideal it is always either .... or. In the realm of life there is another category. The question is not simply, Is this man sinner or saint? It is rather, What is he becoming? This matter of becoming is the really vital issue. Is this man turned the right way with all his power? Is his life wholly open to the divine fellowship? Not the degree of achievement, but the right attitude toward the ideal, is decisive. Paul does not stop to resolve paradoxes, but practically he reckons with this idea. Side by side with his prayer for the Thessalonians are his admonitions to growth and progress (1 Thessalonians 3:12; 5:14). Neither the absolute demand or the promise of grace gives us the right to conclude how the consummation shall take place.

8. Sanctification as Man's Task:

That conclusion we can reach only as we go back again to the fundamental principle of the personal character of the Christian life and the relation thus given between the ethical and the religious. All Christian life is gift and task alike. "Work out your own salvation .... for it is God who worketh in you" (Philippians 2:12). All is from God; we can only live what God gives. But there is a converse to this:

only as we live it out can God give to us the life. This appears in Paul's teaching as to sanctification. It is not only God's gift, but our task. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:3). "Having therefore these promises .... let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness (hagiosune) in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). Significant is Paul's use of the word "walk." We are to "walk in newness of life," "by (or in) the Spirit," "in love," and "in Christ Jesus the Lord" (Romans 6:4; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:2; Colossians 2:6). The gift in each case becomes the task, and indeed becomes real and effective only in this activity. It is only as we walk by the Spirit that this becomes powerful in overcoming the lusts of the flesh (Galatians 5:16; compare Galatians 5:25). But the ethical is the task that ends only with life. If God gives only as we live, then He cannot give all at once. Sanctification is then the matter of a life and not of a moment. The life may be consecrated in a moment, the right relation to God assumed and the man stand in saving fellowship with Him. The life is thus made holy in principle. But the real making holy is co-extensive with the whole life of man. It is nothing less than the constant in-forming of the life of the inner spirit and outer deed with the Spirit of Christ until we, "speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head" (Ephesians 4:15). (Read also Romans 6; that the Christian is dead to sin is not some fixed static fact, but is true only as he refuses the lower and yields his members to a higher obedience. Note that in 1 Corinthians 5:7 Paul in the same verse declares "ye are unleavened," and then exhorts "Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump"; compare also 1 Thessalonians 5:5-10.)

We may sum up as follows:

The word "sanctify" is used with two broad meanings:

(1) The first is to devote, to consecrate to God, to recognize as holy, that is, as belonging to God. This is the regular Old Testament usage and is most common in the New Testament. The prophets showed that this belonging to Yahweh demanded righteousness. The New Testament deepens this into a whole-hearted surrender to the fellowship of God and to the rule of His Spirit.

(2) Though the word itself appears in but few passages with this sense, the New Testament is full of the thought of the making holy of the Christian's life by the Spirit of God in that fellowship into which God lifts us by His grace and in which He gives Himself to us. This sanctifying, or hallowing, is not mechanical or magical. It is wrought out by God's Spirit in a daily fellowship to which man gives himself in aspiration and trust and obedience, receiving with open heart, living out in obedient life. It is not negative, the mere separation from sin, but the progressive hallowing of a life that grows constantly in capacity, as in character, into the stature of full manhood as it is in Christ. And from this its very nature it is not momentary, but the deed and the privilege of a whole life.

See also HOLY SPIRIT and the following article.


The popular and special works are usually too undiscriminating and unhistorical to be of value for the Biblical study. An exception is Beet, Holiness Symbolic and Real. Full Biblical material in Cremer, Biblical Theol. Lexicon, but treated from special points of view. See Systematic Theologies, Old Testament Theologies (compare especially Smend), and New Testament Theologies (compare especially Holtzmann).

Harris Franklin Rall


|| 1. Doctrine Stated

2. Objections Answered

3. Required for the Highest Success of the Preacher

4. Hymnology

5. Its Glorious Results

6. Wesley's Personal Testimony

1. Doctrine Stated:

Christian perfection, through entire sanctification, by faith, here and now, was one of the doctrines by which John Wesley gave great offense to his clerical brethren in the Anglican church. From the beginning of his work in 1739, till 1760, he was formulating this doctrine. At the last date there suddenly arose a large number of witnesses among his followers. Many of these he questioned with Baconian skill, the result being a confirmation of his theories on various points.

In public address he used the terms "Christian Perfection," "Perfect Love," and "Holiness," as synonymous, though there are differences between them when examined critically. With Paul he taught that all regenerate persons are saints, i.e. holy ones, as the word "saint," from Latin sanctus, through the Norman-Fr, signifies (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1). His theory is that in the normal Christian the principle of holiness, beginning with the new birth, gradually expands and strengthens as the believer grows in grace and in the knowledge of the truth, till, by a final, all-surrendering act of faith in Christ, it reaches an instantaneous completion through the act of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier:

2 Corinthians 7:1 "perfecting holiness," etc.; Ephesians 4:13, the King James Version "Till we all come .... unto a perfect man," etc. Thus sanctification is gradual, but entire sanctification is instantaneous (Romans 6:6, "our old man was crucified," etc., a sudden death; Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live"). In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, the word "sanctify" is a Greek aorist tense, signifying an act and not a process, as also in John 17:19, "that they .... may be sanctified in truth," or truly. (See Meyer's note.) Many Christians experience this change on their deathbeds. If death suddenly ends the life of a growing Christian before he is wholly sanctified, the Holy Spirit perfects the work. Wesley's advice to the preachers of this evangelical perfection was to draw and not to drive, and never to quote any threatenings of God's word against God's children. The declaration, "Without sanctification no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14), does not apply to the saints, "the holy ones."

Wesley's perfection of love is not perfection of degree, but of kind. Pure love is perfect love. The gradual growth toward perfect purity of love is beautifully expressed in Monod's hymn,

"O the bitter shame and sorrow!"

The first response to the Saviour's call is,

"All of self, and none of Thee."

But after a view of Christ on the cross. the answer is faintly,

"Some of self, and some of Thee."

Then, after a period of growing love, the cry is,

"Less of self, and more of Thee."

After another period, the final cry is,

"None of self, and all of Thee!"

an aspiration for pure love, without any selfishness.

The attainment of this grace is certified by the total cessation of all Servile fear (1John 4:18). Wesley added to this the witness of the Spirit, for which his only proof-text is 1 Corinthians 2:12.

2. Objections Answered:

(1) Paul, in Philippians 3:12, declares that he is not "made perfect":

(a) in 3:15, he declares that he is perfect;

(b) "made perfect" is a term, borrowed from the ancient games, signifying a finished course. This is one of the meanings of teleioo, as seen also in Luke 13:32 margin, "The third day I end my course." Paul no more disclaims spiritual perfection in these words than does Christ before "the third day." Paul claims in Philippians 3:15, by the use of an adjective, that he is perfect. In 3:12 Paul claims that he is not perfect as a victor, because the race is not ended. In 3:15 he claims that he is perfect as a racer.

(2) Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:31), "I die daily." This does not refer to death to sin, as some say that it does, but to his daily danger of being killed for preaching Christ, as in Romans 8:36, "we are killed all the day long."

(3) 1John 1:8:

"If we say that we have no sin," etc.

(a) If this includes Christians, it contradicts John himself in the very next verse, and in 3:9, sin," "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no and John 8:36, "If .... the Son shall make you free," etc., and in all those texts in the New Testament declaring sins forgiven.

(b) Bishop Westcott says that the expression, "to have sin," is distinguished from "to sin," as the sinful principle is distinguished from the sinful act in itself. It includes the idea of personal guilt. Westcott asserts that John refers to the Gnostics, who taught that moral evil exists only in matter, and never touches spirit, which is always holy; and, therefore, though guilty of all manner of vice, their spirits had no need of atonement, because they were untouched by sin, which existed only in their bodies, as it does in all matter. When told that this made the body of Christ sinful, they denied the reality of His body, saying that it was only a phantom. Hence, in the very first verse of this Epistle, John writes evidently against the Gnostic error, quoting three of the five senses to prove the reality of Chrtst's humanity. (By all means, see "The Epistles of John," Cambridge Bible for Schools, etc., 17-21.)

3. Required for the Highest Success of the Preacher:

The relation of this doctrine to the Methodist Episcopal church in the United States is seen in the following questions, which have been affirmatively answered in public by all its preachers on their admission to the Conferences:

"Are you going on to perfection?"; "Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?"; "Are you earnestly striving after it?" The hymns of the Wesleys, still universally sung, are filled with this doctrine, in which occur such expressions as:

4. Hymnology:

"Take away our bent to sinning," ....

"Let us find that second rest," ....

"Make and keep me pure within," ....

"'Tis done! Thou dost this moment save,

With full salvation bless." ....

5. Its Glorious Results:

To the preaching of Christian perfection Wesley ascribed the success of his work in the conversion, religious training and intellectual education of the masses of Great Britain. It furnished him a multitude of consecrated workers, many of them lay preachers, who labored in nearly every hamlet, and who carried the gospel into all the British colonies, including America. It is declared by secular historians that this great evangelical movement, in which the doctrine of entire sanctification was so prominent, saved England from a disastrous revolution, like that which drenched France with the blood of its royal family and its nobility, in the last decade of the 18th century. It is certain that the great Christian and humanitarian work of William Booth, originally a Methodist, was inspired by this doctrine which he constantly preached. This enabled his followers in the early years of the Salvation Army to endure the persecutions which befell them at that time.

6. Wesley's Personal Testimony:

On March 6, 1760, Wesley enters in his Journal the following testimony of one Elizabeth Longmore:

"`I felt my soul was all love. I was so stayed on God as I never felt before, and knew that I loved Him with all my heart. .... And the witness that God had saved me from all my sins grew clearer every hour. .... I have never since found my heart wander from God.' Now this is what I always did, and do now, mean by perfection. And this I believe many have attained, on the same evidence that I believe many are justified."

We have Wesley's only recorded testimony to his own justification in these words (May 24, 1738):

"I felt my heart strangely warmed .... and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins," etc.

Daniel Steele

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'SANCTIFICATION'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.