The Manner of Biblical Sanctification

“All things are possible to God; to Christ, the power of God in me;
Now shed Thy mighty Self abroad, let me no longer live, but Thee;
Give me this hour in Thee to prove the sweet omnipotence of love.”

Any study on the topic of Biblical Sanctification must investigate the timing of this act of God in a Christian’s life. This may appear at first sight to be an unnecessary line to pursue, but when we realise that the various traditions (models of sanctification) have different starting points it becomes obvious that such information is important. For instance, the Reformed model of sanctification describe it as happening immediately upon conversion. For them it is Justification first followed by Sanctification, yet all taking place within a twinkling of an eye. Yet the Wesleyan model reverses the sequence, Sanctification then Justification. They also believe that it can take place instantly upon regeneration but suggest that is more usual for it to occur sometime after, at a crisis point.

What the different denominations teach is important, but most vital of all is to understand what the word of God says about this. If we find it in agreement with elements of the models all well and good, if not, then we are forced to accept what Scripture says rather than men.

The Timing of Sanctification

Regardless which theology we subscribe to, the majority of Bible believing churches describe the believer being “set apart” unto God at conversion. Regeneration is the initial act of God upon a sinner’s life. Without it nothing else can be accomplished. The very act of setting apart is Biblical Sanctification. Therefore this cleansing must come first (if even only momentarily) before justification.

A person must be made holy before he can live holy. Initial sanctification is part of the conversion process. Though sanctification is a lifelong experience it must begin somewhere. This is the reason for the term Initial sanctification. “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him … But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 John 2:29, 1 Peter 1:15-23). When God renews a person he is immediately sanctified and justified, and expected to continue in this new life, but because of the weakness of the flesh the work of sanctification continues. A simple analogy may help here. A new born baby is immediately washed and placed in its mother’s arms. That initial washing does not infer that he does not need to be bathed again. Though he will need a re-application of water and soap many times in his life, he does not need to be born again. In a similar way, just because a believer needs to be sanctified continuously does not mean that he is not an accepted child of God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Even initial sanctification requires the yielding of self. If the person coming to Christ will not yield himself, that is give God everything, then sanctification cannot be applied. Those who do submit to Him are immediately moved upon by the Holy Spirit. At this time he is transformed into a child of God, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). After which he is to walk in this new life. So we can see that the timing of Biblical Sanctification is both initial and progressive. It is also evident that sanctification is not imputed as in the case of justification. Imputed justification is a one time event but sanctification is initial yet is progressive. Paul gives us the order in which the Holy Spirit works in a life at conversion, “Ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

For the technically minded I offer the following chart as it appears in Bible Doctrine by Wayne Gruden:




Legal Standing

Internal Condition

Once for all time

Continues throughout life

Entirely God’s Work

We Co-operate

Perfect in this Life

Never perfect in this life

The same in all Christians

Greater in some than in others

At the new birth we are made Saints – sanctified ones, “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all … called to be saints” (Hebrews 10:10, Romans 1:7). This is a transformation from sinner to saint, from unclean to sanctified, from being alienated from God to becoming His child. It is this holiness that must begin at conversion. J. C. Ryle commenting on salvation remarked, “ The faith which has not a sanctifying influence on the character is no better than the faith of devils … In a word, where there is no sanctification there is no regeneration, and where there is no holy life there is no new birth”.

Sanctification is not the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Sanctification should not be considered as being the same as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Such a view is very similar to the Greek Orthodox Church’s teaching that infant baptism sanctifies the child. They consider this ritual as having some legal authority in the eyes of God and is thus spiritual in nature. Biblical Sanctification is moral since it affects both the human nature and character of the person who comes to Christ by faith. Just as water cannot change the human nature so neither can the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (which is very evident as one reads the book of Acts). Many amongst the Wesleyan and Methodist camp see sanctification as the Second Blessing. This is simply not the case. The theory comes from a misunderstanding of what happened on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the one hundred and twenty in the upper room. There is no mention of sanctification and neither does the event reflect such a thing. Most Pentecostals speak of the Baptism in the Spirit as being the Second Blessing apart from sanctification. Those in the extreme of Pentecostalism (especially the Charismatic and Renewal groups) argue that the Gift of Tongues is evidence of the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Since there is absolutely no Scriptural evidence to support this we must pronounce it as being a heresy and unworthy of honest discussion.

Scripture does not suggest that Biblical Sanctification is the Second Blessing. It is nearly always described as being an ongoing work in a believer’s life. It is being irresponsible to call sanctification either the Second Blessing or the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Baptism in the Spirit does not and cannot cleanse a person from his sin, such cleansing in on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the Cross.

Delivered from the Penalty of Sin

At sanctification God delivers us from the penalty of sin [see chapter 4, ‘Through the Blood’ for discussion on the penalty of sin], this is why He can justify us. Sanctification, simply put, wipes the slate clean and justification gives us the liberty to walk free. A person cannot be declared clean until he has been cleansed. We need to remind ourselves that we are not discussing the false theory of Sinless Perfection. John Wesley stated, “Sinless Perfection is a phrase I never use.” This must be our understanding also. There are too many in the Christian Church who claim Sinless Perfection and consider themselves amongst the spiritual elite. For example, “Since January 1, 1998, I have had the power not to sin. I testify today unequivocally that it does exist, because I HAVE IT. If you do not know beyond a shadow of a doubt when the crisis moment occurred that radically changed your heart and life, it has not occurred. If you are envious of me with this relationship, and desire to get it, you should, because IT IS WONDERFUL … In answer to the question ‘What should I do to sin no more?’ – You must be filled with the Holy Spirit … God is purifying and developing the Bride of Christ through the Gifts of the Spirit”. [Please see Chapter 1 for details regarding Entire Sanctification and Sinless Perfection]. The apostle John would say to such people, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:10-2:2). Far from Sinless Perfection being described in Scripture, we find that it presents the need of personal righteousness in a fallen world. A person who has been sanctified seeks to keep his Christian character pure before God and the world, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Paul tells us that we must walk in sanctification because God wants “to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight” (Colossians 1:22). A true believer has been crucified with Christ, so by God’s grace keeps free from the power and dominion of sin, “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:18), therefore such a person finds victory over the flesh in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Delivered from the Power of Sin

The word of God is like a mirror that reveals just how sinful we are, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:22-25). Though not agreeing with the position he puts sanctification in Ironside makes a good point when he writes, “The incorrigibility of the flesh must be realised before one is ready to turn altogether from self to Christ for sanctification, as He has already done for justification.” As the Holy Spirit reveals sin, it needs to be confessed to God, and so cleansing is received. Those who do not want to know what their hearts are really like will of course neglect to read and study their Bibles. Its power of conviction being too great for them to bear. But those who do, and respond to what they see, will be blessed with sanctification. Deliverance from sin’s power is both immediate in that the Lord gives one the authority to be an overcomer, and progressive, for there is a steady growth towards maturity and holiness. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we see Jesus in all of His holiness revealed in the Scriptures we will want to cry out with Peter, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Each spiritual battle that the believer faces will make him more victorious over sin. Nevertheless, this only comes as he surrenders to the Lord.

What the believer must recognise is that his body is the temple of God on earth, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). As the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit we can readily see why the temple needs to be pure (or purified). All defilement and impurity must be removed before a person can truly be useful to God. The temple (body) can become defiled through immoral thoughts, desires, deeds, films, books, or companions. There is no place within the temple for wickedness of any kind, “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. This is the reason why we need to be delivered from the power of sin” (2 Corinthians 6:16-18).

God’s plan and purpose has always been to have a sanctified people. He has never changed His mind over this regardless of the acceptability of sin and immorality in today’s world. Paul, in Ephesians 1:4, writes, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love”. Everything He is doing in us and for us is to bring us to purification and sanctification. The progressive nature of this is revealed in Ephesians 2:21, “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord”. This thought is continued by the apostle Peter, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ … But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:5,9).

This deliverance from sin demands our active participation. As we gain the victory over sin, temptation and the flesh so the work of sanctification moves ever forward towards the goal – full maturity in Christ – Christlikeness. Sin, faults and mistakes do manifest themselves all along the way, but they do not mean that there is no desire to be holy in our hearts. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit who will highlight these areas so that they can be dealt with and so make us even more useful to God. The same Holy Spirit is active in our lives in bringing us into conformity to the image of Christ. Therefore because we fall into sin it does not follow that we have never received Initial Sanctification. If that were the case we would not and could not even be born again. It is helpful to remember that Adam and Eve were perfect and sinless before they fell. It is vital that we do something about the sin the Holy Spirit highlights in our lives. God will not do it without our co-operation. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

Delivered from the Presence of Sin

One day we will be ultimately and completely separated from the presence of sin. We will be made as holy as God has determined to make us. This is our goal, the determination of our hearts, and the fulfilment of God’s will for us. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). If this is not the vision of a believer then it is likely that he has never really yielded his life to the Lord.

What Paul is speaking about in the above verse relates to the fact that our final (entire) sanctification will come about at that moment our bodies are changed at the return of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:52-55 we read, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”. While it may be possible to live in holiness in spirit and soul, while our bodies of flesh are on this earth we cannot be “wholly” sanctified. Some have expressed the progressive nature of sanctification (and indeed salvation) in this way: We have been sanctified in our spirit so that we can have fellowship with God; We are being sanctified in our soul, that is our minds are daily being renewed; We will be sanctified when we are changed in the presence of Christ. This is how the apostle John describes the event, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2), but he did not leave it there, he added, “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (:3). From the point of view of the moral weakness of the flesh, every believe will be imperfect until the Lord comes again. Those who are dead in Christ are not whole until they are reunited with their bodies at His coming, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Even the apostle Paul knew that he had not attained the perfection that the Lord had purposed for His children. He writes in Philippians 3:12-13, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

In this chapter we have seen something of the manner or timing of Biblical Sanctification. The Scriptures describe it in three ways; Initial, Progressive, and Ultimate. Each one of these elements are vital if sanctification is going to be a personal experience. It is not enough to claim to be saved from sin if there is no evidence of cleansing in our lives.