What is Sanctification?

A People Sanctified

The word “sanctification” is used in the Bible to identify that person, institution, act, or thing set apart by God as holy.

The confusion over sanctification is that many groups have wrongly defined “sanctify” to mean “eradicate the sin nature,” or to gain a position where it is no longer possible to sin. Those who hold this position call it “entire sanctification.” In both the Old and New Testament, the Hebrew and Greek words for both “holy” and “sanctify” mean “to set apart to God.” When sanctification is used of things, it does not mean that a vessel or piece of furniture has moral qualities (only God is holy). It means they are set apart for God.

Sanctification for the Christian is past, present, and future. Paul reminded the Philippians that “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Our practical sanctification is a continual process beginning with conversion and finally being accomplished at the coming of Christ.

Positional Sanctification

Positional sanctification is the relationship with God which we enter by faith in Jesus Christ. What God made holy by redemption, remains holy. Positional sanctification applies to our completed standing in heaven. The moment a person is saved, he becomes a “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17).

His position is changed from an alien (Gal. 2:12) to a citizen (Heb. 11:13-16). In the books of heaven he is set apart as holy, having obtained the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 3:25). The rest of his Christian life is an attempt to apply that truth to his practical level of living. Progressive sanctification. This is called experimental or practical sanctification. It involves the struggles of victor, and defeat of the Christian in this present life.

But God continues to work in the life of every Christian (Phil. 1:6) to change him into the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). The various circumstances and experiences we encounter in our life are the result of God’s work in us (Rom. 8:28). We need to cooperate with God in living under the discipline of the Word of God which is given for our direction and spiritual growth (2 Tim. 3:17). As we grow and mature “in Christ” it will become more natural for us to practice the godly habits God desires that we develop.

Prospective Sanctification

This is consummational sanctification, for God will not complete the process until we arrive in heaven. Then our position and our walk will be harmonious.

That day is soon coming when “we shall be like him [Jesus]; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). At the coming of Christ, all the limitations we now experience will be removed, allowing us instantly to be transformed into holiness (1 Cor. 13:10-12). The Christian today can only anticipate that future day by striving to make needed changes in their life as revealed in the Word of God (Phil. 2:12).

The following two tabs change content below.
Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

Latest posts by Dr. Elmer Towns (see all)