What is Sanctification and Is it Happening to Me?
To be sanctified means
- (a) to be set apart for God’s will and purposes
- (b) to be made holy, pure, or sacred
- or (c) to become perfect in function.
Sanctification is a theological term that often puzzles people. This is possibly because in different translations of the Bible it is used interchangeably with the terms justification, holiness, and righteousness. While all four of these words are nouns which describe a relational state, only sanctification carries with it the implication of a process. A person is either justified by faith or they are not, holy (set apart) in the eyes of God or not, in right standing with Him or not – but one is being sanctified, or undergoing sanctification. We will not be completely sacred (a ‘saint’) until the afterlife, when we join our Lord in Heaven. We can think of sanctification as the gradual overcoming of the sin nature within us as we grow in spiritual maturity.
What then, does the process of sanctification actually look like? How do we know if we are in the midst of this process, and what is our part in ensuring its success? Scripture tells us the following:
Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit
It is impossible for us to sanctify ourselves! Instead, we are sanctified by God and for His purposes. The process takes place in our heart, by the power of His Spirit and our own belief [Rom 15:16, 2 Thess. 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2, 1 Cor. 6:11].
Sanctification is God’s will for us
God has given us free will over our own choices – and His desire is for us to choose continual transformation into the image of His son – to be more and more like Christ as we grow. The Bible says that we are chosen and predestined for this [1 Thess. 4:3, Rom. 8:29, Eph. 1:4].
Sanctification takes place through the truth of God’s Word
The vehicle for sanctification in the life of a believer is truth – and truth is found in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The more we come to know Jesus and his teaching through the scriptures, the more we are transformed into his image [2 Cor. 3:18, Rom. 12:2], which is perfection [John 17:17, John 15:3, Eph. 5:25‐27, 1 Tim. 4:4‐5] .
Sanctification is realized in multiple, practical ways
The ongoing process of our perfection can involve cleansing, renewal, regeneration, glorification, transformation, purification, purging, healing, and/or consecration. The negative aspect consists of the cleansing or purifying from sin and the positive aspect is the growth in righteous thinking and behavior [Titus 3:4‐6, Heb. 9:13‐14, 2 Cor. 7:1].
Sanctification takes time
Scripture states that we will only reach perfection and true holiness when we are finally reunited with our Lord. Knowing that our sanctification is an ongoing process, we need not feel badly when we recognize in ourselves old behaviors or unrighteous attitudes. Instead, we forget what is behind and press on toward the goal of completion in Christ Jesus [Phil. 1:6, Phil. 3:13‐14, 1 Cor. 1:8, 1 Thess. 5:23, Rom. 8:18].
It is worth noting that throughout the history of God and His people, He has regularly taken that which is ordinary, flawed, and tainted and sanctified it for His use. This includes certain places on the earth that became Holy Ground, such as where Moses stood on Mt. Sanai (Exodus 3:5). He also sanctified particular people for use in accomplishing His plans, such as Abram and Mary. He made the city of Jerusalem a holy place (Isaiah 48:2, Psalm 46:4), and also the tent of meeting that the priests of Israel used in the wilderness (Exodus 28:43).
“For God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…” (1 Cor. 1:27). If ever we feel foolish and weak, we will do well to remember this – imperfect things being made sacred for divine purposes are exactly how sanctification happens.
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