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Sanctification 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 (Rom. 6:13; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:10; 1 John 4:7; 1 Cor. 6:19). It is the special office of the Holy Spirit in the plan of redemption to carry on this work (1 Cor. 6: 11; 2 Thess. 2:13).

Faith is instrumental in securing sanctification, inasmuch as it (1) secures union to Christ (Gal. 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; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; James 3:2; 1 John 1:8). See Paul's account of himself in Rom. 7:14-25; Phil. 3:12-14; and 1 Tim. 1:15; also the confessions of David (Ps. 19:12, 13; 51), of Moses (90:8), of Job (42:5, 6), and of Daniel (9:3-20).

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"The more holy a man is, the more humble, self-renouncing, selfabhorring, 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.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)


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To make holy

The Hebrew (qds) and Greek (hagias) roots represented in AV by "sanctify, holy, hallow," and varied in RSV by "consecrate, dedicate," are applied to any person, place, occasion, or object "set apart" from common, secular use as devoted to some divine power. Isa. 65:5; 66:17 show heathen, and Gen. 38:21 ("cult prostitute") unmoral, applications of the concept "sacred to deity." With advancing understanding of the intrinsic purity of Yahweh, twofold development followed.

(1) Persons and things devoted to his use must be ritually clean, not merely set apart by taboo, decree, or tribal caste: hence the lustrations, sacrifices, exclusion of the maimed, and laws of "uncleanness," prescribed to ensure sanctity in whatever approaches the shrine. (2) The "fitness" required becomes increasingly moral. Lev. 17 - 26 demands, "You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine." "Be ye holy for I holy" (20:26; 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:15 - 16); the meaning of "holiness" is then worked out in philanthropy, love for God, clean living, compassion, commercial honesty, and love.

Thus God is holy; "separate" from nature, other gods, and sinners; unapproachable except by mediation and sacrifice (Isa. 6:3 - 5). Men "sanctify" God by obeying his commands (Lev. 22:32; Isa. 8:13; I Pet. 3:15). Israel is inherently holy, separated by God from "the peoples" to be his own. Yet Israel must become holy, by obedience, fit for the privilege allotted her.

The Nature of Sanctification

Status Conferred

These nuances persist. Jesus prays that God's name be "hallowed"; God "sanctifies" the Son, the Son "sanctifies" himself, "setting apart" to special tasks (John 10:36; 17:19). Christians are set apart for God's use. "sanctified. . . saints" (1 Cor. 1:2) indicates status, not character; so "chosen. . . destined. . . sanctified" (1 Pet. 1:1 - 2). This is usually the meaning in Hebrews: "We have been sanctified. . . are sanctified" (timelessly), not by moral transformation, but by the sacrifice of Christ "once for all" (10:10, 29; 2:11; 9:13 - 14; 10:14; 13:12). The author sees men formerly "standing outside the Temple defiled and banned," now admitted, accepted, their sins expiated, themselves set apart for divine service, all by the sacrifice and intercession of their High Priest, like Israel, already sanctified. So 1 Cor. 6:11, recalling conversion. Christ is our sanctification (1:30), and the church is sanctified (Eph. 5:25 - 26).

Process Pursued

Yet even in Hebrews the meaning "moral fitness" emerges. "Strive for sanctity / holiness" (12:14). This is the most common understanding of sanctification, the growth in holiness that should follow conversion (Eph. 1:4; Phil. 3:12). So Paul prays that the Thessalonians be sanctified wholly, spirit, soul, and body being kept sound and blameless, as something still to be accomplished. The first letter says sanctification is the will of God for them in the special matter of sexual chastity (4:3 - 4). Similarly, the Romans are exhorted to "present their bodies. . . holy. . ." in their worship; and in 1 Cor. 6:13 - 14 the body of the Christian must be kept from immorality because every Christian is a sacred ("sanctified") person, belonging to Christ.

Doubtless the moral tone of first century society necessitated this emphasis. "Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect" (2 Cor. 7:1). One motive urged, beside personal sacredness, is spiritual athletics, with metaphors drawn from the widespread games (1 Cor. 9:24 - 25; Phil. 3:13; etc.), aiming at fitness for service. Another is, to be worthy of God, our calling, the Lord, the gospel, the kingdom (I Thess. 2:12; Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:10; Phil. 1:27; 2 Thess. 1:5). Beside positive motives, Paul stresses positive consecration of the personality so sanctified, in active service and love, with the total dedication of a slave, sacrifice, and man in love.

The addition of "and spirit" in 2 Cor. 7:1, the transformed "mind" (Rom. 12:1 - 2) set on things above and filled with all things holy and of good report (Phil. 4:8 - 9; cf. 2:5; 1 Cor. 2:16), shows that Paul did not think of holiness only in physical terms.

Everything is to be sanctified (1 Tim. 4:4 - 5). Holiness represents purity before God, as righteousness represents purity before the law, blameless purity before the world (Phil. 2:14 - 15; Col. 1:22): sanctification includes all three (1 Thess. 2:10). Here sanctification broadens into the total personal ethic that some (situationists, e.g.) claim is absent from Christianity, and becomes a technical name for the process of development into which conversion is the entrance, issuing in conformity to Christ (Rom. 8:29 - 30; 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:1 - 3).

Theology and Sanctification, Justification

An exclusively objective view of the work of Christ tends to regard sanctification as either an addendum to justification, or merely evidence of justifying faith. Yet justification and sanctification are not separate in time (1 Cor. 6:11), for God's justifying act sets the sinner apart for service; not separable in experience, but only in thought. Paul's gospel of justification by faith was the moral dynamic of salvation (Rom. 1:16); forgiveness itself has moral force, creating the will to goodness in the forgiven.

To those who wondered whether men counted righteous on the ground of faith might go on sinning with impunity, Paul retorted that the faith expressed in faith - baptism so unites the convert to Christ that he dies with Christ to sin, is buried with Christ to all that belongs to his past life, and rises with Christ to new life in which sin's reign is broken. That new self is yielded to the service of righteousness and of God in a surrender that issues in sanctification (Rom. 6:1 - 11, 19 - 22). Sanctification is not merely the completion (correlate or implicate) of justification; it is justifying faith at work. In the faith counted for righteousness, actual righteousness is born. As though to guard against justification without sanctification, John says, "Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous" (1 John 3:7)

The two experiences must not be identified. In justification, God at the beginning of Christian life declares us acquitted. In sanctification, God accomplishes his will in us as Christian life proceeds. Sanctification never replaces justification. Scholars argue whether Luther taught that "making sinners righteous" was the real ground of justification, as faith led on to good works, penance, saintliness - begun. Not so: Luther's ground remains faith to the end. We are "always being justified, more and more, always by faith." But the faith that justifies, by its very nature as union with Christ in his dying and risen life, sets in motion the sanctifying energies of grace.

The Spirit

Ninety one times in the NT the Spirit is called "holy," and the implied contrast with the ubiquitous evil spirits that work corruption and death must never be overlooked. "Spirit of Jesus," "Spirit of Christ," designate quality, not source. As, in thought of the Spirit, emphasis moved from spectacular gifts for service to inward equipment for Christian living, so the place of the Spirit in sanctification became central. Constantly, sanctification is said to be of the Spirit: Rom. 15:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 4:7 - 8; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2.

Sanctification is not primarily negative in the NT, "keeping oneself unspotted," not mainly self discipline. It is chiefly the outflow of an overflowing life within the soul, the "fruit" of the Spirit in all manner of Christian graces (Gal. 5:22 - 23), summed up as "sanctification" (Rom. 6:22 lit.). Justification, the privileged status of acceptance, is achieved through the cross; sanctification, the ongoing process of conformity to Christ, is achieved by the Spirit. But not as sudden miraculous gift: the NT knows nothing of any shortcut to that ideal.

Sinless Perfection

How far does sanctification go? References to "perfection" (teleiotes, Col. 3:14); the call to "perfecting holiness" (2 Cor. 7:1); misunderstanding of "sanctification" in Hebrews; assurances like "our old self was crucified. . . that the sinful body might be destroyed," "no longer in bondage to sin," "sin will have no dominion over you," "set free from sin. . . slaves of righteousness," "no one who abides in him sins," "anyone born of God does not sin," "he cannot sin", such thoughts have ever kept alive the dream of sinlessness in this life. Some patristic expressions (Justin, Irenaeus, Origen) have a similar ring, though they scarcely go beyond asserting the obligation not to sin. Augustine and Aquinas sought perfection in the vision of God, and certain evangelical leaders, such as Fenelon, Zinzendorf, or Wesley, stressed perfection as fullness of love, faith, or holiness, respectively.

To dilute the scriptural challenge seems disloyal to the absolute Christian standard, which is certainly not abated in the NT. Yet it must be said that the root telei - does not mean "sinless," "incapable of sinning," but "fulfilling its appointed end, complete, mature" (even "all inclusively complete," Matt. 5:48). Such all roundness and maturity are clearly part of the Christian's goal. Paul's denial that he is already "perfect," and his exhortations to ongoing sanctification, show that he does not think a final, completed sanctification can be claimed in this life. Though the Christian who has died with Christ is freed from the bondage of sin, and need not, ought not, and at his best does not sin, yet he must continually reaffirm his death with Christ and his yielding to God (Rom. 6:11, 13, 16).

John's warning that "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," and his insistence on the continual forgiveness and advocacy of Christ available for all Christians (1 John 1:7 - 2:2), shows that he too does not think the Christian sinless. That is also implied in 3:3 - 10, where John details some fourteen reasons that the Christian ought not to continue to practice sin, as certain Gnostics claimed that the wise man may.

So long as he is "in this body," the Christian continues to be tempted, continues sometimes to fall, growing more sensitive to sin as he lives nearer to God. But he will continue to repent, and to seek forgiveness, never acquiescing, never making excuses, never surrendering, but ever desiring to be further changed into Christ's image, stage by stage, as by the Lord, the Spirit.

Historical Considerations

So rich a theme must have yielded a variety of insights. In the apostolic church, the essence of sanctification was a Christlike purity; in the patristic church, withdrawal from the contaminations of society. This hardened, in the medieval church, into asceticism (a dualistic misapplication of Paul's athleticism). This involved a double standard: "sanctity" and "saintliness" came to be applied only to the "religious" person (priest, monk), whereas a lower attainment, compromising with the world, was tolerated in the "ordinary, secular, or lay" Christian. Luther sought to annul this double standard, making sanctification a matter of inward attitude toward all the affairs of the outside world; he made much, in his expositions, of the transformation in the life of the believer by the work of the Spirit.

Calvin's insistence upon the divine sovereignty, and upon self discipline, made sanctification a question of ever more complete obedience to the Decalogue as the core of biblical ethics. The Greek Orthodox Church preserved the ascetic view of sanctification as self denial, nourished by the church and sacraments. The Counter Reformation, especially in Spain, saw the secret of sanctification as disciplined prayer; while the Puritans sought the divine will, personally revealed as "leadings of the Spirit," and the power to fulfill it, within the recesses of the devout soul. Jonathan Edwards stressed the necessity of grace in sanctification, "infusing" the habits of virtue.

John Wesley, and Methodism after him, laid great emphasis upon complete sanctification, and often on the necessity that Christians seek perfection. Emil Brunner saw faith as essentially active obedience to the divine command, so identifying faith with works in individual sanctification. For most modern Christians, sanctification, if considered at all, is reduced to "the distinctive life style of the committed soul," a true enough description, but a somewhat thin substitute for the glorious experience of the NT.

R E O White

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

J S Stewart, A Man in Christ; V Taylor, Forgiveness and Reconciliation; P T Forsyth, Christian Perfection; G C Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification; J C Ryle, Holiness; L Bouyer, The Spirituality of the NT and the Fathers and The Spirituality of the Middle Ages; L Bouyer, Orthodox Spirituality and Protestant and Anglican Spirituality.


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"Sanctification," (noun) is used of (a) separation to God, 1 Cor, 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2 (b) the course of life befitting those so separated, 1 Thess. 4:3, 4, 7; Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14.

"Sanctification is that relationship with God into which men enter by faith in Christ, Acts 26:18; 1 Cor. 6:11, and to which their sole title is the death of Christ, Eph. 5:25, 26: Col. 1:22; Heb. 10:10, 29; 13:12."

Sanctification is also used in NT of the separation of the believer from evil things and ways. This sanctification is God's will for the believer, 1 Thess. 4:3, and His purpose in calling him by the gospel, v. 7; it must be learned from God, v. 4, as He teaches it by His Word, John 17:17, 19; cf. Ps. 17:4; 119:9, and it must be pursued by the believer, earnestly and undeviatingly, 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14.

For the holy character, hagiosune, 1 Thess. 3:13, is not vicarious, i.e., it cannot be transferred or imputed. It is an individual possession, built up, little by little, as the result of obedience to the Word of God, and of following the example of Christ, Matt. 11:29; John 13:15; Eph. 4:20; Phil. 2:5, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Rom. 8:13; Eph. 3:16. "The Holy Spirit is the Agent in sanctification, Rom. 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; cf. 1 Cor. 6:11....The sanctification of the Spirit is associated with the choice, or election, of God; it is a Divine act preceding the acceptance of the Gospel by the individual."

From Notes on Thessalonians, by Hogg and Vine, pp. 115,271. For synonymous words see Holiness.


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"to Sanctify," (verb), is used of (a) the gold adorning the Temple and of the gift laid on the altar, Matt. 23:17, 19; (b) food, 1 Tim. 4:5; (c) the unbelieving spouse of a believer, 1 Cor. 7:14; (d) the ceremonial cleansing of the Israelites, Heb. 9:13; (e) the Father's Name, Luke 11:2; (f) the consecration of the Son by the Father, John 10:36; (g) the Lord Jesus devoting Himself to the redemption of His people, John 17:19; (h) the setting apart of the believer for God, Acts 20:32; cf. Rom. 15:16; (i) the effect on the believer of the Death of Christ, Heb. 10:10, said of God, and 2:11; 13:12, said of the Lord Jesus; (j) the separation of the believer from the world in his behavior- by the Father through the Word, John 17:17, 19; (k) the believer who turns away from such things as dishonor God and His gospel, 2 Tim. 2:21; (1) the acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ, 1 Pet. 3:15. "Since every believer is sanctified in Christ Jesus, 1 Cor. 1:2, cf. Heb. 10:10, a common NT designation of all believers is 'saints,' hagioi, i.e., 'sanctified' or 'holy ones.' Thus sainthood, or sanctification, is not an attainment, it is the state into which God, in grace, calls sinful men, and in which they begin their course as Christians, Col. 3:12; Heb. 3:1."

From Notes on Thessalonians, by Hogg and Vine, pp. 113,114.


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To make clean physically or morally

Regeneration is the creative act of the Holy Spirit, implanting a new principle of spiritual life in the soul. Sanctification is the sustaining and developing work of the Holy Spirit, bringing all the faculties of the soul more and more perfectly under the purifying and regulating principle of spiritual life.

The sense in which the body is sanctified.

To who the work of sanctification is referred.

The agency of the truth in the work of sanctification - Ps 119:9-11 Joh 17:19 Jas 1:18 1Pe 1:22 2:2 2Pe 1:4

Also, see:
Soteriological Ordering. Various Attitudes

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