Sanctification is the reality of God making us holy. When believers are called “saints,” this means that they are holy ones.
Sanctification is first and foremost positional. This fact is frequently overlooked, but it is extremely important. Positional sanctification sets the foundation for progressive sanctification. Being positionally sanctified means that God has made us holy through the power of the Holy Spirit. He has set us apart as new creatures, separate from the world and devoted to God. Here are some verses that reveal the nature of positional sanctification:
“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5)
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Sanctification, often known as becoming more like Christ, is also progressive. This means that it is a process that occurs over time (this is your progress). Just as a child is first a baby, moves into toddlerhood, and slowly grows into maturity, so believers mature and grow in their holiness. In this life, believers will grow in holiness, but they will be made perfect, experientially, only upon Jesus’ establishment of the New Heavens and New Earth on the last day.
Here are some passages that reveal the nature of progressive sanctification:
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:12-15).
What then shall we do?
Our response to these truths, the reality of being holy in God’s sight in Christ (positional sanctification) and gradually becoming more like Christ (progressive sanctification), is to rely on the abundant and ever-present strength that God gives and walk with Him.
Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
In this text, Paul states that believers must exercise their salvation. We do not work for our salvation, for it was already accomplished in Christ’s work and applied upon us placing our faith in Christ (see our section on Justification). Rather, we obey Christ because of our accomplished salvation, becoming in a practical sense what is already true of us positionally. We do this not out of our own strength, but out of the strength God gives through His Spirit. God provides the desire to obey as the Holy Spirit convicts and corrects us through the Word of God. As we follow Christ out of the strength God provides, we will gradually kill our sin and replace those desires with a greater love for Christ.
Praise the Lord that His Spirit indwells us and spurs us on to greater obedience!
- Philippians 2:12-13
- What incentive do we have to work out our own salvation?
- Who is working in these verses and who is responsible for what?
- What does will and work mean in verse 13?
- What should your response be?
- 2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6
- Why is glory so prominent in these verses?
- Who does the work of transformation in 3:18?
- What role does the gospel play in sanctification?
- Romans 12:1-2
- How do these two verses relate to sanctification?
- Galatians 5:16-23
- What does walking by the Spirit look like?
- Why is this important for sanctification?
- Can we produce the fruit of the Spirit? What connection does this have with sanctification?