God’s act of redemption: Sanctification

Important points

  • Being saved by grace, and adopted as God’s children, we now live in the household of God
  • To be holy is to be set apart to glorify God
  • We cannot continue to live the same way as we lived before we became children of God
  • In God’s household, God sets the rules
  • Keeping to these rules does not make us his children, but shows that we are indeed his children
  • Sanctification means that we more and more become what we already are in Christ
  • Sanctification does not make us more righteous, but indeed more useful in the Kingdom of God


Definitive sanctification as an initial gift from God

We are by faith united to Christ, we are joined to Him at all points of his activity on our behalf: 

  • We share in his death (we were baptised into his death—He does not die all over again when we take the sacraments; they are the seal and sign that we share in his death)
  • We share in his resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ—He did not raise from the dead when we believed. The sacraments are the seal and sign that we share in his victory over death.)
  • We share in his ascension (we have been raised with Him)
  • We share in his heavenly session (we sit with Him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God)
  • We will share in his promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with Him in glory) (Romans 6:14; Colossians 2:11-12; 3:1-3).

Definitive sanctification is:

  • is “a once-for-all” event
  • happens simultaneously with effectual calling and regeneration
  • transfers us from the sphere of sin to the sphere of God’s holiness, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God 
  • marks us out (or separates us) as God’s chosen people – His treasured and covenantal possession (Acts 20:32; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11)
  • redeems us from the dominion of sin by uniting us to Christ, particularly in His death, resurrection and ascension. 

Sanctification, in this sense, refers to a decisive and radical break with the power and pleasures of sin. 

Progressive sanctification

  • is a progressive work of God the Holy Spirit and man, freeing us more and more from sin to be like Christ in our daily lives 
  • is the outworking of the new life we received in regeneration 
  • it involves the gradual, incremental work of the Holy Spirit of both putting to death the remains of “indwelling sin” as well as putting on the likeness of Christ.


The effect of the Gospel message is even more surprising than this little illustration:

A man is charged with a crime – let’s say he committed murder.  All evidence points in his direction, even his defence lawyer cannot come up with anything better than to plead for a lesser penalty.  The judge listens to the charges laid; he weighs up the evidence and faces the reality of condemning the charged murderer with the death penalty.  He looks at the accused and begins to love him, and in his own heart, there is big sorrow that this young man appearing in court might never see his wife or children again.  But as the judge he must be impartial:  the law demands that a murderer is charged—even with capital punishment.

The judge now does the unthinkable: He does not have the crime of murder go unpunished—the law demands punishment—but he commands his own son to stand in the place of the accused, and charge the innocent son with murder to provide ground for the murderer to go free.  Because his own son completely pay the penalty, the law is satisfied, and the murderer may go free after the judge declared him not guilty.  

The judge now does something even more unfathomable: he takes the murderer as his own child and promises to be his father, to care for him, to give him shelter, and to provide him with a daily guard to protect him as a child of the new household.

  • We stand as accused before God.  We fall short of his glory because we are sinners.  The reward for sin is death. 
  • Now, the unthinkable: He commands his Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place.  Christ do so willingly, because He is the only one without sin, and yet He took on the nature of us human beings, and He died on the cross as God’s curse upon sin.  
  • We gratefully believe, and His righteousness becomes our righteousness because God declares us not guilty: He imputes Christ’s righteousness to us.  
  • God freely, without our influence, adopts us as sons into his household, and gives us his Holy Spirit to teach us, guide us and protect us. The charge against us is wiped out, and the guilt of sin is removed.

This is the Gospel.  

We do not become members of God’s Covenant people based on our merits in the past, or on the good things we might do in the future.  A well-known theologian says we need to “keep the muscles of sanctification attached to the tendons of our faith.  Only thus will it be apparent that sanctification embraces all of life.

We now live in God’s household.  In his house, there are rules for good order.  We can’t carry on living as we lived before God declared us righteous in Christ; it is not fitting, it does not become Christians to live like unbelievers.  We are called to sanctification.  

Sanctification is not something we do out of fear that we might up on the streets again.  We live to serve the One who had pity on us when we were on our way to eternal condemnation.

Recent shifts in Biblical teaching

Hardly anything has shaken the Reformed world as much as the so-called New Perspectives on Paul.  Authors like EP Sanders (in Paul and Palestinian Judaism), and NT Wright (in What St Paul Really Said) reinterpreted the doctrine of justification, blurring the lines with sanctification.

According to this interpretation, justification is not God’s declaration based on the righteousness of Christ. We get into the Kingdom by faith, but we need to please God to stay in the Kingdom.  Justification and sanctification are mixed into the same recipe!

Sanders writes:

“Salvation is by grace but judgment is according to works’…God saves by grace, but… within the framework established by grace he rewards good deeds and punishes transgression.” (see: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/new-perspective-paul-calvin-and-nt-wright/

The issue is not concerned with how to get into a right relationship with God, but how to stay in his covenant. This has sometimes been compared to the issue of “keeping” or “losing one’s salvation.” 

Difference between justification and sanctification 

Justification Sanctification
Based entirely upon the work Christ has already done for us Principally a work God does in us
A righteousness without us A holiness brought about in us
By Christ as Priest, and has regard to the penalty of sin By Christ as King, and has regard to the dominion of sin
Cancels the condemning power of sin Delivers from its reigning power of sin
A judicial act, by which the sinner as declared righteous A moral work, by which the sinner is made holy
Solely to do with our standing before God Chiefly concerned with our state in Christ
Based on the merits of Christ’s satisfaction Proceeds from the result of Christ’s satisfaction
Bestowing a title to everlasting glory the way which conducts us there.

If we cut sanctification loose from justification we will drive a wedge between them. We will then be in danger of slipping into moralism (good works), and we will find ourselves between two extremes: 

  • self-conscious pride (“I have done my part and should be saved”), 
  • nagging uncertainty about being saved (“Have I done enough to be saved?”).

Blurring the lines between sanctification and justification leads to:

  • Sanctification being described as a series of meritorious acts performed by the previously justified man to make him more justified 
  • A battle of the subject of each action: God or man—who is responsible for what? 
  • Salvation becomes a 50-50% arrangement between God and sinner:  God does one half, and we must do to the other half; if we can’t do our part, we lose all hope of being saved
  • Salvation ultimately then does not rest on God’s saving grace, but the sinners’ completion of that salvation. This is Rome in full bloom!

Scripture teaches something completely different:

And because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV)

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23, ESV)

Christ prays:

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17–19, ESV)

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV)

Substance of Sanctification

God himself chose his people Israel and separated it, He made it a holy people. This separation did not, in any sense, rest on Israel’s moral strength or piety, but had its foundation solely in divine election. 

When God commands his people to be holy, He does not introduce a new element in the relation between Him and his people. Instead, He demands of them to become conscious of the sanctity with which He has sanctified them and to walk and live accordingly.

God disciplines his children because He owns them.  Over and over again we read, “I am the Lord.”  He called them out of slavery, saved them by grace, and now demands them to live to his glory.  Because they belong to Him, they are different, they are separate from the rest of the world.  They are to be different, or set apart because God is holy.  

God’s children are not called to be like God, but to act God-like.  Sanctification, some say, is God’s appeal to our hearts not to live Christ’s life, but to live a Christ-like life.  Someone else says we need to think God’s thoughts after Him.

Holiness does not mean perfect sinlessness.  Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness of sins because we are still living in this broken world.

Holiness means to act with the mind of Christ.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2, ESV)

Romans 1-11 first describes the mercies of God, then follows the call to a life displaying something of a sacrifice which is holy and acceptable to God.

Sanctification is not a sort of second blessing which we will escape us until we surrender entirely to the Lord and subsequently receive the Spirit in His fulness.

Sanctification is also not a lengthy process by which will the Christian is made fit for Heaven. We are made fit for heaven through justification.  Arthur Pink asks: “At what point was the penitent prodigal unsuited to the Father’s house?

However, process and progress are not the same.  Paul writes:

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1, ESV)

Peter writes:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18, ESV)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3, ESV)

Sanctification is not a cooperative relationship between divine grace and human action.


Sanctification is that work of Divine grace in the believer which brings him back into allegiance to God, regulating his affections and actions in harmony with His will, writing His law on the heart (Hebrews 10:16), moving him to make God’s glory his chief aim and end. That Divine work is commenced at regeneration and completed only at glorification.



1.  Read Exodus 19:1-6

1.1 Think about our previous chapter about Adoption. We looked at Exodus 6:6-7 where it says God “brings out” and “takes” us his own his elect.  Which words in Exodus 19:4 would have the same meaning?


1.2 God wants his people to keep covenant with Him (verse 5).  He wants them to be holy (verse 6).  Does God expect his people to be holy before or after they are saved?  (Keep verse 4 in mind.)


1.3 One of the purposes of God’s Covenant Rules (the Ten Commandments) is that God’s people would live lives “different” to the other nations.  When did the Israelites receive the Ten Commandments, before or after the rescue out of Egypt? (Read Exodus 20:1)


2. Read Leviticus 11:45 and 19:2

On what does God’s requirement to be holy rest?  Think of two things.


3. Read 1Corinthians 6:11

According to this verse who is the author of our sanctification?


4. Read John 17:17-19

What does Jesus ask of his Father in verse 17, and on what ground are the disciples of Jesus sanctified?


5. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:13

Who, according to this verse, sanctifies us?


6. Read Galatians 4:6 and 5:24-25

Who lives in our hearts?  What does the Spirit of God do in our hearts according to 5:22-25?


7. Read Leviticus 20:7-8

Who does the consecrating (sanctification) mean here?


8. Read Romans 12:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5, Hebrews 12:14, 1Peter 1:14-15

 Sanctification in these verses seems to be a command.  Do you agree? Why/why not?


9. Read Ezekiel 32, 25:8, 1Peter 1:17 and Romans 12:1-2

9.1 What is the difference between Israel in Ezekiel and God’s people in the other verses?


9.2 With this in mind, write down your definition of holiness/sanctification.


10. Read Romans 6:11-14

What does practical sanctification look like?


11. Read Philippians 3:12 and Romans 7:18

Does sanctification mean perfect sinlessness?


From what we have learned up to this point we understand that God’s acts of mercy in our lives are that He:

  • justifies us in Christ Jesus – He declares us righteous because of the complete work of Christ!
  • adopts us as his children – He cares for us, promises to protect us, provide for us and prepare for us an inheritance as heirs of his Kingdom
  • sanctifies us – we need to display the character of our Father who is holy – but also calls us to be sanctified

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