What Is Sanctification?

Published on March 22, 2010 by CT in Blog, Questions


Words without definitions are not worth much.  Perhaps they might have some artistic value in form, but they fail to convey any meaningful information unless we actually know what the words mean.  Words with definitions, however, hold great potential.  They can be the means to change our thoughts which in turn can change our actions.  Words forming ideas can be means to change the world—or even the destiny of a man’s soul.

One word I’ve heard many times is the word sanctification.  And I thought I knew what it meant.  I was talking with my dad recently about this word, and he said something I found interesting.  He said that he had always heard sanctification taught as meaning “to be set apart or holy,” but that over the years, he’s hearing more and more is being referred to as a “process of growing in our faith.”  So this question has been stuck in my mind recently:  What does sanctification really mean?

I asked this question on Twitter, and a number of kind souls weighed in.  Each response had similar elements, but there were some nuanced differences to each.  So this makes me wonder how others understand this important truth about our faith.  I’ll weigh in later this week in an effort to understand how the Bible addresses this concept in full, but for now, I’ll ask you:

What is sanctification?  And why does it matter?

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/melmollner melmollner

    It is both. As new creations (daily) in Christ we are set apart- for His use. Which is something we are powerless to make happen- a miracle beyond our control or comprehension really. But it is our character (growing in faith and bearing fruit of the Holy Spirit) that defines the extent to which our calling (what we are set apart for) can be carried out on earth in the physical realm in our vessels (physical bodies). The better definition of sanctification in my mind would be sustaining grace. For we are saved first by grace and daily as we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling it is He who works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure!

  • http://twitter.com/JasonMaroney @JasonMaroney

    great topic Chris, thanks for throwing it out there. Justification and Sanctification are often confused by people (whether they use those terms or not) and they both involve our holiness. take 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
    Justification, brings us into the state of holiness through the work of Christ on the Cross and it is imparted to us through the Holy Spirit who creates faith in us. We are set apart, holy, because of justification.
    The Holy Spirit then grows that faith within us and as mel says, bears fruit in our lives. This is Sanctification, where are actions and thoughts reflect and reveal that we are set apart and holy because of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit and our obedience to him.

  • http://twitter.com/JasonMaroney @JasonMaroney

    realized, i didn't address the second half of the question which is why does it matter. It matters because as we live out our Christian life, we need to understand what the proper role of good works are. Without this understanding of sanctification (more so the role, than what a person calls it) we would get completely confused by verses in the Bible that compel and instruct us to good works. we think it is a prerequisite or a path to holiness, not a working outward of an inner faith. without the understanding of sanctification we fall into works righteousness or a false belief that God does not want good works from us.

  • Russ K.

    Thoughts that are not originally my own…but seem to be more agreeable from each day to the next…


  • http://www.jodylynne.blogspot.com Jody

    Sanctification is submitting to the Holy Spirit in my life allowing God to be conformed to the image of His Son, my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
    My recent post

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Laura_Droege Laura_Droege

    I think that "sanctification" is both.

    And this is a little off topic, but …

    I really appreciated your opening point: Words without definition are meaningless. Postmodern philosophy tells us that the meaning of words is open to definition. (For example, the line from Former President Clinton about "it depends on what your definition of "is" is.")

    If we're not clear on what our terms (such as sanctification, justification, is, etc.) mean, then how can we adequately explain them to those outside the faith or those inside the faith who don't understand them?

    That's one reason why discussions like this are important. That's one reason why figuring out what sanctification is (and isn't) is important.

    Like I said, a little off topic…Thanks for bearing with my little rabbit trails! I look forward to hearing what other folks have to say about sanctification.
    My recent post Why am I hiding behind my camera?

  • Sarah Beth

    Well articulated Melissa! I fully agree!

  • Sarah Beth

    Praise God for sustaining grace!

  • Name

    I have always thought sanctification is the process, (as in I was saved, I'm being saved and I will be saved–the being saved)and the setting apart called consecration.However I've heard these words, and others, used interchangeably. Language is finite and we should know what we're saying–otherwise how can we stand by what we say, or explain to others.

  • Jim Turner

    and Sanctification
    The Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith, Part 10
    November 11, 2003 |by Various topic: Faith
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    10.1 We believe that justification and sanctification are both brought about by God through faith,1 but not in the same way. Justification is an act of God’s imputing and reckoning;2 sanctification is an act of God’s imparting and transforming.3 Thus the function of faith in regard to each is different. In regard to justification, faith is not the channel through which power or transformation flows to the soul of the believer, but rather faith is the occasion of God’s forgiving, acquitting, and reckoning as righteous.4 But in regard to sanctification, faith is indeed the channel through which divine power and transformation flow to the soul;5 and the sanctifying work of God through faith does indeed touch the soul and change it into the likeness of Christ.
    10.2 We believe that the reason justifying faith necessarily sanctifies in this way is fourfold:
    First, justifying faith is a persevering, that is, continuing, kind of faith.6 Even though we are justified at the first instant of saving faith,7 yet this faith justifies only because it is the kind of faith that will surely persevere. The extension of this faith into the future is, as it were, contained in the first seed of faith, as the oak in the acorn. Thus the moral effects8 of persevering faith may be rightly described as the effects of justifying faith.
    Second, we believe that justifying faith trusts in Christ not only for the gift of imputed righteousness and the forgiveness of sins,9 but also for the fulfillment of all His promises to us based on that reconciliation.10 Justifying faith magnifies the finished work of Christ’s atonement, by resting securely in all the promises of God obtained and guaranteed by that all-sufficient work.11
    Third, we believe that justifying faith embraces Christ in all His roles:12 Creator,13 Sustainer,14 Savior,15 Teacher,16 Guide,17 Comforter,18 Helper,19 Friend,20 Advocate,21 Protector,22 and Lord.23 Justifying faith does not divide Christ, accepting part of Him and rejecting the rest. All of Christ is embraced by justifying faith, even before we are fully aware of, or fully understand, all that He will be for us. As more of Christ is truly revealed to us in His Word, genuine faith recognizes Christ and embraces Him more fully.24
    Fourth, we believe that this embracing of all of Christ is not a mere intellectual assent, or a mere decision of the will, but is also a heartfelt, Spirit-given (yet imperfect) satisfaction in all that God is for us in Jesus.25 Therefore, the change of mind and heart that turns from the moral ugliness and danger of sin, and is sometimes called “repentance,”26 is included in the very nature of saving faith.
    10.3 We believe that this persevering, future-oriented, Christ-embracing, heart-satisfying faith is life-transforming,27 and therefore renders intelligible the teaching of the Scripture that final salvation in the age to come depends on the transformation of life,28 and yet does not contradict justification by faith alone. The faith which alone justifies, cannot remain alone, but works through love.29
    10.4 We believe that this simple, powerful reality of justifying faith is God’s gift30 which He gives unconditionally in accord with God’s electing love,31 so that no one can boast in himself,32 but only give all glory to God for every part of salvation.33 We believe that the Holy Spirit is the decisive agent in this life-transformation, but that He is supplied to us and works holiness in us though our daily faith in the Son of God34 whose trustworthiness He loves to glorify.35
    10.5 We believe that the sanctification, which comes by the Spirit through faith,36 is imperfect and incomplete in this life.37 Although slavery to sin is broken,38 and sinful desires are progressively39 weakened by the power of a superior satisfaction in the glory of Christ, yet there remain remnants of corruption in every heart that give rise to irreconcilable war,40 and call for vigilance in the lifelong fight of faith.41
    10.6 We believe that all who are justified will win this fight. They will persevere in faith and never surrender to the enemy of their souls.42 This perseverance is the promise of the New Covenant,43obtained by the blood of Christ,44 and worked in us by God Himself,45 yet not so as to diminish, but only to empower and encourage, our vigilance;46 so that we may say in the end, I have fought the good fight,47 but it was not I, but the grace of God which was with me.48