Sanctification comes from the Hebrew word group, chAdash, and the Greek word group, hagios. In both languages, the word means to set apart or distinguish as unique and special, and thus to classify as in a particular state or condition. The English words that translate this verb and its derivatives are, sanctify, sanctity, sanctification, saint, and holy. Although the New Testament doctrine of sanctification is different from the Old Testament because is is based on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the basic meanings of the words remain the same.

There are three categories of sanctification taught in the Bible. The sanctification that occurs at the moment of salvation, which is theologically designated as positional sanctification, refers to the status of being set apart as unique and special through positional union with Christ. This is accomplished at the very point in time, when a person trusts in Christ as Savior, and is complete and permanent at that very moment.

There is also an "experiential" or "progressive" sanctification that occurs AFTER a person is saved and is based on advance in spiritual growth and consistency of fellowship with God. This refers to developing a consistent control over the sin nature and avoidance of personal sin.

And then we have what has been designated theologically as "ultimate" sanctification. This will occur when the believer is given a resurrection body. At that time, both soul and body will be perfectly conformed to the image of Christ and remain that way for all eternity.


This refers to the act of God the Holy Spirit by which He takes the person who has JUST trusted in Christ as Savior and places him into a unique and special spiritual condition by putting him into union with Christ. This ACT is called the baptism of the Holy spirit and occurs immediately at the very moment that a person trusts in Christ. This is indicated especially at 1 Corinthians 12:13 which reads, "For by one Spirit we have all been baptized (identified) into one Body." The body is Christ Himself and the believer is seen as spiritually identified and in union with Christ, so that WHERE Christ is, that is where the believer is (in the heavenlies, Eph. 2:6) and WHAT Christ is, that is what the believer is (righteous, 2 Cor. 5:21).

See Topic: Baptism of the Holy Spirit

The believer is thus, SET APART or SANCTIFIED IN CHRIST as we see at 1 Corinthians 1:2, "To those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus." This is a perfect passive participle of the verb, hagiadzo, and indicates a PAST completed action that has a current result or status. And SINCE they HAVE BEEN SANCTIFIED, they are are called SANCTIFIED ONES. At the same verse, the very next words read, "called saints." The word, saints, is the adjective, hagios, and refers to someone who has been set apart as special in God's plan. In this case, the title, saint, is based on the previous description, "those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus." The designation, "called," indicates entrance into the plan of God via election. That is, they are saints because they have responded to the call of God through the gospel. This new title that is assigned to the person who trusts in Christ occurs several times throughout the New Testament (Rom. 1:7; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Philip. 1:1; Col. 1:2).

Based on positional sanctification, the POSITION of every believer in ONE SPIRITUAL BODY is designated as a holy nation at 1 Peter 2:9, which is a spiritual designation to confirm the fact that the church is the temporary replacement of the nation of Israel as the evangelistic agent for this designated time period of God's plan (Mat. 21:33-43; 23:37-39; Ex. 19:5-6).

According to Hebrews 10:9-10, it is the will of God that designed the plan for sanctification.

1. "By whose will we have been sanctified: Sanctified: This is the verb, hagiadzō as a perfect passive participle plus the present indicative of eimi. Its called a perfect periphrastic which is the strongest way to express a present reality which is based on a past action. Ie, we were sanctified at some time in the past and we remain sanctified at the present moment.

2. And it is the sacrifice of Christ that provided sanctification for those who would accept it, "through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all."

At verses 19-20, the PLACE of sanctification is indicated as "the entrance into the holies," which refers to the presence of God. Again, the basis for this entrance is the WAY that was provided for us THROUGH His flesh, which refers to his SPIRITUAL sacrifice on the cross, which was the payment for sins that His human soul endured while residing in His human body (John 1:14; Isaiah 53:10-11; 1 Peter 2:24).

At Hebrews 13:12 we read that Jesus, "so that He might SANCTIFY the people through His own blood (spiritual death for sins), suffered outside the gate."

Accordingly, it is JESUS Himself who BECAME to us SANCTIFICATION (1Cor. 1:30) if we will but trust in Him.


It is the Holy Spirit who actually accomplishes our positional sanctification at the moment a person believes. We learn this from

1 Corinthians 6:11, which says, "but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God." Each of the items mentioned were accomplished by God the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith.

Another passage that indicates that the Holy Spirit is the agent of sanctification is 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which reads,

"God has chosen you (as) first fruits unto salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through faith in the truth."

This passage has caused some confusion concerning the ORDER of STEPS involved in getting saved. Some think that it is the sanctification by the Spirit that actually RESULTS in or even CAUSES someone to then express faith in the truth of the gospel. Others teach that the sanctification is of the human spirit and likewise precedes and is the basis for being able to believe. Although this and a few other passages seem a bit innocuous on this point, there is an abundance of passages that indicate FAITH comes first, and then God accomplishes all the other factors concerning our salvation. The fact that sanctification is the act of being placed INTO UNION WITH CHRIST, as the phrase, "sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 1:2) indicates, is proof that sanctification does not precede faith, for the positional status of IN CHRIST does not precede faith.

The bible teaches that once a person trusts in Christ as Savior, he is permanently secured in the family of God and in his possession of everlasting life.

See Topic: SALVATION SECURITY for details

The doctrine of salvation security is applied to positional sanctification at Hebrews 10:14, which reads,

"He has completed (perfected) for all time those who are sanctified."

The phrase "who are sanctified" is not in the usual form of the PERFECT TENSE that we have seen in other passages, which indicates a completed action in the past with a present condition that persists based on that past action. It is instead a present passive participle, which emphasizes only the present CONDITION of those who have trusted in Christ. However we do find the perfect tense in the verb, COMPLETED. It is a perfect active indicative of teleioō, which means to complete or bring to an end - and thus COMPLETE. It indicates that those who ARE sanctified IN CHRIST, are completed and perfected in that condition "for all time." The phrase, "for all time," translates a prepositional phrase, eis to diānekās. The word is an adjective used as a noun, and means that which is continuous and uninterrupted in regard to time - thus, forever. The exact phrase is used also at verse 12 to indicate that the sacrifice of Christ for sins was a once-and-for-all sacrifice.

The perfect tense of COMPLETED (teleioō), indicates that God has done something in the past with the results of that action continuing on into the present. In fact, the prepositional phrase extends the PRESENT CONDITION of salvation into "for all time" or eternity. The act of sanctification which places the believer into a unique and special condition of IN UNION WITH CHRIST, is permanent because it is an actual spiritual transformation and change of status. It is a POSITIONAL adjustment to God and the spiritual universe that reverses a previous condition (in darkness and spiritual death), and is as permanent as when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.


The bible also teaches that there is a process of sanctification, which results from spiritual growth as the believer learns more and more of God's word, and begins to reflect the character of Christ in his life (1Thes. 4:1-8; 1 Pet. 1:14-16).

It can be designated by the term, "experiential sanctification," or "progressive" sanctification. The term for reflecting Christ's character can be designated as "experiential righteousness."

Definition: Experiential sanctification is the reflection of your positional sanctification, in union with Christ, into the Christian way of life via growth and the filling control of the Spirit.

Because we are "holy" (sanctified) in position (IN CHRIST) we should be holy in our Christian life (1 Pet. 1:15-16). This passage reads, "But like the holy one who called you, become holy yourselves also in all your behavior." And then Peter quotes Leviticus, "You shall be Holy for I am Holy." The holiness of God refers to the expression of His functional character toward His creatures. These functional attributes revolve around righteousness and love. So in other words, as God is consistent in expressing perfect righteousness and love, so also should the believer reflect God's righteousness and love.

Paul teaches this in Ephesians 5 when he writes that we should live in a way that is "proper among saints." The saint is the one who has been sanctified or made holy through positional union with Christ. Since we are saints in our position, we should live like saints in our Christian life.

Earlier, at verses 1 and 2, he writes about being an imitator of God which is accomplished by walking in love "just as Christ also loved." Later at verse 8, he writes that our positional status is "light in the Lord," and that we should reflect that position by WALKING in the light.

All of these terms refer to experiential sanctification; the process of building character and living that character in our Christian experience here on earth.

As we learn God's word, God's character is built in our souls (1 Tim. 1:5, love) and we develop the capacity to imitate that character as we choose to follow those standards in every area of our life (1 Pet. 1:14; 2 Tim. 2:19-22).

Jesus taught this as He prayed to the Father at John 17:17, "sanctify them through your truth; Your word is truth." It is God then who accomplishes the sanctification process as we are faithful in learning His word. God is unable to change our character if we do not learn his word. Paul writes that we need to cleanse ourselves from our old character flaws and our old human viewpoint, and that in this way we will be a SANCTIFIED person (vessel), whom God can use here on earth (2 Tim. 2:19-22).

At 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Paul tells us that it is God's desire that the believer live a sanctified life, that is, not for the purpose of impurity (immorality), but as a reflection of God's character and viewpoint.

Accordingly at 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul exhorts us to pursue the sanctification process by cleansing ourselves from all defilement of the body and of the inner spirit. This cleansing process can only take place as we learn God's word and let His standards weed out the human viewpoint and lust from our soul.

See Topic: Spiritual growth


A third category of sanctification can be designated by the term, "ultimate sanctification," even though the word "sanctification" does not occur in the pertinent passages. This occurs when the believer will receive a resurrection body exactly like Christ's at His coming for He "will transform our body of humiliation into conformity with the body of His glory" (Philip. 3:21).

John tells us that "when He shall appear we shall be like Him for we shall see Him just as he is" (1 John 3:2), and Paul writes about our ultimate destiny in God's plan as being "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29).



Lewis Sperry Chafer summarizes these three categories of sanctification in his Systematic Theology, volume VI, page 285.

"The Bible teaching in regard to sanctification, then, is (1) that all believers are POSITIONALLY sanctified in Christ 'once for all' at the moment they are saved. This sanctification is as perfect as He is perfect. (2) All believers are BEING sanctified by the power of God through the Word, and this sanctification is as perfect as the believer is perfect. So, also, (3) all believers WILL BE sanctified and perfected in glory into the very image of the Son of God."

See Doctrinal Outline: SANCTIFICATION

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