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What Does it Mean to Be Sanctified?

What Does it Mean to Be Sanctified?

Salvation is the beginning of the Christian life. After a person turns from their sins, and accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior, they have now entered into a new adventure and a Spirit-filled existence.

It is also the beginning of a process known as sanctification. Once the Holy Spirit becomes the guiding force for a believer, it begins to convict and transform the individual. This process of change is known as sanctification. Through sanctification, God makes someone more holy, less sinful, and more prepared to spend eternity in Heaven.

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  • Woman sitting in front of a starry sky

    What Does Sanctification Mean?

    Sanctification is the result of having the Holy Spirit indwelling in the believer. It can only happen after a sinner has repented of their sin and accepted the love and offer of forgiveness from Jesus Christ.

    The definition of sanctify is, “to make holy; set apart as sacred; consecrate; to purify or free from sin; to impart religious sanction to; render legitimate or binding; to entitle to reverence or respect; to make productive of or conducive to spiritual blessing.” In the Christian faith, this process of being made holy is the internal transformation of becoming more like Jesus.

    As God incarnate, made human, Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, completely aligned with the will of the Father. All other people, by contrast, were born into sin, and do not know how to live perfectly in the will of God. Even believers, who have been saved from living under the condemnation and judgment brought on by sinful thoughts and actions, still face temptations, make mistakes, and struggle with the sinful part of their natures. To shape each individual to be less earthly and more heavenly, the Holy Spirit engages in a process of conviction and guidance. Over time, if the believer is willing to be molded, that process will change the person from the inside out.

    The New Testament has a great deal to say about sanctification. These verses include, but are not limited to:

    2 Timothy 2:21 - “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

    1 Corinthians 6:11 - “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.”

    Romans 6:6 - “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

    Philippians 1:6 - “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

    Hebrews 12:10 - “For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”

    John 15:1-4 - “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

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  • Hands working a lump of clay

    How Are We Sanctified?

    Sanctification is a process through which the Holy Spirit changes a person. One of the metaphors used in the Bible to describe the process is that of the potter and the clay. God is the potter, creating each person, imbuing them with breath, personality, and everything that makes him or her unique. He also makes them more like Him once they choose to follow Jesus.

    The person is the clay in this metaphor, being shaped for this life, and the next, by the will of God first by the process of being created, and then through the workings of the Holy Spirit. Because He created all things, God tries to perfect those who are willing to be perfected to be what He intended, rather than the sinful beings humans choose to be. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

    The Holy Spirit, one of the aspects of God’s nature, is the aspect of Him that lives within the believer and shapes that person. Before He ascended to Heaven, Jesus promised the disciples they would receive help from Heaven to recall His teachings, to be comforted, and to be shaped to be more holy. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17).

    It is very difficult for sinful men to keep the commandments perfectly, so the Holy Spirit convicts Christians when they sin, and encourages them when they do what is right. This process of conviction, encouragement, and transformation makes each person more like the person God wants them to be, more holy, and more like Jesus.

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  • Man reading the Bible and thinking

    Why Do We Need Sanctification?

    Just because someone is saved, it does not mean that individual is useful for work in the Kingdom of God. Some Christians continue to pursue their own goals and ambitions, others struggle with powerful sins and temptations. These trials do not make them any less saved, but it does mean there is still work to be done, so they can be used for God’s purposes, rather than their own.

    Paul encouraged his disciple Timothy to continue pursuing righteousness to be useful to the Lord, “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21). Being a part of the family of God means working for its good, and God’s glory, but without sanctification and renewal, no one can be as effective at it as they could be. 

    Pursuing sanctification is also a way of pursuing holiness. While God’s natural state is one of perfection, it is not natural or easy for sinners, even sinners saved by grace, to be holy. In fact, the reason people cannot stand before God, see God, or go to Heaven is because people’s nature is sinful, rather than holy. In Exodus, Moses wanted to see God, so God let him see His back; just this small glimpse actually transformed Moses. The Bible states, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.  When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him” (Exodus 34:29-30). For the rest of his life, Moses wore a veil to cover his face, only removing it when he was in the Lord’s presence.

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  • woman arms up in praise celebration gratitude in wildflower field

    Are We Ever Finished Being Sanctified?

    God wants for each person to be saved, and then to be like Himself so they can stand in His full presence, rather than just a glimpse of his back. That is part of why He sent the Holy Spirit, “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16). By going through the process of sanctification, Christians become more prepared for spending eternity in a state of holiness with God.

    While the idea of constantly being molded and refined can seem tiresome, the Bible also assures those who love the Lord there will be an end to the process of sanctification. In Heaven, “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:27). The citizens of the new heaven and the new earth will never sin again. However, until the day the believer sees Jesus, whether by passing on into the next life or because He returns, they will need the Holy Spirit to continually sanctify them.

    The Book of Philippians has a great deal to say about sanctification, and Paul encouraged believers, “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).

    While the trials of this life may be part of the purifying process, eventually Christians will be able to stand before their Savior, rejoicing forever in His presence and being a part of His Kingdom forever. 

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  • Group of girls praying together

    How Can We Pursue Sanctification in Our Everyday Lives?

    Accepting and embracing the process of sanctification is the first step to seeing change in everyday life. It is possible to be saved but stubborn, clinging to sin or overly attached to earthly things and preventing the Holy Spirit from doing the work. Having a submissive heart is important, and remembering that it is God’s right as the Creator and the Savior to make His creations better. “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). Clay is moldable, shaping itself under the guiding hand of the artist. Believers must have that same shapeable spirit. 

    Prayer is also an important aspect of sanctification. If the Spirit convicts a person of a sin, praying for the Lord to help conquer it is the best first step. Some people see fruits of the Spirit in other Christians that they wish to experience more. That is something to take to God in prayer and supplication. 

    Living in this life is full of struggles, pains, and transformations. Each step that draws people closer to God is meant to sanctify, preparing believers for eternity in glory. God is perfect, faithful, and uses His Spirit to shape His creation for that eternal purpose. Sanctification is one of the greatest blessings for the Christian.

    Sources

    Evans, Roderick. The Doctrine of Sanctification Understanding Sanctification and Holiness in the Christian Life. Camden: Kingdom Builders Publishing, 2009.

    MacArthur, John. Sanctification: God’s Passion for His People. Wheaton: Crossway, 2020.

    Marshall, Walter. Sanctification; or The Highway of Holiness. An Abridgement (in the Author’s Own Words) of The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. London: James Nisbet & Co., 1884.

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    Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.