A couple of previous posts had the word “sanctification” in them. It occurred to me that this common word is often misunderstood or just assumed. I hope to unpack the term in this post first by looking at a definition and then at a few different views within Protestantism.

Sanctification Defined

Sanctification, put simply, is becoming like Jesus. Sanctification is being set apart. It is being set apart from sin and death for holy living. A type of living that reflects our Savior.

This process should not be seen as a way to earn favor with God based on our own morality. Michael Horton is helpful in his brief definition, “sanctification is the Spirit’s work within us, bringing forth good works.”[1] While the Christian is called to work out their faith in fear and trembling, that statement is quickly followed up by recognizing that this work is God’s work in our life (Phil. 2:12-13). 

Perspectives on Sanctification

When it comes to sanctification, there can be a variety of perspectives. Some of these differ in the use of the term itself. For instance, Roman Catholicism and Protestant understanding of sanctification and justification are different. But even within Protestantism, there are differences. 

Christian Perfectionism

Those following the teachings of John Wesley, for example, believe that a person can be perfected in love in this life. This view would imply that a person can reach a point where they do not commit any intentional sins. Arrival at this point is typically seen in a second blessing or act of grace. 

Downplaying Sanctification

Other views can downplay sanctification with a focus entirely on justification. An “It doesn’t matter how you live, it matters how Jesus lived for you” type approach. While I want to affirm that justification is extremely important and that our works don’t save us, Jesus’ work does; still, His works should motivate us to grow as well. This is the person that Paul rebukes in Romans 6:1, which says we should sin so that grace may abound.

Spiritual-highs Sanctification

Another view is that the process of sanctification is cyclical. A believer goes from spiritual high to spiritual high. This perspective searches for the next thing to reinvigorate a person’s spiritual life. This can be the Christian who re-commits their life at a Christian camp, is powerfully impacted by a conference in college, then is shaped profoundly by an international missions trip. While each of those things can be terrific catalysts, if someone is stuck in this view, they can downplay the ordinary day-to-day work of the Holy Spirit in their life. Or worse, they can avoid what God is doing in the ordinary by pursuing the next big thing.

Progressive Sanctification

Progressive santification is the view within the broader reformed understanding. I believe this view to be most faithful to the Biblical testimony. Daniel Treir explains, “sanctification is progressive: not that believers always grow without moving sideways or sometimes backward, but no postconversion ‘crisis’ experiences are necessary or normative. Instead, growth normally occurs via means of grace: classically, these ways by which God helps believers to grow include the Word (hearing it preached, and reading it oneself), the sacraments, providence (God-given joys and trials), and prayer. Believers are called not only to appropriate the means of grace but also to undertake the mortification of sin—actively resisting the devil by putting sin to death.”[2]

Are You Growing?

There is an assumption that those who have new life in Christ will reflect Christ in the fruit of their life. The God who saves us by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) has prepared good works for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). The One who began a good work in us will continue it (Philippians 1:6). What does the fruit in your life say about you? Are you growing? 

A good test is not to look at the past day or week but to examine a larger period. Have your loves been shaped to desire Christ more in the past 5, 10, or 15 years? Do you find things you once clung to desperately to be no longer as appealing? These may be signs of God’s sanctifying work in your life. What’s shocking is that even if we can only notice a few things, God is doing so much more. John Piper has said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”[3]

[1] Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 307.

[2] Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2019), 284.

{$NOTE_LABEL} https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-is-always-doing-10000-things-in-your-life