Bible Basics on Sanctification and Holiness

These are the basics of this neglected biblical doctrine—this doctrine that becomes a reality in your life.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek. Let’s start there.

What do the Hebrew and Greek words say?

As noted in other posts on our sanctification and God’s holiness at this website, William Mounce in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says the Hebrew adjective for holy is qadosh and is used 117 times. “It describes that which is by nature sacred or that which has been admitted to the sphere of the sacred by divine rite. It describes, therefore, that which is distinct or separate from the common or profane” (p. 337).

In the New Testament, the Greek words are hagios (holy, sacred) and is used 233 times. The verb hagiazō (make holy sanctify, consecrate) is used 28 times (p. 338).

Then Mounce gives us this nugget: “The proper sphere of the holy in the NT is not priestly or ritual, but the prophetic. The sacred no longer belongs to things, places, or rites, but to manifestations of life produced by the Spirit” (p. 338). In other words, when the believer is filled with the Spirit—the Holy Spirit, he is on his way to work out this holiness day by day. It is a process.

Renewal theologian J. Rodman Williams teaches that the basic connotation of holy and holiness in the Old Testament is that of separation / apartness from the common, mundane, and profane things of everyday life. This is true of God in His total otherness, also of persons and things set apart for Him and His service (vol. 1, p. 60, note 41).

What does sanctification literally mean?

It literally means the process or act (-ion) of making (fic-) holy (sanct-). It could be called by the made-up and awkward term “holy-fication.” So once God consecrates you at your salvation-conversion, it becomes a process; don’t feel bad if you stumble once in a while. Just get up and realize that your walk in holiness is a long, long process of growing in Christ.

This post is divided into two parts: Sanctification and Holiness

I.. Sanctification

A.. We have been sanctified in Christ.

In 1 Cor. 1:2, Paul tells the Corinthians who they are in Christ: sanctified in him and called to be his holy people. The verb tense is in the past.

In 1 Cor. 6:11, Paul reminds the Corinthians of their past sins—a list of them!—but then the good news: They used to be like that, but they were washed and sanctified and justified (declared righteous) in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God.

Acts 20:32 simply teaches that God will give those who are sanctified their inheritance, which is the fullness of the kingdom today and the eternal kingdom when Christ returns.

B.. We have been sanctified through the blood of Christ.

Heb. 10:29, an extra-strong warning passage, the author of Hebrews says that if certain Messianic Jews trampled underfoot the Son of God and treated the holy blood of the Covenant that sanctified them, they would be in trouble. The key word is the blood sanctified them. This verb is in the past tense, again.

C.. We have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

In Rom. 15:16, Paul says the Gentiles (non-Jews) have become an offering acceptable to God and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

D.. We are sanctified by faith.

In Acts. 26:18, Paul recounts his conversion experience on the Road to Damascus. Jesus told him that Paul is called him to preach to the Gentiles to be sanctified by faith, as distinct from law keeping.

E.. We are called God’s holy people.

In 2 Cor. 1:1, Paul simply and straightforwardly says the Corinthians are God’s holy people.

And in Phil. 1:1, Paul affirms the same truth: they are God’s holy people.

F.. We are being sanctified through the Word of God.

In John 17:17-19, Jesus prays his high priestly prayer and says his disciples are sanctified by truth, and his Word is truth.

G.. We are sanctified through the work of God.

1 Thess. 5:23 teaches that God should sanctify us through and through.

H.. We have been sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit.

In 2 Thess. 2:13, Paul plainly teaches that we are saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

And in 1 Pet. 1:2 Peter teaches the same truth—sanctified through the Spirit.

I.. We are sanctified through resisting sin.

1 Thess. 4:3-7 says that God’s will is that we should be sanctified by avoiding sexual immorality and control their own bodies in a holy and honorable way, unlike the unbelievers or pagans.

II.. Holiness

Let’s begin in the Old Testament.

A.. Israel was holy to the Lord.

Exod. 19:6 says that the ancient Israelites will be a nation of priests and a holy nation, compared to the neighboring pagan nations (see also Deut. 7:6 and Jer. 2:3)

B.. They formed a holy race.

Ezr. 9:2 rebukes the Israelites for marrying pagan women, when the Israelites were called to be a holy nation.

C.. They were expected to be holy.

Lev. 11:44-45 teaches that the people are holy because God is holy.

D.. The priests were holy.

Lev. 21:5-6 says that priests are supposed do certain things so they can be different or apart from the surrounding pagans—holy, in other words.

Now let’s turn to Christians who are also supposed to be holy.

E.. Christians are a holy people.

Col. 3:12 says that we are God’s chosen people, holy and loved. Love and holiness must go together.

1 Pet. 2:9 teaches us that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, and holy nation. That means we are different from the unbelievers and have special access to and a clear relationship with God.

F.. We are a holy temple.

Eph. 2:20-21 says we are built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, and then we are built up or constructed and joined together to form the holy temple. Cessationists (those who believe the gifts have ceased) use this verse to say that after the apostles died, the gifts of the Spirit died out. In reply, however, too many of these gifts appeared throughout church history, and v. 20 is silent on the future of those gifts in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 and Rom. 12:6-8. The gifts of teaching and hospitality, for example, did not die with the apostles. 1 Cor. 1:7 says the gifts are available until the Lord returns.

G.. We are chosen to be holy.

In Eph. 1:4 Paul writes that God chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. A remarkable thought.

H.. We are called to a holy life.

1 Thess. 4:7 teaches us that God did not us to be impure, but to live a holy life.

Heb. 12:14 says that we are to make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy. One strong way to live a holy life is to be at peace with everyone.

In 1 Pet. 1:15-16, Peter says that since God who called us is holy, so we are to be holy in all you do.

I.. We are must serve God in holiness.

Luke 1:74-75 says that we were rescued from the hands of the enemies for a purpose: to serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness.

J.. We must purify ourselves in holiness.

In 2 Cor. 7:1, Paul quotes a series of OT verses that talk about coming out from the world and unclean things. Therefore, he concludes, we are to purify ourselves from contamination in body and spirit, perfecting (or maturing or completing) our lives in holiness out of reverential awe of the Lord.

K.. We will be presented to God as holy.

Col. 1:22 teaches us that Christ bought us with his body, so he can present us holy and unblemished and free from accusation. This means that at the end of the age, his work in us will be complete. And “free from accusation” means that we have not achieved sinless, moral perfection, but our neighbors cannot point at our unrighteousness in our social behavior.

How does this post help me grow in God?

As noted in the other posts:

Sanctification literally means the process or act (-ion) of making (fic-) holy (sancti-). In the New Testament, it is used in the past tense, (believers have been sanctified), present tense (believers are being sanctified), and future tense (believers will be sanctified).

Being holy in Christ means you are positionally and experientially holy, in the sense of being transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). He positions you to be holy or sanctified by your being in him. And when he fills you with his Holy Spirit, you experience sanctification or holiness on a much deeper level, day by day.

Stated differently, your perfection is positional because his sacrifice on the cross is perfect, and now you are positioned in Christ. And so for the rest of your life you will work out what the Spirit worked in. You can experience his (not your) perfection, as you grow in him.

It works out like this (1 Cor 1:30):

Positional or declarative: Christ has become your sanctification or holiness (or perfection).

Experiential: Christ works out in you his sanctification or his holiness (or his perfection) daily.

The positional and experiential happen at the same time. If you have any perfection in you, it is Christ alone living in you through the Spirit, not you. And now he is working in you to make you more like him. There is daily progress in the process.

In other words,

Initial sanctification ≠ Sinless, moral perfection

There’s progress in the process, until you die or when the Lord returns. Only then will you have sinless perfection.

Until then, think of a pure white cloth covering a tall glass of water, just above the rim. Imagine the water has some dirt in it. Positionally we are holy (the white cloth) in Christ. He has put the white robe of holiness on us. Now God is presently getting the dirt out of the old water by pouring in new water through the white cloth. The water spills over, and the dirty water will eventually leave and be replaced. This process takes a lifetime of growing in Christ.

Justification is different from sanctification in these ways:

Justification Sanctification
Legal standing Internal condition
Once and for all time Continuous throughout life
Entirely God’s work We cooperate with God
Perfect in this life Imperfect in this life
The same in all Christians Greater in some than in others
Source: Grudem, p. 746

As noted in the other posts, the only slight disagreement is that God declares us holy only because he transfers us from darkness to light, from the profane to the sacred; we are consecrated to him, no longer to the world. But now we work it out. Justification and sanctification are linked, but distinct. The order is really logical, not sequential in time, according to NT theology. That is, logically, legal declaration by God comes before we humans practice holiness and righteousness. Logically, we receive righteousness as a free gift before we can have it infused in us by the work of the Spirit. (If we believed that our holiness logically came before God’s gift of righteousness, Paul would say his theology was turned upside down and out of order.) Logically, your personal sanctification never launches God’s declaration of your right legal standing and your being born again (regeneration), or else Christianity would resemble other religions, particularly certain strands of Saul’s / Paul’s old Judaism. Just the opposite is the case. Your repentance (by grace) and your saving faith (by grace), and your new birth (by the Spirit) and God’s declared righteousness–all of this at the same time–launches your sanctification process.


Bible Basics on Sanctification and Holiness

What Is Sanctification?

How Is Sanctification Done?

Word Study on Holiness and Sanctification

Sanctification: Past, Present, Future

Sanctification: Can Christians Achieve Sinless Perfection Now?

Sanctification of the Whole Person: Spirit, Soul, and Body


Works Cited

At that link, look for the NIV Study Bible

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