Study of Important Biblical Distinctions - 7 - KINDS OF SANCTIFICATION

A Study of Important Biblical Distinctions
By William MacDonald


The word "sanctify" means "to set apart".  There is a whole family of words-sanctify, sanctification, saint, holy, holiness, consecrate, consecration-that all have the same root meaning.  Very often sanctification means the process of separating from common or unclean uses to divine service.  But not always. If you just remember that to sanctify means to set apart, you will have a definition that fits all cases.
    In the Old Testament God sanctified the seventh day (Gen. 2:3).  The firstborn of both men and animals were sanctified to the Lord (Exod. 13:2).  The priests were told to consecrate themselves to the Lord (Exod. 19:22).  The Tabernacle and all its furniture were sanctified (Exod. 40:9).
    In the New Testament sanctification is used primarily in regard to people.  However, The Lord Jesus said that the Temple sanctifies the gold on it, and that the altar sanctifies the gift on it (Matt. 23:17, 19).  Paul taught that when we give thanks for our food, it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:5).
    With regard to the sanctification of persons, God consecrated Christ and sent Him into the world (John 10:36); that is, the Father set apart His Son for the work of saving us from our sins.  The Lord Jesus consecrated Himself (John 17:19); in other words, He set Himself apart in order to intercede for His people.
    There is even a sense in which certain unbelievers are sanctified.  "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband" (1 Cor. 7:14).  This means that the unbelieving partner is set apart in a position of privilege by having a Christian spouse praying for his salvation.
    And there is a sense in which Christ should be sanctified by all believers.  "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts . (1 Pet. 3:15).  We sanctify Him by setting Him apart as undisputed Sovereign in our lives.
    In addition to the above, however, there are four other important kinds of sanctification which we should distinguish in our study of the New Testament.  These are called pre-conversion sanctification, positional sanctification, progressive sanctification, and perfect sanctification.

Pre-Conversion Sanctification

    Long before a person is born again, the Holy Spirit has been working in his life, setting him apart from the world to belong to Christ.  Paul realized that he had been set apart before he was born (Gal. 1:15).  In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, the Apostle reminds the Thessalonians that there were three steps in their salvation:

    1. Their selection by God.
    2. Their sanctification by the Spirit.
    3. Their belief in the truth.

    Notice that this sanctification was before they believed and were saved.
In 1 Peter 1:2, the order of events connected with salvation is linked as follows:

    1. Choice and destiny by God the Father.
    2. Sanctification by the Spirit.
    3. Obedience to Jesus Christ.
    4. Sprinkling with His blood.

    In eternity God chose us to belong to Himself.  In time the Holy Spirit set us apart for the Lord.  Then we obeyed the gospel.  As soon as we did, all the value of the shed blood of Christ was credited to our account.  But the point to notice here is that the sanctification Peter speaks of is a kind that takes place before a person is born again.

Positional Sanctification

    The moment a person is born again he becomes positionally sanctified.  This means that as far as his standing before God is concerned, he is perfectly set apart to God from the world because he is "in Christ." In a very real sense Christ is his sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30).
    Every true believer is a saint; he has been separated to the Lord.  This is his position.  Thus in 1 Corinthians 1:2 all the Christians in the local church in Corinth are described as sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.  " They weren't always very saintly.  They tolerated sin in the fellowship (1 Cor. 5:1, 2).  They went to law against one another (1 Cor. 6:1).  They had teachers who denied the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:33, 34).  But it was still true of them that as far as their position was concerned, they were saints-sanctified in Christ Jesus.
    Now let us look at some of the passages that deal with positional sanctification.  In Acts 20:32, the expression "all them which are sanctified" means all believers.  In Acts 26:18 the Lord described His people as those "which are sanctified by faith that is in me." The Corinthians are described as having been "washed ... sanctified ... justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6: 11).  And the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10).  "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14).
    Positional sanctification is also indicated at times by the use of the word "holy." Thus in Colossians 3:12, when Paul addresses the Christians as "holy," he is referring to their standing before God.

Progressive Sanctification

    While there are many Scriptures which say that all Christians are sanctified, there are many others which say that they should be sanctified.  If we fail to distinguish the kinds of sanctification, we can find this very confusing.
    Progressive or practical sanctification refers to what we should be in our everyday lives. We should be living lives of separation to God from sin and evil.  Saints should be becoming more saintly all the time.
    It was this aspect of sanctification that the Lord Jesus referred to in John 17:17 when He prayed for His own, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."
    The believer's cooperation is involved in this (2 Tim. 2:21).  Wherever you find exhortations concerning sanctification or holiness you can be sure that the subject is practical sanctification.  Thus Paul urged the Corinthians, " - . . let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).  And in the same vein Peter wrote, ". . . as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Pet. 1:15).
    One particular form of practical sanctification concerns separation from immorality.  "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication, that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour" (1 Thess. 4:3, 4).
    How does a Christian become more holy, more like the Lord Jesus? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Practical holiness comes from being occupied with the Lord.  It is a principle in life that we become like what we worship.  The more we behold Christ, the more we become like Him.  The Holy Spirit works this marvelous transformation-not all at once, but from one degree of glory to another!

Perfect Sanctification

    This aspect of sanctification is still future for the believer.  When he sees the Savior face-to-face he will be forever set apart from all sin and defilement.  He will be morally like the Lord Jesus-perfectly sanctified.
    This is what we read about in Colossians 1:22: "In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight."
    In that day the Church will have its ultimate sanctification: "That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).
    Other passages describe our perfect sanctification without mentioning the word. John, for instance, says,". . . we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).  And Jude reminds us that our Lord will present us "faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24).
    Now it will be extremely helpful in your study of the Bible to distinguish these various aspects of sanctification.  Whenever you find words that deal with holiness, ask yourself, "Is this what happened before conversion? Is this what I am in Christ? Is this what I should be day by day? Or is this what I will be when I am ushered into the glorious presence of the Lord Jesus Christ?"