Being Set Apart: Sanctification

Our recent exploration of the variety of views that Christians hold regarding eternal security found that the topic of sanctification arose in many of those discussions. The Christian is led to wonder, when evaluating the different views, whether sanctification is a one time event, a lifelong process, or simultaneously both. I’m going to move on with this post into a series on the variety of Christian views on this topic. We’ll start today by defining the idea before branching out to see how it is viewed in different theological systems.

In its broadest meaning, sanctification is the process by which a person (or another object of the process) is brought into relationship with or attains the likeness of the holy. In the case of a Christian, our goal is to become more Christ-like while in the case of an object– an altar, a sacrifice –the process makes the object appropriate for the presence of God. Sanctification has three aspects that help us to divide our study and comparison.

  1. Sanctification is Positional: The first aspect of sanctification indicates that, as believers who have placed their full faith in Christ and His redeeming work, we are set apart by God and named as saints. It will be important to note theologically the differences between justification and sanctification.
  2. Justification Sanctification
    Legal standing Internal condition
    Once for all time Continuous through life
    Entirely God’s work We cooperate
    Perfect in this life Not perfect in this life
    The same in all Christians Greater in some than in others

    *Grudem, Systematic Theology

  3. Sanctification is Experiential: The second aspect begins with the first; being set apart as holy, our lives are increasingly transformed as we shed our old ways and take on the new of image of our savior. Sanctification viewed as a process finds the Christian gradually ( and not without possible setbacks ) becoming further and further set apart from others in the world who have not trusted Christ.
  4. Sanctification is the Ultimate Condition: This future aspect of sanctification points to the day in which the Christian will be the beneficiary of the final transformation into the full likeness of Christ.

One of the most important components of our exploration of the variety of ideas about sanctification is the extent of human cooperation with the work of God in the process. It is important to ask first if any cooperative action of human and divine threatens the ultimate security of the believer, that is, is failure to attain a specific level of holiness a possible condition by which salvation may be lost. To lean to one side is to add an impediment to the Christian’s assurance as we worry and fret over what infractions might cause the ultimate loss. On the other hand, to lean the other way and to place the entire process on God’s shoulders is to invite a passivity on the part of the Christian with regard to the steady improvement in their state of holiness.

We conclude our introduction with the words of St. Paul:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.  (Romans 6:11-14)

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