The Baptist Pillar ©      Brandon Bible Baptist Church     1992-Present

"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

Sanctification: An Act or a Process?

H. E. Beldin

From The Baptist Challenge, February 2014

“But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

A proper understanding of the doctrine of sanctification is highly important to every believer. There is such widespread ignorance and misunderstanding of the true meaning of sanctification, that many are let into fanaticism. Many become hopeless backsliders, and skeptics, and some even become insane through disappointment and despair. Therefore this doctrine should be carefully and prayerfully studied and rightly applied.

I. What Is Sanctification?

Webster says that sanctification is a noun, an act, “To sanctify; to make holy; to hallow; to make pure from sin.”

Dr. A. H. Strong says, “Sanctification is that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which the holy disposition imparted in regeneration, is maintained and strengthened.”

The sinless-perfectionists say, “Justification is that work of grace by which sinners are made righteous and freed from their sinful habits when they come to Christ. But in the merely justified soul there remains a corrupt principle, an evil tree of ‘root of bitterness’ which continually prompts to sin. If the believer obeys this impulse and willfully sins, he ceases to be justified; therefore the desirability of its removal, that the likelihood of backsliding may be greatly lessened.

The eradication of his sinful root is sanctification. It is therefore the cleansing of the nature from all inbred sin by the blood of Christ (applied through faith when full consecration is made) and the refining fire of the Holy Spirit, who burns out all dross when all is laid on the altar of sacrifice. This, and this only is true sanctification — a distinct second work of grace, subsequent to justification and without which that justification is very likely to be lost.” To summarize the eradicationist’s definition, sanctification is the eradication of the “root of bitterness” of inbred sin. But “what saith the Scriptures?”

The Bible Meaning of Sanctification

The basic meaning of sanctification as it is taught in the Bible shows that it means “a setting apart for a specific purpose,” or “to set apart.” This is the key.

On the one hand sanctification is said to be “to make holy, eradication of root of inbred sin.” On the other hand the Bible shows it to mean “to set apart, for a holy or specific purpose.” Which of these two meanings is correct? Examine the following ten passages of Scripture and see which of these three definitions best fits and explains them.

1. Sanctification of inanimate objects is taught in the Word. “Thou shalt ... sanctify the altar; and it shall be an altar most holy” (Ex. 40:10). Surely the nature of the altar was not changed, neither was there any evil element rooted out of it.

2. People can sanctify themselves without any act of divine power, or any work of grace taking place within them. This is proven by Exodus 19:22, “And let the priests also, which come near the Lord, sanctify themselves.” Were these priests to change their own natures from evil to good, or to destroy the principle of evil within themselves?

3. One man could sanctify another. “Sanctify unto me all the firstborn ... it is mine” (Ex. 13:2); and again, “The Lord said to Moses, Go unto the people and sanctify them” (Ex. 19:10). What inward change or cleansing was Moses to perform to the firstborn or to the entire people of Israel? That he did not eliminate their inbred sin the succeeding chapters show.

4. People can sanctify themselves to do iniquity. “They that sanctify themselves and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the Lord” (Isa. 66:17). How monstrous a sanctification this is and how absurd the thought of inward cleansing here!

5. The Son was sanctified by the Father. “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God” (John 10:36). They, not Christ, blasphemed; and equally vile would be the blasphemy of any who said that sanctification for Christ, implied a corrupt nature eradicated, or a perverse will changed. Jesus was always holy.

6. Unbelievers are sanctified. Unbelieving husbands are sanctified in their wives, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in her husband, according to 1 Corinthians 7:14. Is such a one freed from inbred sin or are they undergoing a gradual change of nature? No, that is not the meaning.

7. Carnal Christians are sanctified. Paul in speaking to the Christians at Corinth tells of the vileness of the people round them, such as they once were. Addressing them he says “... Unto them that are sanctified in Jesus Christ ... And I brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2; 3:1).

8. We are told to follow sanctification. “Follow ... holiness (sanctification), without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). How can we follow a change of nature or the elimination of a carnal mind? We can only follow that which is before us, that to which we have not yet attained.

9. Believers are called upon to sanctify God. “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (1 Pet. 3:15). If sanctification means inward cleansing, how are we to follow this command? How can any mortal sanctify God if it means to cleanse from inbred sin?

10. Persons addressed as sanctified are afterwards exhorted to be holy. “Peter ... to the elect ... through the sanctification of the Spirit. As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy” (1 Pet. 1:2, 15). If sanctification refers to an inward work, the rooting out of inbred sin, how is that they who were sanctified, are now exhorted to be holy?

The only key which will unlock these passages and make of the seemingly contradictory passage a harmonious whole and explain them rightly, is the Bible definition, “to set apart.” Use this key and all passages containing the word sanctify, are easily understood and explained.

1. The altar was separated, or set apart, for a divine service.

2. Priests of Israel separated themselves, or set themselves apart from their defilement.

3. Moses separated the people from their uncleanness, and set them apart the firstborn as dedicated to the Lord.

4. The apostates of Isaiah’s time set themselves apart to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord.

5. The Father set the Son apart to become the Savior of the lost.

6. The unbelieving husband or wife who is linked to the believing mate, who is set apart to God, is thereby put in an external relation to God, with its privilege and responsibility, and the children are separated from those who never came under the sound of the truth.

7. All Christians, whatever their actual state, be they carnal or spiritual, are separated to God in Christ Jesus, therefore the responsibility to live for Him.

8. The Lord God must be set apart in our hearts if our testimony is to count for His glory.

9. One may be set apart to God in Christ and yet need to be exhorted to a practical separation from all forms of uncleanness and worldliness.

10. And lastly, all so set apart are in God’s sight perfected forever, as to conscience, standing before God, by the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross; for they are accepted in the Beloved and eternally linked up with Him.

Sanctification therefore is a separation from evil and a setting apart for, and to, God. Sanctification in the Christian sense, is twofold: absolute and progressive.

II. An Act or A Process?

It is an Act. Sanctification is a noun meaning, an act, done once and forever for the believer on the cross of Christ and applicable to him the moment he accepts Christ. God’s work is always complete; it is never half done. It is a finished work. Look at 1 Corinthians 6:11; Paul is here naming over the sins of the Corinthian people and says, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

Notice that he says they were once unclean, but now ye are washed, ye are sanctified.” He does not say, “You shall be sanctified,” or “you are being sanctified,” but “ye are now sanctified.” By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all: (Heb. 10:10).

The very moment a man believes in Christ he is sanctified, that is, separated from sin, unto God. When we believe we are justified, are sanctified. We can grow in grace but never into grace. We may grow in sanctification but never into sanctification from something else. Sanctification is a state. By the simple act of faith in Christ the believer is at once put into a state of sanctification.

Every Christian is a sanctified man or woman. The same act that ushers him into the state of justification admits him at once into the state of sanctification in which he is to grow until he reaches the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ. Yes, sanctification is an act.

2. It is also a process; it is progressive. The Word says “Work out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12). But we cannot work out salvation until we have salvation to work out. The same is true of sanctification, we must have it to grow in it, and develop.

Sanctification is not a second blessing. It is the beginning of the work of the Spirit in the soul and goes on through the believer’s life, reaching the consummation at the coming of the Lord, when the saved one, in his glorified, sinless body, will be presented faultless in the presence of God.

We need never expect that the Adamic nature will be sanctified, for this is not taught in the Word. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). There is continual war between the two natures, the old man and the new man, and there always will be until He comes, and we are freed forever from the old nature; the old body. Then we shall be saved from the very presence of sin, even as we are now saved from its guilt and power.

Our old nature is not one whit better now than it was when we were saved. It is the same old man. God gives us victory over the old nature, but it remains; it is not eradicated; it will be with us until death. Sin dwells in the believer, but does not, should not, need not reign over him. Holiness people are disappointed and disheartened in that they look for that which can never be realized in this life. They are seeking for a ground of peace in a sanctified nature instead of in a perfect sacrifice; in a progressive work of holiness in nature, instead of in a finished work of atonement.

Our progress in sanctification will be according as we see Christ as our sanctification, and accept it as a reality. The Holy Spirit leads us into the knowledge, experience, and practical exhibition of that which was true of us in Christ the very moment we believed. As to our standing, we are completely sanctified in Him. It is wrought in us daily, and hourly, by the Holy Spirit through the Word. As an act it is positional sanctification. As a process it is practical sanctification.

III. How Are We Sanctified?

The photographer takes a picture on the sensitive plate. Now that picture is there, but we cannot see it until it grows through a process of development, and then the picture becomes visible and plain and fixed. The taking of the picture we may call positional sanctification, while the process of development by the use of certain chemicals will illustrate practical sanctification. It is the bringing to light of that which was already there but invisible. How are we sanctified?

1. By the blood of Christ. This is eternal. Sanctification by the blood of Christ is eternal. It is not an experience; it is positional; it has to do with the new place in God’s eternal favor occupied by every believer — an unchanging and unchangeable position to which defilement can never attach, in God’s estimation.

Notice our text. Christ is our justification, our redemption, our sanctification. When we have Christ we have all. Since He is our justification, we are completely justified when we are united to Him by faith. This being true, then since He is also our sanctification, then we are sanctified from the moment that we believe and accept Him as our Savior and Lord. Sanctification is placed on the same basis as justification, or righteousness, and redemption. Sanctification by the blood of Christ is positional and eternal.

2. We are sanctified by the Spirit. This is internal. The Holy Spirit works in us and leads us to fully realize what has been wrought for us in Christ. Practical sanctification is divided into two parts: (1) By the Holy Spirit and (2) by the Word.

3. We are sanctified by the Word. “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy Word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Jesus prays that His followers be sanctified through the word of God. This refers to the believer’s outward walk and ways. It is the manifest result of the sanctification by the Spirit and goes on progressively through life. This is shown by the Lord’s prayer quoted above.

If sanctification in its practical sense is by the Word of God, I shall never be wholly sanctified, in this respect of it, until I know that Word perfectly, and until I am violating it in no particular. And that will never be on this earth. Here I ever need to feed upon that Word, to understand it better, to learn more fully its meaning; and as I learn from the mind of God.

I am called daily to judge in myself all that is contrary to the increased light I receive, and to yield today a fuller obedience than yesterday. Thus I am sanctified by the Truth. Sanctification is indeed a life, a progressive work ever going on, and which ever must go on until I have passed out of the scene in which I need daily instruction as to my ways which the Word of God alone can give. Sanctification by the Word and by the Spirit is practical sanctification.

So it is with the Christians. We have been regenerated once and never shall be a second time. But every time we fail, we need to judge ourselves by the Word that we may be cleansed as to our ways; and where we daily give that Word its rightful place in our lives, we shall be kept from defilement and enabled to enjoy unclouded communion with our Lord and Savior.

“Where withal shall a young man cleanse his ways?” asks the Psalmist and then answers, “By taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psa. 119:9). How necessary is it then, to search the Scriptures, and to obey them without question, in order that we may be sanctified by the truth!