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Understanding Biblical Sanctification

Updated on July 25, 2012

Beginning Thoughts

Before we take a look at sanctification in the Bible, lets get a false way of belief settled. Some people look at salvation as "get of jail free card" Now that I am saved and on my way to heaven, there is nothing to worry about. This is the wrong philosophy, and actually completely non- Biblical. Salvation is just the beginning of a life-long process. This process can be divided into three categories, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Salvation begins with justification, which is shared in a previous hub of mine. Today we will be zeroing in on sanctification, the process which will eventually lead to the glorification of our bodies in heaven!


Working Definition

Before we look at our passage, lets get a working definition of this idea of sanctification so we can better grasp on what we are talking about. The free online dictionary says, To set apart for sacred use; consecrate; to make holy. So in terms of our walk with Christ, sanctification is the process by which we are set apart from the world and constantly pursuing holiness.

The Passage

We will be focusing in on I Thessalonians 5:23-24 which states,

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

(1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV)

How We Are Sanctified: Pursuit of Holiness

We have looked at the process and how sanctification and justification are inseparable and act as a guiding point to the final stage of glorification. We have noticed that salvation is not a one time thing, but a lifelong process of the constant pursuit of holiness. So now must focus in on this idea of sanctification so we can gain a better understanding of how we are to pursue this holiness.

I Thessalonians 5:23: The Commandment

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

First lets look at the word may, a small seemingly unimportant word. But, in the greek language, this word is an optative verb , meaning a wish or desire. So,we can learn from this that it was Paul's wish or desire for all believers to become sanctified! No just the Thessalonian church, but all believers to come. Sanctify, in the greek,is haziago, to set apart and make pure.

This verse also tell us that God is the source of sanctification. He is how we become sanctified, by yielding our lives to Him, the only way one can pursue holiness!

This idea of sanctification is found all throughout the Bible. We do not have time to look at every passage, so lets just look at a few.

1. I Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

Sanctification is God's will for our lives; that alone should give us enough incentive to yearn for this pursuit of holiness.

2. Ezekiel 37:28

Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.

God had chosen to set apart His people from the world. From the beginning of time this idea of sanctification was embedded and continued to woven throughout time, up until this very day.

We can see from these verses that God commands sanctification. So, what is it? Sanctification is the conscious effort of being set apart in whatever we do. Whether it be work or play, our mission or purpose is to be different than the world, set apart(how we think, act, talk, etc.)

Matthew 5:48 states

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Obviously we can not be perfect, because we are human. But this is rather our goal, to become more like Christ. This is sanctification, the pursuit of holiness we have been talking about. It is a lifelong process of setting ourselves apart from the world by how we live our daily lives.

I Thessalonians 5:24: The Promise

We have looked at how sanctification is commanded by God and is actually His will for our lives. Now, lets look at the promise God provides us.

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

God promises to help us along the way. This should be a tremendous hope for all of us. He just doesn't command us to live holy lives, but aids us in the process. He promises to be faithful to us. The question is are we allowing Him to work in and through us? God will only help us if we are willing to put in the hard work; if we are in for the long haul!

In the Eyes of John MacArthur

I know we are not to rely fully on man because of his infallibility. But, I would to close with a quote from John MacArthur, not because he knows it all, or has reached the point of perfection in this process of sanctification. But, because he makes this idea very clear.

He states,

So, we already have the past-positional sanctification. We are guaranteed the future-ultimate sanctification. That leaves us with the second one, the middle one, experiential sanctification. And that's where we live, folks, right now. We are in between the two. The first is fixed, inviolable, permanent, and eternal. We will always bear the righteousness of Christ, that is an eternal gift. You cannot lose that. The third is fixed and inviolable, we will be glorified, we will enter in to ultimate sanctification...the one in the middle fluctuates......So this is the goal of Christian living. This is the very core of our life. We are in this process period between past sanctification and future sanctification, being sanctified which is the decreasing frequency and incidents of sin and increasing holiness.

He mentions a very important point, how we are in this stage of experimental sanctification, a stage that fluctuates. It is our choice, will we make the conscious effort to become more like Christ?

Salvation is not a get out of jail free card; it is lifelong process of becoming more like Christ, pursuing holiness, until we reach glorification!



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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      ok so about 22 yrs ago i had a discussion with someone about sanctification and I was having trouble thinking of it (and still do)as if starting out we had 100% corruption in our lives- though forgiven - and then as we move along perhaps 90% then 80% then 70% and so forth. I see the striving taught in scripture but I don't see that we have ground to be gained. We have been justified and are commanded to mortify sin and because of the work of God in our lives we can do so but can it be quantified like how many steps one has climbed so that one is always better the next day? I believe that although one Christian may be, at a certain point, walking a purer - in human terms- life than another, that Christian is not at a point that cannot be, if not carefully guarded, regressed from. If one is aware of tricky illusive sins you find that it is like a war or a sport where continually different things present themselves or similar things in different guises. It seems that that as I gain ground in one area, say selfishness, I begin to be confronted with haughtiness (about my great sacrifice) a sin i had heretofore little inclination to. I feel it is less like attainment and more like an exercise, running the race with endurance, fighting the fight etc.

    • profile image


      6 years ago from Clearwater, Florida

      Josh, you've picked a subject that is mostly neglected by virtually all of the churches. Yes, sanctification is talked about, but it's typically viewed as a sort of 'magical carpet ride' that simply happens for those who've received Christ, but that's not so.

      There are far too many scripture to mention that point us in the right direction for HOW this sanctification is accomplished, but here is a bit of insight from Jeremiah 17:9-10 "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings".

      So then, the Christian-that's you and me, don't know our own hearts (there's A LOT in Psalms on this), so from where do we get insight into our hearts? From God. God touches upon wrong motives, roots of bitterness (see James), unresolved anger, jealousy and other such issues of heart the He seeks to cleanse. But, it's a hard road to follow - that's what Christ spoke of in Matthew 7:13-14. Christ warns of the broad road leading to destruction vs the narrow road leading to eternal life. All those on the broad road seek to enter heaven, but won't make it.

      There's much I could say on this subject to augment the conversation you've begun, but I can't do it here. You made the point that sanctification must be known experientially - absolutely true! It's also true that we can't "strive" to be more like Christ every day - that's what Paul was talking about in Romans 7:14-7:25; this is Paul AFTER he became a Christian, and it describes the same struggle all Christians experience. It doesn't happen through self effort, and yet we must be actively involved with God in the apparent dilemma for which God's Word provides the answers.

      Voted up and interesting.

    • josh3418 profile imageAUTHOR

      Joshua Zerbini 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania


      I am glad you are enjoying these hubs! Thanks for your visit!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      Josh, my heart is so grateful that you are mixing in some hubs of His truths to glorify Him. This hub is right on point. Amen Brother. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • josh3418 profile imageAUTHOR

      Joshua Zerbini 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Sorry for some reason I did not get your comment until now, but thank you very much for the visit, read an comment! Great verse!

      You are welcome for sharing, it was my pleasure!

    • kygirl89 profile image


      6 years ago from West Virginia

      I really enjoyed reading your hub. That is correct, life is not a Get Out of Jail Free Card. We must strive daily to be more Christ like as stated. I am reminded of I Corinthians 15:58, " Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (NASB) We must remain steadfast until death. Thank you for sharing.


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