There are many events in the life of a Christian that can be focused down to a single day. A new believer’s conversion, gospel call, regeneration, justification, and adoption can be looked back upon as a single important occurrence. Sanctification can be viewed as a continuous, ongoing process that works from the point a person comes to know Christ until death. Our lives are continually being refined through sanctification (Grudem 326).
Although they are similar in some aspects and work together, sanctification and justification have major differences. Justification is a person’s legal standing. It occurred once for all time and was completely due to God’s work. It is the same in all Christians. Justification is a progressive work that Christians follow throughout their lives. It makes them free from sin and like Christ in their lives. Christians are not perfect, but God will help them through. It is also greater in some than others (Grudem 326). Although they are different, sanctification and justification are integral parts of a Christian’s life.
Sanctification can be broken down into three major steps. Step one is that “sanctification has a definite beginning at regeneration”. Step two is that “sanctification increases throughout life”. The third and final step is that “sanctification is completed at death for the souls of Christians and when the Lord returns for their bodies” (Grudem327).
The first step in sanctification involves a definite regression from the power that sin has over a believer’s life. The believer is “no longer ruled or dominated by sin and lo longer loves to sin”. There is a moral change that occurs in the believer’s life at regeneration. This first step in sanctification shows a break from the power of sin. Christian’s must consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus (Grudem 327). This step is illustrated by Paul in Titus 3:5 when he speaks of the “washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit”.
The second step in sanctification considers the increasing change that takes place throughout the life of a Christian. It is a process that continually refines, changes, and grows a person’s life. Believers are progressively becoming more like Christ (Grudem 328). This work is best described by Paul when he says:
“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (NASB Study Bible, Philippians 3:13-14).
The third step in sanctification occurs at a believer’s physical death. Sanctification is completed at death for our sols and when the Lord returns for our bodies. Our souls are set free from sin completely and are made perfect in Christ’s image. At Christ’s coming, believers will be made alive with a resurrection body and they will fully reflect the image of God in Heaven. Sanctification will not be complete until this step has been achieved (Grudem 328).
God plays a major role in the sanctification of Christians. It is primarily a work of God. God disciplines us as His children. He causes us to want his will and gives us the power to complete it through sanctification. Christ also earned the sanctification of believers and serves as their example (Grudem 331). Sanctification would not be possible without the help of God.
The believers themselves also play an equally important role in sanctification. They must strive to obey God. The Bible encourages believers to trust God, to pray, and to ask that God sanctifies them. They are to yield their entire selves to God. They must also work to remove all sinful acts and elements from their lives (Grudem 332). They are to “strive from holiness and abstain from immorality” (NASB Study Bible, Hebrews 12:14).
Sanctification affects the believer as a whole person. It affects their intellect and their knowledge (Grudem 333). Paul states this fact in Colossians when he says that Christians live a life “worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him” as we continually “increase in the knowledge of God” (NASB Study Bible, Colossians 1:10).
Sanctification also affects the believer’s spirit and physical bodies. Paul encourages believers to “cleanse [themselves]from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (NASB Study Bible, 1 Corinthians 7:1) If believers strive to keep their lives holy and follow God’s purpose for their lives, they will become increasingly conformed to the image of Christ (Grudem 334).
Sanctification in the life of a believer can be used as a form of worship. The act of becoming more like Christ shows high regard Christ’s attributes (Gundry 285). In the Book of John, Jesus directs his prayer to the safekeeping, sanctification, and unity of believers (NASB Study Bible, John 13:31-32).
Sanctification is clearly a crucial element in a Christian’s life. The word “sanctification” and its derivatives are used an amazing 141 times in the Bible (Strong 999). The importance of sanctification is emphasized in the Bible when it is stated
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.” (NASB Study Bible, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6)
If they continually act in a way that is reflecting the characteristics of Christ, believers will grow more and more like Him. Their lives will slowly move away from their sinful nature and more towards the way that God intended their lives to be. A person must be willing to allow this change to occur, and open themselves up to God’s work in them. This process must take place in full cooperation with God. Following these guidelines from spiritual birth until physical death will lead to a wholesome life and a stronger relationship with God.