Sanctification and Salvation

What does Sanctification have to do with Salvation?

We discovered in our previous article that justification includes two major aspects: (1) God forgives our sins and counts the righteousness of Christ for us; (2) God bestows Christ's righteousness upon us by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What is sanctification, and what does it have to do with salvation? Since justification is salvation, why is sanctification necessary?

The Greek word for "sanctification" used in the New Testament also means "holiness."(1) The verb "to sanctify" means "to make holy."(2) When God sanctifies believers, He does not only set them apart for a holy use, He makes them holy. Obviously believers cannot be set apart for holy uses unless they are first made holy people. Jesus was "sanctified and sent into the world" (John 10:36)(3) in the sense that, because He was perfectly holy, He could be set apart for a special holy work, the work of saving the world from sin. When Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17), He was asking that His followers should be made holy and, therefore, be useful for the holy work for which He had chosen them. First He made them holy, and then He "sent them into the world" (verse 18).

But how are believers sanctified? The apostle Paul addressed that question in his epistle to the Romans. "For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification" (Rom. 6:19). "But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification" (verse 22). The gift of righteousness is what sanctifies a person. In the book of Romans, Paul speaks of justification as the gift of the righteousness of God (Rom. 1:16, 17; 3:21-24; 4:22-25). This gift is what sanctifies or makes holy. When we are justified, we are "freed from sin" (Rom. 6:22), delivered from the impurity and iniquity that had been reigning in our lives (verse 19). The result of justification is that we are sanctified or made holy.

After something has been bestowed upon us, we then possess it. Justification is Christ bestowed. Sanctification is Christ possessed. Justification is Christ coming into our hearts every day as we surrender to Him. Sanctification is Christ dwelling in our hearts every day. Justification causes sanctification. Holiness (sanctification) in the heart is the result of Christ's gift of Himself to us by the Holy Spirit.

Never does the Bible say that we sanctify ourselves or that our works make us holy. The consistent teaching of Scripture is that the Holy Spirit makes us holy. Believers in Christ have been "sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2). Our salvation is "through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). Believing Gentiles are "sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:16).

The gift of righteousness in justification sanctifies us or makes us holy, because in justification the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts (Titus 3:5-7; Rom. 5:1, 2, 5; 8:9, 10; Gal. 3:3-14). This is why justification and sanctification are inseparable. If a rich man gives you a check for a million dollars, you deposit the check in your bank account, and you are now rich. It was the gift that made you rich. Just so, Christ's gift of Himself to us by the Holy Spirit makes us spiritually rich. His gift is justification; the result is holiness or sanctification. You cannot have one without the other. That is why it is incorrect to say that justification is righteousness by faith alone and sanctification is by faith plus works. Never in Scripture is holiness something earned by human works. It is the possession of those into whose hearts Christ has come. Sanctification is an inevitable, inseparable aspect of the experience of righteousness and salvation by faith (grace) alone.

Sanctification is both present holiness in Christ and growth in holiness in Christ. Sanctification is the immediate and long term work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.


Sanctification is often spoken of in Scripture as present holiness. Paul was sent to the Gentiles "so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:17, 18). The last phrase of that text translates literally, "who have been sanctified by faith in Me."(4) The reference is to those who have received the gift of sanctification and who are continuing to enjoy the results of the gift.

Paul addressed his letter to the Roman Christians "to all those who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints (holy ones)" (Rom. 1:7)(5) They were called saints or holy ones because they had received justification involving the gift of the Holy Spirit to their hearts. Because they possessed the Holy Spirit, they were enjoying the blessings of present holiness (or sanctification) in Christ.

Toward the end of the same letter, Paul speaks of himself as "a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles . . . so that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:16).(6) As a Gospel minister, Paul wanted to present to God a people who had experienced and were still experiencing the blessings of sanctification.

Paul addressed his Corinthian letter "to the church of God that is in Corinth, having been sanctified by Jesus Christ, called saints" (1 Cor. 1:2).(7) Even though the Corinthian Christians were tragically divided, they had previously received the blessing of salvation (justification) in Christ and the accompanying gift of holiness (sanctification) in Christ. Paul's concern was that they were spoiling the gift that already had been given to them. Later in the same letter Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians of the purifying experience the Lord had provided them. "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11).(8) They had received the cleansing involved in the inseparable experiences of justification and sanctification, and Paul wanted them to retain the blessings the Lord had so graciously bestowed.

To the Colossians, Paul wrote, "You have been made complete (full, perfect) in Him" (Col. 2:10).(9)The Greek verb pleroo used in this verse is translated "perfect" in the KJV, the RSV, and NRSV versions of Revelation 3:2. The person who accepts Christ as Savior and Lord is complete or perfect in Him in the sense that Christ is now dwelling in the heart and directing the thoughts, feelings, and aspirations. This person has received spiritual circumcision, "by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11). This is the essence of sanctification. It is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).

We may have the blessings of sanctification, present holiness in Christ, at this moment. As we receive Christ into our hearts by the presence of the Holy Spirit, we have the gift of His holiness; we "become participants of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). The thief on the cross had this gift the moment he accepted Christ. Hebrews 12:14 speaks of "holiness without which no one will see the Lord." But Jesus told the dying thief that he would be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43). Then the thief must have had the gift of holiness (sanctification), because without it he never could be with the Lord.

The same promise is for us. "We may share his holiness" (Heb. 12:10). The moment we accept Christ the divine miracle of justification (the new birth) takes place, and we are then complete in Him. This is salvation, the qualification for eternal life. Because Christ who is holy lives in our hearts, we have holiness now; and we have the gift of eternal life now (John 3:36; 1 John 5:11-13).


Even though we enjoy the blessings of present holiness in Christ, we are still fallen human beings with propensities to sin. Paul was only too conscious of the weaknesses of his fallen nature. He was a born again, justified believer, but he knew that, unless he relied totally upon Christ for strength, he would give in to the demands of his fallen self and commit sin. That is why he wrote, "I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27). Paul did not attempt to earn his salvation by punishing and enslaving his body. What he meant was that he depended on Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to control the natural urges of his fallen humanity.

Paul admonished the Galatian Christians, "Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law" (Gal. 5:16-18).

The whole point is that when we are justified, the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts. We are enjoying the blessings of present holiness because the Holy Spirit is dwelling in our hearts. But we are still fallen human beings who daily have desires that are contrary to the will of God. These desires per se are not sin. It is when we dwell on these desires and give in to them that we fall into sin. The Spirit in our hearts wars against our natural unholy desires, but we still have the power of choice. We can choose to submit to Christ (James 4:7, 8) and to live by the Spirit, or we can choose to resist the Spirit's conviction and power and give in to our unholy desires. If we choose the Spirit's way, we grow in holiness; if we choose sin we retrogress and bring ourselves under the condemnation of the law.

The simple truth is that a justified, born-again believer has two natures: a fallen nature which was inherited at birth (Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Eph. 2:3), and a spiritual nature because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Sanctification as growth is the process by which we learn to depend on Christ every day, accepting and appropriating the power of His Holy Spirit. As we starve our fallen natures, keeping our minds focussed on Jesus and refusing to dwell on that which is evil, we "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). We grow by beholding Him in His Word and by communing with Him in prayer. We have the experience so beautifully described in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." The veil of unbelief has been removed; we love Jesus and love to contemplate the glory of His character. As we thus behold Him, He is able by His Spirit to transform us progressively from one stage of spiritual growth to a higher and higher stage. This is how we become more and more like Jesus. We become reflectors of His character beauty.

Paul emphasized this more and more experience in his first epistle to the Thessalonians. "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification. . . ." (1 Thess. 3:12­4:3; italics supplied).

Thus, sanctification as growth involves an increase in holiness, a progressive development in the life of love and service for Christ and for others. We must learn to rely totally upon the perfect righteousness of Christ bestowed and not upon our own unaided efforts. We must be justified (born again) every day as the means of constant spiritual growth. Justification provides the power; growth in holiness (sanctification) is the result. The power of our fallen humanity is weakened as the power of Christ constantly subdues it, and the holiness that is Christ's gift and presence becomes our habitual experience.


The Bible teaches that sanctification as growth in holiness is to result in victory over all sin before Jesus comes. This is not our achievement; it is Christ's gift. The power is justification; the result is sanctification and total victory.

The Bible standard is perfect holiness in Christ. The inspired apostle wrote: "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1; italics supplied). Of course, Paul did not mean that we cleanse ourselves by our unaided human effort. We cleanse ourselves by depending on the transforming, empowering work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Rom. 8; Gal. 5). This cleansing, the work of the Spirit, results in "making holiness perfect." It is not possible to express this in more comprehensive terms than the Bible does. We are to cleanse ourselves "from every defilement of body and spirit." That means that our bodies and minds are to be free from acts of sin.

We are not told that we will cease to be fallen human beings with propensities to sin. We will be fallen, corruptible in nature until Jesus comes. "This perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. . . . then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.'" (1 Cor. 15:53, 54). As long as we are in these mortal, perishable, fallen bodies, everything we do will be tinged with human imperfection. It is impossible for an imperfect mind and body to do anything absolutely perfectly. But the Bible message of salvation is permeated with the thought that fallen minds and bodies do not have to sin. The good news is that Christ died "so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4).

Peter, who was so prone to indiscretions of one form or another, wrote of the importance of victory over sin. "As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:15). The Greek word translated "conduct" (anastrophe) means "behavior," "way of life." Through receiving the gift of Christ to our hearts, we are to be holy in all our behavior. This is not salvation by works; it is salvation received as a gift from Christ, the result of which is holiness of behavior. And behavior includes our thoughts, our feelings, our desires, and our motives. The Bible says that in all of this we are to be holy, because Christ whom we have received is holy.

Christ wants our works to be perfect. The message to the church of Sardis is for us: "I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God." (Rev. 3:2). He would not make such a statement if He did not want our works to be perfect. The bride of Christ, His faithful people who are preparing to meet their returning Lord, is to "'be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure'--for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints" (Rev. 19:7, 8). Only born-again (justified) believers are capable of doing deeds or works that are righteous in the sight of God. "We understand that every one who does righteousness has been born of Him" (1 John 2:29)(10) Such people are "righteous, just as he is righteous" (1 John 3:7), because, directed and controlled by the Holy Spirit, "their deeds have been done in God" (John 3:21). The presence of the Spirit in their hearts is the presence of Christ in their hearts. And He is the presence of righteousness in their hearts (Rom. 8:9, 10). Christ is their righteousness and the source of their spiritual victory.

When Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48), He provided the punch line of a sermon in which He had emphasized the right kind of behavior for the Christian. He had explained that anger and hate are tantamount to murder (verses 21, 22) and lustful looking comprises adultery (verses 27, 28). Swearing is ruled out for the Christian (verses 33-37), vengeance is to be replaced by submission to mistreatment and injustice (verses 38-42), and enemies are to be loved and prayed for (verses 43-47). Jesus' concept of perfection is doing righteous works because righteousness is in possession of the heart. He had stated, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (verse 20). The righteousness that God accepts is that which has been received by faith (Rom. 1:16, 17; 3:21-24; 5:1; 9:30­10:10 etc.) This alone is the basis of the kind of perfection that Jesus emphasized.

The adjective "perfect" used in Matthew 5:48 (teleios) is the same word that Paul uses in Ephesians 4:13: "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [teleios] man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (KJV). The word translated "perfect" in these verses means "having attained the end or purpose, complete, perfect. . . . fully developed."(11) Some translations render it by "mature" (NIV) or "maturity" (NRSV). Giving the word that connotation, some scholars have argued that the term does not mean complete freedom from sinful behavior. On the other hand, of course, it would be hard to find a Christian who would argue that any of his sins is mature.

The real meaning of the word is given in Ephesians 4:13: "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (KJV). What was Christ like? "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.'" (1 Peter 2:21, 22). Perfection is Christlikeness! This does not mean that we can ever equal the infinitely perfect character of Christ. But like Christ we can be kind, merciful, compassionate, and free from sinful behavior.

According to Scripture, God's wish is that despite the tendencies of our fallen humanity and the imperfection with which all our works are tinged, we will stop sinning before Jesus comes. All sin is imperfection, but not all imperfection is sin. Everything we do is imperfect because we have imperfect bodies and minds. But not everything we do is sin. "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). When our works are the result of our faith in Christ, they are accepted by heaven, despite their human imperfection. Martin Luther put it biblically when he wrote: "Works that result from the Word and are done in faith are perfect in the eyes of God, no matter what the world thinks about them. . . ."(12)

This does not mean that God ever accepts or excuses sin. Imperfect works that are done in faith He accepts. But never does He excuse sin. Quite the contrary, before the end of time, God's people are to be victors in the battle with sin. Since the Lord is willing to bestow Himself upon us in justification, and dwell within our hearts as the means of our sanctification (holiness), we have all the necessary power to be overcomers. To deny the possibility of victory over all sin is to contradict the Lord who says that He "is able to keep you from falling" (Jude 24) and who promises that with every temptation He will "make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13, KJV). When the Lord says that He is able to bring all our thoughts under the control of His Spirit, why should we doubt Him? (2 Cor. 10:4, 5). He offers us power for total victory. How can we do otherwise than accept His offer?

Have you found Christ bestowed (justification) to be your power for victory over sin? Have you experienced present holiness and growth in holiness by receiving Christ into your heart daily? This experience can only result in that complete victory that is the qualification for meeting Jesus at His coming without seeing death. Like Enoch of old, God's people will be translated to heaven as a holy people (Rev. 7; 14) because they have allowed Christ to fill their minds and hearts. Justification is the constantly available power; sanctification is the immediate and long-term result; total victory over sin is the goal to be reached by a people who will go on growing spiritually until Jesus comes, and who will continue to grow throughout eternity.

1. The Greek word for "sanctification" is hagiasmos. Five times in the King James Version it is translated "sanctification" (1 Cor. 1:30; 1 Thess. 4:3, 4; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). Five times the same word is translated "holiness" (Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Thess. 4:7; 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14). Arndt and Gingrich's Greek-English Lexicon define the word as "holiness, consecration, sanctification; the use in a moral sense for a process, or, more often, its result (the state of being made holy) is peculiar to our lit."

2. The Greek verb "to sanctify" is hagiazo. This verb is used 29 times in the New Testament. Arndt and Gingrich define the word as meaning "make holy, consecrate, sanctify. . . . treat as holy, reverence. . . . purify."

3. In this article, unless otherwise indicated, Bible quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version.

4. Hegiasmenois is the perfect, passive, participle of hagiazo (the verb "to sanctify"). Tois hegiasmenois means "those who have been sanctified." "The significance of the perfect tense in presenting action as having reached its termination and existing in its finished results lies at the basis of its uses. Emphasis, as indicated by the context or the meaning of the verb root, may be on either the completion of the action or on its finished results."--H. E. Dana, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1927, 1955), p. 201.

5. My translation. The Greek reads kletois hagiois, "called saints," or "called holy ones." The verb "to be" is not in the Greek text.

6. My translation. The Greek reads hegiasmene en pneumati hagio, "having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit." hegiasmene is the perfect, passive, participle of hagiazo. The participle is correctly translated, "having been sanctified," or "having been made holy."

7. My translation. Once again the Greek uses the perfect passive participle of the verb hagiazo. The phrase hegiasmenois en Christo Iesou may be translated "having been sanctified in Christ Jesus," or "to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus."

8. The Greek reads, alla hegiasthete. Here the verb is the aorist, indicative, passive of hagiazo. It refers to an event in the past. The Corinthians "were sanctified."

9. My translation. The Greek reads, kai este en auto pepleromenoi. Randolph O. Yeager Comments: "The perfect periphrastic is decidedly durative. It matches the durative nature of katoikei in verse 9. Having been made complete in association with Christ we are now filled. Deity always resides in Him and since the believer is in constant association with Him (John 17:21) he, having been made complete, is always fulfilled with all the spiritual utility that has God as its source."--Randolph O. Yeager, The Renaissance New Testament, 18 vols. (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican, 1885), 15:59. The verb pleroo, of which the perfect, passive, participle is used in Col. 2:10, means "make full, fill. . . . of persons fill w. powers, qualities, etc. . . . fulfill. . . . complete, finish, bring to an end."--Arndt and Gingrich, s.v. pleroo.

10. My translation. The Greek reads: ginoskete hoti kai pas ho poion ten dikaiosunen ex autou gegennetai: "we know (understand) that every one who does righteousness has been born of Him." Gegennetai is 3rd person, singular, perfect, passive, indicative of gennao, which means "beget," "bear," "bring forth." The person who does righteousness "has been born" of Christ. The reference is to the new birth experience described in John 3.

11. Arndt and Gingrich, s.v. teleios.

12. Luther's Works, vol. 3, p. 318.


© Copyright 1997 by Erwin R. Gane, All Rights Reserved. This document may be freely distributed via the following means - Email (including listservers), Usenet, and WorldWideWeb. It may not be reproduced for profit including, but not limited to, CD ROMs, books, and/or other commercial outlets without prior written consent from the author.