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Quick Answers: What is sanctification?

What is sanctification? I think the place to begin answering that question is to consider that, as Christians, we are united to Jesus Christ for our salvation. We are united to him by faith, and it is by virtue of our union with him that we receive from God through Christ all the benefits of salvation.

Of course, the chief benefit of that salvation would be our justification, that God forgives our sins and counts the righteousness of Christ as our very own. He imputes that righteousness to us. But no less important than justification is the grace of sanctification.

Sanctification is the work by which God works in us to gradually, progressively conform us more and more to the image of his Son so we are personally made more and more holy and righteous and Christ-like by the work of God in us.

One wonderful definition of sanctification comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

"Sanctification is the work of God's grace whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness."

There are a few points in that definition that are very important. First of all, sanctification is the sovereign work of God. It is a work of God that he carries out by his Holy Spirit in us. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 states:

"...God chose you as first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth."

Also, the work of God's Spirit in us to sanctify us is God's sovereign work, though he uses the means of grace to sanctify us. The work of sanctification is also a progressive work of God. It is a work that God does in us over time. We are justified the moment that we, by God's grace, entrust ourselves to Christ as our savior, but from that moment on, God works in us to progressively make us more and more Christlike, to die unto sin to live unto righteousness.

I should add that sanctification is a sovereign work of Christ, but it also involves our activity. We are called to pursue holiness, to pursue righteousness, and that is one means by which God sanctifies us.

With our sanctification, God gives us promises—promises that we will be conformed to the image of Christ. In a sense, that is the goal of our salvation: that we would bear the image of God as that image is perfectly reflected in Christ. One day, as Christians, we will be what we are not now—perfectly holy, righteous, and Christ-like.

Another promise is that God says that God will bring to completion this work that he has begun in us. Philippians 1:6 states,

“...I am sure of this, that God who began this good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

So we rejoice as Christians in the gift of God's grace that we are justified, but, just as much, we have every reason to give thanks to God for this blessing of sanctification. He is growing us more and more to be like Jesus until that one day when we shall be fully like him.


Scott Johnson (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the pastor of Mt. Rose Reformed Church (OPC) in Reno, NV. He is married to Robyn and they have five children.


Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of other contributors on this site.



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