Sanctification is sometimes understood as the progress that the Christian goes through after conversation until death in which the Christian grows in Christlikenss. We like to fit sanctification into our nice ordo salutis (some latin phrase for “the order of salvation”) between justification and glorification.
But another way of understanding sanctification is the working out of holiness within our lives. Sanctification refers to your holy nature before God throughout the redemptive drama and throughout the believer’s life. Hence sanctification can be divided into five categories: (1) Determined Sanctification; (2) Provisional Sanctification; (3) Positional Sanctification; (4) Progressive Sanctification; (5) Eschatological Sanctification.
Your sanctification and your holiness were determined by God before the foundation of the world. Paul told the Ephesians, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4; cf. Rom 8:29). The sanctification of the elect has been determined before time began (Tit 1:3) and therefore the sanctified nature of the believer has been determined in eternity past (Eph 1:4).
The author of Hebrews intertwined the atonement and the provision of sanctification by Christ. Sanctification is grounded in the Christ-event, the author of Hebrews states, “After saying above, ‘Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have not desired, nor have you taken pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:8-10; cf. 10:14; Rom 6:4-6,8-9). Sanctification can only exist because of the Christ-event.
The New Testament often speaks of a Christian as one who has been sanctified. Paul paralleled positional sanctification with regeneration and justification at the time of conversion stating to the Corinthians, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11; cf. Heb 10:29). The bible presents a clear defines man’s holy nature that occurs at the point of conversion. Paul asked the Romans, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2). Paul goes on to inform them that the “old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6). Peter informed his reads that they were “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellences of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:9–10). Hence the moment you became a Christian, by virtue of your union with Christ, were instantly constituted a ‘saint’ and entered into a new relationship with sin in your life and with God himself. Your new relationship ceases you no longer to be a slave to sin but you have become a servant of Christ and of God. This also implies that positional sanctification is not isolated in the drama of redemption. Positional sanctification is the basis for progressive sanctification.
Hence it has been shown that sanctification is decreed with election, provided through Christ, positional at conversion but sanctification is not merely a legal holiness but it is a practical holiness as well. Therefore, progressive sanctification: (1) begins at the point of conversion; (2) increases during life; (3) is completed at death. The believer grows in holiness under the Great Shepherd. Peter wrote, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Pet 2:24-25). Any believer grows in holiness throughout life, that is say that their sanctification has positive trajectory, it has neither flat-lined nor has constantly decreased, there is steady growth. Think of the stock market when its going up, it still has its ups and downs but you can see that it is going up. Progressive sanctification has steady growth, after all there is no such thing as a carnal Christian, but the Holy Spirit empowers progressive sanctification.
The Spirit gives new life and causes new life to manifest since He is the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. In sealing believers, the Spirit is the down payment of the future eschatological reality, He is the pledge of the eschatological salvation of the saint. Hence the Spirit is the assurance of salvation of the saint and by His indwelling, continually fills the saint causing them to grow in Christlikeness. The filling of the Spirit implies living by the Spirit. Paul tells the Romans that because the saint receives a spirit of adoption, then the saint is led by the Spirit and hence will put the flesh to death (Rom 8:12-17). Paul commands the Galatians, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (5:16). Often in Paul’s logic, not necessarily order, Paul uses an indicative to give an imperative and the positional truth of the indicative implies the imperative is possible. Paul’s imperative in Galatians 5:16 is grounded in the indicative in 5:17-18, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Hence the imperative for the saint to walk by the Spirit is grounded in the indicative that the saint is led by the Spirit. This is the reason that Paul writes to the Ephesians and pairs the phrase “be filled with Spirit” (5:18) with the phrases “be careful how you walk” (v.15), “making the most of your time” (v.16) and “understand what the will of the Lord is” (v.17). Paul then goes on to describe the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit (5:19-21; cf. Gal 6:22-26).
Sanctification is also eschatological. The author of Hebrews stated, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14; cf. 1 Thess 5:23; 1 John 3:2). Eschatological sanctification also serves as a motivation for progressive sanctification. Paul stated to the Thessalonians, “may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (1 Thes 3:14–15; cf.Col 3:4; 1 Cor 15:58; Phil 1:10; 2:16).
Although sanctification is primarily a progressive work of God in which you will grow in Christ’s likeness it could also be defined as God’s means of actualizing in you His redemptive purpose. Hence the role of sanctification has been shown through the stages of the drama of redemptive: (1) Determined Sanctification; (2) Provisional Sanctification; (3) Positional Sanctification; (4) Progressive Sanctification; (5) Eschatological Sanctification. The Father has elected a people for sanctification. The Son has provided sanctification through His own blood. The Father sees us as holy at the point of conversion. The Spirit begins a work of progressive sanctification in every believer, starting at conversion, steadily increasing throughout life that is lived out in the covenant community, that climaxes in death. The Father will raise the believer in the last days, when Christ appears, to an incorruptible and immortal life that is an eschatological purification or sanctification.