What is Sanctification?

Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

What is sanctification? Is it even required of me? Why would I want it? Sanctification has been described as both being set apart for a holy use and as becoming holy, more God-like. A major difference between the two gospel models is how the sanctification process works and how God regards us through the process.

Traditional Legal Model – Sanctification is a process whereby people overcome sins in their lives thus making them more acceptable to God.

Biblical Healing Model – Sanctification is the process of beholding and appreciating God’s true character and love for us with the effect of separating us from sin thus becoming temples for God’s Indwelling Spirit.

Understanding sanctification is especially important because we tend to think that what God thinks of us is very dependent on our degree of sanctification – our holiness, our obedience, our behavior. And that gets touchy as it affects us directly.

What is sanctification? We tend to think that God demands sanctification (perfect behavior) and that He won’t love us unless we are holy. However, if we can base our feelings of self-worth on what He thinks of us rather than on our behavior, we will be more likely to want to obey which puts us on the road to true sanctification.

Before we get into sanctification, let’s look at what God says about His attitude towards us:

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Rom 8:28-29)

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,” (Eph 1:4-5)

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3-4)

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)

A good resource to help put our value in God’s eyes into perspective is the book Identity Wars which can be requested here.

What does Sanctification Mean?

“Sanctification” can mean “set apart;” often “set apart for holy use” perhaps more so in the Old Testament, especially regarding many articles associated with the sanctuary services but also of people.

“Sanctify (H6942) unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.” (Exo 13:2)

“That thou shalt set apart (H5674) unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD’S.” (Exo 13:12)

Clearly, “sanctify,” in Exodus 13:2, is not to make holy. Here is an interesting New Testament use:

“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:11)

It is interesting because following verses show that the Corinthians were anything but holy:

“I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?   But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.” (1 Cor 6:5-8)

So what does “ye are sanctified” mean in verse 11? The verse says they were both sanctified and justified, the two processes seeming to go together.

Being justified does not simply make a person holy as the Corinthians certainly were not. It is, first of all, about putting us right (in our relationship to Him); not sinning (completed sanctification) will be the natural fruit (taking time to develop) of that relationship. So, in reference to the Corinthians, it must also be in terms of being set apart or of being engaged in a process.

So how do we become sanctified, what is the process? Here is one idea:

“But most of the time when Christians use the word sanctification, they are referring to the progressive work of God to make a believer more like Jesus Christ.” (christianity.com), emphasis added)

Many answers to “what is sanctification?” will emphasize it as God’s doing. This is true in that God has taken the initiative and we cannot become holy without His input. However, God does not make such a change in us without our cooperation and consent at every step.  It is a process which requires our permission (God will never override our free will) and our desire for something better. That desire comes from seeing and appreciating His character as revealed through Jesus Christ.

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18)

 The glory (https://characterofgod.org/glory-definition/) of the Lord is essentially His character. As we behold His character it changes us.  The beholding, for us living long after Jesus’ life on earth, happens through His word:

“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17)

Sanctifying can be equated with cleansing (in a moral sense).

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1)

Here is a quote from a book on the life of Christ that shows how this process works:

“All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart-work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us.” (The Desire of Ages, p668, emphasis added)

“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess 5:23)

For more detail see the series of studies on this site on the cleansing of the sanctuary (our mind). That series shows how the verse above indicates the subconscious as well as the conscience mind. One cannot be wholly sanctified while the subconscious mind is holding wrong concepts of God’s character. We become like what we behold or, more correctly, what we comprehend in our minds. The point of this website is to show that God does not accuse (definition coming), judge, condemn, punish, take vengeance, destroy or kill.

When such terms are correctly defined (as they apply to God) and understood, God is seen to be only love. Even the subconscious mind can then be cleansed so that a person is wholly sanctified.

Cleansing or sanctifying ourselves is a goal because of this promise:

“And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” (Acts 5:32)

Ultimately, sanctification is a process with the goal of making people suitable sanctuaries or temples for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor 3:16)

“And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Cor 6:16)

See the video of our study group discussion of sanctification:

See the complete list of videos on our channel:



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