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Bitesize Theology: Sanctification

Sanctification = Being made like Jesus

The Bible speaks of sanctification in two ways. Firstly, we have been sanctified, ‘But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6:11). Here and in other verses, sanctification is something that has already taken place when God sets us apart for Himself, when we’re saved.

Secondly, the Bible refers to sanctification as an ongoing process, involving a transformation of our morality and spirituality once we’ve been saved. It’s this aspect of sanctification the we’ll deal with here.

Justification makes us right with God. You could walk through heaven’s gates the moment you are justified because you’ve been made acceptable to God. But God doesn’t stop at justifying us, but immediately begins the process of change called sanctification.

Justification freed us from the guilt of sin and it’s condemnation. But the process of sanctification begins to free us from the power and rule of sin in our lives. Through this process, God wants to make us more and more like His Son (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, 7). In this passage, ‘learning to control’ is not a one-off effort but a prolonged experience.

No one ever arrives at being completely, perfectly sanctified. Not in this life (1 John 1:8). But the Word does tell us that the saints in heaven are completely free from the power of sin (Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 14:5). This means that it’s only in heaven that our sanctification will be complete.

Sanctification is Hard Work

Colossians tells us that the proof that someone is saved is whether or not their lives are being transformed (Colossians 3:1-10). This means that the Holy Spirit has begun to change the thinking, attitudes, desires and character of the believer. Sanctification isn’t optional for the Christian, but a necessity.

Justification is all the work of God, we play no part in it. Sanctification is also from God, but here, we play a very pivotal role, and we’re able to take part because we have been justified. It’s a partnership. We can’t do it by ourselves either, we are totally dependant on God as we work it out. This is why we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

In His strength we work hard at dealing with our sin because we love Him. Sanctification is hard work, and the more we work at it, the more sanctified we become. This explains why some believers have a closer, more intimate relationship with God and are living their lives closer to His will than others. It’s also why it’s possible for a Christian to ‘backslide’.

Even though we’re saved, there is still a lot of the ‘old, sinful nature’ in us. We must not give in to it. We must resist it and fight for sanctification. Our new nature must be allowed to rule our lives (Ephesians 4:20-32)

Sanctification means that the power of sin is being overcome in us. Now that we are new creations in Christ, sin should have no authority over us, and no power to force us to obey it. Obviously sin, unfortunately, still bothers the Christian, but because it’s reign in our lives has ceased, we now have the ability to conquer it.

We are no longer slaves to sin, we are enemies to it. And battling sin isn’t easy, it involves effort and determination, and it’s only possible because ‘we know that our old self was crucified with Christ, so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin’ (Romans 6:6).

Children of Light

Paul spells out the practical effects of sanctification in Ephesians 4, 5. In Ephesians 5:8-10, he is insistent, ‘For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.’

To live as children of the light means:

  • No lying (v.25)
  • Control your anger (v.26)
  • Stop stealing (v.28)
  • No unwholesome talk (v.29)
  • Get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice (v.31)
  • The mark of your life is to be kindness and compassion (v.32)
  • Not even a hint of sexual immorality in you (5:3)

The list goes on. It’s not exhaustive, but it offers a great insight into what sort of lives God expects us to be living. It’s not an easy life in any sense, but through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in us, it is possible.

Can you look back on your life and see evidence of a changed life brought on by justification and sanctification?


For more on what Christianity teaches, check out the other topics in our ‘Bitesize Theology’ series:

GodJesusThe Holy SpiritThe TrinitySinAtonementGraceRegenerationRepentance and FaithReconciliationRedemptionJustificationAdoption; Union With Christ

Inspired by Peter Jeffery, ’Bitesize Theology’, Evangelical Press, 2000