Again, obviously not an exhaustive thought progression, merely an initial go…
The act of sanctification, or sanctifying, finds its roots in the beginning of recorded history with Creation. When God had finished creating the heavens, the earth, the light, the dark, the waters, the dry land, the male, and the female “He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested” (Gen 2:2-3, emphasis mine). By sanctifying the seventh day, God called this day - the Sabbath day - holy, and set it apart from the other six days of the week. He declared the Sabbath day to be “other than” or “different” from the rest of the week where certain functions were performed and others were set aside for the day. The Hebrew word for sanctified is “qadash” which means “to be set apart or consecrated” (Strong’s, 6942, “qadash”). Vine’s adds that “in the primary stem the verb signified as act, whereby, or a state wherein, people or things are set aside for use in the worship of God” (Vine’s, “To Sanctify”, 210). God set aside the Sabbath Day so that on this day He would be worshipped. The Sabbath was created for man to receive rest from his labors and to focus his heart and mind on the Giver of Life and the ability to work. This act of worship on the Sabbath was not to come to the detriment of worship the other six days of the week, but on the Sabbath there was a special time of communal fellowship where the people of God were gathered together to worship Him as the family that they are.
When the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle were later established, God chose to have certain items and people sanctified for service in the temple. The Levites were the chosen descendants of Jacob who were called to be the priestly servants of God. These Levites were given the task of performing the sacrifices as an offering of worship to God for the cleansing of sins (Ex 27-30). As was from the beginning, sanctification was an element of worship to God Almighty. He sanctified the Sabbath and commanded that it be observed as a day of worship (Ex 20:9-11) and as a result, He also prescribed the way in which He was to be worshipped. God declared to Moses which items should be used in the service of the temple, how the priests were to be dressed, what elements should be available for them, and how they were to act while in the presence of His Divine Glory. The Tabernacle had its inner chamber, the Holy of Holies, signifying that this part was consecrated, set apart, and sanctified for the exclusive presence of the Lord. It was the center of worship and sanctification is necessary for proper worship.
Sanctification is inseparable from God’s act of justification and is indeed subsequent to this act. God justifies the sinner and declares him to be “not guilty” before Him. This justification, however, does not deal with the inward nature of man, but only with the external, in its judicial sense. Sanctification, is the result of God’s Spirit working within the life of a regenerated believer in order to change the believer to conform to the image of Christ. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology defines sanctification as “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives” (746). This freedom is what enables the regenerate believer to properly worship Christ.
In the New Testament, we see the continuation of God’s initiating act of sanctifying or setting apart of individuals of His choosing for worship. The Greek words “hagios” and “hagiazo”, and “hagiasmos” are used to render the idea of consecration, sanctification, and the act of making something holy (Strongest 37, 38, 40). Thus, God’s desire for His own glory has continued throughout the centuries and now lies in the hearts of those for whom Christ died. “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life” (Rom 6:22 NASB). In this verse we see that Paul is clearly stating that there is a definite beginning, a continuation, and an ending point of sanctification that results in eternal life and each deals with the aspect of worship in the believer.
Prior to sanctification, there were those whom God foreknew “before the foundations of the world” (Eph 1:4) and “those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son […] and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified…” (Rom 8:29, 30). As an act of His grace, God chose to reveal Himself to those whom He has chosen and as a further act of His grace He chose to declare them “not guilty” in regards to the eternal condemnation of sin. This act of justification, however, did not leave the individual sinner any more or less conformed to the image of Christ than he was immediately prior to his acquittal. Therefore, God acted within the life of the new believer to cause the new birth, or regeneration, enabling the new creation (2 Cor 5:17) to respond rightfully to God’s working of grace. In Peter’s words, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). To be “born again” signifies a new beginning, a fresh start, and a new perspective. And as a result of this new life in Christ, there is a turning from the old ways of life – a life wrought with sin.
“This initial step in sanctification involves a definite break from the ruling power and love of sin, so that the believer is no longer ruled or dominated by sin and no longer loves to sin […] to be dead to sin or to be set free from sin involves the power to overcome acts or patterns of sinful behavior in one’s life” (Grudem 747).
This is, indeed, an initial step and is not to be considered as the last step or a once and for all step. True, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1), however, there is still a sin nature that is a part of every human – believer or nonbeliever. The advantage for the believer is that he now possesses the power afforded to him to choose not to sin and to choose the power of the Holy Spirit, “who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession” (Eph 1:14) from the point of regeneration onward. And it is from this point that the new believer is enabled not only to live under the grace of God, but to do so, and rightly worship the Triune God fully.
The act of sanctification in the believer does not only have a definite beginning “having been freed from sin” (Rom 6:22) but it is a continual process. Never on this side of eternity will an individual be able to say that he or she has defeated sin once and for all, or that he or she has mastered any particular sin for “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Pro 16:18). The process of sanctification in the life of the believer continues throughout the believer’s life. It is through this process of sanctification that the new believer will “derive [his] benefit” (Rom 6:22) as the believer understands more fully the depth of his sin, his need for a savior, and an appreciation for the work that has been done for him by the work of Christ. All of this results in greater worship of God the Father Almighty.
The Holy Spirit is the agent of sanctification in the life of the believer as He is the One who will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment [and] will guide [all believers] into all truth” (Joh 16:8, 13). Through this process of conviction, the Holy Spirit is revealing thoughts, attitudes, and actions within the life of the believer that are not in accordance with the character of Christ. He also is empowering the believer with the grace to boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence knowing that he may confess his transgressions to God and be cleansed from all his iniquity (2 Chr 7:14; Heb 4:16; 1 Joh 1:9). As John Murray states,
“Indeed, the more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Saviour, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God. The deeper his appreciation of the majesty of God, the greater the intensity of his love to God, the more persistent his yearning for the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, the more conscious will he be of the gravity of the sin which remains and the more poignant will be his detestation of it” (Murray 145).
Again, the process of sanctification has in its view the proper worship being ascribed to God Almighty. Without the quickening of the Holy Spirit who affects His ministry of conviction, the sinner would be lost and without direction in how he is to live a life of worship. Without God’s agent of sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit he would be unable to not be “conformed to this world” (Rom 12:2a), unable to be “transformed by the renewing of [his] mind” (Rom 12:2b), and unable to “prove what the will of God is” (Rom 12:2c) and therefore unable to set his mind on the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:5-8). And a mind not set on the things of the Spirit is a mind void of worship.
Sanctification has a definite beginning and is in a perpetual state of continuance in the life of the believer. But when will this sanctification process end? When will the believer finally cease to sin? The only answer that satisfies is when the believer inherits the “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). This inheritance will be fully realized at some point after the physical death of the believer or when Christ returns for His Church – whichever occurs first and will result in true worship of the Maker and Savior. Because sinners live in a life constrained by the effects of sin, all are unable to truly worship Christ for who He is. When this tarnish of sin is removed from the internal being of the sinner, he will truly and rightly be able to cry with all of the redeemed
“Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev 15:3-4).
Before this time, the believer may worship only in part and must wait until the time when God’s act of redemption is fully accomplished and results in the believer’s complete sanctification. For before this time,
“although the believer is made a new creature, is translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, he is but partially sanctified; that his selfishness, pride, discontent, worldliness, still cleave to , and torment him; that they effectually prevent his ‘doing what he would’[Rom 7:14-25], they prevent his living without sin, they prevent his intercourse with God being as intimate and uninterrupted as he could and does desire” (Hodge 224).
Therefore, when God has completed His work of sanctification in the life of a believer God will finally receive the true, just, and deserved worship that He desires from His children. It is not until this point - the point of true worship – that the believer fully sanctified.
God instituted the act of sanctification, by setting apart days, articles, and people, for the act of worship. He has always had in mind the act of sanctification to be set apart for the worship of Himself and to see all things done for His own glory. This sanctification, however, does not come completely at once but has a definite beginning, a gradual progression, and a definite ending point. Until the end, God will not receive the true worship that He desires and the believer’s aim should be to work in accordance with His Spirit, responding to the “energizing power that God exerts upon and within the righteous which enables them to serve Him acceptably” (Pink 80). This “energizing power” is the power of the Holy Spirit, given to all new creatures in Christ; given so that He might prompt the proper worship of the Almighty God who has chosen, set apart, and sanctified His children by calling them to worship.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.
Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology in Three Volumes: Part III Soteriology. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 3rd prntg. 2003.
Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible-Updated Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Word Publishing, 1995.
Murray, John. Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955.
Pink, Arthur W. The Sovereignty of God. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1928, rptd 1998.
The Strongest NASB Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004.
Vine, W.E. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996.