Sanctification a Study in God’s Grace                                                                by Jack Kettler

In this study we will look at a biblical definition of sanctification, God’s part in it, and man’s responsibility. Various texts of Scripture will be considered. In addition to man, families, nations, places and objects can be sanctified.

We have looked previously at God’s justification of the believer. By way of introduction, we can say that sanctification begins with justification. And, while justification is a one-time act of God, sanctification is an ongoing process throughout the Christian’s life. As the Bereans of old in Acts 17:11, open up the Scriptures and see if these things are so.

What is the meaning of the word sanctification?

A modern dictionary definition of sanctify is: sanctified; sanctifying, transitive verb. 1: to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use: consecrate. 2: to free from sin: purify.

When looking at man and God’s gracious working it can be said:

Sanctification is: an ongoing inner transformation in which the Holy Spirit works to make the believer more and more like Christ in every way, including desires, thoughts and actions. To sanctify means to be set apart or consecrate for a holy use.

God has called believers to sanctification:

“For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7)

Believers are to sanctify Christ as Lord in their hearts:

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Families are to be sanctified:

“So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments.” (Genesis 35:2)

God sanctified the nation of Israel:

“And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.” (Ezekiel 37:28)

God sanctifies a Mountain:

“You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 19:12)

The Sabbath Day is sanctified:

“The seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” (Genesis 2:2)

The Tabernacle and its Utensils are sanctified:

“The length of the court shall be an hundred cubits, and the breadth fifty everywhere, and the height five cubits of fine twined linen, and their sockets of brass. All the vessels of the tabernacle in all the service thereof, and all the pins thereof, and all the pins of the court, shall be of brass. And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always.” (Exodus 27:18-20)

Every created thing is sanctified through the Word of God and prayer:

“The voice spoke to him a second time: ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’” (Acts 10:15)

Man’s responsibility in sanctification:

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-11)

“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

The Westminster Confession of Faith (XVI.2, 3) press the believer to remember that we need the empowering work of the Holy Spirit to succeed in our responsibility:

II. These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

III. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will, and to do, of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.

Now for a detailed word analysis of sanctification:

From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:


A. Noun.

HAGIASMOS, “sanctification,” is used of (a) separation to God, 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; (b) the course of life befitting those so separated, 1 Thess. 4:3, 4, 7; Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14.

“Sanctification is that relationship with God into which men enter by faith in Christ, Acts 26:18; 1 Cor. 6:11, and to which their sole title is the death of Christ, Eph. 5:25, 26; Col. 1:22; Heb. 10:10, 29; 13:12. “Sanctification is also used in NT of the separation of the believer from evil things and ways. This sanctification is God’s will for the believer, 1 Thess. 4:3, and His purpose in calling him by the gospel, v. 7; it must be learned from God, v. 4, as He teaches it by His Word, John 17:17, 19, cf. Ps. 17:4; 119:9, and it must be pursued by the believer, earnestly and undeviatingly, 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14. For the holy character, hagiosune, 1 Thess. 3:13, is not vicarious, i.e., it cannot be transferred or imputed, it is an individual possession, built up, little by little, as the result of obedience to the Word of God, and of following the example of Christ, Matt. 11:29; John 13:15; Eph. 4:20; Phil. 2:5, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Rom. 8:13; Eph. 3:16. “The Holy Spirit is the Agent in sanctification, Rom. 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; cf. 1 Cor. 6:11. The sanctification of the Spirit is associated with the choice, or election, of God; it is a Divine act preceding the acceptance of the Gospel by the individual.”*

For synonymous words see HOLINESS.

B. Verb.

HAGION, “to sanctify,” “is used of (a) the gold adorning the Temple and of the gift laid on the altar, Matt. 23:17, 19; (b) food, 1 Tim. 4:5; (c) the unbelieving spouse of a believer, 1 Cor. 7:14; (d) the ceremonial cleansing of the Israelites, Heb. 9:13; (e) the Father’s Name, Luke 11:2; (f) the consecration of the Son by the Father, John 10:36; (g) the Lord Jesus devoting Himself to the redemption of His people, John 17:19; (h) the setting apart of the believer for God, Acts 20:32; cf. Rom. 15:16; (i) the effect on the believer of the Death of Christ, Heb. 10:10, said of God, and 2:11; 13:12, said of the Lord Jesus; (j) the separation of the believer from the world in his behavior—by the Father through the Word, John 17:17, 19; (k) the believer who turns away from such things as dishonor God and His gospel, 2 Tim. 2:21; (l) the acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ, 1 Pet. 3:15. “Since every believer is sanctified in Christ Jesus, 1 Cor. 1:2, cf. Heb. 10:10, a common NT designation of all believers is ‘saints,’ hagioi, i.e., ‘sanctified’ or ‘holy ones.’ Thus sainthood, or sanctification, is not an attainment, it is the state into which God, in grace, calls sinful men, and in which they begin their course as Christians, Col. 3:12; Heb. 3:1.”† (1)

The next verse encapsulates the idea of ongoing or progressive sanctification culminating in glorification in heaven:

“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 Corinthians 3:18)

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers displays an edifying elucidation of this passage:

(18) But we all, with open face.—Better, And we all, with unveiled face.—The relation of this sentence to the foregoing is one of sequence and not of contrast, and it is obviously important to maintain in the English, as in the Greek, the continuity of allusive thought involved in the use of the same words as in 2Corinthians 3:14. “We,” says the Apostle, after the parenthesis of 2Corinthians 3:17, “are free, and therefore we have no need to cover our faces, as slaves do before the presence of a great king. There is no veil over our hearts, and therefore none over the eyes with which we exercise our faculty of spiritual vision. We are as Moses was when he stood before the Lord with the veil withdrawn.” If the Tallith were in use at this time in the synagogues of the Jews, there might also be a reference to the contrast between that ceremonial usage and the practice of Christian assemblies. (Comp. 1Corinthians 11:7; but see Note on 2Corinthians 3:15.)

Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord.—The Greek participle which answers to the first five words belongs to a verb derived from the Greek for “mirror” (identical in meaning, though not in form, with that of 1Corinthians 13:12). The word is not a common word, and St. Paul obviously had some special reason for choosing it, instead of the more familiar words, “seeing,” “beholding,” “gazing stedfastly;” and it is accordingly important to ascertain its meaning. There is no doubt that the active voice signifies to “make a reflection in a mirror.” There is as little doubt that the middle voice signifies to look at one’s self in a mirror. Thus Socrates advised drunkards and the young to “look at themselves in a mirror,” that they might learn the disturbing effects of passion (Diog. Laert. ii. 33; iii. 39). This meaning, however, is inapplicable here; and the writings of Philo, who in one passage (de Migr. Abrah. p. 403) uses it in this sense of the priests who saw their faces in the polished brass of the lavers of purification, supply an instance of its use with a more appropriate meaning. Paraphrasing the prayer of Moses in Exodus 33:18, he makes him say: “Let me not behold Thy form (idea) mirrored (using the very word which we find here) in any created thing, but in Thee, the very God” (2 Allegor. p. 79). And this is obviously the force of the word here. The sequence of thought is, it is believed, this:—St. Paul was about to contrast the veiled vision of Israel with the unveiled gaze of the disciples of Christ; but he remembers what he had said in 1Corinthians 13:12 as to the limitation of our present knowledge, and therefore, instead of using the more common word, which would convey the thought of a fuller knowledge, falls back upon the unusual word, which exactly expresses the same thought as that passage had expressed. “We behold the glory of the Lord, of the Jehovah of the Old Testament, but it is not, as yet, face to face, but as mirrored in the person of Christ.” The following words, however, show that the word suggested yet another thought to him. When we see the sun as reflected in a polished mirror of brass or silver, the light illumines us: we are, as it were, transfigured by it and reflect its brightness. That this meaning lies in the word itself cannot, it is true, be proved, and it is, perhaps, hardly compatible with the other meaning which we have assigned to it; but it is perfectly conceivable that the word should suggest the fact, and the fact be looked on as a parable.

Are changed into the same image.—Literally, are being transfigured into the same image. The verb is the same (metemorphôthè) as that used in the account of our Lord’s transfiguration in Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2; and it may be noted that it is used of the transformation (a metamorphosis more wondrous than any poet had dreamt of) of the Christian into the likeness of Christ in the nearly contemporary passage (Romans 12:2). The thought is identical with that of Romans 8:29: “Conformed to the likeness” (or image) “of His Son.” We see God mirrored in Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and as we gaze, with our face unveiled, on that mirror, a change comes over us. The image of the old evil Adam-nature (1Corinthians 15:49) becomes less distinct, and the image of the new man, after the likeness of Christ, takes its place. We “faintly give back what we adore,” and man, in his measure and degree, becomes, as he was meant to be at his creation, like Christ, “the image of the invisible God.” Human thought has, we may well believe, never pictured what in simple phrase we describe as growth in grace, the stages of progressive sanctification, in the language of a nobler poetry.

From glory to glory.—This mode of expressing completeness is characteristic of St. Paul, as in Romans 1:17, “from faith to faith “; 2Corinthians 2:16, “of death to death.” The thought conveyed is less that of passing from one stage of glory to another than the idea that this transfiguring process, which begins with glory, will find its consummation also in glory. The glory hereafter will be the crown of the glory here. The beatific vision will be possible only for those who have been thus transfigured. “We know that we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1John 3:2).

Even as by the Spirit of the Lord.—The Greek presents the words in a form which admits of three possible renderings. (1) That of the English version; (2) that in the margin, “as of the Lord the Spirit”; (3) as of the Lord of the Spirit. The exceptional order in which the two words stand, which must be thought as adopted with a purpose, is in favour of (2) and (3) rather than of (1), and the fact that the writer had just dictated the words “the Lord is the Spirit” in favour of (2) rather than (3). The form of speech is encompassed with the same difficulties as before, but the leading thought is clear: “The process of transformation originates with the Lord (i.e., with Christ), but it is with Him, not ‘after the flesh’ as a mere teacher and prophet (2Corinthians 5:16), not as the mere giver of another code of ethics, another ‘letter’ or writing, but as a spiritual power and presence, working upon our spirits. In the more technical language of developed theology, it is through the Holy Spirit that the Lord, the Christ, makes His presence manifest to our human spirit.” (Comp. Notes on John 14:22-26.) (2)

The doctrine of sanctification from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Note: The 1643-1648 Westminster Assembly was called by the Puritan Parliament in England. It was to lay the doctrinal foundation for the Church of England. The Confession and Catechisms became the subordinate standards of the Church of Scotland. The Westminster Confession of Faith was modified and embraced by Congregationalists in England, in their Savoy Declaration (1658).

Similarly, the Baptists of England, produced the London Baptist Confession (1689). The Westminster Confession of Faith and derived confessions remain principal secondary doctrinal standards for Protestants and Evangelicals everywhere to this day. I like good Bible teachers. The theologians of the Westminster Assembly were the best Bible teachers of their day and any day for that matter. To appreciate the points of the confession on sanctification, you need to work through the Scriptural proofs to see if these things are so.

Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter XIII

Of Sanctification:

I. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection,[1] by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them:[2] the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed,[3] and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified;[4] and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces,[5] to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.[6]

II. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; [7] yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; [8] whence arises a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. [9]

III. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail;[10] yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part does overcome;[11] and so, the saints grow in grace,[12] perfecting holiness in the fear of God.[13]

Scriptural proofs:

[1] 1CO 6:11 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. ACT 20:32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. PHI 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; ROM 6:5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

[2] JOH 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. EPH 5:26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. 2TH 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.

[3] ROM 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

[4] GAL 5:24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. ROM 8:13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

[5] COL 1:11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness. EPH 3:16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

[6] 2CO 7:1 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. HEB 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

[7] 1TH 5:23 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.

[8] 1JO 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. ROM 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. PHI 3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

[9] GAL 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 1PE 2:11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.

[10] ROM 7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

[11] ROM 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. 1JO 5:4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. EPH 4:15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

[12] 2PE 3:18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. 2CO 3:18 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.

[13] 2CO 7:1 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.

In closing:

Sanctification follows justification and likewise, is a gracious gift of God. In justification our sins are declared completely forgiven in Christ based upon His Work! Justification is a declared gracious one time act. In distinction, sanctification is a process by which the Holy Spirit changes us to be more like Christ. True sanctification is impossible apart from the atoning work of Christ on the cross because only after our sins are forgiven and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit can we begin to lead a holy life.

“And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” (Isaiah 35:8)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)


1.      W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 989-990.

2.      Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, 2 Corinthians, Vol.2, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 374.

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks. Available at:

For more study:

J. C. Ryle: Justification and Sanctification: How Do They Differ?

Sanctification by Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920)

Sanctification by John Bunyan