The Process of Sanctification

The Sub-Doctrine of Sanctification - Part 2

This lesson examines common errors made in teaching the doctrine of sanctification, and provides a guide to the stages of this spiritual process in each Christian.
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Sanctification – Common Errors

As with many of the doctrines we have studied, there have been errors that have been taught concerning the doctrine of sanctification. One of the most common ones has to do with the way of identifying those who have been sanctified. For example:

Those sanctified have spiritual gifts

Many groups believe that the sure sign that one has been sanctified is their ability to speak in tongues. There were many gifts mentioned in the Bible, but this is the one most referred to in the last 100 years. The Bible however, describes this gift as the ability to speak in "known" languages…

3And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

5Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.6And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?
- Acts 2:3-8

…and that with time this gift would cease.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
- I Corinthians 13:8

What is put forth today does not resemble at all what the Bible describes as speaking in tongues, and even if it were, would not be the definitive proof of sanctification.

Those sanctified can perform miracles

Again this idea is proposed by some who think that the proof that they have been set apart by God for ministry is their ability to do miracles. The problem here is that most faith healers' ability to cure is based on the disease and the relative faith of their followers, and there is always a money factor in the process.

In the Bible those who had this ability could heal anyone of anything, even raise the dead. They did not have to be near or touch the person (Peter and Paul healing people whose handkerchief was brought forth or if their shadow crossed the sick person's path, Acts 5:15). And there was never any question of failure or money attached to their healing ministry. Timothy and Titus were mighty servants as were Luke, Mark and Silas, but none of them performed miracles.

So to say that a sign, calling or sanctification unto ministry in the modern era is demonstrated by miraculous power is not biblical.

How do we know that we are truly sanctified?

Those who have been set apart by God into Christ know that this is the case in the following ways:

By faith

The Word teaches that those who repent, believe and are baptized will be forgiven, will receive the Holy Spirit, will be transferred from the world to the body of Christ, and now belong to the kingdom of light (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Galatians 3:26, Colossians 1:13).

We know we are sanctified in the same way we know everything else about our reconciliation: by faith. We believe God's Word when He promises that those who believe in His Son and express their faith in obedience will be sanctified.

By power

Not the external power to do miracles and signs, but by the internal power that enables us to manifest Christ to the world.

9For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light,
- Colossians 1:9-12

In these verses Paul describes the experience of sanctification:

  • Knowledge of God's will
  • Spiritual wisdom, understanding
  • Obedience to His Word
  • Fruitfulness in good works
  • Ever deepening relationship with God in prayer and assurance
  • Ability to persevere
  • Joyful and thankful heart
  • Hope of eternal life in heaven

Sanctification is a spiritual state whereby we become holy like God, we take on the character of Christ and manifest it to the world:

  • Adoption describes our new relationship with God.
  • Justification describes our new standing with God.
  • Perfection describes the new quality that God gives us.
  • Sanctification describes the new character that God is developing in us, and moving us to manifest to the world.

Adoption, justification and perfection happen in a moment (at baptism) when we are united to Christ through faith; these cannot be increased by any other activity. Sanctification, however, is a process that takes place throughout our lives and will be completed when we receive our glorified bodies at the return of Christ.

50Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
- I Corinthians 15:50-52

At that time, we will manifest perfect obedience, wisdom, knowledge, strength, etc.

The Process of Sanctification

I said that adoption, justification and perfection happen at the same moment (at baptism), but sanctification is a process that takes time. Warren Wiersbe, in his book, "Be Ready" says that there are three changes/stages in the process of sanctification:

1. Positional Stage

This is when we are actually set apart by God into our new position in Christ at baptism. This is the beginning stage (Hebrews 10:10).

2. Practical Stage

The practical stage is experienced in every Christian's daily effort to manifest Christ to an unbelieving world (II Corinthians 7:1). Of course God helps in this daily struggle and effort. Unlike the priests, He does not give us special uniforms, rules and job descriptions. He provides: the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:2), the Word (II Timothy 3:16), the church (Ephesians 4:2), and the cross (I John 1:7-9). This stage lasts for as long as we live on this earth.

3. Perfected Stage

When Christ comes we will actually be perfected and actually manifest His perfect likeness for eternity (I John 3:2).

Sanctification says that we are set aside by God to become like His Son, Jesus Christ, as we faithfully struggle each day until He returns and completes our sanctification. We lose our position only if we abandon the practical task of manifesting Christ as best we can each day. So long as we practice manifesting Christ, God assures us that when Christ comes, practice will be turned into perfection.

One of the most common errors that Christians make is that they fail to understand that adoption, justification and perfection all happen in an instant at baptism, and that sanctification is a lifelong process. The error made is that they begin to worry about losing their justification, their adoption, their perfect standing in God's eyes when their daily struggle in the process of sanctification is not going quickly enough or when they have experienced setbacks. Or, they try to earn justification, adoption or perfection by working extra hard in the process of sanctification. In this life you are never more justified (forgiven), adopted (belong to God) or perfect (acceptable) to God as the day you were baptized.

Sanctification is the preparation/fitting for the glorious body we will receive at resurrection. Sanctification is preparation for the heavenly life and the manifestation of that heavenly life to the world now. You do not gain heaven by this process, you experience heaven.

Since sanctification is a process, it also explains a few things that happen in the church. For example:

  • Why some people remain saved even though they are extremely immature spiritually. Their immaturity simply shows that they are not far in the process.
  • It also explains why we should not be discouraged or afraid when we fail. The process is a long and painful one, and so long as we are willing to remain faithful, God will continue to bring us along.
  • It also tells us why we should always have hope for ourselves and others, because God's promise is that one day we will all be exactly like Jesus and manifest Him perfectly to one another.

Think of that brother or sister you dislike or are at odds with, and realize that one day the sin and weakness you dislike will be gone and only Jesus' perfect character will remain. Better to try to love them now than later, that is part of the process.

In closing this chapter let us try to summarize the sub-doctrines we have looked at so far: God promised that those He set apart would perfectly manifest Christ.

Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss the error with the following beliefs regarding sanctification:
    1. Those sanctified have spiritual gifts
    2. Those sanctified can perform miracles
  2. How does faith and power demonstrate to us that we are sanctified?
  3. Discuss how each of the stages listed below relate to the process of sanctification.
    1. Positional stage
    2. Practical stage
    3. Perfected stage
  4. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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