Progressive Sanctification

God performed a gracious work when he called us out of darkness into His marvelous light and granted us the status of holiness by virtue of our union with Christ. He did this so that we can be holy as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:15). The process of growing from carnality to Christ likeness is commonly called progressive sanctification. Paul says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Rom. 6:22). Although the Bible speaks of past-tense or positional sanctification more frequently than present-tense or progressive sanctification, the concept of progressively being made holy is a dominant theme in the New Testament. Terms like “growth,” “renewing,” “edification,” “building up,” “transformation,” “purification,” and “renewing” are all related: they refer to the process of becoming like Christ.

The apostle Paul explains the growth process toward Christ likeness in Col. 2:6,7, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.” The primary agent of our sanctification is God Himself, “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit” (1 Pet. 1:2). We have to first be rooted “in Christ,” which refers to our positional sanctification, before we can be built up “in Him,” which is progressive sanctification. Terms like “in Christ, “in Him, or “in the beloved” are among the most repeated prepositional phrases in the New Testament. These terms convey that children of God are spiritually alive and their souls are in union with Christ, who is their life. If there is no spiritual life then nothing can grow spiritually.

We are also agents of our own sanctification. “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (1 Pet. 1:13,14). However, as believers we must not fall into the Galatian heresy (Gal. 3:1-5). We did not receive the Holy Spirit by the works of the law. Our salvation came by way of faith and so does our sanctification. Paul asks, “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort” (Gal. 3:3)? We are saved by faith and we are sanctified by faith in God through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17).

Scripture presents progressive sanctification as a challenge to the believer. The world, the flesh, and the devil oppose the will of God and therefore are enemies of our sanctification. Therefore, “Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (1 Cor. 7:1), and let us, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

Dr. Neil

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