Sanctification

Sanctification

“Terms In the NT the concept of holiness is presented primarily by the adjective Gk. hágios, “holy”; by the three related nouns indicating holiness, hagiasmós, hagiótēs, and hagiōsýnē; and by the verb, hagiázō, “make holy or sanctify.” Of the three nouns only hagiasmós can be rendered as indicating the process of making holy, i.e., sanctification or consecration. Hagiótēs indicates personal holiness whereas hagiōsýnē is a term for holiness generally or abstractly considered. The meaning of these words for “holy” is clarified somewhat by noting the other Greek adjectives used in the NT that can have the implication of “holy”: hierós, hósios, and hagnós. Hierós indicates something sacred but usually only in the outward sense of a rite. Hósios, “reverent” or “pious,” does not connote a purity so separated from the world as to belong only to God and to those who are His—and thus is not closely associated with the divine as is hágios. Hagnós, “pure,” “chaste,” or “undefiled,” stands in close etymological relationship to hágios, and is occasionally used in the NT to indicate the moral purity that is characteristic of God (1 Jn. 3:3) and of believers (cf. Tit. 2:5). Hagnós lacks the breadth of meaning of hágios and does not have a related noun indicative of the process of sanctification, but only the rarely used noun hagnótēs, meaning “purity” or “sincerity.”

Thus hágios is the adjective applied to God, to the Spirit, and to Christ. In His intercessory prayer Jesus Christ called God “Holy Father” (Jn. 17:11), and in Rev. 4:8 is called thrice holy. Throughout the NT, hágios is the adjective in the name “Holy Spirit,” and Christ Himself is called “the Holy One of God” (Mk. 1:24; Lk. 4:34). Persons who have been chosen by God for Himself and thereby set apart from the world are also holy. Christ is called God’s “holy servant” (Acts 4:30) and believers are elect or called “saints” (hágioi, 1 Cor. 1:2). Because of their divine origin and purpose, Christian calling (2 Tim. 1:9) and the OT Scriptures (Rom. 1:2) are called holy.

B. The Ethical Emphasis of the Gospels Although all of the above uses of hágios draw in some measure on the originally religious concept found at the root of OT usage, i.e., the concept of separation from the profane and of being set apart for the divine, the NT emphasis is clearly upon the ethical dimension of the holy. The nouns indicating holiness, particularly hagiasmós, “sanctification,” make this apparent. Sanctification is the result of God making someone holy (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2) and is viewed ethically in relation to faith and love (1 Tim. 2:15). Similarly, throughout the Pauline epistles, sanctity is contrasted not with the profane or the worldly in general but with lust and moral impurity (Rom. 6:19–22; 1 Thess. 3:13; 4:3–5, 7), and is paired with “righteousness” (Rom. 6:19; Eph. 4:24). Hagiótēs, personal holiness, likewise indicates purity or ethical uprightness and, indeed, the divine purity to which believers will ultimately be conformed (He. 12:10).

Thus Jesus’ preaching issues a clear call to a decision for God, for the kingdom and against the world, that marks the basic fact of the separation of all those who belong to God from the profane, the sinful, and the demonic. The rich young man (Mt. 19:16–22 par) is told to sell all he has and to follow Christ; the disciples are admonished that those who give up house, family, and lands for His sake will be rewarded in heaven (Mt. 19:29). To belong both to the kingdom and to the world is an impossibility, for no one can serve God and mammon (Mt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). The character of those so separated from the world is godliness and perfection like that of the heavenly Father (Mt. 5:43–48). Thus the separation of Christians from the world is identified primarily in terms of righteousness attained through repentance and divine forgiveness, i.e., it is an ethical separation, a sanctification in the fullest sense.

Jesus’ call to repentance and to new, inward obedience in the kingdom is specifically linked by Paul to the identity of believers as “saints” or “holy ones” (hágioi) who are called to be ethically set apart to God (1 Cor. 1:2). Paul’s conception of the life of those “called to be saints” rests on his theology of grace. The saints are called in the present life to be conformed to Christ by the work of the Spirit, and are, indeed, “predestined” by God “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). On this foundation of grace and divine calling, Christians are exhorted to an active life of Christ-like conduct (cf. Gal. 5:6; Phil. 2:5; Col. 3:1–4; 1 Thess. 5:10). Nonetheless, in every aspect of their ethical holiness or newfound righteousness Christians are to recognize that not they themselves, certainly not their own work or their own will, but God working in them is the source of their holiness or righteousness (Phil. 2:13).

are called to be ethically set apart to God (1 Cor. 1:2). Paul’s conception of the life of those “called to be saints” rests on his theology of grace. The saints are called in the present life to be conformed to Christ by the work of the Spirit, and are, indeed, “predestined” by God “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). On this foundation of grace and divine calling, Christians are exhorted to an active life of Christ-like conduct (cf. Gal. 5:6; Phil. 2:5; Col. 3:1–4; 1 Thess. 5:10). Nonetheless, in every aspect of their ethical holiness or newfound righteousness Christians are to recognize that not they themselves, certainly not their own work or their own will, but God working in them is the source of their holiness or righteousness (Phil. 2:13).

C. The Language of Progress in Sanctity Paul also joins the NT language of sanctification to a concept of progress or perfection in holiness. The initial renewal or hallowing of the individual in Christ, by the Spirit, which takes place following forgiveness of sins and justification sets believers apart even though sin and the struggle with sin continue to be a part of their lives. Thus Paul exhorts the Philippians to work out their own salvation (Phil. 2:12), and to move forward in holiness, upon the ground established for them in the grace of Christ, toward the goal of being utterly refashioned according to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29). Paul seems to associate the passing away of imperfection with the final vision of God (1 Cor. 13:10–12) and to view the perfect conformity of believers to Christ as an eschatological event (15:42–50). In addition, when Paul speaks of becoming “perfect” (Gk. téleios), he most certainly does not mean an absolute perfection, like the divine perfection, but rather a maturity in faith (Phil. 3:15), which he himself has not yet attained (3:12). The word téleios itself indicates an orientation toward a goal. Christ’s own mandate to perfection, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48), echoes the future orientation of its OT analogues, Dt. 18:13 and Lev. 19:2.
Nonetheless, Paul did not intend by this language a progress of believers from unholiness to holiness. The imperfection of believers is an incompleteness of those who have already been set apart by grace through faith and who are regenerate. Their progress is, therefore, a progress in holiness: God has willed their sanctification and has “called” them “not … for uncleanness, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:3, 7). Indeed, God will sanctify them “wholly” and keep them “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:23f) by increasing their love to one another and to all mankind (3:12f.). Paul also described the process of attainment of this holiness as a work both of the Spirit and of the individual believer. Sanctification occurs “in the Spirit” and as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22–25), but it is also a self-cleansing and a self-consecration (cf. Rom. 12:1f.; 2 Cor. 7:1). Thus sanctification rests both upon the grace of God that begins and continues to work the good in the hearts of believers, and upon human purpose, in the Spirit, to continued exhortation to holiness. The progress of this work of the Spirit and of the human response points directly toward the consummation of God’s purpose in “the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:10f.).

Whereas the Pauline language of sanctity and perfection points away from earthly expectation of perfect holiness, the Johannine language seems to insist upon it. Believers are children of God, separated from the world and its lack of knowledge of God, destined to be like God in the eschaton. This hope is intimately related to the purification of believers who progress in this life toward the purity of the God in whom they hope (1 Jn. 3:2f.). The Son of God, in whom this redemption and purification is made possible, “appeared to take away sins” and is personally sinless (3:5). “No one,” therefore, “who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him” (3:6). The basis of this sinlessness is the new birth that overcomes the world (5:4f, 18). John makes it clear that this victory is not a human work, but a divine work. Human beings are deceived if they deny their own sinfulness—but if they confess their sinfulness they will be forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Christ (1:7–9).

A somewhat different perspective on sanctification can be drawn from 1 Peter and Hebrews. These writings emphasized the objective establishment of believers in holiness rather than the subjective form of the sanctified life. Peter views sanctification as a primary and immediate characteristic of the life into which Christians are drawn by the Spirit. This sanctity is profoundly related to the covenant sacrifice of Christ, specifically, the sprinkling of His blood (1 Pet. 1:2, 18f.). Believers are “sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1:2). Thus Peter views sanctification as the basis upon which believers move forth in obedience and receive forgiveness through Christ’s blood. Hebrews even more forcefully binds sanctification to the language of sacrifice and covenant. It presents sanctification as the objective consecration of believers effected in and through Christ’s sacrifice: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (He. 10:10; cf. 9:13f.). Not only have believers been made holy by this sacrifice, they have also been “perfected for all time” (10:14).

The seeming tension between the ideas of progress in holiness and attainment of sinlessness found in Paul and John on the one side, and the teaching of an already accomplished sanctification found in 1 Peter and Hebrews on the other, finds theological resolution in the essentially gracious character of the work of salvation and in the eschatological character of the NT preaching. The objective fact of the separation of believers from the world on the basis of an inward, spiritual regeneration is the gracious gift of God in the work of salvation. In the “now” of the kingdom, the transformation of human nature has been accomplished from the divine side. Thus Paul can declare “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11), placing sanctification in the same context of baptismal worship as regeneration and justification by faith. Here the meaning of sanctity is surely a combination of the original, religious or pre-ethical concept and its ethical result, inasmuch as believers are both consecrated to God in the moment of regeneration and justification without being made perfectly righteous, and also inwardly transformed so that righteousness and holiness may be perfected in them (cf. Rom. 6:19). This fundamental sanctity of believers can be traced back to its foundation in the eternal plan of God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2).

In the eschatological “not yet” of the kingdom, however, the fact of the consecration of believers now points, through progress in holiness, toward the consummation of their transformation in Christ. The same Corinthians that Paul called “sanctified” (1 Cor. 6:11) he also encouraged to cleanse themselves “from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). It is in this eschatological and teleological sense of sanctification as progress toward perfection that the ethical dimension of the concept is clearest. In one sense believers are consecrated to God and blameless before Him because of the work of Christ, but in another sense they must still be perfected in the day of Christ. Nonetheless the NT also has a strong sense of the eschatological character of the “now” of the kingdom, of the proleptic presence of the goal of history in the work of Christ on earth—with the result that the goal of our present exercise of holiness and righteousness must also somehow be fulfilled in us insofar as we are in Christ. This aspect of the “now” of the kingdom may account for John’s pointed declaration of the sinlessness of believers in Christ.”

Muller, R. A. (1979–1988). Sanctification. In G. W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 4, pp. 322–324). Wm. B. Eerdmans.

“ἅγιος (hagios). adj. dedicated to God, holy, pure, sacred, consecrated, reverent. Set apart for God’s purposes.

This is the basic Greek word for “holy.” The Septuagint regularly uses it to translate both קָדֹשׁ (qādōš, “holy”) and קֹדֶשׁ (qōdeš, “holiness”). It is by far the most common word in the NT to describe something as holy or set apart to God. It is used to describe objects, animals, humans, places, and the Spirit of God, i.e., the Holy (hagios) Spirit (e.g., Mark 3:29). That which is holy is reserved for God and for God’s service or purposes. Jerusalem is the “holy (hagios) city” (Matt 4:5; Rev 11:2). As the Mosaic law declares, the first-born male is holy (hagios) to the Lord (Luke 2:23). Paul metaphorically calls the Jews who believed in Christ “the dough offered as firstfruits,” which is holy (hagios) and thus sanctifies the whole lump (i.e., the whole Church, including Gentile Christians). Being holy can also have a moral connotation, as when Mark 6:20 uses “righteous (δίκαιος, dikaios)” and “holy (hagios)” in parallel. This is even clearer in Peter’s citation of Lev 19:2: “As the one who called you is holy (hagios), you yourselves also be holy (hagios) in your behavior” (1 Pet 1:15).

In the NT, the plural of hagios is often used for “holy people” or “saints.” Paul writes to “the saints (hagios) who are in Ephesus and the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph 1:1). Even the believers at Corinth, with all their moral problems, are referred to by Paul as “those who are sanctified (hagiazō) in Christ Jesus, called [as] saints (hagios; 1 Cor 1:2).” Hence, being in Christ makes one holy and set apart for the Lord’s purposes.

ἁγιάζω (hagiazō). vb. to set apart, sanctify, consecrate, dedicate. To make something holy.

This verb is related to ἅγιος (hagios, “holy”) and refers to making something hagios; it is the usual translation in the Septuagint of קָדַשׁ (qādaš, “to sanctify”). The gold of the temple is holy, for it is sanctified (hagiazō) by being part of or used in the temple in Jerusalem (Matt 23:17). This is the same idea as in the Old Testament; by coming into contact with that which is holy, someone or something becomes holy. Either God or people may do the sanctifying, and people, objects, and places may be sanctified. In his high-priestly prayer, Jesus says, “I sanctify (hagiazō) myself, in order that [the disciples] themselves may be sanctified (hagiazō) in truth” (John 17:19). In Matt 6:9, Jesus instructs his followers to pray to the Father that he will make his name sanctified (hagiazō). The Father sanctified (hagiazō) the Son and sent him into the world (John 10:36). Paul desires that the offering of the Gentiles may be well-pleasing, being sanctified (hagiazō) in the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:16).

ἁγιασμός (hagiasmos). n. masc. sanctification, consecration, holiness. The state or process of being set apart for the purposes of God.

This is an abstract noun derived from the verb ἁγιάζω (hagiazō, “to set apart, sanctify”) and refers to the process or result of being sanctified (hagiazō). Paul states that believers are saved “by the sanctification (hagiasmos) of the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13). Jesus has become wisdom, righteousness, sanctification (hagiasmos), and redemption for all who are in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:30). God has called believers to live a sanctified lifestyle, which is God’s will. Paul delineates this specifically as being a matter of sexual purity (1 Thess 4:3, 4, 7). Paul exhorts the believers in Rome to give or present their members (i.e., body parts) to God in sanctification (hagiasmos), and he states that doing so will bring fruit that leads to sanctification, which has the end result of eternal life (Rom 6:19–22).

ἁγιωσύνη (hagiōsynē). n. fem. holiness. The state of being holy.

In 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to cleanse themselves of all defilement, thus fulfilling holiness (hagiōsynē), i.e., becoming fully holy. Paul offers a prayer or “benediction” for the Thessalonian Christians, that God will cause them to abound with love in order that their hearts may be established blameless in holiness (hagiōsynē; 1 Thess 3:13). In Rom 1:4 Paul writes that Jesus was declared the Son of God according to the Spirit of Holiness (hagiōsynē), i.e., the Holy Spirit.

ἁγιότης (hagiotēs). n. fem. holiness. The state of being holy.

In the NT, this word appears only in Heb 12:10. The author states that God disciplines believers in order that they may share in his holiness (hagiotēs). As holiness is a core aspect of who God is, when he makes people or things his own, they share in his holiness.

ἱερός (hieros). adj. holy. Pertaining to what is in the state of transcendent purity, or being part of the temple service.

The word hieros is much less frequent in the NT than ἅγιος (hagios). It is used to describe something that is holy in the sense of being fit for or dedicated to worship in the temple. In 1 Corinthians 9:13, hieros refers to the sacred duties performed by temple personnel. It also appears in the phrase “holy (hieros) Scriptures” (2 Tim 3:15). The word is used in the short ending of the Gospel of Mark (see Mark 16:8 in LEB).

ὅσιος (hosios). adj. pious, devout, holy, pleasing to God. Without fault in relation to the deity.

In Acts 2:27 Peter quotes Psa 16:10 and applies the phrase “your Holy One (hosios)” to Jesus; hosios here translates the Hebrew חָסִיד (ḥāsîd, “pious one”); it is also the usual Septuagint equivalent of ḥāsîd. Hebrews 7:26 describes Jesus as a holy (hosios) high priest. In Rev 15:4, the saints praise God, saying “you alone are holy (hosios).” Acts 13:34–35 offers a special case. Paul quotes Isa 55:3 to argue that Psa 16:10 could not apply to David. His quote from Isaiah includes the phrase, “the holy (hosios) and sure things of David,” which Paul interprets to mean “promises.” The subsequent quote says that “You will not let your Holy One (hosios) see corruption,” (ESV) and he interprets the Holy One to be Jesus. Titus 1:8 says that an overseer of the church must be holy (hosios).

The related adverb ὁσίως (hosiōs, “devoutly”), pertaining to being pleasing to God, is used in 1 Thess 2:10.”

Litwak, K. D. (2014). Sanctification. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

“Fundamental to all NT theology is the shift in eschatological perspective brought about by the coming of Jesus Messiah, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. God has come amongst his people to reconcile them to himself and the future has already been set in motion, although the end has only just begun. Sanctification cannot be understood outside this framework.

The terminology of sanctification is rare in the gospels. In John, sanctification concerns relationship with the triune God on the one hand and mission on the other. Jesus is the one sanctified by the Father and sent into the world (10:36). If the disciples are to continue that mission, they too must be sanctified, i.e. brought into that intimate fellowship enjoyed by Father and Son (20:20–23). Jesus prays that the Father would sanctify the disciples in the truth (17:17). In order that they may be filled with God’s being and power, Jesus sanctifies himself (17:19) through his death, then sends the disciples into the world just as the Father had sent him (20:21–22), imparting to them the Holy Spirit.

The presence of the Holy Spirit is the key to Paul’s view of sanctification. Paul holds that sanctification is based on the historical reality of the atoning death of Christ which is brought to experiential reality by the Spirit (Gal. 3:2–5; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 1:13–14; Tit. 3:4–7). It partakes fully of the eschatological tension of salvation: ‘already’/‘not yet’.

Paul’s main emphasis is ethical rather than cultic. He echoes Jesus’ own summation of God’s ethical requirements for the new people as given in the great commandments (Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8–10) and models them before his converts (1 Thes. 2:10; 3:12). He urges them to continue to work out these principles of wholehearted devotion to God and love of neighbour in the context of everyday existence (1 Thes. 4:9–10). In 1 Thes. 3:10–13 and 5:23, Paul prays that his readers will be established in holiness and that God will sanctify them wholly. They are ever to be what they are now, i.e. a people called to be holy.

But these are also wish-prayers which means that the ‘not yet’ is equally important here. Paul has the Parousia, which perhaps he expected before his death (1 Thes. 4:17; 5:6), firmly in his view. He prays that these Christians will be found blameless (note, not faultless) in holiness on that soon-to-arrive day, with lives that reflect their anticipation of it.

The ethical thrust of sanctification continues in Rom. 6, where Paul uses the term hagiasmos twice. In 6:19, he urges his readers to yield their members to righteousness for sanctification, clearly focusing on the ethical living expected of those who have been freed from the dominion of sin. Since in and with Christ they have died to the lordship of sin (6:6), they are now to live lives which reflect their new relationship to God as sharers in Christ’s risen life (6:13–14). In no sense, however, is Paul stating that holiness is achieved by personal striving (see Wynkoop, 326).

Paul uses the terms ‘righteousness’ and ‘sanctification’ here in a way which shows their inseparability. Paul could not conceive of a person brought into a right relationship with God whose life would not issue in sanctification (6:22), i.e. in a life of holiness. Debate about whether Paul has in mind a state or a process of sanctification is beside the point. Paul intends both.
That Paul can speak of both aspects of sanctification is confirmed in 2 Cor. 7:1. Here, in language reminiscent of the OT cultic context of purity and holiness, he urges his alienated readers to ‘cleanse [y]ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect.’ His Christian readers are to purge themselves in every part, inwardly and outwardly (see Ps. 24:2–3, ‘clean hands and pure heart’), and live out the implications of their grace-given relationship to the holy God.

Were it not for the indwelling presence of the Spirit, all of this might seem to be mere wishful thinking. But Paul considers the sanctified life to be possible because of the indwelling presence of God’s empowering Spirit (2 Thes. 2:13). Indeed, he says, anyone who rejects this way of living, rejects God who gives his Holy Spirit to you (1 Thes. 4:8). It is the presence of the Spirit which enables the believer to live a life which is not according to the flesh (Gal. 5:16, 24; Rom. 8:5) although life is still lived in the flesh (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 8:11, 23). To be sure, the Spirit has not brought the fulness of the end but only its beginning, so the Spirit’s presence does not confer final perfection in the present age but rather leads to growing maturity in Christ, whereby Christians are ripened for their final transformation. ‘We are both already and not yet’ (Fee, p. 826).

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is in conscious dialogue with Judaism. For this writer, sanctification is the work of Christ, the eternal high priest (5:8–10; 7:23–25) and the sanctifier (2:11; 13:12) who, as the enthroned Lord, now exercises all the prerogatives of God (ch. 1). The means of sanctification is through the death of Christ, who through the shedding of his blood, established the new and better covenant relationship between God and humans (10:10, 14). This new sacrifice is efficacious because, in contrast to sacrifices under the old covenant which could purify the flesh and restore a defiled Israelite to the community (Nu. 19:9), the blood of Christ is able to deal with the inner condition of sinful people (9:13f.; 10:22).

The heart of the matter in Hebrews, therefore, is the new covenant relationship promised in the OT (Je. 31:31–34; Ezk. 36:25–27). The verb hagiadzein is used ‘with reference to the establishment of New Covenant relations between God and man’ (D.F.Peterson, Hebrews and Perfection, SNTSMS 47, 1982, p. 72). The notion of the perfecting of believers (7:11, 19; 10:14), relates primarily to their covenantal acceptance by God (Peterson, p. 136).

Hebrews is the most explicit of the epistles on the present reality and enjoyment of the sanctified life. A crucial verse in this regard is Heb. 10:14 which emphasizes the single offering for sanctification made by Christ on the one hand and the experiential realization of the new relationship between God and humanity on the other. The new covenant relationship has already been established in Christ’s death and exaltation; Christians are consciously to embrace in their ongoing experience what has already been accomplished for them. ‘The terminology of perfection is used by our writer here to stress the realized aspect of Christian salvation’ (Peterson, p. 153).
But Hebrews also applies the ‘already’/‘not yet’ tension to sanctification. For while it is the present experience of believers, it is neither static nor final (12:10, 14, 22–24). This relationship is the earnest of that ultimate goal of sanctification which ‘is to share Christ’s glory (2:10), to enter God’s rest (4:11 ff.), to see the Lord (12:14), and to inhabit the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22; 13:14)’ (Peterson, p. 129).

In some ways, 1 Pet. provides a summary of the NT view of sanctification: it has to do with God’s choice (1:2; 2:9), the work of the Spirit in applying the benefits of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection (1:2–3), and lives lived in obedience to God’s call to holiness (1:14–15; 2:5) and love (1:22; 4:8). Sanctification, in sum, is essentially a relational reality, completed in Christ’s death on the cross, experienced through the indwelling Holy Spirit and brought to its final goal when we see God (Heb. 12:14; 1 Jn. 3:2–3).”

Brower, K. E. (1996). Sanctification, Sanctify. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., pp. 1058–1059). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.