Sanctification is a second, instantaneous, and definite work of grace, subsequent to salvation, which is accomplished in the believer through the shed Blood of Jesus Christ.
The word sanctify, along with the words translated saint, holy, and hallowed, is derived from the Greek word hagios, which means “holy.” For this reason, the experience of sanctification is also sometimes referred to as “holiness.” The verb sanctify has three basic meanings: “to make holy or purify,” “to consecrate or to separate from ungodliness and dedicate to God,” and finally, “to hallow.” A study of these words reveals that sanctification is the purification of the heart of a person—a dedication to God and an eradication of the sin nature. A holy and sanctified person, then, is one who has been consecrated or set apart to serve God and is cleansed from his old sin nature.
Origin of the doctrine of sanctification
The teaching of sanctification did not begin in the Apostolic Faith Church. When Florence Crawford, this church’s founder, walked into meetings being held on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906, the people there taught her about the experience of sanctification. They had learned it from those who taught them. John Wesley is credited with reviving the teaching of sanctification, but the experience did not begin with him either. It began with God! Sanctification is a Bible doctrine.
Sanctification in the Old Testament
In Old Testament times, God pointed His people to sanctification. We read in Leviticus 20:7, “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the Lord your God.”
The merit of the atonement provided by Jesus’ death was foreshadowed by the Levitical offerings (Hebrews 13:11-12). The Old Testament Tabernacle is sometimes used as an illustration of the three foundational Christian experiences: salvation, sanctification, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost. An Israelite’s sins were forgiven when he brought his trespass offering to the priest who offered it upon the brazen altar, located in the Tabernacle courtyard (Leviticus 6:1-7). When the offering for sin was presented, no mention was made of actual trespasses (Leviticus 9:3,15). This offering typified heart cleansing.
When a trespass offering had been offered upon the altar, the priest would then perform a ceremonial washing, typifying the ordinance of water baptism, at a laver that was also located in the courtyard. Following the washing, the priest would enter the first of the two rooms that made up the Tabernacle, called the Holy Place. Representing the experience of sanctification, the Holy Place contained a table with shewbread on it, which typified the Word of God. The golden candlestick, also in the Holy Place, represented the light that God sheds into a Christian’s life. The third item in the Holy Place was the golden altar. On it was a continual offering of special incense, and the fire that started its burning was sent by God himself. The burning incense represented the prayers that come out of a sanctified heart.
Next to the Holy Place, but separated from it by a veil, was the Holy of Holies, which represented the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Shekinah glory of God, a physical manifestation of His presence, dwelt in this room. Only the High Priest could enter this room once a year, on the Day of Atonement. When Jesus was crucified, the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), and sanctified Christians now have direct access to the fullness of the Spirit of God in their lives. The steps symbolized by the Tabernacle illustration must still be followed today. The experience of salvation should be followed by water baptism as soon as possible, and a Christian can only receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit after being entirely sanctified.
Sanctification in the New Testament
In the New Testament era, we find that the experience of sanctification was taught to the Early Church. Paul was concerned that the believers in Thessalonica be sanctified. Reading through the Book of 1 Thessalonians, it is clear that these believers had a good start, but they needed something more. Paul said that he sent Timothy, “our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:2). In verse 10, he says, “Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith.” The lack in their spiritual lives would be supplied by the experience of sanctification.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, we read, “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. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” Here, Paul the Apostle states very clearly, almost as a prayer, his desire for the believers at Thessalonica to receive this experience.
The characteristics of sanctification
When a person prays through to salvation, he receives the assurance that his sins have been forgiven, and the Lord will not hold them against him any longer. He has been pardoned—absolved from the wrongdoings in his past. Still, there remains in him that carnal nature from which those deeds sprang in the first place. That is why sanctification is needed. Salvation deals with the acts and guilt of committed sins, while sanctification deals with the nature of sin, the inward tendency inherited from Adam.
It is important to understand that when the Bible mentions “sins” plural, it is referring to committed sins. “Sin” singular usually references the Adamic nature. John addresses the two-fold sin problem and offers the two-fold remedy in 1 John 1:7-9 where he says, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin [singular, the sin nature]. If we say that we have no sin [if we say we were not born with an Adamic or sin nature], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [plural, committed sins] he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [salvation], and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [sanctification].” Forgiveness is offered for actual committed sins, while cleansing is offered for the Adamic nature.
In Paul’s instruction to the believers at Thessalonica, he spoke of his desire that the “God of peace sanctify you wholly” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The meaning of the word wholly is “entirely,” and that is the reason the experience of sanctification is sometimes referred to as “entire” sanctification. In fact, this verse could accurately be read, “the very God of peace sanctify you complete to the end,” “the very God of peace sanctify you through and through,” “all in all,” or “in every part.” There is no implication that God would sanctify them “by and by,” or “part way and more as you go along.” The experience of sanctification is complete.
Even though the word “wholly” is very expressive, Paul continues, “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If God sanctifies the whole spirit, soul, and body, is anything left? No, it is entire sanctification. It is complete. In verse 24, Paul added, “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” Will do what? He will sanctify a person wholly and preserve him blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Clearly, the thought here is that a Christian receives something definite, and receives it before the Lord Jesus Christ returns.
In many New Testament references to sanctification and holiness, the definite nature of sanctification is evidenced in the original Greek text by the aorist tense of the verb, which indicates a specific and completed act, rather than an ongoing one. Though spiritual growth continues throughout a Christian’s life, the cleansing work of sanctification is not a gradual process; it is accomplished in an instant. In every phase of his life, a sanctified Christian continues to learn to apply what he has received. Christian growth begins when a person prays through and is saved, and it should continue until that person steps into Heaven.
Holiness is more than morality. Morality is limited because people use differing standards to define what is moral and what is immoral. In contrast, holiness is defined by God’s Word and is imparted through sanctification. Holiness is a state of the heart that is commanded, and it is what every Christian needs (Hebrews 12:14). Sanctification provides it; there is no other way to be holy.
Why sanctification is necessary
Genesis 1:26 indicates that man was made in the image of God in the sense that he has an immortal soul. Human beings also bear the image of God in the sense that they are moral creatures. People can experience a sense of guilt or remorse. They can feel joy. They have the power of reasoning and choice—they have the moral capacity to choose to do right or to do wrong.
Though Adam and Eve were created with a pure bias or inclination, they chose to do wrong, and by that choice plunged all of humanity into a depraved condition. Genesis 5:3 says, “And Adam . . . begat a son in his own likeness, after his image.” The first child born into this world was in Adam’s image, not God’s image. After the fall, mankind inherited Adam’s depraved nature, and every person born into this world has an unholy inclination. Everyone begins with that as a moral basis.
One of the clear lessons in the first chapter of Genesis is that like produces like. Repeatedly the Bible states that each living plant and creature reproduced after its kind. That is true of fallen man too. All people inherited their moral nature from Adam—his sinful nature. That is why two sanctified people do not produce a sanctified child. Their offspring is a fallen child with a depraved nature who needs to be saved and later sanctified. John 3:6 says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” All people need to be born of the Spirit—to have their hearts regenerated and their past sins forgiven. Then they are ready to have their hearts cleansed and made holy through the sanctifying power of Jesus’ Blood.
The Bible makes it very clear that, in addition to being born with a sinful nature, every individual also eventually chooses sin. Selfishness is part of a child’s nature long before he develops an ability to reason. Then, when reason is developed, he continues in the same direction and makes the same choice Adam made.
It is possible to trace a “behavior trail.” Mark 7:21-23 says, “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Following the behavior trail back to its source does not lead to the mind, although the mind may have determined how a wicked deed would be carried out. The behavior trail does not lead to the hand, though the hand may have committed the deed. The behavior trail will always lead to the heart where the plan was conceived. It is the heart of man that has the problem. God’s remedy for sin goes to the heart of man and solves the heart problem. When the heart problem is solved, the behavior problem is solved.
God has provided a way to deal with the heart problem. The Bible repeatedly instructs about the need for cleansing, purging, and purifying. It says that the old nature (also referred to as “the old man” and “the body of sin”), must be put off. (See Colossians 3:9; Romans 6:6.) These are references to the necessity in the believer’s life for the experience of sanctification.
What sanctification accomplishes
What does sanctification do in a life? When a person has been sanctified, the old man, the carnal nature, no longer dominates him because it has been eradicated. Sometimes the phrase “Christian perfection” is used, referring to the standard of life imparted to the sanctified believer. In Hebrews 13:20-21 we read, “Now the God of peace . . . make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” (italics added). Sanctification provides a perfect heart—a state of living where a person loves the Lord with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength; where every deed is motivated by his devotion to God. It provides restoration of the pure nature that mankind enjoyed before the fall. The sanctified heart continually seeks after God and His will. Sanctified individuals cultivate purity in spirit, soul, and body, and they turn away from anything that would contaminate any part of their beings.
It is important to know what sanctification does, but it is also helpful to know what it does not do. Sanctification does not raise a person’s IQ. A diminished intellect was the result of the fall, but the provision for restoration does not deal with man’s head; it deals solely with the heart. So a person must not become discouraged and conclude he is not sanctified just because he does not perfectly understand something.
Sanctification does not deal with physical man, even though physical limitations were the result of the fall.
People are not mentally, physically, or emotionally perfect as a result of sanctification: they are morally perfect. Sanctification deals with man’s moral nature and his need for moral restoration. That is why sanctified individuals continue to face physical, mental, and even emotional limitations that were a result of the fall. It is important for a person not to search his head or his mind when going through a trial or a challenge, but rather to search his heart. If the motivating and underlying theme of his life is to love the Lord with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27), God put that purpose there when He sanctified him.
Sanctification does not eliminate the possibility of being tempted. Look back again to Adam, who was created in a pure moral state, but still was subject to temptation. Adam had the power to overrule what he knew was right in his heart; he did so and chose to do evil. The sanctified person, with that pure moral condition, can still choose to overrule what he knows is right, and fall back into sin, but it is certainly not necessary.
Heart purity, obtained at sanctification, establishes an intense desire to correct personal shortcomings. The proof of sanctification is that when a person sees some shortcoming in his life, rather than resisting the reminder or check of the Lord, the first and heartfelt response is to immediately go to his knees and say, “God, help me to do better next time, because I love You with all my heart, and I want to please You in every way.” That deeply rooted desire to please the Lord describes sanctification.
This is not to excuse behavior that springs from a carnal nature. God knows the difference. Sin is an act of deliberate enmity and rebellion toward God, and it is dangerous to call any and every behavior just a “mistake.” Rather than spending too much time trying to tag it, a person should quickly come before God, acknowledging his shortcomings and asking for His “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). God will help. There is victory in the Gospel!
Sanctification gives the proper channel
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 it says, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.” God created the human family with certain natural appetites and desires—put there by God to serve a purpose. In Adam and Eve’s case, there was nothing wrong with desiring pleasant food. There was nothing wrong with desiring to be wise. God gave them those desires. Paul’s reference to fornication addresses the desire planted by God whereby the human family would be propagated. No matter what human behavior is considered, a person needs to be sanctified in order for that desire to be properly channeled.
With sanctification, God puts within a Christian’s heart the “want to,” the proper desire. When Paul says, “This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication,” he is not just saying that a person needs sanctification, but he is telling why it is needed. Sanctification is needed so that this desire—and all others—are directed according to God’s law of love.
Left to themselves, natural appetites and desires can run rampant through people’s lives. Even a cursory look at society reveals the results of the fallen nature: God-given appetites and desires have been completely unrestrained in many cases. Man needs to be forgiven for past sins and then he needs to be sanctified so his life can be lived according to the way God intended man to live. When a person is sanctified, it is not hard to live a holy life. It is spontaneous!
Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers, expressing his desire that their “whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Preservation is a function that sanctification accomplishes. To preserve is “to keep in perfect or unaltered condition, to maintain intact, prevent from decaying or spoiling.” So the prayer is for the God of peace to sanctify wholly and to keep a person in that blameless condition unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. That experience is the preservation: God keeps the heart without moral fault. The core of the teaching of sanctification is that it gets to the heart and addresses the heart’s needs.
How to receive sanctification
The way in which a person approaches God for sanctification is different from how he approaches Him for salvation. When a person comes to God for salvation, he comes knowing that he is a sinner. There are sinful deeds in his life that separate him from God, and he feels remorseful about them, so he comes to God in repentance and asks for mercy and forgiveness. The Lord floods his heart with peace and gives him a completely new life.
When that individual comes to God to be sanctified, he does not come with repentance for committed sins. Instead, he comes with a recognition of needing something more—a deliverance from the inbred sin nature. He hungers for the ability to fully conform to the image and nature of Christ, so he comes consecrating, presenting his life in total submission as a living sacrifice to God. That is his part—to yield or separate himself to God. As he looks to God in simple faith, believing Him for this experience, God will do His part by purifying the Christian’s heart and making it holy.
A person knows when he has received the experience of sanctification, just as surely as he knew when he was saved, even if he does not know what to call it at the time. The divine love of God floods his heart. The bias or inclination to sin is gone, and a deeper peace, rest, and joy comes into his soul. The Spirit of God witnesses with his spirit that his heart has been cleansed.
The results of sanctification
There is joy in the sanctified heart. Acts 16:25 says, “At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.” Paul and Silas had been arrested, beaten, and put in stocks. At first glance, one might wonder, How could they sing in that condition? Yet, a little closer look at the sanctified heart might prompt the question, How could they not sing? That is what a sanctified heart does! It just happens. What do birds do? They chirp. What do stars do? They shine. The sanctified heart sings; that is its natural behavior. If a person is sanctified, the song is there, even though it may be deep inside when trials are great.
When a person with a sanctified heart gets down to pray, there is a praise to the Lord that wells up in his heart. What will happen when a heart comes before God in that manner? The Holy Ghost can be expected to descend upon that pure vessel and fill it with His Spirit. That is what happened in the Early Church when they were all “with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). God’s Spirit came down and filled those believers with the baptism of the Holy Ghost, because that is what the Holy Ghost does. People can expect the same today. The Holy Ghost comes down on a pure sanctified life and endues that one with power from on high and sends him on his way to win souls for Jesus.
Sanctification provides unity, a oneness among God’s people. In John 17, Jesus prayed that his followers might be sanctified, that they might be one as He was one with His Heavenly Father. That prayer was definitely answered, for before the Day of Pentecost they “all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14). When people are sanctified, they are one in their desires for the furtherance of the Gospel. They will be in it together, pulling with the same goal in view. That is what a group of sanctified people does! While there still will be individual preferences and perspectives, it will not be a tug-of-war. Between sanctified individuals, unity and harmony will prevail.
Ephesians 5:25-27 uses an illustration to describe the purpose of sanctification. It says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” The purpose of sanctification is to make the Church what it ought to be in the sight of God. Sanctification is not for unbelievers. Sanctification is for those who have been saved; those who know their sins have been forgiven. They will be part of the “glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing,” but “holy and without blemish.”
After sanctification, the sanctified state is maintained through the same consecration by which it was obtained. A person abides in Christ, and allows Him to abide within. He lives according to the way God would have him live. He is more sensitive to the checks of the Holy Spirit. He is more careful than he was before. He is more open to the prompting of the Spirit of the Lord.
For believers today
If you have been born again, sanctification is an experience that is for you today. It is required for all Christians, for God has commanded, “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Consecrate your all to Him, and pray until the experience is yours. What a wonderful difference it will make in your life!