New Testament,  Theology

Three Stages of a Christian’s Sanctification

photo of 3 stones symbolizing three stages of sanctification

It is popular in New Testament scholarship to view sanctification only in a positional sense. It is true that much of the New Testament refers to sanctification in a positional sense, meaning our standing before God as being special and set apart. While this is undoubtedly true, there are good arguments to utilize sanctification terminology to refer to the entire process of our salvation, from the initial stages to our ultimate glorification in heaven. Thus, we can think of our sanctification as involving three distinct stages.

Positional Sanctification

The word is self refers to making holy, or setting something apart. Thus, we are not surprised when Hebrews 10:10 says that we have positional sanctification because of the once-for-all death of Christ. This positional sanctification is even granted to the worldly believers in Corinth (1 Cor 1:2). Thus, when we speak of sanctification, we must acknowledge that there is a positional aspect to it that takes place when we become a saint.

Experiential Sanctification (or Progressive Sanctification)

There is also an experiential aspect of sanctification. Although we have a positional status of sanctified that does not change, Scripture also speaks of an experiential sanctification that the believer is commanded to work at (1 Thess 5:23; 1 Pet 1:16). This experiential sanctification increases as the believer devotes his life to being obedient to God (Rom 6:13; cf. 2 Cor 3:18).

Ultimate Sanctification

Finally, there is also ultimate sanctification, which is completely future. Ultimate sanctification happens when Christ glorifies believers and gives them a glorified body (Eph 5:26-27; Rom 8:28-30).

Sometimes, people confuse these three categories. For example, some people claim Christ has done everything for us, therefore we don’t need to work for God’s favor. However, we don’t want to confuse positional sanctification with experiential sanctification. Furthermore, it would also be a mistake to say that we can earn positional sanctification, because that is given to us through Christ alone. It is important to be able to differentiate these categories. I pray this differentiation will help us think clearly about what we are (and are not) working for.

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs The Bible Sojourner podcast and Youtube channel.

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