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Sanctification | The Work of Christ and Salvation

As taught by Zach Thompson.

In this equipping time lesson, we learn what sanctification is and why we should pursue it.


Good morning everyone! 

Let’s pray as we begin. 

Let’s begin by reading 1 Corinthians 1:1-3:

“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

How does Paul describe the Corinthian church in these verses? He calls them “those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” He calls them “saints.”

Now, if you know much of anything about the letter of 1 Corinthians. You know that the church in Corinth had a significant number of problems. Disunity and pitting apostles against each other, open sexual immorality, lawsuits within the church, rich people eating all of the food at church dinners before the poor people could get off work, and this is just some of it. 

They had some serious problems. 

But in this verse, Paul calls them sanctified. He calls them Saints. 

How could Paul possibly call these people saints? Holy ones? People who have been set apart for God’s purposes? 

The answer is just what we have been talking about over the past several weeks. Look at this timeline that we have been talking through each week. 

They had been given new life, and they had turned to Christ as their savior and Lord. And in turning to Christ, they were forgiven of their sins and declared righteous in the eyes of God. Holy. Saints. Sanctified. 

In an instant, they went from enemies of God to children of God. 

And so, in a very real sense, these people in Corinth were saints. They were set apart for the special purposes of God. 

But at the same time, they had a lot of room to grow. They had been declared righteous, but their lives didn’t yet reflect God’s declaration over them.

The saints in Thessalonica were in a similar spot. In 1 Thessalonians 4:4, Paul writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor,”

Why would Paul tell them that this is God’s will? Why would he take the time and the ink in his letter to address this with the Thessalonians? 

Because they were probably struggling with sexual immorality. Saints struggling with sin that is waging war against their souls. 

And this is Paul’s advice. God’s will for you is that you would be sanctified. 

Enter sanctification. 

This week, we will begin to consider that purple section on the timeline. This section represents the Christian life. Whether you become a Christian at the age of 6 or 60 or 100, these two realities will apply to you. Your life will be characterized by sanctification and perseverance. 

This week, we’ll consider sanctification, then next week we’ll turn to the perseverance of the Saints, and then we’ll end our semester the week after that as we consider Glorification. 

So let’s consider sanctification together. What is it? How does it happen? And why should we care? 

A Definition 

Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

This passage references the reality of sanctification. Notice that phrase, “being transformed into the same image.”  That is sanctification. The process of being transformed more into the image of Christ. 

If you look for it, you’ll see this language all over the New Testament. Being shaped into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29; Eph 4:13; Col 3:10). 

Or consider 1 Thess 5:23, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is a benediction at the end of the book of 1 Thessalonians. It’s a prayer. Why would Paul pray that they would be sanctified completely? 

I think the clear implication is that in some sense, they had not yet been fully sanctified. We have to have a category for this. There was clear room for them to grow. 

For all of us who are in Christ, it’s clear that God is still working on us, making us more like Jesus, after we believe and for the entire Christian life. 

So let’s start with a simple definition of Sanctification.

Sanctification is the process of growing more into the image of Christ over the course of the Christian life.

There are a couple of things that I want to get across with this definition. First, Sanctification is a process. This is absolutely essential to what we call sanctification. It is not an instantaneous reality. 

Think of that quote from 2 Corinthians 3:18, we are “being transformed.” It’s an ongoing process. 

Remember from our timeline. Justification is a point. Sanctification is a line. 

Wayne Grudem actually made a chart for this. That should be on the screen. I think that it’s helpful to consider these side by side. [walk through the chart]

I think that it’s important to note here that we need to be careful readers of scripture as we consider these categories. Our language is limited, and in theology, we often use biblical terms to express a biblical pattern, but it doesn’t capture the entire reality. The process of sanctification can be like this. We have to be careful here. 

Sometimes the biblical authors will use a word like sanctification, and it doesn’t fit nicely into our theological category. In cases like this, we have to read with discernment. 

We just saw this last week when we were talking about justification. In 1 Corinthians 6:11, Paul lists out a lot of sins and how people who do those things won’t inherit the kingdom of God, then he says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed; you were sanctified; you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” He uses the word sanctified, but he isn’t talking about a process in the same way that we are. 

We have to be careful readers. We can’t just import our categories on Scripture. We need to read scripture on its own terms and let Scripture interpret Scripture. 

But at the same time, we need a word to express this process of being made more into the image of Christ. 

Let’s look at a couple of other definitions really quickly. 

Other Definitions:

In Grudem’s Systematic Theology, he defines sanctification like this.  


“Sanctification is a progressive work of God and believers that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives."

You see some of the same elements here. It’s a process. And it occurs in our actual human lives. But there is a bit more precision here. 

He notes that sanctification is a work of “God and believers.” What’s he getting at here? Well, he wants to preserve a Christian truth here– that the entire Christian life happens by the grace of God. But at the same time, as we work out our salvation, we have both a passive role and an active role in the process of our salvation. 

Think of Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Work out your own salvation because God is working in you. God is empowering us. He is sustaining us. He is working right desires in us. And at the same time, we are acting in light of the power and sustenance and right desires that he gives us. We work as he works. 

Grudem wants to make it clear that salvation is something that we actively work out as we live the Christian life. 

One more definition. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that sanctification is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.”

I wanted to get this definition on the screen because I wanted us to see that if we are thinking in theological terms, we need to focus on the fact that salvation is the work of God’s free grace for us. 

1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 

We need to recognize that our salvation is an act of God’s grace at every–single–point. There isn’t a single point in Christian life when we aren’t entirely dependent on the grace of God. 

Have you ever popped a clutch? Fewer and fewer people have done this, but let me explain what it is. I used to have a Jeep that was a stick shift, and with a stick shift transmission, you can start the car without the battery having any charge at all. You just hold down the clutch and you get someone to push the car or you roll down a hill, and if you get going fast enough, you just release the clutch really fast, and the car will start, and you can drive it just like normal, even though it doesn’t have a working battery. 

We humans tend to treat God’s grace like this. We think that we just need a little push, but then we are going to be fine. We don’t really need anything after that. 

God’s grace is not just something that helps kick-start the Christian life for us. We don’t start by grace and then live by works. We start by God’s grace and we walk by God’s grace. We always need the gospel. We never stop needing it. 

If it weren’t for the grace of God keeping our spiritual heart beating, we would flee from holiness. We would flee from what is good for our souls. 

So now, we have some definitions out in front of us. We have, I hope, a basic understanding of what this word means, but let’s start to wrestle with this a bit. 

Living out our sanctification is hard. Rejecting sin is hard. We are so used to our sin. It’s comfortable for us. Even for us who have been Christians for longer periods of time, there are still sins that we don’t even realize are sins. We are like the old man who has had the same mattress for the last 60 years, and he doesn’t know why his back is in horrible pain, but he also doesn’t want to get rid of his mattress. 

We love the very things that destroy us. It’s easy to jump into gossip. It’s relaxing to lay down into immorality. It’s calming to vent our anger. It calms our anxiety to embrace greed. 

But these aren’t just things that we’re used to. In ourselves, we would be in bondage to them. Romans 6 is an incredibly helpful passage as we seek to understand sanctification. 

I actually want to read the entire chapter as we consider this together. 

Why should we pursue sanctification?

Romans 6:1-23, 

  • Because we have been given new life and our old self is dead (6:1-4)

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."

  • Because we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (6:5-14)

"5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." 

  • Because you are slaves to righteousness, not lawlessness (6:15-19)

"15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification." 

  • Because your new master gives you eternal life instead of eternal death (6:20-23)

"20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." 

Some Other Realities: 


  1. Begins at salvation

Sanctification must begin with Regeneration. You can’t grow in Christ if you haven’t been born into Christ. Regeneration is birth and sanctification is growth. 

Imagine a couple who doesn’t have any kids, but they are talking about trying to have their first baby. Would you ever walk up to that couple and ask if their son can come mow your yard for you? No! She isn’t even pregnant yet. 

Growth and maturity can’t happen until someone is conceived. Until they are given life. 

Sanctification only begins after salvation, specifically after regeneration. 

When the Spirit gives us a new heart, we are able to feel the way we should feel and desire the way that we should desire. And where the spirit is, there is liberty. There is freedom. Freedom to live in righteousness–just like we read in Romans 6. Think of the fruit of the spirit. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, and so on. These fruits are the fruits of spiritual life. 

Sanctification begins at salvation. 

  1. Concludes at death 

1 John 1:8 says that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Brothers and sisters, the battle for holiness is a battle that we will fight until the day that we die. 

Our sanctification will not be completed in this life. 

The idea that we can reach total perfection in this life is called perfectionism, and it just doesn’t seem to reckon with what Scripture says and with our own experience. Perhaps someone can get very close, but sin is always crouching at the door, ready to pounce. 

  1. Will find its consummation at the Return of Jesus

The process of sanctification ends at death, but all of our sanctification and growth in holiness is toward the same end. It’s looking to that day when we’ll be made like Christ. Lord willing, we’ll talk more about this in a couple of weeks when we cover glorification, so I’m not going to spend too much time on it here. 

  1. Is often messy

We just have to be honest here. For starters, people don’t always come to Jesus all shiny with that new car smell. 

Come as you are. That’s exactly how we come to Christ. Messy. 

In fact, for most of us, I think that even if we look shiny when we come to Jesus, the honesty that God calls us to starts to show how much we stunk. 

And while we are on the topic of messiness, let’s just be honest with ourselves. All of us have messes. We need help. Our hearts are still prone toward sin. We are free from it, but we still know exactly where our old master lives. 

But by the grace of God, we are being sanctified. 

The chart on the screen helps show some of what this usually looks like for us. 

But notice this, the line is always trending upward. Brother and sister, think back to years ago and how far the Lord has brought you. As we battle with sin, it can be discouraging. Sin, confession, repentance, holiness, sin, confession, repentance, holiness. 

But as we continue to walk with the Lord, we can see progress. It might be slow, but it’s there. 

Come as you are, but don’t stay there. 

So how does God usually accomplish our sanctification? 

  1. Is Accomplished by God through means

What are some examples of the means that God uses to make us progressively more like Christ? 

Exposure to the Word of God

The ordinances


Church discipline (both proactive and reactive)


What do all of these have in common? 

They are things that the church does together. 

Sanctification is a team sport. 

It’s something that we do together. 

With each other and for each other. This is why our church covenant is written the way that it is. We were adopted into the family of God, and now we live together as a family helping each other grow in Christ-likeness, this is why we see in places like Ephesians 4, and Colossians 2 where Paul talks about the body building itself up. Different parts with different purposes, all building each other up as the body of Christ.

We speak the word of God to each other. We remind each other. As we read the call to worship and sing and read the middle read and listen to the sermon and listen to the benediction. As we counsel each other during the week. 

As we remember the New Covenant through the Lord’s Supper. As we watch brothers and sisters profess their faith in baptism. These all remind us of who we are, and they steel us for the task. 

Living in community together is the chief means by which God sanctifies us. 

We are like soldiers on the battlefront. Bullets are whizzing past your head and bombs are going off close by, and in that moment, you want to turn and run, but your sergeant is somewhere close by saying, “Hold, brothers!” And with that small word, you gain the courage to stand and fight. That is how God sanctifies us. 

  1. Effects the whole person

We have the tendency to try and separate different pieces of ourselves as we consider things like this. We tend to say that maybe I think rightly, but I don’t feel rightly. Or maybe something different. I feel rightly, but I don’t want the right things. 

We can’t fall into this thinking. God doesn’t only want your thoughts. God doesn’t only want your feelings. He wants all of you. The work of the Holy Spirit sanctifying you will affect every single piece of your being. 

Knowledge - Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Emotions - 1 Pt. 2:11-12, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Will - Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Physical Body - 2 Cor 7:1, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

  1. Leads to joy

It leads to joy. 

Not necessarily comfort, but joy. In fact, sanctification will usually feel very uncomfortable. It may even be that the Lord is disciplining you but consider this. 

Hebrews 12:1–2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We have an example of walking through difficulty for the sake of a greater joy, so may we follow it. 

And finally,

  1. Is the work of God in us, so proceed with humility

  • James 4:5-10, “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 


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