The word ‘sanctification’ does not communicate very well in our society today. It carries with it the idea of strict piety sanctimoniousness and self-righteousness which are odious to most people.

The words sanctification and holiness are now used so frequently to represent the moral and spiritual qualities of a person that they don’t convey the true meaning of the word. You frequently hear someone say, ‘I’m no saint.’

The KJV often places the word ‘Saint’ in front of the names of the writers of the New Testament, thus indicating spiritual superiority.

The doctrine of Canonization of Saints shows the complete misunderstanding people have of this Bible word. There is a prevalent doctrine that says one can reach a state of sinless perfection. John Wesley’s doctrine of ‘Sanctification’ has permeated the thinking of many religious people, especially Pentecostalism.

This doctrine teaches that at conversion one is an incomplete Christian. At a later time, one can go on to obtain sanctification which is an instantaneous religious experience. At that point, one becomes holy and does not sin anymore although one may make mistakes.

This concept is entirely false and is not what is under consideration in the word ‘sanctify.’ It contradicts John’s statement to Christians.

‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ 1 John 1:8

It is very important that we have a correct understanding of sanctification. The Greek New Testament word is ‘hagios’ which is often translated as ‘holy’ or ‘saint.’ However, the meaning of the word is simply ‘to separate.’ It is used in the New Testament to convey the relationship between God the Christian and the world.

The word ‘justification’ which often defined as ‘making righteous’ thus some confuse sanctification with justification. Sanctification can refer to moral goodness within a person yet there is a vast difference between our moral goodness (righteousness) which Isaiah calls ‘filthy rags’. Isaiah 64:6, and the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ which is imputed to us by God on the basis of our justification, Galatians 2:16.

Thus, God substitutes the perfect faith of Jesus for our own weak frail faith. Sanctification differs from justification in two important ways.

First, justification is an act of God which takes place outside the sinner whereby He acquits the penitent believer of his guilt and punishment and restores him to a state of sonship. Man contributes nothing to it. It does not directly change the inner life or moral strength of the sinner.

For example, it does not take away the thief’s temptation to steal or the alcoholic’s desire to drink. This is where sanctification does its work. It takes place in the inner life of a man and gradually separates him from worldly and temporal values. Sanctification moves the Christian increasingly toward identity with the image of Christ.

Second, justification is a once-for-all-times occurrence and something that is an instantaneous happening. It is not repeated over and over again as implied when we often pray, ‘Father, forgive us of all our sins since we last stood justified in thy sight.’

Justification is an act of God that is completed once and for all. One will never be more justified or less justified. Man is either wholly justified or he is not justified at all. In other words, the moment a sinner becomes a Christian, he is as justified as he will ever be.

In contrast, sanctification is a continuing process which is never complete in this life because we never stop growing into the image of Jesus. We shall never conform completely to the image of Christ until we see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.

Sinless perfection will take place only in heaven and not before. The Godhead plays a part in our sanctification by helping us to overcome the world and its sin. We are not left alone to fight the battle of temptation and sin. Sanctification is a synergism (a cooperative work) in which both the Godhead and the Christian are involved.

First of all, man must diligently pursue the goal of sanctification. At the same time, the Godhead provides him with help. For example, the Spirit renders the Christian effective, 2 Timothy 1:13-14 / 2 Thessalonians 2:13 / 1 Corinthians 2:13-14.

Thus, the Word of God is a means for bringing about our sanctification. The Lord’s Supper subjectively brings the participant’s spirit into closer communion with the will of God.

This is a very private and personal moment on the Lord’s Day when we ‘examine ourselves’ and at the same time recall the great price Jesus paid for our sins with his death on the cross. It has the effect of humbling us, drawing us closer to the cross and motivating us to be more like Him.

Romans 6 clearly shows that baptism is a seal of an inner commitment to a new lifestyle.

‘Therefore, we were buried with Him by baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so, we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer serve sin.’ Romans 6:4-6

Certainly, prayer is very effective as we let our ‘requests be made known unto God.’ Also, John tells us that Jesus is our ‘advocate with the Father.’ We also have Jesus as our example, 1 Peter 2:21.

Good works are both a result and, contributory to sanctification. The two are intricately related. In the same way that the old unconverted life expressed itself in works of evil, the new life expresses itself in good works. Sanctification always results in good works. Good works are consistent with sanctification if we are not seeking to establish our own righteousness by meritorious deeds.

One of the reasons why the Pharisees did not accept Jesus was that all their works which they did to be seen by men, did not count with Him. He could see through their facade, Matthew 23:27.

Because they depended on their works, they became self-righteous. This is always a problem when people begin to depend on their good works. One can easily become self-righteous looking down on others, even fellow Christians.

The problem with earning our salvation is that we can convince ourselves that we have earned it by our own personal strength and knowledge without considering the part that God plays in our sanctification. The Pharisees felt they had reached a higher state than others therefore they were superior to others.

How much better to serve the Lord out of gratitude for his amazing grace than to depend on our works to get us to heaven. When works come because of gratitude then we realise how unworthy we are of God’s grace. There is no temptation to become self-righteous because our minds are focused on the love of Jesus and not on what we have obtained by our own strength.

In the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14, we see two extremes on the scale of piety. The Pharisee was very comfortable in his personal righteousness. In praying he did not ask for forgiveness; he felt no need for that. He did not thank God for all His blessings. He had come to call God’s attention to what a righteous person he was. He trusted in his own acts of merit. He fasted twice a week, he tithed, and he was not like other people, especially the tax collector.

The tax collector had no illusions about himself. He knew that he was a sinner. He made no claim upon God’s favour. He had no defence, nothing to offer God except a broken and contrite heart. He simply begged for God’s mercy. We are told that this man went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee. Why?

‘He who humbles himself will be exalted.’ ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,’ James 4:6

‘Love is not proud.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4

Is it not possible that we who are Christians can get into the same mindset as the Pharisees?

We have the right doctrine on salvation. We have the truth on how the church is to worship. We know how the New Testament church was organised in the first century. Pride can easily cause us to feel superior, with the result of looking down on others who may be in error. We need to keep reminding ourselves that even as Christians we sin and were it not for the grace of God there would be no hope even for the Christian.

People who fully accept the grace of God are so much more relaxed and happy than those who struggle with this Biblical concept. Think what your life can become if you fully accept the fact that, because of your obedient faith, God’s grace has already saved you.

The very reason you are engaged in good works is because you have been saved by the grace of God. With Paul, you can say, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’ Paul also said, ‘We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.’ Ephesians 2:10.

We are now free to be like Jesus. Do you serve God out of a heart so full of gratitude for his grace that has saved you already? Or do you work for God in order to stay on his good side in hopes that he will weigh your good works and find you deserving of salvation when you die?

While one can go to heaven on this basis yet it will yield a life of fear and weariness. It will rob you of the joy of your salvation. On the other hand, serving God out of gratitude for his grace will yield a life of joy and peace. The choice is ours.


1. How would you define sanctification?

Its basic meaning is ‘to separate’ or ‘set apart.’ It sets us apart from the world and draws us closer to the image of Christ.

2. Are you a saint?

All Christians are saints for all have been set apart for a holy purpose. We have been delivered from ‘the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love.’ Colossians 1:13.

3. Is ‘saint’ a title? It is often used in this manner.

4. Is sanctification ever completed so that one becomes sinless?

Never in this life. The apostle John reminds us ‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ It will only be completed when we ‘see Him as He is.’

5. How does sanctification differ from justification?

Justification acquits the penitent believer of his guilt and punishment and restores him to sonship with God. It is a one-time occurrence that occurs when one becomes a Christian.

In contrast, sanctification is a continuing process that takes place in the inner life of a man and gradually separates him from worldly and temporal values. It is a continuing process which is never complete in this life because we never stop growing into the image of Jesus.

6. Do some people try to save themselves by meritorious works?

Definitely yes. In the middle ages, there developed the penitential system in which men strove to pay for their own sins by doing penance, inflicting some kind of punishment upon themselves to make up for their wrongdoings thus escaping the condemnation by God.

It reached its climax in the doctrine of Purgatory, the belief that sins committed by Christians which have not been wiped out by acts of penance during a lifetime, must be punished in the afterlife in purgatory until claims against the sinner have been satisfied.

7. How does a legalistic person become entangled in sanctification?

He thinks he can stay on the good side of God by his good works.

8. Can we sanctify Jesus in our hearts?


9. Is sanctification a prerequisite to our salvation?

Yes, there must the desire to be like Jesus.

10. Does sanctification contribute to a feeling of welfare and satisfaction in my life?

Yes, because I have been set apart from the world and am no longer a servant to sin. I am now serving God out of gratitude and it is no longer my personal ego that lives but rather ‘Christ lives in me.’


"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."