The Baptist Faith and Message concludes Article IV by describing sanctification and glorification: “Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life. Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.” As the Bible teaches, The Baptist Faith and Message affirms that sanctification is both objective and progressive and that glorification is the culmination of sanctification.
The New Testament often speaks about sanctification in objective terms. Though it is most common for us to think about sanctification in its progressive sense (see below), the New Testament just as often speaks of sanctification objectively. Sanctification is not only something that we do over time, but something that God does to us at the moment of conversion. Consider Paul’s statement:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 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.1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Paul is contrasting the Corinthians’ past lifestyle as unbelievers and their present reality as Christians. Some of the Corinthian Christians were formerly fornicators, idolaters, and thieves. But Paul says they are now Christians; they are those who at some point in the past were “washed,” which Paul elsewhere uses as a metaphor for regeneration (Titus 3:5), and justified, which we know happens at conversion when a person trusts in Christ for salvation (Rom 3:21-26). Likewise, being sanctified in 1 Corinthians 6:11 is a conversion experience. When the Holy Spirit regenerates a person so that they immediately repent and believe the gospel, the Holy Spirit likewise sanctifies that person. He sets them apart to God as holy.
Furthermore, when Christ came into the world, He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will,” in fulfillment of Psalm 40:8 (Heb 10:9). The author of Hebrews then draws out an implication of this quotation: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). The sanctification present in this verse is not progressive but punctiliar. It takes place not over time but at one moment. Jesus’s obedience to the will of God, even unto death on the cross, set us apart to God as holy. That sanctification that He accomplished at the cross gets applied to us at conversion.
But Hebrews 10 goes on to affirm progressive sanctification, as well. By his self-sacrifice, Jesus “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14). We are set apart to God as holy when we are born again. But we become increasingly holy (or should, as Christians) over the course of the rest of our lives on earth as Christians. As our statement of faith says, we “progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in [us].”
God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3). The Holy Spirit is at work in us as Christians. Nevertheless, we actively work out our salvation as God is actively at work within us (Phil 2:12-13). So Peter goes on to command us: “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Pet 1:5-7).
And Paul agrees with Peter. As Christians, we are freed from the domination of the flesh, and we are constrained instead by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9-10). This reality gives us hope of eternal resurrection (Rom 8:11). As those indwelled by the Spirit, we are indebted to Him, not our flesh (Rom 8:12). And we have the great promise: “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).
The End of Sanctification
Continuing in Romans 8, Paul shows that the end or goal of sanctification is glorification. God set us apart as holy at regeneration, He empowers us to be increasingly holy for the rest of our lives on earth, and He will make us perfectly holy in body as well as in spirit at the Second Coming of Christ. We have been redeemed, but we still “wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23). At death, we depart to be with the Lord spiritually in heaven (Phil 1:21; 2 Cor 5:8). At death, our spirits are set free from sinning, but our bodies lie “asleep” in the grave. However, at the resurrection, we will receive glorified bodies, and we will never again sin, either in spirit or body.
The apostle John makes this connection between present sanctification and future glorification clear: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). In heaven, we will have glorified bodies, free from sin. If we are living for that eternal reality, then we will progressively purify ourselves more and more as we live our lives on earth.
The early church pastor-theologian Augustine had a biblically-faithful rubric for thinking through people’s relationship to sin:
- Adam and Eve before the Fall: able not to sin, able to sin
- Unsaved people after the Fall: not able not to sin
- Saved people after the Fall: able not to sin
- Glorified people in eternity: not able to sin
In terms of redemptive history, we Christians find ourselves in a state similar to Adam and Eve but better, for we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who is empowering us to gain victory over sin in this life. In the new heavens and new earth, we will find ourselves in the best position of all: fully free from the presence of sin, unable to sin at all, whether in feeling, thought, word, or deed. Surely this hope will make us cry out with John, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).