Sanctification – Part 1: Its Three Stages

Sanctification is growth in holiness and likeness to Christ. My family and I are currently studying it guided by Wayne Grudem’s chapter on it in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). Here I’ll share from what we’ve read in Grudem about its three stages and I’ll note how my church’s view of sanctification differs from Grudem’s view.

The Three Stages of Sanctification

Sanctification has a definite beginning when we are born again. Bible passages indicating this include:
– “He [God] saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
– “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).

Sanctification increases throughout our Christian lives. Bible passages indicating this include:
– “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” (Romans 6:19).
– “We all…are being transformed into the same image [the image of God] from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Sanctification is completed at death for our souls and when Jesus returns for our bodies. Bible passages indicating this include:
– “You have come to Mount Zion…to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23; souls).
– “From it [heaven] we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).

My Church’s View of Sanctification

I attend a church that is part of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador (PAONL), which includes this item in its “Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths”:

Entire sanctification is the will of God for all believers, and should be earnestly pursued by walking in obedience to God’s Word (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15,16; 1 Thessalonians 5:23,24; 1 John 2:6). In experience, this is both instantaneous and progressive. It is wrought out in the life of the believer by his appropriation of the power of Christ’s blood and risen life through the person of the Holy Spirit, as set forth in the Word of God. (General Constitution and By-Laws, The Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador, June 1998, page 7)

To understand what the item means by “instantaneous” and “progressive” sanctification, I reread Stanley M. Horton’s “The Pentecostal Perspective” in Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1987).

About instantaneous sanctification Horton says, “By Christ’s sacrifice, sinful persons are put into perfect relationship with God. We are sanctified, dedicated, consecrated, set apart for God and for His worship and service. As we walk with Jesus in simple faith, we are made partakers of the fruit of His obedience. We are set free to do God’s will” (page 116). Among the Bible passages that he cites are:
– “Because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
– “By that will [the will of God accomplished in Christ] we have been sanctified through the offering of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

Horton begins his consideration of progressive sanctification by citing several Bible passages that show that it is needed, such as Paul’s addressing the Corinthians as “people of the flesh [and] infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1) and his many exhortations to grow in grace including “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires…be renewed in the spirit of your minds…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteosness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Horton then describes continuous sanctification in much the same way as I describe it in the first half of this post and in my next post.

Although I appreciate from Horton’s account of the debate over holiness which took place among early Pentecostals why the PAONL refers to “instantaneous” and “progressive” sanctification in the item which I quoted above from its “Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths,” I find it easier to include “instantaneous” sanctification in justification and to limit sanctification to “progressive” sanctification, as Grudem does. Thus I’m limiting our family reading about sanctification to what Grudem says about it. However I welcome here comments favouring the PAONL position as well as those favouring Grudem’s view.

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