What is progressive sanctification?
Progressive sanctification is the process in a Christian’s life in which he or she is made progressively more holy. The word “sanctify” means to “set apart, make holy.” Sanctification has three aspects: (1) Positional sanctification, (2) Progressive sanctification, and (3) Ultimate sanctification.
Positional sanctification is the fact that God declares a Christian to be absolutely holy the moment he or she believes in Jesus Christ. When God looks at a Christian, He sees the righteousness and holiness of Christ. Ultimate sanctification is what occurs at death, when a Christian is absolutely and permanently free from the very presence of sin and is perfected in God’s sight. 1 John 3:2 describes ultimate sanctification, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” So, progressive sanctification is the process of taking what we are positionally, and what we will be ultimately – and progressively making it reality in our Christian life.
In 1 Corinthians 1:2, the Apostle Paul describes the relationship between positional sanctification and progressive sanctification, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy…” Christians are both “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “called to be holy.” The Greek words for “sanctified” and “holy” are from the same root word. A Christian is holy and called to be holy at the same time.
The process of progressive sanctification is described in Galatians 5:19-23. Progressive sanctification is the journey of producing less and less of the acts of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19-21) and more and more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Progressive sanctification is a process empowered by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and enabled through prayer and the study of God’s Word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The Bible declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17)! Progressive sanctification is the calling of every Christian. We are all called to become more and more like Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:15-16 reminds us, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” It should be our goal each and every day to become more set apart for God and His purposes.