Obviously, there is no agreement on the above in orthodox Christianity. The problem lies basically in the answers to two key questions:
1. Is sanctification actual or potentially complete or incomplete?
2. Is sanctification a crisis or process?
The evidence from Scripture, reason, and experience leads to the conclusion that sanctification is both a process and a crisis. This process begins when one is “raised with Christ.” Calvin is right; the dynamic for sanctification is to be found in union with Christ. That is the starting point. Yet, there is the dynamic of faith, which involves trusting in and resting on the recourses of Christ and the Spirit, making them our own. That often is the result of a crisis or process, or both.
Christ’s command to take up our cross daily implies that sanctification is a daily process.
Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
In Paul’s theology, believers are “born crucified,” which also was the apostle’s personal experience.
Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life (Romans 6:3-4).
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20 NIV).
After presenting in Romans, the doctrines of sin, salvation and sanctification, Paul urges his readers to take action.
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).
Both Crisis and process are present in Paul’s urging.
1. “To present [parasthsai parastesai first aorist active infinitive] your bodies as a living sacrifice” implies that this action is a one time free and voluntary offering, which continues as an act of devoting ourselves to God. To present is a completed act summed up in its
conclusion; therefore a crisis.
2. “Be transformed [metamorfousye metamorphousthe present passive imperative] by the renewing of your mind” implies this action is continued; therefore a process.
According to Romans 6, there are six action steps for taking up one’s cross daily for God’s grace to reign in righteousness in the believer.
1-10 Recognizing Know Mind
11 Reckoning Count Heart
12 Rejecting Refuse Will
13-14 Relying Offer Will
15-17 Resigning Obey Heart
18-19 Reigning Slave Mind
In Romans 7, Paul addresses the believer’s struggle with sin. In Romans 8, the apostle sets forth the victory in the Spirit that the Law could not bring about, which the believer experiences when taking the six action steps.
THE NEW LAW (1-4)
No more condemnation for sin, 1
No more control by sin, 2
No more continuance in sin, 3-4
THE NEW LORD (5-13)
The Spirit controls our minds—thoughts, 5-7
The Spirit controls our motives—attitudes, 8-9
The Spirit controls our members—actions, 10-13
THE NEW LIFE (14-39)
Sonship and adoption, 14-17
Sonship and adaptation, 18-27
Sonship and appointment, 28-30
Sonship and assurance, 31-39
Paul’s point is that the believer cannot go on living in sin. His logic is impeccable:
1. We receive forgiveness of sins through Christ
2. This reception involves being united to Christ
3. The Christ to whom we are united, died to sin
4. Since we are united to Him, we also have died to sin
5. If we have died to sin, we cannot continue living in it
6. Therefore, we cannot continue in sin that grace may increase
Death to sin and life to God is sanctification. But what is the nature of this death and life? Death does not mean that the believer is no longer capable of sin, for that would contradict Scripture (1 John 1:8-10) and run counter to actual experience. Paul understands that the Christian continues to battle with sin.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. (Romans 6:12-13).
The key to Paul’s exposition on sanctification in chapters 6-8 of Romans is the phrase “do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies.” Look at how he introduced his exposition on sanctification.
The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21).
Therefore, sanctification is twofold: God’s grace of righteousness and the believer’s responsibility not to let sin reign in his life. The believers have been set free from the reign of sin and must appropriate God’s righteousness by yielding to their new Lord, the Spirit.
Broadly speaking, sanctification is the work of God’s grace in the believer’s perfection in righteousness. Hence, sanctification focuses on the costly, ethical demands of the Christian faith. It calls for a radical response for the goal of sanctification is holiness—a life set apart to God and godliness. Sanctification is holiness, bearing an actual likeness to God.
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” (1 Peter 1:15-16 NIV; Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7).
Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
Therefore, experiential sanctification is pursuing holiness and appropriating the Spirit’s power for life, godliness and holiness. Since God’s divine power has been given us (grace); experiential sanctification is paramount for growing in the grace (divine power) and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). According to Paul’s testimony, ultimate sanctification is a goal to be pursued.
My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead. Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:10-12).
In the NT, positional sanctification is found in the term “elect” or “chosen” denoting the fact that the believers belong to God.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
Since believers are positionally sanctified, they are to conduct themselves accordingly, which is experiential sanctification. This sanctification is a pilgrimage (Pilgrim’s Progress) and conflict (“The Holy War”). The conflict is the result of our being in Christ and yet, at the same time, living in the world as seen in Paul’s first letter to the saints “in Corinth” and “in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
Therefore dear friends, since we have such promises, we should wash ourselves clean from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, making our sanctification complete in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).
At regeneration commences the process of sanctification, “being transforned” by the power of the Spirit.
We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Certainly, the divine goal of sanctification is the renewal in the image of Christ for those of the Church of Jesus Christ.
For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29). In the NT, sanctification is conformity to Christ and the Law.
What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).
Consequently, the Law of God remains the standard of holiness for the NT believer. Now believers endeavor to fulfill the Law, not in order to be justified because they have already been justified, not in the flesh but in the Spirit, not out of merit-seeking but out of the response of faith, which works by the love of God poured into the heart by the Spirit of God (Romans 5:5). Hence, positional sanctification and experiential sanctification are supernatural—the work of the Holy Spirit.
Justification and sanctification are not separate in time (1 Corinthians 6:11), for God’s justifying act set the sinner apart for holiness. In justification, God at the beginning of the Christian life declares the believer righteous. In sanctification, God accomplishes His will in the believer who pursues righteousness, which is Christ’s command.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you (Matthew 6:33).
The Spirit enlightens the mind of the believer to discern spiritual realities of the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and both are to be sought by the Christian.