10 Key Bible Verses on Sanctification

10 Key Bible Verses on Sanctification

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

1. John 17:17

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. Read More

Sanctify them. The sanctification of Christians is a lifelong process. It involves both a relational component (separation from participating in and being influenced by evil) and a moral component (growth in holiness or moral purity in attitudes, thoughts, and actions). This occurs in the truth, that is, as Christians believe, think, and live according to “the truth” in relation to God, themselves, and the world. This truth comprises the entire Bible, for Jesus says, your word is truth. The Greek word is surprisingly not an adjective (meaning “your word is true”) but a noun (alētheia, “truth”). This implies that God’s Word does not simply conform to some other external standard of “truth,” but that it is truth itself; that is, it embodies truth and it therefore is the standard of truth against which everything else must be tested and compared.

2. Hebrews 10:14

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Read More

Perfected for all time does not mean that believers are now already sinless, but that Christ has fully earned their perfection, which will certainly be applied to Christians in God’s good time. The eternal perfection (see Heb. 11:40; Heb. 12:23) of the saints stems from the once-for-all-nature of Jesus’ sacrifice. Hence, believers look to Christ and not to themselves for a cleansed conscience, full forgiveness of sins, and total flawlessness in the future. those who are being sanctified (i.e., those who are made holy; Heb. 2:11; Heb. 10:10; Heb. 13:12). The Greek present participle allows for the idea of progressive sanctification in this life and/or present positional sanctification of the believer as one who from the start is deemed perfectly holy (see Heb. 10:10; and “saints” in Heb. 6:10; Heb. 13:24).

3. 1 Corinthians 6:11

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. Read More

washed. This refers to the spiritual cleansing from the guilt and dominating power of sin that occurs at regeneration (see Titus 3:5) and that is symbolized in the “washing” of baptism (Acts 22:16). sanctified. This is a similar concept, in this instance meaning that an initial break with the love of sin, and with the power and practice of sin, occurs at regeneration (see Acts 20:32; Rom. 6:11; 2 Cor. 5:17). However, in another sense “sanctification” is also an ongoing process in the Christian life (Rom. 6:19; Phil. 3:13–14; Heb. 12:1, 14; see also note on 1 Cor. 1:2). justified. The Greek term is dikaioō and is the positive counterpart to the terms “unrighteous,” “suffer wrong,” and “wrong” in 1 Cor. 6:1, 7–8, and 9 (see notes on those verses). Here Paul uses dikaioō not in its ethical sense (“be seen to be righteous”) but in its judicial sense (“declare righteous”). God has already declared the Corinthian Christians to be “righteous” (see Rom. 5:1; 8:1, 33). God was able to do this because the “righteousness” that belongs to Christ, due to his perfect life, has become “our . . . righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30; see also 2 Cor. 5:21). Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 6:1–11 is that the Corinthians need to live in a way that is consistent with this verdict and status.

4. Philippians 2:12–13

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Read More

The Philippians have obeyed (cf. Christ’s obedience, Phil. 2:8) in the past and should continue to do so as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling. They cannot be content with past glories but need to demonstrate their faith day by day as they nurture their relationship with God. But while God’s justice is a cause for sober living (“fear and trembling”), it is not as though Paul wants the Philippians to be anxious that they can never be good enough to merit God’s favor. Rather, it is God’s love and enabling grace that will see them through: it is God who works in you. They can rejoice in God’s empowering presence even as they work hard at living responsible Christian lives. While Phil 2:12 may seem to suggest salvation by works, it is clear that Paul rejects any such teaching (cf. Phil. 3:2–11). In Phil. 2:12 Paul means “salvation” in terms of progressively coming to experience all of the aspects and blessings of salvation. The Philippians’ continued obedience is an inherent part of “working out” their salvation in this sense. But as Phil. 2:13 demonstrates, these works are the result of God’s work within his people. both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Even the desire (“to will”) to do what is good comes from God; but he also works in the believer to generate actual choices of the good, so that the desires result in actions. (On fear of God, see notes on Acts 5:5; Acts 9:31.)

5. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Read More

new creation. The redemption of a people who now live for Christ by living for others, effected by the power of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:3, 6, 18) and the death of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14–15), is the beginning of the new creation that was destined to come amid this evil age (see Isa. 43:18–19; Isa. 65:17–23; Isa. 66:22–23). This new creation is also the beginning of Israel’s final restoration from God’s judgment in the exile (see the context of Isa. 43:1–21; Isa. 65:17–25).

6. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Read More

Prayer, Assurance, and Conclusion. Just as the first half of the letter ended with a pastoral prayer that the Thessalonians be marked by holiness at the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 3:11–13), this half does too. However, here Paul adds reassurance (1 Thess. 5:24). God of peace. God initiated the reconciliation of Christians with himself and is now at peace with them. Spirit, soul, and body represent the entirety of human nature. It seems unlikely that this is a tripartite division of human nature into body, soul, and spirit, where “spirit” and “soul” would refer to different parts; more likely Paul is simply using several terms for emphasis. For similar ways of expressing the totality of human nature see Matt. 10:28; Mark 12:30; 1 Cor. 7:34. There is no need for the Thessalonians to worry about whether they will be sufficiently holy and blameless at the coming of the Lord. God is faithful, and he will surely make it happen.

7. Philippians 1:6

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Read More

Paul is sure about God’s commitment to the Philippians. The foundation for spiritual growth is recognizing that it is God who began a good work in you and will bring it to completion. Genuine spiritual progress is rooted in what God has done, is doing, and will do. His faithfulness ensures that he will be with believers until Jesus returns (the day of Jesus Christ; cf. 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2–11; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 20:11–21:8). They can have confidence that the God who has saved them will never let them go, and that they will inherit their eternal reward.

8. John 15:1–5

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Read More

The divine vinedresser does two things to ensure maximum fruit production: (1) he removes unfruitful branches, and (2) he prunes all the others (cf. Heb. 6:7–8). Does not bear fruit seems to indicate that the person symbolized by such a branch is not a true believer (see John 15:6, 8). In that case, in me is just a loose connection needed to make the metaphor of a vine work, reflecting a claim to be Christ’s that is not genuine and not implying actual regeneration or true belief. This then would be one of several verses in John showing that not all who follow Jesus for a time and hear his teaching are genuine believers (cf. John 6:66; also John 13:10–11 on Judas). Others understand these branches to represent true believers who are “unfruitful” for various reasons. In favor of this view is the fact that Jesus says such branches are “in me,” and that seems parallel to being “in Christ,” as only believers are. However, these unfruitful branches appear to be the same branches that are “thrown away” and “burned” in John 15:6, which seems clearly to be a picture of final judgment. Fruit is an image for good results coming from the life of a believer, probably in terms of bringing benefit to the lives of others and advancing the work of God in the world (see Matt. 13:8; cf. Gal. 5:22–23 for a different image of “fruit” as changed character). he takes away. The Greek verb airō can also mean “lifts up” in certain contexts, and some use this to argue that this means God “lifts up” unfruitful branches from the ground so that they will become more fruitful. This interpretation is taken by those who think the branches represent true believers who are not fruitful. But this sense seems less likely because the unfruitful branches in John 15:6 are “thrown into the fire, and burned,” which is an image of final judgment. “He prunes” gives a picture of painful but necessary removal of some interests and activities in order that the remaining branches may bear even more fruit. The word translated “prunes” (Gk. kathairō) often means “to clean,” and has the same root as the adjective katharos, translated “clean” in John 15:3.

9. Eph 4:20–24

But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Read More

put off your old self. As Christians seek to do this, God makes it a reality, as seen in Col. 3:9–10. Even Paul’s Gentile readers can be part of the new creation in Christ. (As the ESV footnote indicates, “self” is the generic Gk. for “man” or “human”—perhaps an allusion to Adamic man apart from Christ.) Ephesians 4:22 describes the negative side of regeneration, while Eph. 4:23–24 point to the positive side. corrupt. People need inner transformation because their hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).

renewed. Paul expressed the negative side of the new creation in v. 22 as putting off the “old self,” while Eph 4:23–24 express the positive side as an entire transformation of believers’ inner selves, focusing here on their minds (see also John 3:3–6; Col. 3:9–10). Christians sometimes distinguish between knowledge of head and of heart, but the Bible shows that they should love and serve the Lord with all that is in them, including their minds, at all times (Deut. 6:5; 10:12; 13:3; Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). The “renewal” or “transformation” of the mind (Rom. 12:2) is a process in which believers begin to think in new and right ways as they meditate on the truths of God’s Word.

put on the new self (lit., “man”; see note on v. 22). Paul focuses on the individual aspect of the corporate “new man” as described in 2:15. Believers are created anew in Christ (see also Eph. 2:10). Created after the likeness* of God further shows the connection with the original creation in Genesis, where “God created man in his own image” (Gen. 1:27; cf. 1 Cor. 15:49).

10. Romans 6:1–11

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Read More

Paul is likely responding to a question posed regularly by his Jewish opponents. They did not raise this question so that they would have an excuse to sin, though in every age some have wrongly interpreted and applied Paul’s gospel of grace to rationalize sin. Instead, Paul’s opponents argued that his gospel must be mistaken since, in their view, it led people to continue in sin. Paul will now show why their interpretation of his gospel is mistaken.

Paul’s gospel does not lead to more sin, since those who belong to Christ have died to sin (as explained in the following verses).

Christians died to sin when they were baptized into Christ. Paul is not arguing that baptism magically destroys the power of sin. Baptism is an outward, physical symbol of the inward, spiritual conversion of Christians.

In the early church, baptism was probably by immersion, at least as a general rule, though Christians dispute whether such a practice must always be followed literally today. Therefore, baptism pictures a person being buried with Christ (submersion under water) and being raised to new life with Christ (emergence from water). This symbolizes the person’s union with, and incorporation into, Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit. Hence, they now have the power to live in newness of life.

The power of sin has been broken in those who believe, for their old self (lit., “old man,” meaning who they were in Adam) was crucified and put to death with Christ. They were born into the world as sinners, with the result that their bodies were ruled by sin. Body of sin refers to the rule of sin, but without excluding the involvement of the personal self that lives through the body. Sin’s rule, however, was broken when Christians died with Christ, and therefore they are no longer enslaved to sin. Paul does not argue that Christians do not sin at all (a view called sinless perfection); instead, the tyranny, domination, and rule of sin have been defeated for them. This means that the normal pattern of life for Christians should be progressive growth in sanctification, resulting in ever greater maturity and conformity to God’s moral law in thought and action.

One who has died means one who has died with Christ.

died to sin. Jesus died because he took sin upon himself, but his resurrection demonstrates that he has defeated both sin and death.

Dead to sin means dead to the pervasive love for and ruling power of sin. Christians must realize that the mastery of sin has been broken in their lives.

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