The Bible’s Four Types of Sanctification: Getting our Vocabulary Right
I recently met up with a group of people, and their pastor/teacher, who have a non-standard definition of the overall concept of sanctification – or perhaps a very limited definition. After hearing for so long, within broader evangelicalism, about the different aspects of sanctification, and particularly about progressive sanctification, the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, I was surprised to read the following (from one in this group): “If we are in Christ and He is in us, then we have rested – completely ceased from any and all working and striving for justification and for sanctification. There is no more work to be done.”
On the surface, it appeared as what could be advocating perfection, with the use of the term sanctification in the same phrase as justification. Or at the very least, that the person has the terms and their meanings confused. In follow-up conversation, that individual cited Hebrews 10:10, which is one of the passages that describe the completed (positional) part of sanctification: “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” It turned out that what most Reformed evangelicals refer to as “progressive sanctification” means, to this group, “mortification,” with no understanding of the multiple tenses or types of sanctification. Also, their focus is on whether or not sanctification is “a work” to which we contribute versus something all of God (monergistic: their view): an unusual approach to the topic. Usually (in my experience) the topic of sanctification comes up, not as a question of “a work” or not, but in the general understanding of spiritual growth and an ongoing process, “progressive sanctification,” within which it is understood that God is the one who continues the work within us. (Phil. 1:6)
- Preparatory sanctification: the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to the cross. (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2)
- Positional sanctification: a process or a procedure takes place by which a believer, the moment that he believes, becomes in the sight of God holy. That is why believers in the New Testament are called saints. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
- Progressive sanctification: something that goes on daily constantly in the Christian life. It may have degrees; The Bible does speak about two degrees: about infants and about adults. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
- Prospective sanctification: the complete agreement of our position and our practice, and that will take place at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:23-24; Romans 8:29)
This experience also shows how important it is that like-minded Christians understand and use the same vocabulary. When the majority of Christians speak of sanctification in one way (understanding the concepts of positional versus progressive sanctification), and one group (that really does believe basically the same about this) uses the same words to mean different ideas – the positional sanctification and emphasis on “sanctification” already accomplished and done by the Lord, and calling the common term “progressive sanctification” by some other name – it does hinder communication, so that the terms have to be clearly defined before meaningful discussion can occur.