The Scripture makes clear that in one sense our sanctification is something already accomplished for us by the completed work of Christ on the cross as was made clear by the author of Hebrews, who wrote, “For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (10:14). As our substitute, the death of Christ has satisfied the justice of God, which demanded that “the soul that sins shall die.” By his resurrection Jesus has demonstrated that death, which is the judgment of God on sin, is conquered and, as a consequence, the bondage of the believer to sin is broken. As a result of the salvation accomplished for us, we are set free to live the life God desires for us.
John Webster, professor of systematic theology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, in his little book titled Holiness, summarizes sanctification in a carefully constructed and succinct way:
The sanctification of the Christian is the work of the Holy Trinity in which the reconciled sinner is renewed for the active life of holy fellowship with God. Grounded in the electing, reconciling and perfecting work of Father, Son and Spirit the active life of holy fellowship is the work of faith, which is at every moment characterized by mortification and vivification, and which is actual as freedom, obedience, and love.
He clearly articulates the biblical teaching that sanctification has its origin in the decree of God that was made before all events relating to creating beings, so that God knew certain people as his own, having predestined them to be sanctified and thus conformed to the image of his Son. Christ himself, by his sinless life of obedience to the law of God and his perfect death as a sacrifice to make atonement for the sins of his people, has made that purposed conformity possible for fallen sinners. His work is then applied when by the ministry of the Holy Spirit that work of the Son is applied when the sinner is justified and the new life is breathed into the dead soul, which then displays itself and grows until there is a final glorification at the resurrection of the dead.
Sanctification is seen thereby to be a continuous and lifelong process that is a work of the Triune God. The Father has decreed the sanctification of his people, and the Spirit accomplishes that work as Paul makes clear: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).
The Spirit applies the work of the Son “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
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