Sanctification: Definition (Categorization) – Pt. 3


Some have been taught a system of categorizing sanctification into four parts or sequences, but this is simply bad theology.[1] For what is mentioned in the first of the four sequences ought to be termed otherwise as to reserve sanctification its precise definition and clarity; e.g., what one may call ‘Preparational Sanctification’ is simply the theology of God’s election. What one may call ‘Positional Sanctification’ is better maintained by the term justification, and what one may call ‘Prospective Sanctification’ is better maintained by the term glorification. Yet, in this system, what one may call ‘Practical Sanctification’ is best fitted to what a respectable theologian may deem true and precise sanctification. The classification mentioned has its value, but not in regards to the desired exactitude of the following study.

Justification and Sanctification

Martin Luther was revolutionarily concerned with justification sola fide, but “paid scant attention to sanctification.”[2] John Calvin and other reformers agreed with Luther on justification, but “insisted that the God who justifies is also the One who sanctifies” and purposely sanctions the justified with “the power for holiness of life.”[3] Therefore, before proceeding, it may be appropriate to display holiness’ distinction from righteousness, or even better, sanctification’s distinction from justification. Conversely, Schreiner upholds that “in Pauline thought” sanctification and justification “are overlapping metaphors that portray God’s work in Christ for his people.”[4] Further, Fitzmyer states that sanctification in Romans “is simply saying the same thing under a different image: as does justification, so sanctification also transfers the baptized Christian to the dominion of Christ.”[5] The two doctrine’s agreement will be dissected further at a latter point, but the correspondence is noted. Systematic Theology pleads and digs for distinctions, and must have its limit. Nonetheless, distinctions provide clarifications, and there are certainly distinctions that allow sanctification and justification its rightful place according to Schreiner and Fitzmyer. Yes, one must remember that justification and sanctification are dependent upon one another, and therefore should not be separated, but this does not deny each their idiosyncrasy. In the observance of one there can be no robbery of the other. Justification is promoted and provoked by righteousness, sanctification is evermore fueled by holiness. Holiness is typically defined as a ‘setting apart’ but also implies a relation to the divine. Righteousness is a state of vindication or declaration. It simply surfaces that ‘holiness’ is more concerned with the ethic in a man. Justification does not necessarily “touch the soul of man” and may be deemed “extra nos – outside ourselves… However, in regard to sanctification… the work of God through faith does indeed touch the soul, and change it.”[6] Further, both begin and are wrought by God’s divine hand, but not in same form or function. “Justification is an act of God’s reckoning; sanctification is an act of God’s transforming.”[7] Another major difference is found in the consideration of procession and gradation.

“Justification is an event that happens at a point in time, and is not an ongoing act of God as sanctification is. Not only that, justification is not an act that comes in varying degrees, but one that is a once-for-all and total reckoning of righteousness to us for Christ’s sake. It is not mediated to us in varying measures as sanctification is. ”[8]

Therefore it is safe to assert such distinctions as viable cause to view sanctification in its independent singularity. With the provided framework and definition, one may move forward into methodical aspects of the doctrine of sanctification.


[1] The sequence of sanctification mentioned begins with preparational, then positional, then practical, and lastly prospective. Preparational sanctification seeks to illuminate that God preordains and prepares the one’s whom He sanctifies, and that He does so through election and discipline. Positional sanctification’s focus: God separates one as Holy through their submission to the truth of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and their redemption is now sealed. Practical sanctification’s focus: God continually and progressively works in the heart that has submitted to His will and follows after the glory of God in obedience to Him. Prospective sanctification focuses on the time of judgment, when a Christian does stand completely holy.


[2] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, 10 ed. (New York: Prince Press, 2010), 206.


[3] Ibid., 206.


[4] Schreiner, Romans, 245.


[5] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York, NY: Anchor Bible, 1993), 445.


[6] John Piper, Future Grace (Britain: Multnomah Books, 2005), 26.


[7] Ibid., 26.


[8] Ibid., 402.


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