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The word sanctification (see -ification) refers to the act or process of making holy or setting apart (as special) and occurs five times in the Authorized Version of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 4:3,4, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2) translated from the Greek word αγιασμος (hagiasmos) "purification,"[1] which is from the root hagios (άγιος) which means holy or sacred.[2] The thing or process which is sanctified can be called a Sacrament.

To sanctify is literally “to set apart for special use or purpose,” figuratively “to make holy or sacred,” and etymologically from the Latin verb sanctificare which in turn is from sanctus “holy” and facere “to make.”

Definition and description

The concept is widespread among religions, e.g. modernly, among the branches of the Protestant-Reformed and Wesleyan-Arminian Christian traditions. The term denotes both inanimate objects set apart for special purposes (e.g. the Solomon's Temple vessels) and the change brought about in a believer. Inanimate objects and people are “made holy,” e.g. by the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation in which the bread and wine of Holy Communion are sanctified by being transformed “literally” into the flesh and blood of Jesus.

Eastern Orthodoxy

Orthodox Christianity believes in the doctrine of theosis, whereby humans take on divine properties. One of the key scriptures used to support this doctrine is 2 Peter 1:4 (NRSV):

Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.

Athanasius stated in the fourth century that Christ “assumed humanity that we might become God,”[3] i.e. “God became Man that Man might become God.”

The essence of this is not that man becomes divine, but that man in Christ is enabled to partake of the divine nature. The doctrine of theosis needs to be understood in the view of salvation expressed in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Eastern Orthodox view of salvation is about God's image being restored in man.

This is more than the customary Protestant concept of sanctification, however. In theosis, while there is no ontological change of humanity into deity, there is a very real impartation of the divine life to the whole human being——body and soul.[4]

In the Eastern Orthodox understanding of salvation one of the main themes is “release from the corruption and mortality caused by the evil desires of the world.”[5]

Eastern theology does not focus so much on guilt as on mortality as the main problem of humanity. In addition, in the East, the concept of sin is viewed as something human beings do and choose for themselves rather than something “hereditary” as a result of the first human beings' sin in the distant past.

Roman Catholicism

Sanctity according to the Catholic encyclopedia:

The term “sanctity” is employed in somewhat different senses in relation to God, to individual men, and to a corporate body. As applied to God it denotes the absolute moral perfection which is His by nature. In regard to men it signifies a close union with God, together with the moral perfection resulting from this union. Hence holiness is said to belong to God by essence, and to creatures only by participation. Whatever sanctity they possess comes to them as a Divine gift. As used of a society, the term means
  • that this society aims at producing holiness in its members, and is possessed of means capable of securing that result, and
  • that the lives of its members correspond, at least in some measure, with the purpose of the society, and display a real, not a merely nominal holiness.

It is further manifested that the Church's holiness must be of an entirely supernatural character —— something altogether beyond the power of unassisted human nature.

  • Another characteristic of holiness according to the Christian ideal is love of suffering; not as though pleasure were evil in itself, but because suffering is the great means by which our love of God is intensified and purified. All those who have attained a high degree of holiness have learnt [sic] to rejoice in suffering, because by it their love to God was freed from every element of self-seeking, and their lives conformed to that of their Master.


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Martin Luther taught in his Large Catechism that Sanctification is only caused by the Holy Spirit through the powerful Word of God. The Holy Spirit uses churches to gather Christians together for the teaching and preaching of the Word of God.

“Thus, until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He fetches us to Christ and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing it [this community] daily to grow and become strong in the faith and its fruits which He produces. We further believe that in this Christian Church we have forgiveness of sin, which is wrought through the holy Sacraments and Absolution, moreover, through all manner of consolatory promises of the entire Gospel [...] For although the grace of God is secured through Christ, and sanctification is wrought by the Holy Ghost through the Word of God in the unity of the Christian Church, yet on account of our flesh which we bear about with us we are never without sin [...] But outside of this Christian Church, where the Gospel is not, there is no forgiveness, as also there can be no holiness [sanctification]. Therefore all who seek and wish to merit holiness [sanctification], not through the Gospel and forgiveness of sin, but by their works, have expelled and severed themselves [from this Church] [...] Meanwhile, however, while sanctification has begun and is growing daily, we expect that our flesh will be destroyed and buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth gloriously, and arise to entire and perfect holiness in a new eternal life. For now we are only half pure and holy, so that the Holy Ghost has ever [some reason why] to continue His work in us through the Word, and daily to dispense forgiveness, until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people, full of godliness and righteousness, removed and free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body. Behold, all this is to be the office and work of the Holy Ghost, that He begin and daily increase holiness upon earth by means of these two things, the Christian Church and the forgiveness of sin. But in our dissolution He will accomplish it altogether in an instant, and will forever preserve us therein by the last two parts.”[6]

Luther also viewed the Ten Commandments as means by which the Holy Spirit sanctifies.

“Thus we have the Ten Commandments, a commend of divine doctrine, as to what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God, and the true fountain and channel from and in which everything must arise and flow that is to be a good work, so that outside of the Ten Commandments no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, however great or precious it be in the eyes of the world [...] whoever does attain to them is a heavenly, angelic man, far above all holiness of the world. Only occupy yourself with them, and try your best, apply all power and ability, and you will find so much to do that you will neither seek nor esteem any other work or holiness.”[7]


John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, taught a doctrine known as entire sanctification (in the Holiness movement churches such as the Church of the Nazarene, the Salvation Army, etc.) or Christian Perfection (in "mainstream" Methodist denominations such as the United Methodist Church, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, etc.). Wesley taught that by the power of God's sanctifying grace and attention upon the means of grace, a Christian may be cleansed of the corrupting influence of original sin in this life, though not every Christian experience this. According to the Articles of Religion in the Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church,

Sanctification is that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanseth from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless.[8]

For mainstream Methodists, it is a life-long process of healing humanity's sin-distorted perspective and way of life, but for Holiness Wesleyans, entire sanctification comes in an instantaneous transformative moment.

Holiness movement

The understanding that holiness is relational is growing in the contemporary Holiness movement. In relational holiness, the core notion is love. Other notions of holiness, such as purity, being set apart, perfection, keeping rules, and total commitment, are seen as contributory notions of holiness. These contributory notions find their ultimate legitimacy when love is at their core (Thomas Jay Oord and Michael Lodahl). It is only as a believer is enabled and empowered to respond to the love of God that they begin to live a holy life. Their goal is to make God their one great desire, to yield their all to God and let Christ be enthroned in their life.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe sanctification is a process that changes who they are and makes them holier. Dallin H. Oaks, an LDS General authority and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that trials and adversities can change who they are into what God wants them to become, if they approach it with the right attitude:

Most of us experience some measure of what the scriptures call “the furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10; 1 Ne. 20:10). Some are submerged in service to a disadvantaged family member. Others suffer the death of a loved one or the loss or postponement of a righteous goal like marriage or childbearing. Still others struggle with personal impairments or with feelings of rejection, inadequacy, or depression. Through the justice and mercy of a loving Father in Heaven, the refinement and sanctification possible through such experiences can help us achieve what God desires us to become.
We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life. This is achieved not just by doing what is right, but by doing it for the right reason—for the pure love of Christ. The Apostle Paul illustrated this in his famous teaching about the importance of charity (see 1 Cor. 13). The reason charity never fails and the reason charity is greater than even the most significant acts of goodness he cited is that charity, “the pure love of Christ” (Moro. 7:47), is not an act but a condition or state of being. Charity is attained through a succession of acts that result in a conversion. Charity is something one becomes. Thus, as Moroni declared, “except men shall have charity they cannot inherit” the place prepared for them in the mansions of the Father (Esther 12:34; emphasis added).[9]


  1. 38, Strong's Concordance
  2. Verlyn D. Verbrugge, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 2000. p. 9.
  3. Athanasius: “On the Incarnation”, Crestwood: Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1989. p.93
  4. Robert V. Rakestraw: “On Becoming God: An Evangelical Doctrine of Theosis,” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 40/2 (June 1997) 257-269
  5. Veli-Matti Karkkainen: “One With God: Salvation as Deification and Justification,” Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2004. p.18
  6. Lutheran Dogmaticians consider this the broad sense of sanctification. This quote is from Luther's Large Catechism, the Apostle's Creed, paragraph 53 and following
  7. Lutheran Dogmaticians consider this the narrow sense of sanctification. This quote is from Luther's Large Catechism, the Ten Commandments, paragraph 311 and following. For further reading of Lutherans on Sanctification, see Sanctification in Lutheran Theology by David P. Scaer and the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary library online essay file on Sanctification
  8. The United Methodist Church: The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church - Of Sanctification
  9. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 32


Greathouse, Willam M. Wholeness in Christ. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1998 Grider, J. Kenneth. Entire Sanctification. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1980 Verbrugge, Verlyn D. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000

Biblical references

  • Leviticus 11:44 - " shall be holy; for I am holy..." (NKJV)
  • Psalm 119:32 - "I will run the course of Your commandments, For You shall enlarge my heart." (NKJV)
  • Psalm 130:4 - "But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared." (NKJV)
  • Matthew 5:48 - "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (ESV)
  • John 15:5 - "...He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (NKJV)
  • John 3:30 - "He must become greater; I must become less." (NIV)
  • Romans 6:22 - "But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification." (NRSV)
  • Acts 15:9 - "...purifying their hearts by faith." (NKJV)
  • 1 Corinthians 1:30 - 1 Corinthians 1:30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, (NASB)
  • 1 Corinthians 6:11 - "...But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." (NRSV)
  • 2 Corinthians 3:18 - "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." (NKJV)
  • 2 Corinthians 7:1 - "...beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (NKJV)
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3 - "For this is the will of God, your sanctification..." (NRSV)
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:7 - "For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness." (NRSV)
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:23 - "May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (RSV)
  • Hebrews 6:1 - "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection..." (KJV)
  • Hebrews 12:14 - "Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (NRSV)
  • James 1:4 - "And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (ESV)
  • 1 Peter 1:15-16 - "...but, as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, 'Be holy, because I am holy'..." (HCSB)
  • 1 John 4:18 - "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (ESV)

See also

Further reading

  • Alexander, Donald L., ed. Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. (ISBN 0-8308-1278-4)
  • Grider, J. Kenneth. A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology. Kansas City:Beacon Hill Press, 1994
  • Gundry, Stanley, ed. Five Views on Sanctification. (ISBN 0-310-21269-3)
  • Oord, Thomas Jay and Michael Lodahl, Relational Holiness: Responding to the Call of Love. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2004.
  • Tracy, Wes., Gary Cockerill, Donald Demaray, and Steve Harper. Reflecting God. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2000
  • Wesley, John. A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, reprinted 1968

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Sanctification. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.