Sanctification – Chapter 38

By Brandon Todd Clay / April 26, 2020

Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – Chapter 38: How do we grow in Christian maturity? What are the blessings of Christian growth?

This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.

Synopsis of Chapter

In his chapter on sanctification, Wayne Grudem outlines and explains how someone grows in the Christian faith. Grudem defines sanctification as “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.” 

Grudem makes a distinction between justification and sanctification. On the one hand, justification is the legal declaration that makes a Christian right before God which happens once. On the other hand, sanctification is how a Christian improves throughout their life to be more like Jesus. He outlines three stages of sanctification, how God and man cooperate in sanctification, and some other aspects of sanctification. 

Three Stages of Sanctification

To begin, there are three stages of sanctification. In the first stage, there is a definite beginning at regeneration. A Christian begins to grow in holiness when they are born again. Paul hints at this when he wrote (emphasis added), “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” (1 Corinthians 6:11). So at the time of salvation, we see a measure of sanctification at the same time.

In the second stage, we see sanctification increase throughout life. Paul said, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The Christian doesn’t stay the same. Instead, a believer is “transformed into the same image,” that is the image of Christ throughout their life. 

In the final stage, we see sanctification is made complete at death. The author of Hebrews mentions people in heaven as “spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). That is, believers will ultimately complete their sanctification when they die and God makes them perfect in heaven. So sanctification won’t be complete on earth. We can see that in 1 John 1:8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” However, Christians can look forward to a completed holiness in heaven after death. 

Page 750 in Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

God and Man Cooperate in Sanctification

Sanctification is primarily a work of God. That is, God is the one who makes the Christian more holy than they were before salvation. Here are a few verses that speak of God sanctifying the Christian with emphasis added:

  • “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.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23) 
  • “For God is the One working in you both to will and to work according to His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
  • And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • “…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2).

In a different way, sanctification seems to be a cooperative process where a person yields to the work of the Spirit to be more like Jesus. Here are a few verses that speak of man playing a role in sanctification with emphasis added

  • “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” (Romans 6:13)
  • “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)
  • “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)  
  • Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:13)
  • “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

Sanctification Affects the Whole Person

One of the blessings of sanctification is that it affects the entire person. For instance, Paul prayed that the Philippian believers’ “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment (Philippians 1:9). So the believers love, knowledge, and discernment between right and wrong increases with greater sanctification. In addition, more sanctification improves our emotions including our “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” as seen in Galatians 5:22. And our spirits also grow in holiness (1 Corinthians 7:34).

In addition, our physical bodies are sanctified as well in sanctification. Paul prayed for the Thessalonian Christians, “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.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). So God sanctifies our inner person, but he also sanctifies our outer person in our physical body in the process of sanctification.

Application: Motivation for Sanctification

Finally, the New Testament provides multiple reasons to be sanctified. For instance, love for God (John 14:14), a clear conscience (1 Timothy 1:5), and a desire to avoid God’s displeasure sometimes called the fear of God (Acts 9:31). 

However, one thing that seems to be an overriding motivation to grow in holiness is simply to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9). Because we are God’s children, we should not want to walk in disobedience and discipline. Instead, we want to walk in the light of his pleasure. And thankfully, by his Spirit, we can live in a way that pleases him. 

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:11-14)

Special Terms

  • perfectionism
  • sanctification
  • sinless perfection

Resources: Wayne Grudem

Related Resources

Brandon Todd Clay is a husband, dad, and a Christian (Reformed Baptist). He enjoys researching about everyday, complex, and sometimes obscure theological issues in every field of knowledge and tries to make things easy to understand. He is married and has 4 children, one of whom (Knox) is now with the Lord. Todd holds a BA in history from the University of Texas at Austin and an MA in Theological Studies from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *