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Pauline Sanctification



To understand how the apostle Paul saw the process by which people become Holy.


Scripture Basis:


Romans , 1 Corinthians, and 1& 2nd Thessalonians.


Reference Materials:


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Electronic Edition




Over the last 30 years I have heard the term sanctification described in many different ways but most often it has been used to describe the process by which God changes his chosen people from natural sinful people into who He ultimately wants them to be. Typically this end state is associated with holiness. In this paper I will describe an inductive bible study I have done to help me get into the mind of the apostle Paul and understand what his perspective was on sanctification. To do this I will be studying the books of Romans , 1 Corinthians, and 1& 2nd Thessalonians. Other references in Hebrews and John are used for correlation but are not the focus of this study.


Specific Observations:


         Rom 6:6-19 A key element of sanctification is being 'freed' from slavery to sin. It appears that Paul is saying that before conversion, a man is 'locked' to sinful behaviors and has no other choice but to sin. After conversion that man is no longer 'locked to sin' but has a choice. He is still prone to sin but can now choose to follow the Holy Spirit's way instead and become a slave to righteousness. Also seen in Rom 8:7

         Rom 6:14 part of being a slave to sin, (ie. sin being a master) is being "under the Law". This looks Paul is saying that the Law is part of the slavery.

         Rom 6:19 presenting yourself as a 'slave to righteousness', results in sanctification. Does being a slave to righteousness mean choosing to follow the Holy Spirit or doing good a lot or both?

         Rom 6:22 The benefits of being freed from sin include a 'benefit' which is either sanctification and eternal life or something else that results in sanctification and eternal life. What is the 'benefit'? Here sanctification appears to be one of two outcomes of something not just a process.

         Rom :4-6 & 10-13, The requirement to uphold to the letter of the Law while still being found in flesh (ie. a mortal body) aroused man to sin and condemned man to death. In Christ we have been released from the requirement to uphold to the letter of the Law and rather seek to serve the Law giver in a new way through the Spirit.

         Rom 7:15-24 Paul despite already having the Holy Spirit within him, still finds it hard at time to do what he should do for the flesh (our body) is still part of us and it desires sin.

         Rom 8:5 The statement 'according to' seems to set up a comparison between two methods of living as a exposition to convince people who are already 'in the spirit' that they have a choice.

         Rom 8-6-8 appear to refer to the unsaved (ie. being unable)

         Rom 8:10 indicates that the spirit is alive in people because of righteousness. This

         Rom 8:12 indicates that for some reason we have an 'obligation' to live according to the spirit. This shows the force of Paul's reasoning. Here righteousness must relate to ascribed righteousness (right standing with God) on rather than being morally perfect and being in Right Standing .(ie being justified) we have an obligation to what? To live according to the spirit.

         Rom 8:13 the statement "for if you live according to the spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body" shows the order of things. First choose the spirits leading, the results will be no bad deeds and life. This death and life may refer to the quality of mortal life rather that eternal life.

         1 Cor 2:14-3:3 Pauls thinks of being spiritual not so much as being saved in a justification sense but rather in the sense of whether one is actually listening to and following the Holy Spirit's leading. Three kinds of men are described, the natural (unsaved) who are unable to choose, the fleshly (saved, yet focused on following their bodies desires) and the spiritual (saved and focused on following the Holy Spirits desires).

         1 Cor 1:18 & 2 Paul was apparently trying to counter teaching that depended on mans wisdom or the 'wisdom of this age'. He sees that the Corinthians are doubly confounded by trying to live according to men's ideas of religiosity while being focused on the desired of their mortal bodies. This would indicate the acceptability in the Corinthian church of immorality while still holding up a religious system of works of some kind.

         1 Cor 1:20 clearly states that Jesus became not only wisdom for us but also righteousness (right standing with God), sanctification and redemption. This is a past tense statement. So some aspect of sanctification must have already occurred.

General Observations

         Paul often used peoples past 'sanctification' as a reason they should behave morally.

         Paul uses the fact of their sanctification as the reason they are able to behave morally.

         Paul saw their living up to their 'sanctification' as a way to become triumphant over sin while living in a mortal body.

         Paul was writing about this 'sanctification' that already occurred to a people who were very confused and immoral.

         Paul's use of the term sanctification carries a distinct parallel to the old testament concept of holiness where someone or something was declared 'dedicated' or 'set aside for God'.

         Sanctification appears to have a positional element, an element of calling, a salvation element, a future element, a moral element and is even a factor in the lives of those outside of Christ.


Word Study of Key Terms :


1)      Sanctification

2)      Holiness


There are 5 Greek words that are commonly translated sanctification or holiness in the writings of Paul. There are;


G37 hagiazo

G38 hagiasmos

G40 hagios

G41 hagiotes

G42 hagiosune


Word Meaning / Semantic Range from THE NASB Greek Dictionary


G37 hagiazo ; to make holy, consecrate, sanctify; - hallowed(2), keep himself holy(1), sanctified(16), sanctifies(2), sanctify(7) ; verb

G38 hagiasmos ; consecration, santification, - sanctification (8); santifying work(1), santity(1) ;


G40 hagios; sacred, holy - Holy (92), holy(62), Holy of Holies(1), holy ones(1), holy place(7), most holy(1), saint(1), saints(59), sanctuary(52), saints(1) ; adjective

G41 hagiotes; santity; holiness - holiness(2) ; noun (feminine)

G42 hagiosune; holiness - holiness(2) ; noun (feminine)


Word Study Options


The word sanctify or sanctification is scripture seems to have 4 different meanings. The first meaning is to devote or consecrate something or someone to God and or recognize that this has occurred and recognize that thing or person as holy and belonging to God the Holy one. This is the regular O.T. usage and also the most common in the N.T. In the N.T. this position of belonging is described as having already occurred in the life of one who has believed in Christ and is associated with justification. This usage may be described as positional since is is granted a believer on conversion and is soley a work of God. This 'belonging' also had demands associated with it, for people these were primarily associated with righteousness. The new testament deepens these demands unto whole hearted surrender to the rule of the Holy Spirit.

2) The second meaning found mostly in the N.T. is the process of making a believers life functionally holy and morally pure through the yielding of our will to the Holy Spirits guidance and our embracing of fellowship with God. This aspect of yielding to God is made possible by the act of God associated with the first meaning and is also an obligation of it.

3) The third meaning is to describe the beneficial state of being in which a person is saved from the problems of difficulties associated with sin and/or discipline because of their embracing of holy behavior through the obedience that comes from yielding to the Holy Spirits guidance.

4) The forth meaning appears to be similar to the first in that it describes a sate of being where someone or some group is specially marked or set aside in some way for special treatment by God although it is not associated with justification or belief in Christ.




1. To 'positionally' render a person holy. A work solely of God






. I Thess 5:23

May the God of peace Himself Sanctify you entirely and may your body soul and spirit be preserved complete without blame

G37 hagiazo

To Positionally render holy (without blame) and to be protected from power of sin while in the body through the work of Gods spirit (entirely).

Heb 13:12

.. that He might sanctify his people through his own blood ..

G37 hagiazo

Positionally rendered holy (without blame)

Rom 11:16

If the root is holy, the branches also

G40 hagios


Positionally rendered holy by relationship

John 17:17-19

Jesus prays, I sanctify myself that they may be sanctified in truth

G37 hagiazo

To Positionally render holy and without blame and to enable them to understand truth

Heb 10:10

We are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus once and for all

G37 hagiazo

To Positionally render holy and without blame

1 Cor 6:11

And such were some of you but you were washed, were sanctified, were justified in the name of Jesus and the Spirit of God

G37 hagiazo

To be given the Spirit of God that you might be able to avoid immortality

1 Cor 1:2

To those who have been sanctified in Jesus - saints by calling

G37 hagiazo

To be set aside for God positionally by calling

Rom 15:16

Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit

G37 hagiazo

To be made acceptable positionally by the work of God

Eph 5:27

That He might sanctify her (the church) by washing of water and the word

G40 hagios

To be made acceptable positionally by the work of Christ

Col 1:22

Jesus reconciled you through his death to present you blameless and holy

G40 hagios

To be presented as a saint To be made acceptable positionally by the work of Christ



2. To be functionally holy while in mortal body living a morally pure lifestyle






1 Cor 7:34

That she may be holy in body and in spirit .

G40 hagios

That she might be morally pure in all ways

Rom 12:1,2

Present you bodies a living and holy sacrifice

G40 hagios

Living for God and acting morally pure

II Cor 7:1

Let us cleans ourselves from all defilement of the flesh & spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God

G42 hagiosune

Lets us get rid of all immoral behavior and thought




3. To be protected from the power and effects of sin while in mortal body






2 Thess 2:13

Chosen from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the spirit and faith in the truth.

G38 hagiasmos

Chosen for the benefits of protection from the power of sin

Heb 12:14

.. pursue the sanctification without which none will see the Lord

G38 hagiasmos


Pursue the state of sanctification to which you were called for without it you would not be able to understand God.

I Thess 4:3-7

Gods will is you sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality

G38 hagiasmos


Your abstinence from immorality protects you from the difficulties (and disciplines) of sin

Rom 6:19

Present your members as slaves to righteousness resulting in sanctification

G38 hagiasmos

Acting righteously will protect you from sin

Rom 6:22

But now being freed from sin and enslaved to God you derive benefit, resulting in sactification

G38 hagiasmos

Being freed from sin (justified & indwelled) you derive the benefits of being able to behave resulting in salvation from the effects of sin here on earth.





4. To be set aside in some way for special treatment,






1 Cor 7:14

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife

G40 hagios

The husband is set aside to be given special treatment - perhaps the influence of the HS.

Rom 11:16

Israel is Holy for the Patriarchs sake

G40 hagios

Corporate Israel is still God's special people for the sake of his promise to Abraham




General Context


When Paul uses the word sanctification, it is usually in the context of speaking to people who have already become believers yet are having difficulty living a morally pure lifestyle. This is evident especially in his first letter to the Corinthians as well as Colossians and 1 Thess. There are of course exceptions such as 1 Cor 7:14 and Rom 11:16.






Immediate Context


Romans 6-8 immediately follows Paul's doctrinal delineation of the doctrine of justification by faith in chapters 1-4. Its is noteworthy that on completion of his treatment of justification by faith he addresses sanctification and the practical aspects of the Christian life as the "what's next" for the believer. I Cor 6:19-22 follows Paul's identification of a series of disorders in the Corinthian church caused by their failure to make good moral decisions. 1 Thess. chapter 4 opens with Paul starting a new topic, the current walk of the Thessalonians believer. This context is focused on the present day aspects of sanctification for the believer.


Theological Context


Pauls epistles were written often to correct problems and incorrect teaching that was occurring in the young churches that were growing during the first century. Since there was a lot of transition occurring at the time, it is not unexpected that misunderstandings or false teachings would creep in. The transition from Law to Spirit as the motivating factor for leading a godly life was no doubt one of the most significant of the changes that required regular reinstatement. The Jewish system of Mosaic Law would still have been quite prevalent at the time and the churches did have jews in them.

Cultural Context


In Paul's time there were a number of teachings on how to measure ones spirituality. It was against these teachings that Paul wrote on Sanctification. The concept of self-righteousness was one of the most prevalent teachings that Paul was trying to counter. Certainly when Paul was writing Romans he was addressing Jews a well as Gentiles so the background of Judaism.. It perceived human moral living as a means of justification. This is evidenced by Paul's argument against the "moralizers" in Rom. 2:16 and then the Jews in Rom. 2:16-3:10. These people regarded themselves as righteous because of the way the followed the letter of the Mosaic law in an outward way. Their view of holiness was related to their awareness of the laws, their outward religious practice and their position of standing in the Jewish community and as teachers of the Law. Paul and Jesus both spoke out against their hearts which were far from holy.

On another front, in Paul's letter to the Corinthians, we find Paul addressing primarily non-Jewish Christians (1 Cor 12:2). These people came to Christ in a culture dominated by pagan religious practices that were often sexually immoral. The city was known for its wealth, luxury and immorality[1]. Here the 'wisdom of men' as spoken of by Paul in 1 Cor chapter 2 would have included the following powerful leaders who had wealth and influence. The local religions also were known the eating of flesh, orgies, temple prostitution and ecstatic speech. Here Paul is arguing against people who would have been viewing there spiritual growth through the lens of human achievement, power, and wealth. The description of what efforts for God will survive Gods testing in 1 Cor chapter 3, bears this out.

Paul also wrote to counter the teaching that since we are justified fully by grace and faith, our behavior is of no consequence so we might as well go on sinning. This is seen in Rom chapter 6. Perhaps the Romans system of classes and order may have played a part in developing a thinking that once the positional aspect of blamelessness had been achieved through faith in Christ, one could do what he or she wanted. This would parallel the Roman system where the upper class could do what they wanted to because of their position.


Historical /Political Context


The Roman system of government as well as of status was very much "class" or "order" oriented. Yet the ruling aristocracy proved it was incapable of good government because of its utter disregard for other classes of people. Even the courts of law were often corrupt . They tended to protect their own order even in the face of flagrant crimes and oppress other orders. Bribes were common and justice for conquered peoples impossible. This anarchy among the polity led to anarchy among the people [2] . The Jewish system of government had its own classes of leaders and typically they also measured themselves with a double standard.






Paul's view of sanctification and holiness is much more than a process for becoming morally pure. In a broad sense it is a term describing the whole relational dynamic of being a child of God. The term can be used to describe our positional holiness on the merits of Christ, our obligation as sons of God, our process of becoming functionally holy or morally pure, or our salvation from the power and ultimately the presence of sin. However despite its broadness Paul sees sanctification as a holistic method for how people become Holy or spiritually mature. Here is how I think he perceived it works.

1) Paul's process begins by being chosen to receive the Holy Spirit (2 Thess 2:13), a sovereign choice of God. 2) Then having believed the Holy Spirit is given ( 1 Cor 6:11) and one is granted positional holiness. 3) Having the Holy Spirit gives one the mind of Christ 1 Cor 2:16) and provides the ability for them to know the ways of God. It also gives them the obligation (Rom 8:12) to follow Gods ways. 4) Knowing the things of God gives us an alternative to the things of the flesh. (Rom 6:6-19). No longer need one be a slave to sin since another option is now available (ie. following the spirit). 5) Then, as we set our mind on the Spirit (Rom 8:13 and 1 Cor 2:14-3:3), we can listen to Him and having listened, can choose to yield our will to Him. As we do this, our life is transformed. (Rom 12:2). Now our choices are aligned with Gods will and the result is a functionally holy lifestyle, moral purity and a better relationship (ie. fellowship) with God.

6) As our lifestyle is aligned with Gods ways, we are saved from the power of sin and its effects on us. These include the damaging effects of sin and the consequences of discipline by God. This is how we "work out our salvation" (Phil 2:12). 7) As we progress in being more Spirit led our lives will bear more fruit for the Kingdom of God and we will be granted more eternal reward. (1 Cor 3 and 2 Peter 1:5). 8) As we become mature in being Spirit led, we become more faithful and triumphant in the face of tribulations. As we persevere these tribulations the believer may be granted additional inheritance (reward) in that may in some way involve ruling with Christ in the age to come.

Should however, we refuse to set our minds on the spirit, refuse to listen to Him or refuse to surrender our will, then we are not able to experience the power of the Spirit and we will continue to live in sin (Ron 7:22-23) . We have given the flesh (our bodily desires) power to direct our actions and we now no longer living in fellowship with God. We then experience distance from God and certainly discipline as we sin. (Heb 12). Yet even in this Gods original sanctifying act is valid as our positional nature as one set aside for God is still there. Because of this God works to bring us back into fellowship through corrective discipline, the disciple of a loving father.


Theological Principles Drawn


1.      The source of our sanctification, holiness and any moral purity we might exhibit is God. His active relationship with us was defined by Him not us and despite what we might do, He works in all things for the good of his children.

2.      The positional aspect of sanctification precedes and is required for any functional holiness to occur in ones life. Without the spirit, a mortal is a slave to sin. Without this enabling aspect of holiness, we could not be what He wants us to be. No set of laws combined in anyway with the heart of man can produce holiness.

3.      Functional holiness (moral purity) is not optional for the believer. A believer is called to it and is obliged by the privileged relationship they have with God through Christ to live accordingly by yielding to the Spirit.

4.      The progressive moral growth created by sanctification is not only a desire of a holy God, but also a benefit to those He chose, for the protective aspect of sanctification is a key element of salvation. To be protected from the power of sin while sin is yet present and we are yet mortal, shows us that God is interested in our lives here and now.

5.      In a future sense, our sanctification will not be complete until we are thoroughly removed from the presence of sin. This is true from without and from within. Towards this we wait for this aspect of sanctification to be completed and again it is clear that this aspect too is the sovereign work of God.

6.      1 Cor 7 makes it clear that God is also at work in the lives of non-believers for his own purposes and there are special aspects of sanctification in terms of relationship to God for certain of those outside of Christ. It seems they are dedicated to God for his purposes. Perhaps this could be said of all creation yet where relationships are involved or promises are made, God gets specially involved.

7.      The ultimate results of sanctification not only include protection from sin (penalty, power and presence) and more rewards in heaven but the growth of love as well. Of particular interest to me is that this method of developing a holy people for Himself does not produce arrogant or prideful people as the Mosaic law did, rather it seems to produces ones who love. I find it interesting that this parallels the greatest commandment so well. The law, as good as is was, did not produce lovers of God, yet sanctification not only does this, but in doing so creates the ability to do what the law demanded with proper motive. Indeed God does write on the human heart. So, in the end Jesus' statement about how the law is summed up in the first commandment is shown to be a consistent goal of God. He wants lovers of Him and His ways and the term sanctification encapsulates his way of growing them.

Personal Applications


For me this study has revealed a more holistic view of sanctification and the role each aspect of it plays in refining us to be who God wants us to be while preserving out free will and ability to love. There has always been an awareness that as a sinful being I am incapable of being holy before God except through Christ and a understanding that it is the work of the Holy spirit that refines me, yet this study has shown me that the more I yield to the Spirit the more I benefits of sanctification I will receive and the more my heart will be conformed to Christ not just my behavior.





Other new testament writers also speak on sanctification. These include John in his gospel and Peter in Hebrews and Luke in the book of Acts. In most of these cases the term used is G37 'hagiazo'. John and Hebrews both speak out on the positional aspect of sanctification.


John 10:36, John 17:19, Acts 20:32, Acts 26:18, 1 Tim 4:5, 2 Tim 2:21, Heb 2:11, Heb 10:10, Heb 10:14,
Heb 10:29, Jude 1:1

sanctify, 6

John 17:17, John 17:19, Eph 5:26, Heb 13:12, 1 Pet 3:15

sanctifieth, 4

Matt 23:17, Matt 23:19, Heb 2:11, Heb 9:13

hallowed, 2

Matt 6:9, Luke 11:2

holy, 1

Rev 22:11





Orr , James A. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Electronic Edition

Cedar Rapids: Parsons Technology, 1998.






[1] Orr, James, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Cedar Rapids, 1998), Background of Corinth.


[2] Orr, James, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Cedar Rapids, 1998), Inabilty of Aristocracy to Hold Equilibrium.