Q244 : Is Progressive Sanctification Biblical?

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Q244 : Is Progressive Sanctification Biblical?

Do you believe the phrase “progressive sanctification” is Biblical?

What is the Biblical approach if any to “progressive sanctification”?

I know to be sanctified is to be set apart , growing in knowledge of God and His Son. Is there another definition that better fits the Christian walk; than “progressive sanctification” ?

A244 : by Tony Garland

Yes, I believe the Bible teaches “progressive sanctification” (although it never explicitly uses that phrase). By progressive sanctification, what is generally meant is,

Even though the New Testament speaks about a definite beginning to sanctification, it also sees it as a process that continues throughout our Christian lives. . . . [The believer's] task, therefore, as Christians is to grow more and more in sanctification . . . (Rom. 6:19; 2Cor. 3:18; Php. 3:14-15) . . . sanctification even involves increasing likeness to God in our thoughts as well as our words and deeds. . . . All the moral exhortations and commands in the New Testament epistles apply here, because they all exhort believers to one aspect or another of greater sanctification in their lives. It is the expectation of all the New Testament authors that our sanctification will increase throughout our Christian lives.1

As many have observed, it can be helpful to think about three tenses involving sanctification:

  1. We have been (past tense) sanctified from the penalty of sin (1Cor. 1:2; 6:11).
  2. We are being (present tense) sanctified from the power of sin (Eph. 5:26; 1Th. 4:3-4; Heb. 2:11).
  3. Eventually, we will be (future tense) sanctified and purged of the very presence of sin (1Cor. 15:49; Heb. 12:23; Php. 3:21).
I don't personally see a problem with the phrase “progressive sanctification” because it states that we incrementally grow in our likeness to Christ which is a clear teaching throughout Scripture (Rom. 12:1-2; 2Cor. 3:18; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 12:1,14; James 1:22; 1Pe. 1:15).

We may define [our ongoing] sanctification as that gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, involving our responsible participation, by which He delivers us as justified sinners from the pollution of sin, renews our entire nature according to the image of God, and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to Him. [Anthony A. Hoekema, The Reformed Perspective]2

Alternative phrases which could describe the process of sanctification include: “Christian transformation” (Rom. 12:2; 2Cor. 3:18); “conformation to the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29); “experiential sanctification” (used by Chafer/Walvoord in Major Bible Themes3); or even “Christian renewal.”

It seems best if the phrase includes the word “sanctification” because, however one refers to the process, it results in an increased ability to live a holy life (the noun holy, ἁγιας [hagias], is the root word behind the verb sanctify, ἁγιαζω [hagiazō]).

The progressive in progressive sanctification denotes “gradually advancing in extent” and is not used in the modern sense of changing standards to accommodate an increasingly wayward culture.


1.Ref-0394, 748-749
2.Ref-0238, 24
3.Ref-1276, 206-211


Ref-0238Stanley N. Gundry, ed., Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987).
Ref-0394Grudem, W. A., Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).
Ref-1276Lewis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes (n.p.: Van Kampen Press, 1926).

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