“Sanctification Perfect or Imperfect in This Life”
By: Somyot Lertsirikarn
There are many extant conflicting notions regarding sanctification. Some hold that sanctification as being imperfect in this life, but some hold that sanctification as being perfect in this life. However, all agree that sanctification is a subject of the utmost importance to our souls. If the Bible be true, it is certain that unless we are “sanctified “, we shall not be saved. There are three things, which, according to the Bible are absolutely necessary to the salvation of every believers. These three are: regeneration, justification, and sanctification. Who lacks any one of these three things is not a true Christian in the sight of God, and dying in that condition will not be found in heaven and glorified in the last day.
The Biblical Definition of Sanctification
The Biblical definition of Sanctification that I think it is a very good explanation is Louis Berkhof’s Biblical definition that he explains in his book “Systematic Theology” about Scriptural Terms for Sanctification and Holiness, that is to say:
1. The Old Testament terms.
“The Old Testament word for 'to sanctify' is qadash, a verb that is used in the niphal, piet, hiphil, and hithpa'el species. The corresponding noun is qodesh, while the adjective is qadosh. The verbal forms are derived from the nominal and adjectival forms. The original meaning of these words is uncertain. Some are of the opinion that the word qadash is related to chadash, meaning 'to shine.' This would be in harmony with the qualitative aspect of the Biblical idea of holiness, namely, that of purity. Others, with a greater degree of probability, derive the word from the root qad, meaning 'to cut.' This would make the idea of separation the original idea. The word would then point to aloofness, separateness, or majesty. Though this meaning of the words 'sanctification' and 'holiness' may seem unusual to us, it is in all probability the fundamental idea expressed by them.” 
2. The New Testament terms.
a. “The verb hagiazo and its various meanings. The verb hagiazo is a derivative of hagios, which like the Hebrew qadosh expresses primarily the idea of separation. It is used in several different senses, however, in the New Testament. We may distinguish the following:
(1) It is used in a mental sense of persons or things, Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2; I Pet. 3:15. In such cases it means "to regard an object as holy," "to ascribe holiness to it," or "to acknowledge its holiness by word or deed."
(2) It is also employed occasionally in a ritual sense, that is, in the sense of "separating from ordinary for sacred purposes," or of "setting aside for a certain office," Matt. 23:17, 19; John 10:36; II Tim. 2:21.
(3) Again it is used to denote that operation of God by which He, especially through His Spirit, works in man the subjective quality of holiness, John 17:17; Acts 20:32; 26:18; I Cor. 1:2; I Thess. 5:23.
(4) Finally, in the Epistle to the Hebrews it seems to be used in an expiatory sense, and also in the related sense of the Pauline dikaio-o, Heb. 9:13; 10:10, 29; 13:12.
b. The adjectives expressive of the idea of holiness.
(1) Hieros. The word that is used least and that is also the least expressive, is the word hieros.
It is found only in I Cor. 9:13; II Tim. 3:15, and then not of persons but of things. It does not express moral excellence, but is expressive of the inviolable character of the thing referred to, which springs from the relation in which it stands to God. It is best translated by the English word "sacred."
(2) Hosios. The word hosios is of more frequent occurrence. It is found in Acts 2:27;
13:34,35; I Tim. 2:8; Tit. 1:8; Heb. 7:26; Rev. 15:4; 16:5, and is applied not only to things, but also to God and to Christ. It describes a person or thing as free from defilement or wickedness, or more actively (of persons) as religiously fulfilling every moral obligation.
(3) Hagnos. The word hagnos occurs in II Cor. 7:11; 11:2; Phil. 4:8; I Tim. 5:22; Jas. 3:17; I
Pet. 3:2; I John 3:3. The fundamental idea of the word seems to be that of freedom from impurity and defilement in an ethical sense.
(4) Hagios. The really characteristic word of the New Testament, however, is hagios. Its
primary meaning is that of separation in consecration and devotion to the service of God.
With this is connected the idea that what is set aside from the world for God, should also separate itself from the world's defilement and share in God's purity. This explains the fact that hagios speedily acquired an ethical signification. The word does not always have the same meaning in the New Testament.
(a) It is used to designate an external official relation, a being set aside from ordinary purposes for the service of God, as for instance, when we read of "holy prophets," Luke 1:70, "holy apostles," Eph. 3:5, and "holy men of God" II Pet. 1:21.
(b) More often, however, it is employed in an ethical sense to describe the quality that is necessary to stand in close relation to God and to serve Him acceptably, Eph. 1:4; 5:27; Col. 1:22: I Pet. 1:15,16. It should be borne in mind that in treating of sanctification we use the word primarily in the latter sense. When we speak of holiness in connection with sanctification, we have in mind both an external relation and an inner subjective quality.
(c) The nouns denoting sanctification and holiness. The New Testament word for sanctification is hagiasmos. It occurs ten times, namely, in Rom. 6:19, 22; I Cor. 1:30; I Thess. 4:3,4,7; II Thess. 2:13; I Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14; I Pet. I:2. While it denotes ethical purification, it includes the idea of separation, namely, "the separation of the spirit from all that is impure and polluting, and a renunciation of the sins towards which the desires of the flesh and of the mind lead us." While hagiasmos denotes the work of sanctification, there are two other words that describe the result of the process, namely, hagiotes and hagiosune. The former is found in I Cor. 1:30 and Heb. 12:10; and the latter in Rom. 1:4; II Cor. 7:1, and I Thess. 3:13. These passages show that the quality of holiness or freedom from pollution and impurity is essential to God, was exhibited by Jesus Christ, and is imparted to the Christian.”
Therefore, Sanctification is that inward spiritual work which the Lord Jesus Christ works in a man by the Holy Spirit, when He calls him to be a true believer. Jesus not only washes him from his sins in His own blood, but He also separates him from his natural love of sin and the world, puts a new principle in his heart, and makes him practically godly in life. The instrument by which the Spirit effects this work is generally the Word of God, through He sometimes uses afflictions and providential visitations “without the Work” (1 Peter 3:1). The subject of this work of Christ by His Spirit is called in Scripture a “sanctified” man.
The Nature of Sanctification
There are different views of theological backgrounds and convictions that diverge sharply in some areas. However, Stanley N. Gundry the series editor of the book “five views on sanctification” describes in the foreword of his book that there are also several points that they stand together on their understanding of sanctification. “First, all agree that the Bible teaches a sanctification that is past, present, and future. It is past because it begins in a position of separation already gained in Christ’s completed work. It is present in that it describes a process of cultivating a holy life. And sanctification has a future culmination at the return of Christ, when the effects of sin will be fully removed. Second, all agree that the process of sanctification requires believers to strive to express God’s love in their experience. They must devote themselves to the traditional Christian disciplines and daily make the hard choices against evil and for God’s ways of righteousness. Finally, all agree that Bible promises success in this process of struggling against personal sin, through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Therefore, we can summarize that the evangelical doctrine of sanctification common to the Lutheran and Reformed Churches includes the following points:
- The soul after regeneration continues dependent upon the constant gracious operations of
the Holy Spirit, but is, through grace, able to co-operate with them.
- The sanctifying operations of the Spirit are supernatural, and yet effected in connection
with and through the instrumentality of means: the means of sanctification being either internal, such as faith and the co-operation of the regenerated will with grace, or external, such as the word of God, sacraments, prayer, Christian fellowship, and the providential discipline of our heavenly Father.
- In this process the Spirit gradually completes the work of moral purification commenced
in regeneration. The work has two sides: (a) the cleansing of the soul from sin and emancipation from its power, and (b) the development of the implanted principle of spiritual life and infused habits of grace, until the subject comes to the stature of perfect manhood in Christ. Its effect is spiritually and morally to transform the whole man, intellect, affections, will, soul, and body.
- The work proceeds with various degrees of thoroughness during life, but is never
consummated in absolute moral perfection until the subject passes into glory.
The Perfect Character of Sanctification in This Life.
The doctrine of the Perfectionism is to the effect that religious perfection is attainable in the present life. It is taught in various forms by Pelagians, Roman Catholics or Semi-Pelagians, Arminians, Wesleyans, such mystical sects as the Labadists, the Quietists, the Quakers, and others, some of the Oberlin theologians, such as Mahan and Finney, and Ritschl. We should know the doctrine theory of perfect sanctification in this life has been taught from several distinct points of view, thus:
a. According to the principles of Pelagianism, a man is perfect who obeys the laws of God to the measure of his present natural ability, since the moral law is a sliding scale, adjusting its demands to the varying ability of its subject; and this is possible to every man.
b. According to the Mystical idea, perfection consists in absorption in the divine essence, or, in a less extreme form, in the absorption of human desires and will into the divine will, in a disinterested love; and this may be attained by anyone through persistent detachment from self and meditation on God.
c. According to the Roman or Ritualistic theory, perfection consists in perfect conformity to the law of God, graciously for Christ's sake adjusted to the capacities of the regenerated man in this life; and this perfection is attained by means of meritorious works and penances, prayers, fasts, acts of voluntary self-denial, and ecclesiastical obedience. Not only is this within the reach of men, but so is even the rendering of supererogatory service in the way of extra-legal self-denial from a principle of evangelical love.
d. The Wesleyan theory of perfection conceives that the satisfaction and merit of Christ have made it consistent with divine justice to offer salvation to men on easier terms than the old Adamic law of absolute perfection; and that perfection is attained when these lower terms have been complied with. “Christian character is estimated by the conditions of the gospel; Christian perfection implies the perfect performance of these conditions, and nothing more.” He also gives an example of those in the Bible who attained this perfection. “Citing the passage in 1 John 4:17, Wesley gives St. John and those mentioned in this passage as the believers who attained Christian perfection in this life.”
These all agree in maintaining that it is possible for believers in this life to attain to a state in which they comply with the requirements of the law under which they now live, or under that law as it was adjusted to their present ability and needs, and, consequently, to be free from sin.
In the Wesley’s sermon “on Perfection”, he enumerated several features of this sanctification:
“1. To love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself; 2. To have the mind that is in Christ; 3. To bear the fruit of the Spirit (in accordance with Gal.5); 4. The restoration of the image of God in the soul, a recovery of man to the moral image of God, which consists of “righteousness and true holiness”; 5. Inward and outward righteousness, “holiness of life issuing from holiness of heart”; 6. God’s sanctifying of the person in spirit, soul, and body; 7. The person’s own perfect consecration to God; 8. A continuous presentation through Jesus of the individual’s thoughts, words and actions as a sacrifice to God of praise and thanksgiving; 9. Salvation from sin.”
Scriptural proofs adduced for the doctrine of perfectionism
There are several Scriptures that proof adduce for the doctrine of perfect Sanctification:
a. The Bible commands believers to be holy and even to be perfect, I Pet. 1:16 “because it is write ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’.” ( see; Matt. 5:48; Jas. 1:4) and urges them to follow the example of Christ who did no sin, I Pet. 2:21 “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,”. Such commands would be unreasonable, if it were not possible to reach sinless perfection. But the Scriptural demand to be holy and perfect holds for the unregenerate as well as for the regenerate, since the law of God demands holiness from the start and has never been revoked. If the command implies that they to whom it comes can live up to the requirement, this must be true of every man. However, only those who teach perfectionism in the Pelagian sense can hold that view. The measure of our ability cannot be inferred from the Scriptural commandments.
b. Holiness and perfection are often ascribed to believers in Scripture, Eph. 5:27; “that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.” ( see; II Cor. 5:17; Heb. 5:14; Phil. 4:13; Col. 2:10.) When the Bible speaks of believers as holy and perfect, however, this does not necessarily mean that they are without sin, since both words are often used in a different sense, not only in common parlance, but also in the Bible. Persons set aside for the special service of God are called holy in the Bible, irrespective of their moral condition and life. Believers can be and are called holy, because they are objectively holy in Christ, or because they are in principle subjectively sanctified by the Spirit of God. Paul in his Epistles invariably addresses his readers as saints, that is "holy ones," and then proceeds in several cases to take them to task for their sins. And when believers are described as perfect, this means in some cases merely that they are full grown, Heb. 5:14 “But soid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” and in others that they are fully equipped for their task, II Tim. 3:17 “that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” All this certainly does not give countenance to the theory of sin less perfection.
c. There are, it is said, Biblical examples of saints who led perfect lives, such as Noah, Job, and Asa, Gen. 6:9; Job 1:1; I Kings 15:14. But, surely, such examples as these do not prove the point for the simple reason that they are no examples of sinless perfection. Even the most notable saints of the Bible are pictured as men who had their failings and who sinned, in some cases very grievously. This is true of Noah, Moses, Job, Abraham, and all the others. It is true that this does not necessarily prove that their lives remained sinful as long as they lived on earth, but it is a striking fact that we are not introduced to a single one who was without sin. The question of Solomon is still pertinent: "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" Prov. 20:9. Moreover, John says: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," I John 1:8.
d. The apostle John declares explicitly that they who are born of God do not sin, I John 3:6, 8, 9; 5:18. But when John says that they who are born of God do not sin, he is contrasting the two states, represented by the old and the new man, as to their essential nature and principle. One of the essential characteristics of the new man is that he does not sin. In view of the fact that John invariably uses' the present to express the idea that the one born of God does not sin, it is possible that he desires to express the idea that the child of God does not go on sinning habitually, as the devil does, I John 3:8. He certainly does not mean to assert that the believer never commits an act of sin, cf. I John 1:8-10. Moreover, the Perfectionist cannot very well use these passages to prove their point. He does not make bold to say that all believers are actually sinless, but only that they can reach a state of sinless perfection. The Johannine passages, however, would prove, on his interpretation, that all believers are without sin. And more than that, they would also prove that believers never fall from the state of grace (for this is sinning); and yet the Perfectionists are the very people who believe that even perfect Christians may fall away.”
The doctrine of the Imperfect Sanctification in This Life
1. Sanctification Imperfect in degree. When we speak of sanctification as being imperfect in this life, we do not mean to say that it is imperfect in parts, as if only a part of the holy man that originates in regeneration were affected. It is the whole, but yet undeveloped new man, that must grow into full stature. A new-born child is, barring exceptions, perfect in parts, but not yet in the degree of development for which it is intended. Just so the new man is perfect in parts, but remains in the present life imperfect in the degree of spiritual development. Believers must contend with sin as long as they live, I Kings 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Jas. 3:2; I John 1:8.
2. Objections to the theory of Perfectionism.
“a. In the light of Scripture the doctrine of Perfectionism is absolutely untenable. The Bible gives us the explicit and very definite assurance that there is no one on earth who does not sin, I Kings 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:10; Jas. 3:2; I John 1:8. In view of these clear statements of Scripture it is hard to see how any who claim to believe the Bible as the infallible Word of God can hold that it is possible for believers to lead sinless lives, and that some actually succeed in avoiding all sin.
b. According to Scripture there is a constant warfare between the flesh and the Spirit in the lives of God's children, and even the best of them are still striving for perfection. Paul gives a very striking description of this struggle in Rom. 7:7-26, a passage which certainly refers to him in his regenerate state. In Gal. 5:16-24 he speaks of that very same struggle as a struggle that characterizes all the children of God. And in Phil. 3:10-14 he speaks of himself, practically at the end of his career, as one who has not yet reached perfection but is pressing on toward the goal.
c. Confession of sin and prayer for forgiveness are continually required. Jesus taught all His disciples without any exception to pray for the forgiveness of sins and for deliverance from 1John 1:9. Moreover, Bible saints are constantly represented as confessing their sins, Job 9:3, 20; Ps. 32:5, 130:3; 143:2; Prov. 20:9; Isa. 64:6; Dan, 9:16; Rom. 7:14.
d. The Perfectionists themselves deem it necessary to lower the standard of the law and to externalize the idea of sin, in order to maintain their theory. Moreover, some of them have repeatedly modified the ideal to which, in their estimation, believers can attain. At first the ideal was "freedom from all sin"; then, "freedom from all conscious sin," next, "entire consecration to God," and, finally, "Christian assurance." This is in itself a sufficient condemnation of their theory. We naturally do not deny that the Christian can attain to the assurance of faith.”
Sanctification in my opinion
I agree with the doctrine of Reformed that Sanctification is usually a lengthy process and never reaches perfection in this life. Because, from my study I see the reasons of imperfect sanctification are better than the perfectionism. I would like to explain the reasons of my opinion, thus:
1. Sanctification is a supernatural work of God. Sanctification does not consist merely in the drawing out of the new life, implanted in the soul by regeneration, in a persuasive way by presenting motives to the will. But it consists fundamentally and primarily in a divine operation in the soul, whereby the holy disposition born in regeneration is strengthened and its holy exercises are increased. It is essentially a work of God, though in so far as He employs means, man can and is expected to co-operate by the proper use of these means. Scripture clearly displays the supernatural character of sanctification in several ways. It describes it as a work of God, I Thess. 5:23; “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely,…”, as a fruit of the union of life with Jesus Christ, Gal. 2:20; “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”, as a work that is wrought in man from within and which for that very reason cannot be a work of man, Eph. 3:16; “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.”, and speaks of its manifestation in Christian virtues as the work of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22; “But the fruit of Spirit is love, joy, peace,..”. It should never be represented as a simply natural process in the spiritual development of man, nor brought down to the level of a mere human fulfillment, as is done in a great deal of modern liberal theology.
2. Sanctification consists of two parts. The two parts of sanctification are represented in Scripture as:
a. The mortification of the old man, the body of sin. This Scriptural term denotes that act of God whereby the pollution and corruption of human nature that results from sin is gradually removed. It is often represented in the Bible as the crucifying of the old man, and is thus connected with the death of Christ on the cross. The old man is human nature in so far as it is controlled by sin, Rom. 6:6; “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” In the context of the passage of Galatians 5:24, Paul contrasts the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit, and then says: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” This means that in their case the Spirit has gained predominance.
b. The quickening of the new man, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. While the former part of sanctification is negative in character, this is positive. It is that act of God whereby the holy disposition of the soul is strengthened, holy exercises are increased, and thus a new course of life engendered and promoted. The old structure of sin is gradually torn down, and a new structure of God is reared in its stead. These two parts of sanctification are not successive but contemporary. Thank God, the gradual erection of the new building need not wait until the old one is completely destroyed. If it had to wait for that, it could never begin in this life. With the gradual dissolution of the old the new makes its appearance. As the old air is drawn out, the new rushes in. This positive side of sanctification is often called "a being raised together with Christ," Rom. 6:5; “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection,” ( see Col. 2:12; 3:1, 2). The new life to which it leads is called "a life unto God," Rom. 6:11; “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” ( see Gal. 2:19).
3. Sanctification affects the whole man: body and soul; intellect, affections and will. This follows from the nature of the case, because sanctification takes place in the inner life of man, in the heart, and this cannot be changed without changing the whole organism of man. If the inner man is changed, there is bound to be change also in the periphery of life. Moreover, Scripture clearly and explicitly teaches that it affects both body and soul, II Cor. 5:17; “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
4. Sanctification is a work of God in which believers co-operate. When it is said that man takes part in the work of sanctification, this does not mean that man is an independent agent in the work, so as to make it partly the work of God and partly the work of man; but simply, that God effects the work in part through the instrumentality of man as a rational being, by requiring of him prayerful and intelligent co-operation with the Spirit. That man must co-operate with the Spirit of God follows:
a. From the repeated warnings against evils and temptations, which clearly imply that man must be active in avoiding the pitfalls of life, ( see Rom. 12:9,16,17; I Cor. 6:9,10; Gal. 5:16-23;)
b. From the constant exhortations to holy living. These imply that the believer must be diligent in the employment of the means at his command for the moral and spiritual improvement of his life, ( see Micah 6:8; John 15:2,8,16; Rom. 8:12,13; 12:1,2,17; Gal. 6:7,8,15.)
5. Sanctification is usually a lengthy process and never reaches perfection in this life. At the same time there may be cases in which it is completed in a very short time or even in a moment, as, for instance, in cases in which regeneration and conversion are immediately followed by temporal death. If we may proceed on the assumption that the believer's sanctification is perfect immediately after death and Scripture seems to teach this as far as the soul is concerned --, then in such cases the sanctification of the soul must be completed almost at once.
6. The sanctification of the believer must, it would seem, be completed either at the very moment of death, or immediately after death, as far as the soul is concerned, and at the resurrection in so far as it pertains to the body. This would seem to follow from that fact that, on the one hand, the Bible teaches that in the present life no one can claim freedom from sin, Rom. 3:10,12; “There is none righteous, not even one;…All have turned aside, together they have become useless;..” I John 1:8; “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” and that, on the other hand, those who have gone before are entirely sanctified. It speaks of them as “the spirits of righteous men made perfect,” Heb. 12:23, and as “blameless” Rev. 14:5.
Moreover, we are told that in the heavenly city of God there shall in no wise enter “and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying,..” Rev. 21:27; and that Christ at His coming will “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Phil. 3:21.
The word sanctification comes from Greek meaning to be separate or to be set apart for a purpose, the setting apart for the service of God. There are three parts (1) the moment you receive Christ, there is an immediate or positional sanctification. (2) as we progress the Christian life there is a progressive sanctification. (3) when we go to heaven there will be total and perfect sanctification, which is called glorification. We never reach perfect sanctification in this life. Nevertheless, we Christians are to be progressively sanctified, or made righteous in holiness as we daily abide in Christ - and obey His word. As Paul said; “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus…however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” Phi.3:12;16
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm.E. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids
Stanley N. Gundry Series Editor, Five views on Sanctification, Zondervan, Grand Rapids,
Colin Brown, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Zondervan
Publishing House, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1986.
A.A. Hodge, Sanctification, Reformation Ink.
Wesley’s tract, Christian Perfection, Methodist Doctrinal Tracts.
 Louis berkhof, Systematic Theology , Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. , Grand Rapids, Michigan.
 Louis berkhof, Systematic Theology .
 Stanley N. Gundry, Five View on Sanctification, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1987 p.7
 A.A. Hodge, Sanctification, Reformation Ink.
 Wesley’s tract, Christian Perfection: Methodist Doctrinal Tracts.
 David D. Cho, John Wesley’s Doctrine of Perfectionism, p.4
 Stanley N. Gundry, p.18
 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology.
 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology.