Different perspectives on sanctification and holiness have been adopted by Christians over the centuries. For example, M. E. Dieter, A. A. Hoekema, S. M. Horton, J. Robertson McQuilkin, S. F. Walvoord, Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Academie, 1987) reveal the Wesleyan, Reformed, Pentecostal, Keswick and Augustinian-Dispensational approaches. D. L. Alexander (ed.), Christian Spirituality Five Views of Sanctification (Downers Grove: IVP, 1988) deals with the Lutheran, Reformed, Wesleyan, Pentecostal and Contemplative views.
Each position is critiqued by contributors from other traditions. A fruitful dialogue is set up, in which points of agreement and disagreement are made clear. Such books provide an excellent introduction to the subject, but suggest that, if any advance is to be made, there is more work to be done at the level of biblical interpretation.
A major failing of many treatments of this subject has been the lack of a thorough and systematic investigation of the relevant terms and their use in Scripture. The Bible has been used selectively in much of the literature on this subject. So the teaching of Hebrews on sanctification is often ignored, though the writer’s exhortation to pursue the holiness ‘without which no one will see the Lord’ (12:14) is given great prominence. Without explanation or reason, certain texts in the letters of Paul are also given much greater attention than others. The assumption is generally made that sanctification is simply the process by which we become more and more holy.
In Systematic Theology, sanctification has become the basket into which every theme related to Christian life and growth has been placed. Anthony Hoekema (Saved by Grace [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Exeter: Paternoster, 1989], 192) typically defines it as ‘that gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, involving our responsible participation, by which he delivers us 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.’
In Possessed by God: a New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (New Studies in Biblical Theology 1 [ed. D. A. Carson]; Leicester: Apollos; Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1995), I argue that this is an inadequate definition. It obscures the distinctive meaning and value of the terminology in the New Testament, confusing sanctification with renewal and transformation.
Theologians are clearly bound to show how the doctrines of regeneration and renewal, justification and sanctification, spiritual growth and glorification, relate to one another. But this can only be done in a satisfactory way when the particular contribution of each theme is isolated and understood in its biblical dimensions.