Although it is unclear from his definition, Hoekema (Saved by Grace , 202-9) rightly notes the definitive aspect to sanctification in the New Testament. Several texts point to the fact that God sanctifies his people once and for all, through the work of Christ on the cross. Other texts link sanctification with conversion or baptism into Christ, highlighting the work of the Holy Spirit through the gospel, consecrating believers to God as his holy people under the New Covenant. Yet even writers whole acknowledge this do not give the teaching the weight that it deserves. There is an assumption that sanctification is mainly viewed in progressive terms in the New Testament. Little is made of definitive sanctification as a basis and motivation for holy living.
Klaus Bockmuehl more helpfully begins his exposition of the subject by defining sanctification in the Old Testament as ‘the act or process by which people or things are cleansed and dedicated to God, ritually and morally’ (‘Sanctification’, in S. B. Ferguson & D. F. Wright [ed.], New Dictionary of Theology, [Leicester/ Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1988), 613]). This is where a truly Biblical Theology of sanctification and holiness should begin.
Turning to the New Testament, Bockmuehl observes that cleansing and dedication continue to be dominant notes when the terminology of sanctification and holiness is used. Sanctification is a state in which believers find themselves because of the work of Christ and the operation of his Spirit in their lives. They are called to remain in that state ‘by living in correspondence to their given holiness’ (p. 614). So Bockmuehl views sanctification in the New Testament as ‘a one-time event and as a process, the believers being and becoming holy and acting correspondingly’.
S. E. Porter, (‘Holiness, Sanctification’, in G. F. Hawthorne, R. P. Martin & D. G. Reid [ed.], Dictionary of Paul and his Letters,[Downers Grove/Leicester: IVP], 399), similarly concludes that, ‘if one must reduce sanctification to a single notion, it may be summarized in the idea that the believer both lives in holiness and grows into holiness’.
Possessed by God is concerned to explore whether this is the best way to express the teaching of the New Testament. It argues that definitive sanctification is a more important theme in the New Testament than has generally been acknowledged. Rightly understood, this doctrine is a key to holy living and a way through the impasse created by much previous debate. God calls us and enables us in Christ to live as those possessed by God and empowered by his Holy Spirit. This is the theme of my first three chapters.
My fourth chapter then examines New Testament exhortations to pursue holiness and considers the sense in which sanctification is a process of ‘becoming’ and ‘acting’. Much debate about sanctification has focussed on the interpretation of Romans 6-8. Consequently, my fifth chapter provides an overview of that section, in the light of Paul’s teaching about sanctification elsewhere.
Biblical promises of transformation and growth are then considered in the sixth chapter, as I attempt to integrate other strands of teaching about the Christian life with what I have discovered about sanctification.