Sanctification: A Process
There are three elements of sanctification: past (positional), in which believers have been entirely set apart (sanctified); present (progressive), in which believers grow in grace toward greater holiness; future (perfect), in which believers will be entirely perfected. The first takes place at the moment of conversion through regeneration, the second is a life-long process, and the third will take place through glorification. Present (progressive) sanctification is the subject of Holiness. Ryle writes,
Sanctification, again, is a thing which admits of growth and degrees. A man may climb from one step to another in holiness, and be far more sanctified at one period of his life than another. More pardoned and more justified than he is when he first believes, he cannot be, though he may feel it more. More sanctified he certainly may be, because every grace in his new character may be strengthened, enlarged, and deepened. This is the evident meaning of our Lord’s last prayer for His disciples, when He used the words, ‘Sanctify them’; and of St. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians, ‘The very God of peace sanctify you.’ (John 17:17; 1 Thess. 4:3). In both cases the expression plainly implies the possibility of increased sanctification; while such an expression as ‘justify them’ is never once in Scripture applied to a believer, because he cannot be more justified than he is. I can find no warrant in Scripture for the doctrine of ‘imputed sanctification.’ It is a doctrine which seems to me to confuse things that differ, and to lead to very evil consequences. Not least, it is a doctrine which is flatly contradicted by the experience of all the most eminent Christians. If there is any point on which God’s holiest saints agree it is this: that they see more, and know more, and feel more, and do more, and repent more, and believe more, as they get on in spiritual life, and in proportion to the closeness of their walk with God. In short, they ‘grow in grace,’ as St. Peter exhorts believers to do; and ‘abound more and more,’ according to the words of St. Paul. (2 Pet. 3:18; 1 Thess. 4:1).
—J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 27–28
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