What is sanctification?

While working on a sermon covering Philippians 2:12-13, I found question 38 of the Baptist Catechism quite helpful.

A Brief Word About Catechisms

First, catechisms were and are used regularly throughout church history. While to many the term catechism brings up the picture of the Catholic or Anglican church, protestant groups such as the presbyterians and reformed baptistic congregationalists have regularly used catechisms to disciple and educate believers. Typically, catechisms utilize the question and answer format. For example, question 38 of the Baptist Catechism has,

“Q. 38: What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

Question 38 of the Baptist Catechism

Second, catechisms offer a broad treatment of deep, biblical subjects. Entire books have been written on the topic of sanctification. Journals and scholarly articles increase the understanding and expand the debate on this doctrine. However, the Catechism summarizes the Scriptures’ teaching on sanctification with thirty-four words. In other words, it offers the bones of the doctrine, not a comprehensive treatment.

Third, and finally, catechisms are tools for aiding believers in understanding doctrines of the Bible. They are not the Bible, nor were they ever meant to replace the Bible. They are only effective and helpful as they rely on the Bible and its God-given authority. The moment catechisms loom over the Bible in an effort to wrest authority from God or His Word is the moment the catechisms are to be thrown into the fire. With that said, the Baptist Catechism does not seek to do this.

Baptist Catechism and Sanctification

I used question 38 as an example above, and I will offer it here again.

“Q. 38: What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

Question 38 of the Baptist Catechism

There are three parts to the answer that helped me in summarizing the complex doctrine of sanctification.

Sanctification is the Work of God

First, let us note that the Catechism places the work of sanctification in God’s court. We read, “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace.” The Catechism cites 2 Thessalonians 2:13 which reads, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first-fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (ESV) In this passage, the Spirit is the means by which the “brothers beloved” were sanctified.

Sanctification has a goal: Godliness

The second part that helps us understand what sanctification is refers to the goal. We read in the Catechism, “whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God.” That is our goal: godliness. In sanctification we are made after the image of God. I found this phrase interesting in light of a brief comparison of Genesis 1:26, 5:3, and James 3:9.

Genesis 1:26Genesis 5:3James 3:9
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”“When Adam had lived 13 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”“With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”
Man’s image prior to the fall centers on God’s image.Man’s image after the fall centers on man’s fallen image.Man’s image after the fall retains vestiges of God’s image.
All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version

Prior to the fall, man was created in the image of God. After the fall, man begat man in his own image, though this image retains aspects of the image of God. What ties this together with the doctrine of sanctification is the goal of sanctification: godliness. We see this presented in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Did you catch the reference to the image? Through sanctification (and two other key doctrines), believers are made into the image of his Son. That is the goal of sanctification.

Sanctification is a Progressive Work

The last part of sanctification upon which the Baptist Catechism touches is the progressiveness of it. We read, “Sanctification is the work of God…whereby we…are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

The progressive nature of sanctification is demonstrated by the Baptist Catechisms wording, “more and more.” That is, there will be a progression sanctification. Let me remind you that the Catechism is succinct; it is not meant to be an elaborate work of theology.

If we consulted the London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 13, “On Sanctification,” we would read in paragraph 2, “This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.”

There is no doubt, on comparing the Confession and the Catechism, with accompanying Scripture, that the work of sanctification is a lifelong work.

Concluding Thoughts

There is much that could be written (and probably should) at this point. There are many applications that we could discern and utilize for our daily lives in the faith. However, that will have to wait until another day. For now, let the Baptist Catechism help us understand this wonderfully deep and delightfully sweet doctrine of sanctification.

Your Life and Doctrine: 2 Ways to Take Care of Yourself

In 1 Timothy 4:11, Paul instructs Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (ESV)
Paul desired that his young protege would be careful about his manner of life and the content of his beliefs. And, as God’s people, we must all be aware of how we are living and what we believe.
Our Manner of Life
What does our manner of life say about us? Whom does it say we serve? We all know the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words,” and perhaps that is more true (if that is possible!) for the Christian. For those who claim the name of Christ, and yet act in a manner contradictory of the Lord Jesus, they bring great shame on the Lord and confuse people who are not His followers. It can also hinder people’s own walk with God, or lack thereof.
Christians have enjoyed a period of cultural acceptance up until very recently. Now, however, society, in general, lies in opposition to almost all Christian values. The after effects of this, however, are more detrimental than society’s rejection. Consider David Kinnaman’s and Gabe Lyons conclusion, “The hypocritical perception is most acute not when a religion is on the fringes of society, but when it has because a dominant part of the culture.” (Kinnaman and Lyons, UnChristian, 43) For centuries Christianity has enjoyed a certain prestige in American society. However, that is already shifting, rapidly and increasingly. Now, more than ever, Christians need to “keep a close watch” on their lives. Those who pretend to be in Christ’s sheepfold are leaving in the droves, and Christ’s true followers must live as their Lord did. They must pay special attention to their lives.
One practical way in which we can do this is to incorporate a time of self-examination every day. I suggest the 10 Commandments, due to their consistency in Scripture as well as their ease in reading and comprehension. Regularly ask yourself, “Am I following the 10 Commandments? How does my life differ from what God has taught?” Questions like these will help you keep a close guard of your life.
Our Matter of Beliefs
In 2018, Ligonier conducted a study on what people believed (you can find the study, including the research methodologies, here: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/state-theology-what-do-people-really-believe-2018/). One of the results was the distinct declaration that people today do not believe what the Scriptures teach, Christian and otherwise alike. Some of the questions are basic aspects of the faith, and it is shocking to see.
However, before we criticize others, are we engaged in serious study of our Faith? Do we regularly search the Scriptures and see what they teach? I am certainly not advocating for people to sit down and read systematic theology books (though that would be helpful!). However, when we cannot agree on what the Scriptures teach about the exclusivity of Christ, are we keeping watch of our doctrinal beliefs?
What we believe affects how we live, which in turn affects what we believe. What are some ways you can watch your doctrine? I find Statements of Faith to be helpful, particularly in the context of your church. What does your church believe? Study their Statements of Faith. You can also check our declarations such as the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (here: http://www.sbc.net/bfm2000/bfm2000.asp). It is an excellent summary of beliefs, which also include references to Scripture.
Another helpful tool are systematic theologies. Now, I would caution you on which ones you choose. First, they can be extremely academic. While there is a need for them, it may not produce the same fervor for understanding God more. Another aspect to be aware of is the beliefs. There are systematic theologies that espouse heresies. Finally, take care with how you approach your study. It can be an exercise in gaining knowledge, but unless it helps you know and love God and your neighbors more, it is fruitless.
So, brothers and sisters, pay attention to your life and your beliefs. And to God be the glory!

3 Encouragements from God’s Sovereignty

Doctrine leads to practice. This is a truth that many in the church today have apparently forgotten. I have been sitting with fellow church members from various congregations who informed me that doctrine is boring, lifeless, and impractical. Like decorative pillows that are taken off before bed and placed back upon waking, people see doctrine in the same light.

I have also heard people, including pastors, say that theology and doctrine do not really matter. This, according to Scripture, is absurd. For the sake of space, we will simply look at one example. In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul writes, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” (ESV) Jesus is Lord is a doctrinal statement. Of course, there are contextual issues that are involved with Paul’s mentioning of this, but it illustrates that without doctrine, we have nothing.

Theology proper (that which focuses on God) tells us that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. This information is gleaned from the sacred Scriptures. But this information, or doctrine, has profound implications. If God has all-power, there is no problem that you and I will face that He is unable to address. If God is omniscient, then there is nothing of which God does not have full and exact knowledge. If God is omnipresent, then you and I are never truly alone.

Doctrine leads to practice. And doctrine is practical. God’s sovereignty is blissfully practical. I want to focus on three ways, and I hope this accomplishes two goals:

  1. To increase your desire to learn the doctrines of the Bible
  2. To increase your awareness of the practicality of doctrine



Now, this has enormous applications, some that are easy to believe and some that, beyond God’s grace, are incomprehensible.

The psalmist declares,

Our God is in the heavens;

he does all that he please. (Psalm 115:3, ESV)

There is so much more the Scriptures say about God’s sovereignty. Check out this free resource at Monergism.

This verse, along with other Scripture, teaches us that God is in control of every particle of creation, orchestrating all things for His glory and the believer’s good (Romans 8:28). John Calvin states, “Not even a drop of rain falls without His express command.” (Calvin, Institutes)

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

On Monday morning when your alarm clock fails to go off, God is in control. When your child breaks in the middle of the bike path causing you to bang your knee in an effort not to run him over, God is in control. When you sit through the stop light, again, God is in control. When the doctor brings you bad news, God is in control. 

The beautiful part of God’s sovereignty, however, is not just that nothing happens by accident.


That God is sovereign is sweetly displayed throughout all of Scripture. That God is also a gracious and good God is also displayed. John records of God, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, ESV) Moses beautifully describes God as

“…a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6, ESV)

If God were just sovereign, we might have reason to fear. For a human example, if Adolf Hitler had unlimited power, imagine what destruction he would reign all over the earth. And if God were sovereign, but also evil, we would be in unimaginable trouble. But God is kind, He is gracious, He abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness.

This means that on Monday morning when your alarm clock fails to go off, God is gracious. Perhaps He is preventing you from leaving on time, avoiding a fatal accident. When your child breaks in the middle of the bike path causing you to bang your knee in an effort not to run him over, God is gracious. Perhaps God is allowing this instance to come into your life in order to conform you into the image of His most patient Son, Jesus Christ. When you sit through the stop light, again, God is gracious. Maybe God knows that a certain song that will speak truth and encouragement into your life will come on before you get to school. When the doctor brings you bad news, God is gracious. It is possible that God knows that the only way you can grow closer to Him is to work through that medical issue.

Flowers offer a beautiful display of God’s goodness. He could have made flowers unpleasing to the eyes, unpleasant to the nose, and unhelpful to the bees. But the variety, beautiful, and intricacies of the flowers are only one display of His sovereign goodness.

Do you see just how awesome doctrine is? This can transform your life! That nothing happens by accident, and that all things are orchestrated by the most benevolent Being have enormous implications. But there is one final point that I want to draw out from this doctrine.


I must admit, that I have had a great life. God has been so good to me. I grew up in a loving family. I married the most amazing woman in the history of our planet. I have three of the most precious children in the world. And I was born in Texas.

A few years ago my wife and I happily found out we were pregnant. However, upon our first visit, our little baby was measuring smaller than the baby should have been. The doctor informed us that this does not mean that something is wrong, but she also mentioned that it was not good.

At the next appointment, the doctor informed us that the baby would not make it to full term. We were devastated. At this point, we had two healthy children, and the idea that we might lose a baby had never entered into our minds. You can imagine the questions that raced through our minds. How could God let this happen? Why is God doing this to us? We love our children, doesn’t He know that we will take Good care of that baby?

It was a difficult time in our life. But God was gracious to us. He provided comfort in a way that exceeds our comprehension. The truth of Romans 8:28 was a constant retreat from the devastation. Consider some of the most encouraging words penned by Paul,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, ESV)

This verse teaches us that God works all things for good. It does not say that we will understand how it works for good. One account I constantly returned to was Joseph’s life. Imagine the questions he must have had. Sold by his brothers, lied about and punished for a sin he never committed, Joseph must have constantly asked God why? But when you read Joseph’s summary, Joseph’s belief in the sovereignty of God was a rock of comfort. Joseph tells his brothers,

Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:19-20)

Joseph did not know why he was going through what he did. But his belief in the sovereignty of God voided his need to know why because he knew Who. Perhaps you are in the midst of a suffering that many people cannot fathom. Dive into the deep love and sovereignty of God. You may never know why, but you can rest in Him. God’s truth is foundation upon which we can rest.


Doctrine leads to practice. It changes the way we think, speak, and live. God’s sovereignty is a doctrine in the Scriptures. Search them, learn about God’s control of everything. Meditate on the truth that God is a good God. And resolve to trust God more than your desire to know why. Doctrine leads to practice. And the doctrine of God’s sovereignty leads to a peace that passes our understanding.