The sanctification of the believer is in three realms—positional, progressive, and ultimate, reflecting the past, present, and future aspects of salvation. In Romans 8:1-11, Paul notes the reality of positional sanctification as the believer is in union with Christ, having been justified and declared righteous. Then He describes how this sanctification is worked out progressively in the life of the believer who walks according the Spirit. Positional and ultimate sanctification are entirely the work of God. Progressive sanctification requires the cooperation of the believer, who is commanded to be filled with the Spirit.
Positional sanctification – justification. At salvation, believers are justified, declared righteous in conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8: 29). This is entirely a work of God.
Experiential sanctification – spiritual maturity. The goal is Christlikeness, the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in producing godliness in the life of the believer. In essence, progressive sanctification is becoming in experience what we already are positionally in Christ. The Holy Spirit operates in believers to free them experientially from the power of sin and death. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
The progress of sanctification, or spiritual maturity, is marked by conflict, spiritual warfare, because our new life in Christ is on a collision course with the world, is opposed by Satan, and fought by the sinful nature within us. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that produces the tension or conflict in our life. This conflict in the life of a believer, rather than being proof sanctification’s absence, is evidence of its work.
Progressive sanctification is accomplished by the Holy Spirit as the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit as a result of having no unconfessed sin in his or her life. It is an act entirely of God so that the righteous man lives by faith and not by works. However, it involves a choice: “Be ye holy for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
Ultimate sanctification – glorification. . The final stage in the salvation process is the ultimate sanctification of the believer—the future glorification of the believer. It is realized at resurrection when the believer will be transformed into the likeness of Christ and presented to the Lord as holy. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is both the promise of and the agency for this future glorification, which includes 1) the redemption of the body, 2) an inheritance undefiled and eternal, and 3) deliverance from the future wrath of God.
“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13-14; cf. 1 Cor. 1:22).
Justification delivers from the penalty of sin
Sanctification delivers from the power of sin
Glorification delivers from the presence of sin