Many in Christendom believe that sanctification, that is man being made holy, is accomplished by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the mind of man, the human heart. Calvinists believe that sanctification begins with irresistible grace (which leads to conversion) and continues through life (perseverance of the saints). The church of the Nazarene has another teaching. Influenced by the Wesleys, they teach the doctrine of second grace. This second grace is provided by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. They teach that there are two types of sin. Actual sin (personal sin) is removed when one (with free will) repents and places his trust in Jesus. Original sin which taints man, affecting his inclinations, is removed following conversion and justification by a second working of grace. Both Calvinism and Wesleyanism teach a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. They simply place the direct operation at different points.
What does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit’s role in sanctification? Let us notice the New Testament passages which speak of both the spirit and sanctification.
The Offering of the Gentiles
Romans 15:19, “…I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of these things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient – in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”
Paul had been given grace (Romans 15:15). The reference is to miraculous gifts, even apostleship (f. Ephesians 4:7, 11 cf. 3:7; Romans 1:5; 12:6; cf. 15:15-16).
Paul’s objective was to use this gift to set the Gentiles before God as an acceptable sacrifice. It is highly figurative language. Remember that for a sacrifice to be accepted by God it had to be authorized (cf. Leviticus 10:1-2) and holy (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 7:1, etc.). Grammatically, it is the “offering” being sanctified. The word translated, “’Gentiles’… is in the neuter gender, plural number, and genitive case and therefore cannot be that which is being sanctified. The only feminine gender, nominative case, and singular number noun in the sentence is the word… translated ‘offering’” (Fox, The Work of the Holy Spirit, Vol. 2, p. 80). The Holy Spirit sanctified the Gentiles as an acceptable offering.
How did the Holy Spirit sanctify the Gentiles? (1) The revelation which came by the Holy Spirit declared the Gentiles acceptable (Acts 10-11, 15; Galatians 2 -3). (2) The signs and wonders Paul did among the Gentiles were done by the power of the spirit of God. Paul did not do these things by his own human power.
Chose for Salvation
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, “We are bound to give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul was thankful for these brethren. Why? The answer is: God had chosen them for salvation (keep in mind that a choice may involve standards – cf. Acts 6:2-6).
How did God choose them in context? Two things are mentioned: (1) “Sanctification of spirit.” This is the literal reading. The definite article is not present. Is this speaking of the Holy Spirit or the human spirit? This is not clear. If we assume that this refers to the Holy Spirit, let us ask how the Holy Spirit sanctifies in context. Man is called by the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:14; Ephesians 2:18, 20 cf. 3:1-3a, 5-6). He is called to holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:7) and the obtaining of glory (2 Thessalonians 2:14). There is nothing here which demands a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. (2) “Belief in the truth.” The Holy Spirit provided the message. Man believes. Lynn Blair commented, “How did God choose them: Through two parts: God’s part (sanctification of the Spirit) and man’s part, or reaction (belief of the truth). God chose them through their belief of the truth” (Houston College of Bible Lectureship, Calvinism, p. 447).
1 Peter 1:1-2, “Peter… to the pilgrims of the dispersion… elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ…”
Peter is writing to those who had been scattered due to persecutions (cf. Acts 8:4; 11:19). Life was difficult.
Yet, Peter reminds them, God had chosen them for salvation. This choice was according to foreknowledge of God. That is, it was according to His forethought and pre-arrangement (Thayer). God chose (planned) to save man (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-20; Ephesians 1:3-4a; 3:11).
God did not choose to save man unconditionally. Peter, in this same book, warned “…the Father… without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourself throughout the time of your stay here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17). Peter, in his second book, continued to exhort saying, “giving all diligence add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love… be ever more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-11).
There is again the question of whether spirit refers to the Holy Spirit or the human spirit. The definite article is not present. There is no adjunct such as “Holy” or “of God” or “of the Lord.”
Assuming that this does refer to the Holy Spirit, what is the Spirit’s role in sanctification? Contextually, the Holy Spirit revealed the message of salvation (1 Peter 1:10-16). Remember that man is sanctified by the truth (John 17:17, 19).
Jesus’ role? Mentioned is the sprinkling of blood (1 Peter 1:2, 18-22). “Sprinkling” refers to His blood being applied to us (Hebrews 10:22 cf. 9:13, 19, 21; 11:28; 12:24). This is closely linked with baptism (Hebrews 10:22). Baptism is into the death of Christ (Romans 6:3).
Man’s role? The sanctification of the Spirit is for obedience. Again, there is a question of whether the Holy Spirit or the human spirit is in view. Later, in this chapter, Peter wrote, “you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit…” The article is present. Though, the words “through the Spirit” is a textual variant. However, the reason that we can obey the truth is because the Spirit has revealed the truth. It is not necessary to read into this a direct operation of the Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your who Spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God has a sanctifying influence on man. This passage does not explain how God sanctifies. It is not necessary to read into this a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. We have already seen that He sanctifies through His truth (John 17:17, 19).
Remember: (1) One can hear and be converted before receiving the Holy Spirit. This was true at Jerusalem (Acts 2:36-38), at Samaria (Acts 8:4-5, 12, 14-17), and at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6). (2) The Holy Spirit does not sanctify man with irresistible force (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). It is man’s responsibility to present himself a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God. This is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1-2).