Positional vs. Progressive Sanctification

Part 6:

Much of the problem with the popular discussion of “gospel-centered sanctification” stems from a one-dimensional understanding of the biblical word “sanctification”. Yet the Scripture clearly uses the word “sanctification” in two distinguishable ways.

The English words “sanctification”, “sanctify”, “sanctified” and “sacred”, which appear in our English translations of the New Testament are all derived and translated from the root word “holy” (hagios) found in the Greek New Testament. The core non-technical meaning of this word refers to something that has been or is being “set apart” or “separate”. It can rightly refer to God himself, who is “set apart” in a variety of ways from every other being. It can refer to things that are “set apart” for some special use, as in the case of the temple’s furnishings. And it can also refer to Christians – in two distinct ways:

1) Christians, positionally, at justification have been “set apart” to be God’s own possession;

2) Christians, practically, are being increasingly “set apart” from sinful actions and associations.

Notice for instance, when Paul enlists the analogy of marriage to both instruct and illustrate Christ’s relationship with the church. He writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph.5:25-26). Here “sanctify” speaks to the “setting apart” of Christians to be Christ’s bride. This takes place positionally for each regenerate individual of the church when he or she is justified by faith in Christ.

To the Thessalonians, on the other hand, Paul writes, “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1Th.4:1-3). Here “sanctification” speaks to the “setting apart” of a Christian’s life. It speaks of Christians moving away from their sinful activities and progressively participating more-and-more in God-pleasing behavior.

Forms of the word “sanctification” are used in these two distinct contexts throughout the New Testament. The first context is a once-for-all forensic and legal reality, which describes our status as God’s people who have been purchased, adopted and redeemed. The second is a progressive and ongoing reality, which describes our practice as people who are becoming increasingly holy, godly and Christlike. To distinguish these two, the first is often designated “positional sanctification” or sometimes “definitive sanctification”, while the second is usually designated “practical sanctification” or “progressive sanctification.”

When the word “sanctification” is used by Tchividjian in Jesus + Nothing = Everything he is presenting to us a way to understand our progressive sanctification. The book is about contrasting ways to approach our daily, practical sanctification – either by “resting” and “relaxing” (which he advises – pp.11, 46, 120, et al.) or “working” (which he labels “legalism” and “anti-gospel” pp.45ff.). The problem is that much of his advocacy throughout the book for what he calls “gospel-based sanctification” (pp.191, 207) is constructed on biblical references which include the word “sanctification” or “sanctify”, but are clearly referring to our “positional sanctification” (i.e., our justification). You can see examples of this conflated use of the word “sanctification” throughout Tchividjian’s book (e.g., pp. 46, 83, 102, 140, 172).

This is a widespread problem in the entire discussion concerning this topic on blogs and in other recent books. We cannot look to passages which refer to positional sanctification and treat them as though they are referring to the same reality as progressive sanctification! That results in an odd assumption, namely that what is revealed in the Bible to be “progressive” is in fact already complete. What the Bible is calling for us to work at (i.e., our progressive sanctification) is now wrongly castigated as sinful effort because we are told in essence that our “progressive sanctification” is in reality the same thing as “positional sanctification”.

Because the Bible uses the word “sanctification” in two distinct ways we should always be careful to not confuse the meaning of what we are intending to talk about. It is because of this potential risk of confusion that Protestant evangelical discussion has usually employed the word “justification” to represent and include the idea of “positional sanctification”, and has left the word “sanctification” to refer to our “progressive sanctification”. Or, as has been the practice of most Christians, there is the simplified talk of “being saved” (being set apart by God to be his adopted child) and “growing” (being increasingly set apart in holy behavior).

With that in mind we could return to more of J. C. Ryle’s classic, historic, and soundly biblical distinctions between Christian “justification” (positional sanctification) and Christian “sanctification” (progressive sanctification).

“Justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another… Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous…”

“The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own… [it] is imputed to us… The righteousness we have by sanctification is our own… imparted [to us]”

“In justification our own works have no place at all… In sanctification our own works are of vast importance…”

“Justification is a finished and complete work… Sanctification is an imperfect work…”

“Justification admits no growth or increase… Sanctification is eminently a progressive work…”

“Justification… is not easily discerned by others. Sanctification… cannot be hid in its outward manifestation from the eyes of men.”

(J. C. Ryle, Holiness, Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001, p.19).

So then, let us always remember that just because we are regenerate Christians, who have already been set apart as God’s own possessions at the point of conversion (i.e., we have been positionally sanctified), it does not mean that all of today’s choices will set our behavior apart from the sinful behavior of the world around us (i.e., making progress in our practical sanctification). Positional sanctification is something every Christian already has, while progressive sanctification is something every Christian is called to diligently pursue.

— Pastor Mike


Jesus Himself Personally Assures You of Your Eternal Life


Jesus, who is the Son of God, and God Almighty Himself, the Second Member of the Holy Trinity, said in John chapter six, verse 47, that if you believe in Him, you ~most assuredly~ have everlasting life:

“Most assuredly I say to you, he [or she] who believes [in Me] HAS everlasting life.” John 6:47

If you believe, even for one moment, in Jesus the God-man as your Savior, crucified for all of your sins on the cross, buried, and risen from the dead on the third day, you will be forgiven of all your sins, past, present and future; and you will be holy in Christ; and you will have a guaranteed and irrevocable destiny of Heaven that cannot be lost or given back. This is salvation.

As a saved believer, if you trust what Christ did for you (made you righteous in Christ), you can live the Christian life of love. Your mind can be filled with the knowledge of God in the Bible. You can follow the Holy Spirit. You can fellowship with other believers in Jesus, commune with God, and worship God. This is living a life of practical sanctification through faith in Jesus.

Eternal salvation and practical sanctification are NOT the same thing.

Doing good works is NOT a part of salvation.

Salvation is NOT received by confessing your faith, signing a card, raising your hand, joining a church, repenting of your sins, committing your life to Christ, being water baptized, taking the Lord’s Supper, avoiding sin, stopping doing big sins, doing good works, continuing in faith and good works, persevering to the end of your life, or by anything else other than by believing in Jesus the Incarnate Son of God as your Savior, crucified for all of your sins, dead, buried, and risen. (As good as all of these other things are.)

Doing good works for salvation is the False Gospel called Lordship Salvation, by which Satan is deceiving almost all “Christian” churches today.

Salvation is received through a moment of believing in Jesus as Savior.

Eternal Sanctification is the perfect spiritual gift of holiness in Christ, received in full at the moment of faith in Christ.

Curtis Smale





The Best Spiritual Things You Can Get

People search for knowledge and insight, and/or spiritual experience, or peace and holiness and righteousness, or assurance and clarity, as the greatest spiritual attainments.

People might seek for these things in many ways, in many different places.

But the best thing anyone can possibly receive is UNION WITH GOD through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God is love.

Union with the God who is love is the greatest thing that can happen to anyone.

Union with God is joy unspeakable.

Union with God gives us the peace our souls crave.

The best possible thing for any human being is to live united with God our loving Father, in Christ our Savior, and the Holy Spirit, who indwells our spirit.

We receive EVERYTHING GOOD by God’s grace, through Jesus, by His death on the cross for all of our sins, through His burial, and through His resurrection.

We receive knowledge of the Gospel through the Scripture.

We receive salvation through believing in the Gospel of Jesus: 1st Corinthians 15:1-4.

We receive perfect sanctification through believing in Jesus’ Gospel.

Jesus Himself IS our sanctification.

We receive experience of God through his Holy Spirit in our the intuition of our conscience of our spirit, through Jesus’ Gospel, because we have been crucified with Christ, we have been buried, and we have been raised to eternal life through His resurrection.

Though we still sin, God daily forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. God also tells us to confess our sins to one another. The forgiveness of God in the Lord’s Prayer is in the sense of daily practical fellowship, but we are forgiven for all our sins forever, past, present and future, in the moment of faith in Christ.

We are the holy children of God, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, indwelled by the Spirit of our Father.

When a person first comes to faith, he believes in Jesus, who died for all sins of everyone on the cross, was buried, and rose again on the third day.

And Paul the apostle tells us that Jesus, the Christ, did more than simply die for our sins.

Look deeper into what Jesus actually did for us.

The Bible tells us also that we were in Him in His death and resurrection, washing away all our sins past, present, and future, with His holy shed blood, and giving us a new life of eternal glory. (Galatians 2:20)

We receive this free gift forever and irrevocably in a moment of faith.

When we believe in Christ, in that moment, we repent or change our minds about unbelief about our sinfulness, and we change our minds in thinking that Jesus was just a man.

Repentance from sins and/or commitment and perseverance in holy living are not requirements ~for~ salvation. But they are the possible, but not required for salvation, natural outgrowth and working out of salvation. A holy life is God’s will for His children, made holy in Christ.

When we believe in Jesus, we are immediately spiritually baptized by the Holy Spirit into the death and resurrection of Christ. (This is not water baptism, but spiritual baptism.)

We are saved and preserved forever in Christ.

We are saved by sheer divine grace, there is no merit or worthiness in us.

The Bible says all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.

Jesus is the infinite and eternal and unimaginable divine pinnacle of all spiritual desires, who dwells in glorious white light forever and ever.

Jesus is forever worshiped and glorified by the angels in Heaven and by the saints in Christ.

In Christ are ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Through Jesus we receive forgiveness of sins.

Through Jesus we receive union with God.

Through Jesus we are destined for Heaven.

Through Jesus we commune with God the Father, through His Holy Spirit in our spirits, forever loved and at peace.

EVERYTHING SPIRITUALLY GOOD is given to us in Jesus who is God incarnate in human flesh, who died for all of the sins of everyone on the cross, who was buried, and who rose again on the third day.

Curtis Smale
All to the glory of God my Savior. John 6:47.

Why the World Hates Jesus

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” –Jesus, in John 7:7

The world hates Jesus because Jesus represents to them a condemnation of their evil works.

The world wants a Jesus of their imagination. A Jesus that does not tell them that what they are doing is wrong or evil.

The favorite Bible verse of the sinner who does not want to turn from his or her evil ways is: “Don’t judge me.”

The world wants a Jesus who will not tell them that they are doing bad things.

That is not the Jesus of the Bible.

This is why there are false Christs.

People invent them.

—Curtis Smale

Lordship False Gospel in the NIV

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
John 13:34 NKJV

Jesus is speaking these words. In the NKJV, above, this is a direct command from Jesus. Love others as Jesus has loved us. Immediately, we think, how are we going to be able to love others as Jesus loves us? Impossible. Well, right. Impossible, unless we are relying in God’s Spirit and His power, like a branch relies on the tree trunk (vine).

In the NIV, the verse is rendered, adding the word, “must.” As in, “so you -must- love one another.”

Must, or what? “Must,” or we aren’t saved? “Must,” or Jesus will no longer love us? “Must,” or there is some other threat?

That “must” is not in the original Greek, but was added in the bad translation of this verse.

The NIV is a very beautiful English rendering of the Bible, but it is verses like this that make using it very problematic, because it gives the wrong idea, or suggests the wrong idea.

A command was given by Jesus: love one another as I have loved you.

The concept of “must” is not in that verse, stated or implied, but was added presumably because of the Lordship salvation ideas of the translators.

Salvation is a free gift received by believing in Jesus as Savior (Ephesians 2:8,9). Lordship salvation false doctrine adds the wrong idea that obeying Jesus in acts of discipleship is part of what saves us. This is a false idea.

Adding anything to faith in Jesus for salvation is condemned in the strongest possible terms (two damnation curses) by the apostle Paul in Galatians chapter one verses eight and nine.

–Curtis Smale

It All Boils Down To This


Spiritually, everything boils down to this: having faith in the God-man Jesus, crucified on the cross for all sins, and resurrected, for our salvation; loving God, and loving and forgiving others as yourself, as Jesus loves; believing and following the Word and Spirit as a redeemed child of God, by His grace; and eagerly looking forward to Jesus’ Return and Our Father’s promise of Heaven–our destiny.

–Curtis Smale