Four Phases of Sanctification

I. Phase I – The Tyranny of Sin is Broken

The first initial step of sanctification takes place in conjunction with regeneration. There is a radical break with the total dominion and tyranny of sin so that the believer now struggles with remaining sin instead of reigning sin.

The Holy Scriptures describe unregenerate sinners as being slaves of and to sin and sin is pictured as their tyrannical master (John 8:34; Romans 6:17, 20; Ephesians 2:1-3).

In the first phase, sin is dethroned, the believer dies to sin, the old self is crucified and there is a new principle of holiness implanted in the heart of the believer which will not allow sin to ultimately and permanently regain dominion over the believer (Romans 6:5-7, 11, 14, 18, 22; Galatians 5:24).

That the absolute power of sin has been broken in every believer is used by the Apostle Paul to prove that a person cannot be real Christian and, at the same time, be completely dominated by sin as a general overall pattern of life (I Corinthians 5:9-11; 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21).

II.  Phase II – Continual Warfare

The second phase of sanctification concerns the present-tense process of sanctification in which the believer experiences the positive and negative aspects of ethical sanctification. The believer is progressively conformed to Christ’s moral character while, at the same time, remaining sin is progressively dealt with. Thus, the New testament speaks of believers as being sanctified in the sense of the present-tense process (II Cor. 3:18; 7:1; Eph. 4:12; Heb. 12:14; I Jn. 3:3).

We are progressively conformed to Christ’s character in two ways.

  1. the Holy Spirit sovereignly implants and nurtures Christ’s righteousness within us. He works in us “the willing and doing of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
  2. as regenerate believers, we obey the Scriptures under the power and guidance of the Spirit. We make use of those means ordained in God’s Word that we might “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).

III. Phase III – Perfected Spirit

During the second stage or phase of sanctification, the progressive work of perfection and purification is always incomplete but, at death, which is the third phase, the believer’s spirit or soul is at once completely perfected and purified. Thus the saints in heaven are described as “the spirits of justified men made perfect” in Hebrews 12:23.

IV. Phase IV – Finalized Victory

Now the complete sanctification of soul and spirit has taken place in Phase III, our attention is drawn to the body for it, too, must be completely sanctified (I Thess. 5:23).

When shall the body be completely sanctified? At the Second Coming of Christ when all living believers are transformed and the bodies of dead saints are resurrected (I Thess. 5:23; Phil. 3:20-21; I Cor. 15:35, 44, 49, 51-57).

The fourth and final phase of sanctification when elect saints are rendered complete and perfect in the full image of God is the great goal of the history of redemption. It is called in Scripture the glorification of the saints when they are manifested to the world and vindicated in judgment (Rom. 8:30, 9:23; I Cor. 2:7).

Adapted from Robert Morey’s Studies in the Atonement