Question of the Week: What are Progressive, Positional, and Final Sanctification?
Sanctification means to set something aside. Once we have established a proper definition, then the different applications explain themselves. When referring to sanctification in a biblical sense, it can be synonymous with a wide variety of different terms. Baptism, or ceremonial immersion, can be considered a form of sanctification due to the fact that cleansing something with water was a part of dedicating the original priests in their service to God. (Exodus 30:21) This was later demonstrated by Jesus to be the means by which He dedicated Himself to the ministry His Father sent Him to this world to accomplish. (Matthew 3:13-17) Another example of sanctification is the studying of the word of God. (John 17:17-19) Marriage is another. (1 Corinthians 7:14) However, in regards to the question of terms used to describe these various forms of sanctification, the focus is on the form of sanctification known simply as the Christian life.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NKJV)
Progressive Sanctification, Positional Sanctification, and Final Sanctification are all terms used to observe this process by which God has set us aside. This would be synonymous with salvation in the most practical sense. The question is what aspect of salvation each kind of sanctification is focusing on. Progressive Sanctification focuses on the Christian life as a whole, before Heaven but following salvation. Positional Sanctification focuses on God’s perspective of us having received His gift of salvation. And Final Sanctification focuses on the final product salvation through Jesus Christ produces in us. Notice that all of them involve us, our relationship with God, and the fact that we are saved. The only difference between them is the order of attention they all focus on.
Progressive Sanctification: Us – Salvation – God
Positional Sanctification: God – Salvation – Us
Final Sanctification: Salvation – Us – God
Progressive Sanctification is described by the Apostle Peter as the ongoing impact salvation through Jesus Christ has on our lives in a practical sense. It is worth noting that sanctification and salvation aren’t conditions of one another, but the natural result of both lived out in someone’s life. Once that salvation is in place, God’s work in your life will be reflected by these things. In other passages that encourage Christians to test themselves to see if they are in the faith, these are examples of what to look for. It is also key to emphasize that these things aren’t a replacement for salvation, but the impact the Holy Spirit will have on your life once He has been welcomed in. God cleans His fish after He has caught them. It isn’t a self-help manual. It’s an observation of the progress, or heading towards the goal, of an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, 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. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:3-11 (NKJV)
Positional Sanctification brings the attention away from the Christian living their lives and onto how God views the Christian as a rule. This is the ongoing reality for those who have received and are abiding in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Even though we still struggle and fall into sin, God already sees us in Heaven with Him and righteous on the sole basis of His Son having made us justified before the Father. The Apostle Paul describes that reality in the following way.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:4-10 (NKJV)
Final Sanctification likewise brings the attention away from us in the moment and looks ahead to where we’ll ultimately be. Like Progressive and Positional Sanctification, it focuses on impact salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has on us. Unlike the former two topics, it answers the question what we are progressing towards and how that position will remain the case in Heaven. (Romans 8:29-30) We will be like Jesus. Not in the sense that we will share exclusively divine traits with the Father and Holy Spirit, but like Jesus showed us when He adopted human nature, we will reflect His perfect nature in regards to the reason we were originally created. To enjoy a relationship with Him. (John 8:29)
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
1 John 3:2-3 (NKJV)
All of these different ways of looking at the same topic are completely biblical. Though the words “Progressive, Positional, and Final” aren’t directly associated with Sanctification, they are describing biblical principals that surround this topic. Likewise, in order to have an accurate understanding of sanctification as a whole, all of these things need to be understood.
Without Progressive Sanctification, Positional and Final Sanctification are meaningless to you give the fact that you have no metric to determine whether or not you’re actually benefitting from them. Someone who understands how God sees a saved soul and where they are ultimately headed won’t help them if they have no metric to determine if they are in that position and heading to that final destination.
Without Positional Sanctification, Progressive Sanctification and Final Sanctification are useless to you given the fact that you can be living a Christ-like life and know the end result it will lead to, but it leaves out the fact that God already sees you in that Final state. The consequences of this lack produce exactly what Peter was cautioning people against in his second epistle. The more accurate your perspective of God’s character and ongoing view of you, the more hope you will have as you live out Progressive Sanctification and focus on Final Sanctification.
Without Final Sanctification, you have no reason to pursue Progressive Sanctification or consider Positional Sanctification a benefit if it only applies to this life. If you don’t understand that your positional righteousness is the goal as much as the ongoing reality, then it leads to ideas like believing you could fall back into sin in Heaven and end up the Lucifer of some new world in the future.
In conclusion, Sanctification as a whole is understood biblically through all of these doctrines. Progressive Sanctification describes the Christian life. Positional Sanctification describes God’s view of the Christian. Final Sanctification describes the end result being set apart has on us in an eternal sense. All are needed to have an accurate and complete understanding of your relationship with God.
A Reason For Hope is a ministry of Calvary Christian Fellowship of Tucson
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