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What’s the Difference between Sanctification and Transformation?

What is the difference between sanctification and transformation

What are sanctification and transformation?  What’s the difference between these two aspects of God’s saving work? And how can you experience sanctification and transformation in your daily Christian life?

By considering these questions you will be equipped with the truth of God’s Word and better able to experience and grow in your Christian life.

First, we need to see the meaning of sanctification and transformation and realize the relationship or distinction between them. Second, we need to learn how to progressively experience God’s sanctifying and transforming work in our daily life.

Sanctification and Transformation in the Bible

What is sanctification?

In the original Greek, the word for “sanctification” (hagiasmos) comes from the same root word as for “holy” (hagios).  “Holy” means separated, set apart.  So to sanctify a person is to make them holy and sanctification to God is the practical effect and the resulting state produced from being sanctified.

God Himself is holy and He wants His people to be holy. First Peter 1:15-16 says,

“But according to the Holy One who called you, you yourselves also be holy in all you manner of life; because it is written, “You shall be holy because I am holy.”

Holiness is what God is. It’s His nature. So the more we contact God and enjoy Him the holier we are.

God’s sanctifying work begins with a change in our position, our being separated unto Him. Then  it progresses to a change in our disposition, our being saturated with the Him.

So sanctification involves both an outward change in our position and an inward change in our disposition.

As believers in Christ, God has such a complete salvation planned for us. His salvation is carried out in the sphere of the Spirit’s sanctification. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says,

“But we ought to thank God always concerning you, beloved of the Lord because God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.”

Footnote 3 on this verse in the Recovery Version points out that the sanctification of the Spirit consists of three steps:

 1. The Spirit’s seeking us and convicting us before we are saved—1 Pet 1:2; Luke 15:8-10.

Before we were saved, our heart was turned away from God. But then His Spirit came to brood over us.

This aspect of sanctification is like the woman in the parable of the ten coins who lit a lamp and swept the house to find her lost coin. It is in this way that the Holy Spirit came to seek us, to brood over us, so that we might turn our heart to God.

The Spirit used God’s Word to shine in our hearts (Psalm 119:105, 130) and to enlighten us within so that we might realize our pitiful condition, repent, and return to God. This was God’s seeking sanctification.

To respond to His seeking it’s good to pray,

 “Oh Father, forgive me. I’ve wandered far away from You. I turn my heart back to You right now. I need You and come to You.”

Here’s a hymn that captures the sentiment of this point.

2. The Spirit’s sanctifying us positionally and dispositionally at the time we are saved—Heb. 13:121 Cor. 6:11.

Then when we believed into Christ, we experienced a further sanctifying through Christ’s blood. By Christ’s redeeming blood we were separated unto God for His purpose. Hebrews 13:12 says,

“Therefore also Jesus, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.”

Through faith and baptism, our position was fully changed. We were delivered out of  Satan’s kingdom–the authority of darkness and transferred into God’s kingdom–the kingdom of the Son of God’s love (Col. 1:13).

Also, at that moment, an inward, dispositional sanctifying began within us. Our spirit was sanctified through regeneration. That is, we were reborn, or born again, with God’s divine life and nature.  John 3:6 says,

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

We may call this divine birth God’s regenerating sanctification.

3. The Spirit’s dispositional sanctifying as we pursue to grow in God’s life—Rom. 6:19, 22.

But that’s not the end. God’s Spirit does not stop with regenerating our spirit. He progressively spreads out from our spirit into all the parts of our soul. Here is where transformation comes in.

As believers, we should not be content simply to be born again or regenerated. We need to pursue the sanctification of our soul. This is God’s transforming sanctification.

Transformation is the greater part of our daily experience of God’s sanctifying work. It is the aspect of sanctification that we should continually participate in throughout our entire Christian life.

 What is transformation?

W.E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, points out that the word “transform” in the original Greek is metamorphoo, which literally means to change into another form and morphe  here “lays stress on the inward change.”

Romans 12:2a says,

 “And do not be fashioned according to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind…”

 Footnote 3 on this verse in the Recovery Version gives a further development to this understanding of transformation:

 “Transformation is the inward, metabolic process in which God works to spread His divine life and nature throughout every part of our being, particularly our soul, bringing Christ and His riches into our being as our new element and causing our old, natural element to be gradually discharged. As a result we will be transformed into His image (2 Cor. 3:18)…”

For a further appreciation of transformation, you may want to read this post on the Amazing Process of Transformation Revealed in the Bible.

So what is the difference between sanctification and transformation?

Transformation is the third aspect of the Spirit’s sanctifying work mentioned above. It’s the dispositional aspect of sanctification that we experience daily as we grow in Christ’s life.

Footnote 2 on Romans 6:19 points out,

Sanctification…involves not only a change in position, that is, a separation from a common, worldly position to a position for God, as illustrated in Matt. 23:17, 19 and in 1 Tim. 4:3-5; it involves also a transformation in disposition, that is, a transformation from the natural disposition to a spiritual one by Christ as the life-giving Spirit saturating all the inward parts of our being with God’s nature of holiness, as mentioned in [Rom.] 12:2 and 2 Cor. 3:18.

So for a believer to “be sanctified” does not automatically mean that they are “being transformed.” They may only be separated unto God by the redeeming blood of Jesus. But if a believer is “being transformed” they are definitely “being sanctified”—especially in their soul.

Sanctification and transformation

How can we experience sanctification and transformation right now?

As believers, the Lord is continually working to sanctify us—both outwardly and inwardly. Here are two ways that we can cooperate with God to be experience sanctification and transformation in our daily life.

Negatively, the Holy Spirit may bother us when we do things that are contrary to God’s holy nature. That is, when we sin, pursue the pleasures of the world or of the flesh, the Spirit will let us know that He is grieved by our actions.

At such times we need to pray to confess and deal with the Lord  concerning what is contrary to His holiness. When we repent, confess, and deal with the Lord according to His touching we are further sanctified.

Positively, we need to pursue fellowship with the Lord through prayer and God’s Word. By having living contact with the Holy Spirit in our spirit and with the Holy Word in the Bible we experience a further dispositional sanctification and transformation bringing in more of God’s element to renew our mind and our entire soul.

In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul said,

“But we all with unveiled face, beholding and reflecting like a mirror, the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory even as from the Lord Spirit.”

By setting aside time with the Lord each day to turn our heart to Him, behold Him, and fellowship with Him, He will gradually transform us into His image. In this way, the Spirit will spread God’s holy nature into all our inward parts to sanctify us.

“Lord Jesus, thank you for showing me Your desire to not only redeem and regenerate me, but to sanctify and transform me. Lord, touch me deeply concerning my need to be sanctified–both separated unto You and saturated with Your holy nature. Daily transform me with Your life and nature into Your image so that I can express You and  have a share in fulfilling Your purpose.”

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About Tom Smith

Hi. My name is Tom Smith. I'm the writer behind Holding to Truth in Love, and I love the Lord Jesus and His life-giving Word. Please feel free to send me an e-mail through the contact page if you have any questions. I hope you'd take a moment to subscribe to the Holding to Truth blog. Then you'll be sure not to miss a post. Thanks!

4 Replies

  1. Dennis Call

    Praise the Lord, we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds, as living stones to be built up as building material together as one new man to be consummated with Christ in the New Jerusalem, Amen!

  2. Enjoyed this post as we are coming into Full Sonship for GOD’S Corporate expression.

  3. Lawrence

    Thank you for the article! I do have one question. I want to see the Lord so badly, and Hebrews says that to see the Lord we must be purified. But I am having a hard time hearing anything from God right now. I want to confess everything there is so I can be as pure as Jesus is. What can I do for the Holy Spirit to hear Him better? Obviously I can´t purify myself so I can see God face to face, right? So what can I do? The partial answer should be faith I know, but when I percieve nothing it´s hard to have any faith to walk on…

    1. Tom Smith


      Thanks for your comment and question. You asked, “What can I do for the Holy Spirit to hear Him better?”

      To hear the Holy Spirit better we first need to realize how He speaks to us. The Spirit speaks to us in our spirit. Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit Himself witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God.” However, we need to discern the sense of the Spirit in our spirit, from all the “noise” in our soul—all the troublesome thoughts in our minds and disturbing feelings in our emotions. That is, we need the dividing of our soul and spirit (Heb. 4:12) so we can be led by the Spirit in all things (Rom. 8:14).

      Practically, it helps to set aside some specific time with the Lord each day to read His Word and pray. By crying out to the Lord Jesus, calling on His name, your spirit will be stirred up and you will touch His Spirit in your spirit. First Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say, Jesus is Lord! [or Lord Jesus] except in the Holy Spirit. This is the simplest step I’ve found to break out of myself to touch the Spirit.

      Second, as Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and operative and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit…” The discerning of our spirit from our soul needs the piercing of God’s living word. We need to touch God’s living word by praying over it or pray-reading it with our spirit.

      By exercising our spirit to touch the Spirit and receiving God’s living and operative word we can come to know the sense of Spirit and learn to remain in fellowship of the Spirit in our daily life.

      For more details on knowing your spirit and the sense of the Spirit, I would strongly recommend a prayerful reading of The Economy of God by Witness Lee, especially chapters 5-7, 11 and 17. (You can read the entire text online at ministrybooks.org, download a free PDF or request a free copy from Bibles for America (only in USA).

      Please let me know if you find this fellowship helpful…or have further questions.

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