Is Living a Sanctified or Holy Life Possible?

Jun P. Espina         8 min read

Written on July 30, 2022

The Unsaved Christians are Not Sanctified

Is living a sanctified or holy life possible for followers of Christ? Non-Christians don’t like this subject, but it is this website. We must address it. The answer is both “Yes” and “No.” A sanctified or holy life is not possible for church-goers but not born-again Christians. Who are these “unsaved” Christians? They are those who are active in the church (they give their offerings regularly—some of them are church leaders and preachers!) but are not genuinely converted.

Let us invent a fable about a man named Pastor Quebulls. He preached Christ like all the others, then later in his preaching career, he veered and said, “I am the Christ.” He had cases in court because it was impossible for him to live a sanctified and godly life.

For another illustration, Melissa Barnhart of ChristianPost, wrote that “Joshua Harris, the author of the best-selling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, announced in an Instagram post Friday that he is no longer a Christian.” 1 He was a pastor for twenty years, but he was not a born-again Christian. He can never attain a sanctified life.

What is a Sanctified Life?

Sanctification is a Christian teaching that we need to have a full grasp of. I’ve been hearing about it lately in the church, and it excites me to dive deep into the bottom of this subject. In writing to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul said:

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. (1 Cor 1:2)

All born-again Christians, therefore, are saints or “saints by calling,” meaning holy or set apart. Most Christian theologians call it positional (or passive) sanctification. Some use the term justification as synonymous with sanctification based on the argument that positional sanctification can happen only to a believer who is justified or saved by faith in the atoning blood of Christ. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Cor. 5:17, NLT) All born-again believers, thus, are holy or set apart as God’s people.

What About Progressive (or Active) Sanctification?

In 1 Corinthians 6:11, the words “sanctified” and “justified” are mentioned in one verse. We agree with the closeness of justification and sanctification when the topic involves positional or “built-in” sanctification.

What about progressive sanctification?

To put this doctrine into perspective, I wrote in one of my posts that,

Our spiritual life in Christ undergoes three scenes of salvation, namely, a) salvation from the penalty of sin (justification — Rom. 5:1); salvation from the power of sin (sanctification — 1 Thess. 4:7); and salvation from the presence of sin (glorification — Col. 3:4).

There is a type of sanctification that requires our free choice to live a godly life. John MacArthur, a Hyper-Calvinist predestinarian, received a lot of reactions and criticism after publishing his Counterfeit Sanctification. He wrote that:

Restraint is another possible kind of counterfeit sanctification. People don’t always avoid sin in favor of righteousness—sometimes they’re simply afraid to face the consequences of sin. They don’t necessarily have a heart to obey God or His Word. They’re just afraid of pursuing temptation because of the results.”

Of Counterfeit Sanctification?


The great debate on Predestination vs. Free Will will never end in this life because of theological intellectualism by the Predestinarian Gurus like MacArthur and Piper. MacArthur said restraint is “another possible kind of counterfeit sanctification” since “They don’t necessarily have a heart to obey God or His Word.” (Read MacArthur’s Counterfeit Sanctification.) We have a problem every time we exclude positional sanctification from the conversation. The apostle John wrote that “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6, NIV)

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul said,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Our progressive sanctification (or walk with God) is commanded, and part of the command is to FLEE or ABSTAIN, and all these fall under MacArthur’s RESTRAINTS, or restrictions that are to him a part of the recipe for Counterfeit Sanctification.

God’s Commands to Live a Sanctified Life

We need to:

  • Cleanse yourselves (2 Cor. 7:1, ESV).
  • Do not go on sinning (1 Cor. 15:34, ESV).
  • Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light (Rom. 13:12, ESV).
  • Let us walk properly as in the daytime (Rom. 13:13, ESV).
  • Don’t gratify the desires of the flesh (Rom. 13:14).
  • To present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1).
  • And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24).
  • If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).
  • We should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:4).
  • Flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18).
  • Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness (2 Tim. 2:22).
  • Work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12, NASB95).
  • That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (Phil. 2:15, NASB95).
  • But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (1 Tim. 6:11).
  • Implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).
  • That each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor (1 Thess. 4:4).
  • For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness (1 Thess. 4:7).
  • Abstain from every form of evil 1 Thess. 5:22).
  • Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance (1 Pet. 1:14).
  • But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15-16).

The above passages are commands to grow in sanctification and walk with God. All born-again Christians are expected to PURSUE a righteous life. The fake Christians among us do not grow and mature in their walk with God.

Is Sinless Perfection Possible in This Life?

The prominent preacher about sinless perfection was John Wesley. But he confessed later in his ministry that he had not gained sinless perfection. Why? Because God said, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, 10)

The Role of the Holy Spirit to Live a Sanctified Life

Observe 1 Corinthians 6:11: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” And in John 17:17, Christ prayed to our Father God: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”

The above Scriptures give us three facts about living a sanctified life. First, “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”; second, “in the Spirit of our God”; and, third, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” If we go formulaic, it would be “Jesus Christ + the Holy Spirit + Holy Bible + Obedience = Sanctification.”

Obedience and Free Will in the Sanctified Life

The predestinarians (Hyper-Calvinists), in their so-called intellectualism, would say, “Remove obedience, for we cannot obey God. We are totally depraved before God. We are under GRACE!”

Well, God’s Word will be broken if we remove the essence of FREE WILL from it, like Adam and Eve’s FREE WILL to disobey God.

Speaking of FREE WILL, Moses wrote about it in Leviticus: “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.” (Lev. 18:5) “Keep My statutes.” This command involves the operation of FREE WILL.

John also said: “We will know by this that we are of the truth and will assure our heart before Him in WHATEVER OUR HEART CONDEMNS US; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (1 John 3:19-20) John showed us the role of our conscience in the agency of FREE WILL.

Paul’s viewpoint on human FREE WILL: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (Rom. 10:13) So that you will endure temptation. The word “temptation” is a vivid picture of how FREE WILL works for or against it.

Sanctified by the Grace of God

In John Piper’s discussion with Timothy Keller, he quoted 1 Corinthians 5:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

It is the Word of God and no believer can change that. Paul said that God’s grace enabled him to do what he did. That is why in our SANCTIFICATION FORMULA we emphasized the involvement of Christ, our Savior and Lord, and the Holy Spirit in our sanctified life. Note the following passage from Galatians 5:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Gal. 5:16-17)

We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to live a sanctified life.

We are Nothing Without Christ

Christ said, without Me, you can do nothing. He also said that He would send the Holy Spirit to help us in our walk with God. It is the essence of grace, the undeserved kindness of God to sinful man. He will help us walk with Him, but not force us against our will. “For the good that I want,” wrote the apostle Paul, “I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Rom. 7:19)

Progressive Sanctification Involves FREE WILL

Contrary to the Hyper-Calvinist’s IRRESISTIBLE GRACE teaching (like a grace-forcing drive of God to make the believers walk with Him), our doctrine is that there is FREE WILL involved in progressive or active sanctification.

“You should learn [know in NASB],” said Paul, “to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable.” (1 Thess. 4:4, NIV) That is FREE WILL, loud and clear. “The mind of the man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Prov. 16:9)

Why is FREE WILL a part of active sanctification? Well, it is because life is all about FREEDOM TO CHOOSE. And with this freedom, God’s love makes a great deal of sense.

Second, the Hyper-Calvinists erred in their teaching known as IRRESISTIBLE GRACE. Observe the word of Christ:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Mat. 23:37)

From the above verse, Christ Himself taught about man’s FREE WILL.

In John 5:39-40, Christ also said:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

This Scripture speaks about GRACE, which is RESISTIBLE, and FREE WILL, which is essential to the sphere of Christ’s love.

In active sanctification, our formula comes together: Jesus Christ + the Holy Spirit + Holy Bible + Obedience = Sanctification.

N o t e

[1] Barnhart, Melissa. “Joshua Harris falling away from faith: ‘I am not a Christian'”. (accessed July 29, 2022)



About Jun P. Espina

A former educator, Jun P. Espina is a family man, author, blogger, painter, Bible believer, preacher, a lover of books—passionate about many things. He believes life is good when fed constantly with the biblical truth that is wiser than what most people think. Find him on Facebook,Twitter,or at

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