The passion for holiness expressed by writers and preachers in former generations has become a neglected priority throughout the modern church generally. It is specifically a fading glory in today’s evangelical world. Serious teaching about this theme is rarely heard in churches.
David Peterson challenges the common assumption that the New Testament views sanctification as primarily a process. He argues that its emphasis falls upon sanctification as a definitive event, “God’s way of taking possession of us in Christ, setting us apart to belong to him, and to fulfill his purpose for us.” Simply to identify sanctification with growth and holiness, he contends, obscures the emphasis and balance of New Testament teaching and creates unrealistic expectations. Throughout this study, Peterson builds his case on the careful exegesis of relevant passages, with a keen eye for the pastoral implications of his findings.
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“The paradox of holiness is that God acts to judge everything that is unholy and yet provides a way of cleansing and sanctification for sinners.” (Page 19)
“With regard to God himself, holiness implies transcendence, uniqueness and purity. With regard to God’s people, holiness means being set apart for a relationship with the Holy One, to display his character in every sphere of life.” (Page 24)
“Sanctification is commonly regarded as a process of moral and spiritual transformation following conversion. In the New Testament, however, it primarily refers to God’s way of taking possession of us in Christ, setting us apart to belong to him and to fulfil his purpose for us. Sanctification certainly has present and ongoing effects, but when the verb ‘to sanctify’ (Gk. hagiazein) and the noun ‘sanctification’ (Gk. hagiasmos) are used, the emphasis is regularly on the saving work of God in Christ, applied to believers through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.” (Page 27)
“More commonly, however, it has been explained as a process of moral and spiritual transformation, flowing from justification by faith.” (Page 15)
Peterson’s treatment is far from hackneyed or trivial. His aim is to show that much of the New Testament treatment of sanctification stresses what used to be called ‘positional sanctification’ or the like—and that much godly living, Christian assurance, stable faith, and Christian maturity stem from a firm grasp of what the Bible says in this regard.
—D.A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
David G. Peterson is an emeritus faculty member at Moore Theological College in Sydney, where he still teaches part-time. He served as principal of Oak Hill College, London, from 1996 to 2007. His books include The Acts of the Apostles (PNTC), Romans (EBTC), Engaging with God, Possessed by God, Transformed by God, and Hebrews and Perfection.