The Spirit Who Makes Us Holy

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

- 1 Thessalonians 4:3

As we finish our brief study of the person and work of the Holy Spirit today, we should note that there is a significant clue to His activity in His very name. He is, after all, the Holy Spirit, so holiness is key to His work. Of course, the Father and the Son are holy as well (Mark 1:24; John 17:11), but only the Spirit has Holy regularly given as part of His name. The third person of the Trinity plays a particularly important role in making us holy. The Holy Spirit is called the Holy Spirit because He sanctifies us.

Knowing that the Holy Spirit sanctifies us is encouraging. God does not reveal many specifics of His unique will for us individually, but He does tell us that His chief desire for us is for our sanctification, that is, our growth in holiness (1 Thess. 4:3). Knowing that the Spirit is the One who sanctifies us (Rom. 15:16) gives us hope that we can make real progress in the Christian life and inspires us to press on even when we continue to fall short of God’s standards.

We need to be sanctified because of the way that sin has affected us. Sin causes us to incur guilt, and it exposes us to punishment. These problems are taken care of in the work of Christ, particularly the atonement. By faith alone in Christ alone, we are forgiven of our sin and we are granted the gift of His perfect righteousness. In justification, we are counted righteous in Christ and can stand before the bar of God’s judgment unafraid (Rom. 3:21–5:11).

Sin, however, also corrupts us. Although we are forgiven in our justification, the stain of sin remains with us until we are glorified. We continue to struggle with sin, as Paul describes so vividly in Romans 7. The Holy Spirit indwells us to empower us in the fight against sin and to put to death the deeds and desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

Importantly, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us from the inside out. All sin is first a matter of the mind and heart before it is a matter of behavior. The Holy Spirit works on our consciences, convicting us of sin and righteousness, moving us to repent (John 16:7–8). He transforms us by the renewing of our minds according to the Word of God (Rom. 12:1–2). We study the doctrine and ethics of Scripture so that the Spirit can change our thinking and our affections, and over time, this changes our behavior. More and more we die to sin and live to righteousness, but we will never attain perfection before we enter glory. None of us can ever say we are without sin (1 John 1:8–9). Still, by the Spirit, we can make real progress in holiness.

Coram Deo

Practically speaking, probably the most important thing to know about the Holy Spirit is that He is at work in making us holy. If you are discouraged this day regarding your sanctification, know that if you are in Christ, the Spirit is working in you. Stay in the Word of God and in Christian fellowship, attending regular corporate worship in your local church, and you will grow in holiness.

Passages for Further Study

Ezekiel 36:22–38
John 17:17

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.