Sanctification (Protestantism)

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In evangelical theology, sanctification denotes the Christian's new life from justification . In dogmatics , sanctification is treated in the didactic De sanctificatione within soteriology .

In Roman Catholic theology , the word sanctification denotes the intensification of the believers' bond with Christ through the sacraments .

Biblical foundation

Based on the Bible, “ holy ” is not a quality, but a concept of relationship. What belongs to God is sacred and then also a way of life that corresponds to communion with God.

Paul is the key witness to the concept of justification, which is central to the churches that emerged from the Reformation. In 2014, New Testament scholar Hanna Stettler presented a comprehensive work on the subject of "Sanctification by Paul" and came to the following results, among others:

  • Justification and sanctification do not follow one another; both are endowed in baptism . However, Paul prefers justification terminology when it comes to the beginning of Christianity and sanctification terminology when it comes to the present and future lives of Christians.
  • Paul is interested in the sanctification of the congregation and only embedded therein in the sanctification of individual Christians.
  • Love for God is the epitome of sanctification, and worship is central (praise, supplication and thanksgiving; cf. 1 Thess 5: 14-23  LUT ).
  • Christians are supposed to live at a distance from the world, but sanctification involves various aspects of everyday life.
  • Although all Christians are completely sanctified from the beginning ( 1 Cor 6:11  LUT ), there is a growth in sanctification for Paul ( 1 Thess 5:23  LUT ).

Lutheran tradition

"Justification is in truth a rebirth to new life." ( Martin Luther )

The Lutheran Confessions divide the Apostles' Creed into three parts:

If the assignment of the first two parts of the Apostolicum to Creation and Redemption was close in terms of content, Luther long searched for a simple catechetical formula for the content of the third part. It was not found until 1528: “I believe in God the Father who created me, I believe in God the Son who redeemed me, I believe in the Holy Spirit who makes me holy.” These formulations are misleading in the sense of one thing naive tritheism , which is why Luther also worked it out trinity theologically . It shows that salvation and sanctification are closely related.

While creation and salvation are in the past, sanctification is present or continues into the future. The Holy Spirit “prescribes a community on earth by speaking and doing everything.” Roland Gebauer emphasizes that for Luther, sanctification is not a renewal of man as such, but rather “the dynamic of the lived relationship with Christ.” In the sense of this dynamic, there is for Luther also made progress in sanctification.

"... now we remain half and half pure and holy, so that the holy spirit may always work on us through the word and daily distribute forgiveness until that life where there will no longer be forgiveness, but completely pure and holy people ... in a new immortal and transfigured body. "( Great Catechism )

“Cheap grace means justification of sin and not of sinner. Because grace does everything alone, everything can stay the same. "(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Philipp Melanchthon initially agreed with Luther and used appropriate formulations (rebirth) in the apology of the Augsburg Confession. But later, also due to the dispute with Andreas Osiander , there was a momentous shift: Melanchthon understood justification as the non-attribution of sin, sanctification as a subsequent event. In the formula of the Agreement , the justification was then shortened to an external, forensic - imputative event, an “as if”: man is considered just before God, but remains internally unchanged. Wilfried Joest analyzes: If justification is understood as an act of amnesty, sanctification becomes “something that must follow, and this 'must' can become a problem.” The gift of justification and this vague obligation are difficult to put together without falling into the wake of moralism to guess.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put the book successor before a redesign; "In this way he seized a subject that had become the exclusive property of the Pietists" ( Eberhard Bethge ). In it he settled polemically with the forensic-imputative doctrine of justification of contemporary Lutheranism. The book, written under the conditions of the church struggle , reached an unusually large readership. Karl Barth developed his concept of sanctification with reference to Bonhoeffer.

Modern Lutheran drafts endeavor to fully emphasize the Reformation understanding of justification and sanctification: “Justification is not only the attribution of the work of Christ, but also rebirth and cannot remain without new obedience.” ( Edmund Schlink ) “Justification is never without sanctification. More precisely, it is nothing without sanctification. "( Wilhelm Dantine )

Reformed tradition

“So Christ does not justify anyone he does not sanctify at the same time! These benefits of Christ are linked to one another by a permanent and indissoluble bond. "(John Calvin)

The Heidelberg Catechism explains the relationship between justification and sanctification as follows:

“Question 70: What does it mean to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?

  • It is said to have forgiveness of sin from God by grace because of the blood of Christ which he shed for us in his sacrifice on the cross. [= Justification]
  • It is also said to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and sanctified into a member of Christ, so that the longer we die more of sin and live a life pleasing to God. [= Sanctification] "

The formula “more and more”, which is characteristic of the Heidelberg Catechism, indicates growth in community and in union with Christ. This was a concern of Johannes Calvin , who speaks of a double benefit or grace of God ( duplex gratia ): "On the one hand we are reconciled to God ..., on the other hand we are sanctified by his spirit and now strive for innocence and sanctification of our lives." Calvin analyzed the relationship between justification and sanctification as a differentiated connection, referring to 1 Cor 1:30  ZB . A simple chronological order is ruled out; Unlike Luther, Calvin emphasizes "simultaneously" ( simul ). Justification aims at sanctification - sanctification is rooted in justification. In the reconciliation of man with God his rebirth ( regeneratio ) begins .

Sanctification, like justification, is God's action towards people, and "even the most pious people in this life do not get beyond a small beginning of this obedience." (Heidelberg Catechism, question 114) There is a clear difference here from John Wesley and the Sanctification movement (see below).

Karl Barth

Karl Barth understands sanctification in terms of Jesus Christ. Christ works the holiness of men, and they are sanctified insofar as they share in Christ's holiness. Nonetheless (here Barth closely follows Dietrich Bonhoeffer's polemic against “cheap grace”) there is active human involvement, for which Barth uses the category of “correspondence”. "God acts in us and through us by making use of our activity." Barth illustrates this by comparing this with the role of the altar boy in the Roman Catholic Mass: the "Messbub" has nothing to do with the decisive performance of the Mass, but he is involved in that he "carries the gospel and epistle book back and forth, incenses a little and rings the bell at the crucial moment!"


The old Protestant orthodoxy was able to present God's dealings with humans as a kind of psychological development path ( ordo salutis ):

  1. Calling ( vocatio ),
  2. Knowledge ( illuminatio ),
  3. Conversion ( conversio ),
  4. Justification ( iustificatio ),
  5. Renewal ( renovatio ) or sanctification ( sanctificatio ).

Pietism could follow on from this. The special feature of Halle Pietism was the understanding of conversion as a unique act and turning point in life. This was followed by sanctification as the way of life of the converted Christian according to the “rules of Christ” ( Philipp Jakob Spener ). She was interested in pietism . The most widespread instructions on how to shape a Christian life were Johann Arndt's Four Books on True Christianity . Arndt introduced a shift in emphasis in Lutheran theology: "from doctrine to life, from Reformation belief in justification to piety of regeneration and sanctification."

There is a similarity between Pietism and the Enlightenment . Christianity interpreted this as practical piety or lived morality.

Methodism and the Sanctification Movement

John Wesley

The sanctification movement is a further development within Pietism; Sanctification is understood here more as human action than God's action on humans.

John Wesley , one of the founders of Methodism , was not a systematic theologian. He represented an empirical Christianity, where he took over the ordo salutis of the old Protestant orthodoxy and thus came to a succession of justification (formal declaration of justice) and sanctification (de facto justification). Luther's formula Simul iustus et peccator was rejected by Wesley. Sanctification is not only a reshaping of the human relationship with God, but also of human nature. He considered perfect sanctification possible during his lifetime.

In 1739, Wesley formulated concrete rules for advancement in sanctification ( The Nature, Design, and General Rules of Our United Societies ). They can be assigned to three main principles:

  1. Do not do evil (for example: desecration of God's name and Sunday , buying and selling alcohol, buying and selling slaves , singing songs or reading books that do not lead to the knowledge and love of God).
  2. Doing good (Examples: Providing food, clothing or education to all people in need).
  3. Use all means of grace ( ordinances ) of God: attending church services, listening to or reading sermons, receiving communion, prayer in the family and alone, Bible study, fasting or abstinence .

The first two principles made it clear that withdrawing from the "world" and remaining "pure" was not enough; Christians should take the initiative in concrete projects of charity. The General Rules were binding for the early Methodists , whoever did not obey them was admonished and eventually expelled. Most Methodists were also members of the Anglican Church, which relativizes the severity of this exclusion. If they turned back, they could be accepted again.

The Protestant theologian Martin Honecker points out that the sanctification movement of the 19th century was strongly committed to social reform in its beginnings in the USA. B. fought for equality between African Americans and women. In Europe it was more of a religious revival movement. Honecker sees this critically: “In the religious understanding, personal sanctification, self-sanctification is emphasized. This leads to the separation and distinction between perfect Christians ('sanctified') and imperfect Christians ('sinners'). "

Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council took up motifs from the Tridentine decree on justification and defined the relationship between justification and sanctification for Roman Catholic Christians as follows:

“The followers of Christ are not called by God by virtue of their works, but on the basis of his gracious counsel and justified in Jesus the Lord, in the baptism of faith they are truly children of God and of divine nature and thus become truly holy (c onsortes divinae naturae, ideoque reapse sancti effecti sunt ). They must therefore keep the sanctification they have received in life with God's grace and bring it to full development ( Eos proinde oportet sanctificationem quam acceperunt, Deo dante, vivendo tenere atque perficere ). "( Lumen gentium 40,1)

The Code of Canon Law only briefly mentions that there are many ways in which all believers lead holy lives and contribute to the sanctification of the Church (c. 210), and then goes in Book IV to the sanctification service ( munus sanctificandi ) of the Church one, by which the liturgy is meant.


  • Martin Honecker : Introduction to Theological Ethics. Basics and basic concepts. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1990. ISBN 3-11-008146-6 .
  • Albrecht Peters : Commentary on Luther's Catechisms , Volume 2: Faith: the Apostolicum . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1991. ISBN 3-525-56181-4 . ( Digitized version )
  • Wilfried Joest : Dogmatics , Volume 2: The way of God with man . 3rd, revised edition, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1993. ISBN 3-525-03264-1 .
  • Roland Gebauer : Justification and sanctification with Luther and Wesley. An effort to understand with a biblical-theological outlook. In: Volker Spangenberg (Hrsg.): Luther and the Reformation from a free church perspective . V & R unipress, Göttingen 2013, ISBN 978-3-8471-01338 . Pp. 89-106.
  • Dennis Schönberger: Community with Christ: A comparative study of the holiness concepts of Johannes Calvin, John Wesley and Karl Barth (= research on Reformed theology . Volume 2) Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 2014, ISBN 978-3-7887-2787-1 .
  • Stefan Würges: The general vocation to holiness in the Second Vatican Council: career and systematics (= theology of spiritual life . Volume 2). LIT Verlag, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-643-13950-4 .

Individual evidence

  1. CIC Book IV
  2. Martin Honecker: Introduction to Theological Ethics , Berlin / New York 1990, p. 88 f.
  3. Hanna Stettler: Sanctification with Paul: A contribution from a biblical-theological point of view . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2014. pp. 638–640.
  4. Hanna Stettler: Sanctification with Paul: A contribution from a biblical-theological point of view . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2014. p. 641.
  5. Hanna Stettler: Heiligung bei Paulus , Tübingen 2014. P. 659.
  6. Hanna Stettler: Heiligung bei Paulus , Tübingen 2014. P. 660 f.
  7. Hanna Stettler: Heiligung bei Paulus , Tübingen 2014. P. 661.
  8. WA 39 I, 44 f. Thesis 65.
  9. ^ Gunther Wenz : Theology of the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church , Volume 1, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1996, pp. 288 f.
  10. Albrecht Peters: Commentary on Luther's Catechisms , Volume 2: The Faith: Das Apostolikum , Göttingen 1991. P. 37.
  11. BSLK 647, 14-17.
  12. Albrecht Peters: Commentary on Luther's Catechisms , Volume 2: The Faith: Das Apostolikum , Göttingen 1991. P. 38. 42 f.
  13. BSLK 659.48-660.3.
  14. Roland Gebauer: Justification and Sanctification by Luther and Wesley , Göttingen 2013, p. 91.
  15. BSLK 659.7-16.
  16. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Succession, p. 29.
  17. Wilfried Joest: Dogmatik , Volume 2: Der Weg Gottes mit dem Menschen , Göttingen 1993, p. 442.
  18. a b Wilfried Joest: Dogmatik , Volume 2: Der Weg Gottes mit dem Menschen , Göttingen 1993, p. 443.
  19. Dennis Schönberger: Community with Christ , Neukirchen-Vluyn 2014, p. 2.
  20. ^ Horst Georg Pöhlmann: Abriß der Dogmatik. A repertory. Gütersloh publishing house Gerd Mohn, Gütersloh 1973, p. 209 f .; here also the quotations from Schlink and Dantine.
  21. ^ Institutio III, 16, 1.
  22. Question 70. In: Heidelberger Katechismus. Reformed Federation in Germany, accessed on June 29, 2019 .
  23. Marco Hofheinz: How new people live. Approaches to an ethics of identity in the Heidelberg Catechism. In: Martin Ernst Hirzel et al. (Ed.): The Heidelberg Catechism - a reformed key text . TVZ, Zurich 2013, pp. 145–172, here pp. 165 f. See Institutio III, 11, 1.
  24. ^ Dennis Schönberger: Community with Christ , Neukirchen-Vluyn 2014, pp. 183–186.
  25. Marco Hofheinz: How new people live . Zurich 2013, p. 166.
  26. Michael Beintker : Justification - Sanctification - Calling . In: Michael Beintker et al. (Ed.): Karl Barth as a teacher of reconciliation (1950-1968): Deepening - Opening - Hope . Contributions from the international symposium from May 1st to 4th, 2014 in the Johannes a Lasco Library Emden. TVZ, Zurich 2014, pp. 97–116, here p. 114 f. On the altar boy quotation cf. KD IV / 3, p. 690.
  27. a b Martin Honecker: Introduction to Theological Ethics , Berlin / New York 1990, p. 87.
  28. ^ Johannes Wallmann : Der Pietismus , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2005, p. 26.
  29. Dennis Schönberger: Community with Christ , Neukirchen-Vluyn 2014, p. 290.
  30. Roland Gebauer: Justification and Sanctification by Luther and Wesley , Göttingen 2013, p. 93.
  32. ^ Rebekah L. Miles: Happiness, holiness, and the moral life of John Wesley. In: Randy L. Maddox, Jason E. Vickers: The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2010, pp. 207-224, here pp. 209-215.
  33. Martin Honecker: Introduction to Theological Ethics , Berlin / New York 1990, p. 88.
  34. ^ Franz-Josef Steinmetz: Catholic Spirituality . In: Werner Löser (ed.): The Roman Catholic Church (= The Churches of the World . Volume 20). Evangelisches Verlagswerk, Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 97–114, here p. 107.