©The Holy Spirit
Puritan Paperbacks by John Owen
Abridged and made easy to read by R.J.K. LAW

By permission
Banner of Truth Trust
Edinburgh, Scotland
Carlisle, PA
Banner of Truth

Chapter 17. The Work of Sanctification Itself


Publisher's Preface
1. The Work of the Holy Spirit
2. The Spirit of God
3. How the Holy Spirit Comes to Us and Does His Work
4. The Special Preparatory Works of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
5. The Work of the Holy Spirit in the New Creation
6. The Holy Spirit and the Human Nature of Christ
7. The Work of the Holy Spirit on the Mystical Body of Christ, His Church
8. The Holy Spirit's Work of Regeneration
9. How the Holy Spirit Prepares a Soul for His Work of Regeneration
10. How the Mind is Corrupted and Depraved by Sin
11. Natural and Spiritual Death Compared 12. Regeneration Itself
13. The Work of Conversion
14. The Nature of Sanctification and Gospel Holiness
15. Sanctification a Lifelong Work
16. Believers Only are Sanctified
17. The Work of Sanctification itself
18. The Work of the Spirit in Purging Believers from Sin
19. The Work of the Spirit in Renewing the Spiritual Life of Believers
20. The Activities and Duties of Holiness
21. Dealing with Sin 22. The Necessity of Holiness
23. Election a Motive to Holiness
24. Commanded to be Holy
25. Holiness and the Work of Christ
26. Holiness in an Unholy World

17. The Work of Sanctification Itself

Sanctification is the cleansing of our natures from the pollution of sin. It is the Holy Spirit's chief work (Proverbs 30:12; Ezekiel 36:25-27;Isaiah 4:4; Numbers 31:23; Malachi 3:2, 3).

The Holy Spirit's work of sanctification or the cleansing of our souls is done by his applying the death and blood of Christ to them (Ephesians. 5:25, 26; Titus 2:14; l John 1:7; Revelations 1:5; Hebrews 1:3; 9:14). Nevertheless believers also are commanded to cleanse themselves from sins (Isaiah 1:16; Jeremiah 4:14; 2 Corinthians 7:1; l John 3:3; Psalms 119:9; 2 Timothy 2:21).

Baptism is the great outward sign of the inward 'washing of regeneration' (Titus 3:5; I Peter 3:21), is the outward means of our initiation into the Lord Christ and the badge of our loyalty to the gospel. It symbolizes the inward purifying of our souls and consciences by the grace of the Holy Spirit ( Corinthians 2: 11).

There is a spiritual defilement in sin. Sin in Scripture is compared to blood, wounds, sores, leprosy, scum, loathsome diseases and such evil things. From sin we must be washed, purged, purified and cleansed. Believers find sin shameful, and abhor and loathe themselves because of it. They rejoice in the blood of Christ which cleanses them from all sin and gives them boldness to approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 10:19-22).


Some think the defilement of sin lies in guilt with shame and fear. It is from this that Christ purges us (Hebrews 1:3). Some sins have a specially polluting erect on souls ( I Corinthians 6:18). Holiness opposes this pollution (I Thessalonians 4:3). The pollution of sin directly opposes the holiness of God, and God tells us that his holiness opposes the defilement of sin (Habakkuk 1:13; Psalms. 5:4-6; Jeremiah 44:4). The holiness of God is the infinite, absolute perfection of his nature. He is the eternal blueprint and pattern of truth, uprightness and right behavior in all his moral creatures. God commands us to be holy, even as he is holy. Therefore he loathes sin and the defilement of sin which is revealed by the law.

The moral law reveals God's authority both in its commands and in its threats. The transgression of it produces both fear and guilt.

The law reveals the holiness of God and his truth. Not to be holy as God is holy is sin. The sinner, in the light of God's holiness, sees himself as filthy and so becomes ashamed. Adam saw his nakedness and was ashamed. It is this filthiness of sin which is purged in our sanctification, so that once again we are made holy.

Through fear man is taught the guilt of sin. Through shame man is taught the filth of sin.

By the sacrifices of atonement, God taught his people the guilt of sin. By the ordinances for purification, God taught his people the filth of sin. By these Levitical laws, sacrifices and purifyings, internal and spiritual things were symbolized. They foreshadowed Christ and his work, which brought real and actual spiritual cleansing (Hebrews 9:13, 14). So the whole work of sanctification is pictured by 'a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness' (Zechariah 13:1).


The spiritual beauty and attractiveness of the soul lies in its being like God. Grace strives beauty (Psalms 45:21. The church, adorned with grace, is fair and lovely (Song of Songs 1:5; 6:4; 7:6; Ephesians. 5:27). Sin produces spots, stains and wrinkles in the soul.

It is holiness and being like God that makes our souls truly noble. All that is opposite to and against holiness is base, vile and unworthy of man's soul (Isaiah 57:9; Jeremiah 2:26; Job 42:5, 6; Psalms 38:5).

This depravity or spiritual disorder, which is the shameful defilement of sin, is revealed in two ways. It is revealed by the uncleanness of our natures which is graphically illustrated by a wretched, polluted infant (Ezekiel 16:3-5). All the powers and abilities of our souls are from birth shamefully and loathsomely depraved. In no way do they work to make us holy as God is holy. This depravity is revealed also by the wickedness of our behavior arising from the depraved and defiled soul.

Sin brings pollution

Whatever the sin, there is always pollution with it. So we are advised by Paul to 'cleanse ourselves from all pollutions of the flesh and spirit ' (2 Corinthians 7:1). Spiritual sins such as pride, self-love, covetousness, unbelief and self-righteousness all have a polluting effect, as do fleshly and sensual sins.

This depravity of our natures makes even our very best duties unclean (Isaiah 64:6). Every person born into this world is polluted by sin. But with actual sins there are degrees of pollution. The greater the sin is, from its nature or circumstances, the greater the defilement (Ezekiel 16:36, 37). Pollution is worse when the whole person is defiled, as in the case of fornication. Pollution is made even worse when a person throws himself into a continual course of sinning. This is described as 'wallowing in the mire' (2 Peter 2:22).

The final judgment against obstinate sinners fixes them forever in that state of pollution (Rev. 22:11).

Having a clear understanding of sin and its pollution helps us to understand more clearly the nature of holiness.

Cleansing is vital

Where this uncleanness remains unpurged, there can be no true holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24). Where there is no purifying whatever, no work of holiness has begun. But where purifying of sin has begun, it will be continued throughout the life of the believer. Any who are not purged from the uncleanness of their natures are an abomination to the Lord (Titus 1:15). Unless the uncleanness of sin is purged away, we can never enjoy God (Rev. 21:27). No-one by his own efforts can free himself from the pollution of sin. He can only do it with the help of God the Holy Spirit. No man can rid himself of the habit of sinning, nor can he cleanse himself from the defilement of his sins.

Though we are commanded to 'wash ourselves', to 'cleanse ourselves from sins', to 'purge ourselves from all our iniquities', yet to imagine that we can do these things by our own efforts is to trample on the cross and grace of Jesus Christ. Whatever God works in us by his grace, he commands us to do as our duty. God works all in us and by us. Man's inability to make himself clean is seen by both Job and Jeremiah (Job 9:29-31; Jeremiah 2:22).

The ceremonial law powerless to cleanse

Those ordinances of God's ceremonial law given to Moses to purge uncleanness could not of themselves actually cleanse people from the pollution of their sins. They only purified the unclean legally. The law pronounced the person who had submitted to the purifying ordinance clean and fit to take part in holy worship. The law only declared them to be clean, reckoning them as if they had been actually cleansed (Hebrews 9:13). But no person by the use of these ordinances could actually cleanse himself from the pollution of sin (Hebrews 10:1-4). These ceremonial purifying ordinances under the Old Testament only symbolized how sin was to be purged. So God promises to open another way by which sinners could really and actually be cleansed from sin's pollution (Zechariah 13:1).

False teachings

The Roman Catholic church has invented many ways by which it pretends that men can be cleansed from the pollution of sin. But they are all foolish vanities. It teaches that baptism washes away all the uncleanness of our natures of both original sin and all actual sins committed up to our baptism. But this did not happen with Simon Magus (Acts 8:13, 18-24)!

Other ways by which it supposes that sin can be cleansed from polluted souls are by the sprinkling of holy water, confessing to a priest, doing penances and by fastings.

But even after doing all these things and more, Roman Catholics still find no peace and satisfaction of soul. They still feel the guilt and pollution of sin. So they say that after death they must go to purgatory and there be purified by fire.

Needless to say, none of these things are to be found in Scripture. They are the wicked inventions of a false and spurious Christianity.

By permission
Banner of Truth Trust
Edinburgh, Scotland
Carlisle, PA
Banner of Truth