The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life

The Holy Spirit is the Christian’s guide and garrison. When a person confesses their allegiance to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit makes His home in them (John 14:23; Eph. 3:17) and God communes with their every being (Rev. 21:3). He protects, guides and convicts the believer, enabling one to seek for the things of God (Rom. 12:2; Phil. 2:21; cf. Prov. 8:17; Psa. 27:4; Jer. 29:13; Matt. 6:32-33). The indwelling Spirit prompts believers to walk in tandem with Jesus Christ, in Him whose work Christians have been justified in their belief. “The Spirit’s presence continually activates life as it is conceived, developed, and perfected.”[1] The Christian life is fundamentally sourced in the work of Jesus Christ, and His indwelling Spirit sanctifies and enables believers to live obediently to His will.


            John Walvoord defines sanctification as “the act of God setting apart someone or something for holy use.”[2]  This is a general, or albeit, more broad definition of the term in which God has used people and objects for holy use.  Whether it is the altar being sanctified by a burnt offering (Exo. 40:10), or the sanctification of a man’s property (Lev. 27:17-18), the Sabbath (Duet. 5:12), or Aaron (Lev. 8:12) and the Israelites (Lev. 20:7-8; et. al.), the Old Testament is replete with the idea that God sanctifies or sets apart people, places and things for divine use. Walvoord goes on to say that sanctification “may be positional, referring to the Christian’s position in Christ; experiential, resulting from the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian; or ultimate, speaking of the complete perfection of the believer in heaven.”[3] Because Jesus Christ’s efficacy was the once and for all of sacrifices (Heb. 9:11-28a), it is through His sinless offering of Himself for those whom He has eternally perfected (Heb. 10:14).

Douglas Moo interprets Paul’s theological basis for sanctification as the acts of God that changes believers from within.[4] From the time believers are justified in Christ, progress in “the Christian life comes as one uses spiritual disciplines to foster the growth of the new nature and the gradual diminution of the old.”[5] Christians are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), as the old ways in which they lived have now become a thing of the past, and walking in the footsteps of Christ is paramount in one’s sanctification process. The Holy Spirit enables believers to respond to the moral principles rooted in God’s character as exampled in the work of Jesus Christ, and the progressive growth “in the Christian life will come as we learn to live out the new relationship God has put us in.”[6]

Like Walvoord and Moo, sanctification is the process in which a believer is conformed into the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18) by offering themselves up to God in righteous acts of service (Rom. 12:1; cf. Phil. 2:1-5). The indwelling Spirit of God moves the believer into a new way of reasoning, transforming the minds of Christians as they respond obediently to His will. When the Holy Spirit comes upon the new believer, it brings them in “union with Christ,”[7] and Reformer Martin Luther interpreted it as the work in which believers are made holy.[8] For, “if we share in His blood we must share in His will.”[9] God’s will for Christians is evident by their transformation as they draw closer to Him.


Sanctification is grounded on the endeavors of Jesus Christ, as He is the source for everyone’s salvation (John 3:16-18; cf. 14:6).  Jesus Christ is the finisher of the Christian faith (Heb. 12:2) and one’s belief in Him justifies any believer (Rom. 5:1; 3:28; 4:25; 8:30; cf. Gal. 3:11) counting them as God’s adopted children (Rom. 8:14-19; Gal. 3:8; cf. John 14:18).  Sanctification is the ongoing process by which a believer is made holy following their confession and belief in Jesus Christ.  It is the effect or result of justification and solely depends on someone being in an honest relationship with God.  Because Jesus was sinless and honorable to the precepts of God’s moral commands, His example is how Christians are preempted to live.  Without God’s justifying act in liberating the believer from the culpability of sin, the process of sanctification is rendered moot and ineffective to one’s overall anthropological destiny.  For the believer, this process enables one to overcome sin’s powerful hold on them, and thereby become pleasing to God as acceptable sacrifices made unto Him (Rom. 12:1; cf. Paul’s offering of Gentiles/Christians in Rom. 15:16 and 2 Cor. 11:2).  It is through the three-fold salvific process of justification, sanctification and glorification in which the believer is counted as part of God’s divine community of saints (Rom. 8:29-32).

Although there have been various attempts at describing the nature and basis for the Holy Spirit’s guidance by philosophers and liberals like George Hegel and Immanuel Kant, it nevertheless reduces the Holy Spirit to either something pantheistic or Deistic in character.[10]  Even theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, who reduced Him to something which is intrinsic in all men, regardless of belief system, whereby the ‘common spirit’ of human nature, the nation, or the church displaces the trinitarian doctrine of the Holy Spirit.”[11]  Perhaps it is best described as a works-based system in which the transformation of the person by this ‘common spirit’ is contingent only upon one’s behavior, rather than a divine intercession of God’s Spirit who transforms and renews the believer in Christ.  Yet, the apostle Paul asserts without hesitation that one’s work or merit as a mode of sanctifying themselves is pointless without support, because even the Jews could not obtain salvation through the law (Rom. 3:20-21, 28; 6:14; 7:1-6; 8:3; 10:4; cf. Ga. 2:16), and it is through faith which Christians can access God’s grace positionally (Rom. 5:1-2) thus reciprocating the sanctifying process from grace to saving faith, faith to obedience, obedience to sanctifying grace, then onto faith and joyful obedience.

In the Old Testament, sanctification is often the process of separating “the profane from the consecrated.”[12]  However, for the Israelites, the state of holiness always “involved an inner change of heart and mind, but this reality was expressed in tangible ways.”[13]  Yet, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is the sanctifier of the saints, and it is through the ‘life giving Spirit”[14] believers are identified as holy.  Believers are perfected as “God’s grace through Christ is marked as extravagant precisely in its incongruity with the human condition.”[15]  Paul’s summation is that grace runs deeper than sin (Rom. 5:20) even though believers are subject to sin due to their anthropological nature which frequently digresses into immorality (3:10).  By being united with Christ, Paul asserts, Christians are still prompted into willful obedience to Christ by His Spirit (6:15-18).  Second Temple Literature like 4 Ezra laments over the fact that “God failed to remove the evil nature that Israel shares with the rest of humanity.”[16]  The writer assumes God is responsible for their failures as a people and nation, but Paul claims the opposite that the efforts of one’s actions and merits does not attain any hint of righteousness.  However, even if Christians, who are indwelt with God’s Spirit, are still fraught with the ailments of living in a world monopolized by sin, “the prevailing influence in their lives must be the values of God’s kingdom, and their behavior should reflect this.”[17]


Christians are sanctified by the work and efficacy of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:14), and it is the grace of God (Rom. 2:3; 11:30; 12:1) in which righteousness becomes a resource by which believers are allowed to exponentially grow in the faith and conform to the image of Jesus’ self-sacrificial compliance to God’s will.  It is only through the grace of God that saving faith can begin (Eph. 2:5-9), that is, solely on Christ’s behalf (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21), and Christians are regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5) as if “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit,” (Eph. 2:22).  Faith is essentially credited as God’s righteousness, and believers are joined into His virtuous character in sanctification (Rom. 4:22; cf. 1 Pet. 1:2).

Offering oneself as a living sacrifice to God (Rom. 12:1; 15:16; cf. 6:13-19; Phil. 2:17; Heb. 10:22; 13:15-16; 1 Pet. 2:5) is a “response of believers to God’s grace to us in Christ.”[18]  The obedience of believer is like a sweet aroma to God (2 Cor. 2:15-17; cf. 1 Pet. 1:22), and it is because of the Christian’s prerogative to exemplify Christ’s sacrificial offering of Himself on the cross for sin.  “Paul pictures himself as a priest, using the gospel as the means by which he offers his Gentile converts as a sacrifice acceptable to God.  But, like the animal sacrifices of the old economy, these new sacrifices also must be ‘sanctified by the Holy Spirit’ if they are to be acceptable.”[19]  The Gospel is of Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:19), who is the High Priest (Heb. 2:7; 3:1; 4:14; 5:5; etc.), and Paul offers the Gentiles through the Gospel to God so that they may become sanctified as well.   “Paul certainly talks here in the language of the cult through which the Jewish worship of God was offered in the temple.”[20]  In this act, believers are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, just as various elements (and people) were separated for divine service in the Old Testament.  “God has always been concerned for the heart and mind, even in the midst of the ritualistic system of the Israelites, and the prophets chided them for their lack of heart-centered obedience (Amos 5:21; Hos. 6:6; cf. Mic. 6:8).  In the New Covenant, Jesus said that by truly loving Him (with all of the heart and mind – Matt. 22:36-40) His followers will obey His precepts (John 14:15).  Romans 12:1 underscores “obedience rather than literal sacrifice, and upon rational or voluntary rather than ecstatic,” highlighting that “worship involves the whole of one’s life, every word and action, and knows no special place or time.”[21]

Transforming the believer’s spirit in the likeness of Christ is achieved only through prayer and meditation (John 14:13-14).  Prayer is the means of encountering God’s never-ending grace during difficult times (Heb. 4:16).  By confessing one’s sin and petitioning for an accretion in faith, God is righteous and loving to lavish the believer with His divine blessings (Eph. 2:7; 1 John 3:1; cf. Rom. 2:4; 11:33-36; Phil. 4:19; Deut. 28:11-14).  Praying to God in Christ is prompted in believers by the Holy Spirit because of the familial relationship the Triune God encompasses as Christians live out their lives, conforming to the One who consistently met with the Father (Matt. 14:23; 26:36-44; Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:35-39; Lk. 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:19; 11:1; 22:32; John 17:1-25) and doing so likewise sanctifies the believer by being obedient to the Holy Spirit’s impressions in one’s spirit.

Time Factors

The process by which sanctification occurs is only a result of being justified as righteous in Christ by faith.  It is not instantaneous, nor is it permanent, but it is progressive and culminates in the glorification of the believer.  It is the second part of a three-fold process within salvation.  The end result for the believer is glorification, which takes place at the eschaton (1 John 3:2), when believers will transform into their glorified bodies in the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:51-54).  “The presence of the eschatological future in the life of the church is in a special way the work of the spirit.”[22]  Believers are sanctified by the Holy Spirit throughout their lives as they transform into the image of Christ because the “spirit is the firstfruit and pledge of the new immortal life that has already manifested in the risen Christ.”[23]

The Holy Spirit is the down payment, or seal, by which believers are guaranteed eschatological salvation.  “The Spirit is the link between the renewal that is taking place now in the inner man and the consummation of this renewal in the heavenly body.”[24]  The writer of Hebrews accentuates the gradualness of sanctification based on Christ alone and His work (Heb. 10:14), and because of the believer’s obedience to God’s will through His Son’s Spirit, Christians are called to cleanse themselves from the ailments of sin in an effort to bring holiness to completion (2 Cor. 7:1).  Because Christians have been raised from death to life, their obedience to God as Paul relates it to is by presenting their members as “instruments of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13), confirming the “here and now on that heavenly existence which will find its consummation in embodiment (cf. Rom. 8:23).”[25]   The infusion and divine indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life transform the already-not yet anthropology of the believer so that the “new life is no longer separated from its source in the divine spirit; rather, it is permeated by this spirit”[26]


The results of sanctification are evident in the fruit of the believer.  In addition to this, there are a number of gifts (Rom. 12:6-8; cf. 1 Cor. 12:8-11; 1 Pet. 4:11) which Paul lists that flow from the indwelling Holy Spirit proceeding out of the believer.  Likewise, the desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ stems primarily from the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8).  For the disciples of Jesus, when the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost (Acts 2:4), their composure to share the good news went from hiding to preaching on the temple steps.  When the apostles became indwelt with the Holy Spirit, they opened their entire being to the presence of God and He worked in them fruits of love (Gal. 5:22) and ‘walking in the Spirit’ ensured those specific fruits would undoubtedly become apparent in the lives of believers.  “If we are truly redeemed through the blood of Christ, if the Holy Spirit truly dwells in us, then we will be people who bear fruit in good works.”[27]  Jesus Christ is the truth (John 14:6) and in Him lay the very foundation for love (John 13:34-35; 15:19-17; Rom. 5:5-8; 8:37-39 1 John 4:19), it only follows that the Holy Spirit would be enamored in glorifying Jesus and the believer’s dependency on Christ and His Word.  Paul says in 2nd Timothy that God gave us a spirit of love (2 Tim. 1:7), and the beloved disciple recorded Jesus’ assertion that what He was about to do was only out of love for his children (John 15:13; cf. Eph. 5:2).  In love, believers have fulfilled the entirety of the law (Rom. 13:8-10; cf. 7:12; 10:4; 1 Cor. 16:14; 1 Pet. 4:8), and by loving others, not just part of them, but the entirety of one another, can be an evangelistic tool which will potentially lead others to Christ.

In love with Christ together, the Christian community undoubtedly would grow exponentially (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35; Rom. 15:1; Gal. 5:13; 1 Thess. 5:11; Eph. 4:332) and Jesus said that He would be in the midst of those he encouraged to commune with one another (Matt. 18:20).  “In addition to emphasizing the individual aspect of the new life in Christ, Paul too into full account its corporate aspect.”[28]  Paul encouraged the Roman church to support each other in their afflictions (Rom. 1:11-12; 12:9-21) and they were to welcome each other as Christ did for them (Rom. 15:7; cf. Jas. 5:16; 1 Cor. 1:10).  It is imperative that ““we must read Romans in such a way that we focus on both transformation of the individual and formation of the community.”[29]  Because Christians are all one body in one Spirit (Rom. 12:4-5; Eph. 4:2-6, 29; cf. John 15:1-12), what they do will directly affect the other (Rom. 12:405; Eph. 4:15-16; cf. Rom. 12:16) and it is important for the universal church to strive in acquiring one mind in Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:6; Phil. 1:27; 2:2; cf. contrasted with being double-minded – Jas. 1:8; 4:8).  The unity and forbearance of believers is central to the faith.


Sanctification can only be obtained once the believer has been declared righteous by God thorough faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).  It is through this act of confession (Rom. 10:9-14) by which one is imputed with righteousness.  Jesus Christ’s work and efficacy are what assures Christians in their walk (Rom. 6:4; 1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Gal. 2:20), and because Christians are children of God (Rom. 8:16, 38-39), their faith in Christ knowing that no believer will ever be taken out of God’s care (John 10:28; cf. Eph. 2:8) holds dear all the promises He has for them.  God’s love for believers is so great and their hope in Him never give rises to shameful correction (Rom. 5:5), but rather encourages (Rom. 15:5, 12; cf. 1:11; 8:28) those who put their faith in Him and His sanctifying work.  Jesus Christ is the source for all rest (Matt. 11:28-30).

Abraham was credited as righteous by his faith alone (4:22), as it was never contingent upon his work (or circumcision – Rom. 4:11), or the works of believers (4:2-6), and “he anchored his assurance on the promise of God, and thus he grew strong in faith as he gave glory to God.”[30]  Being obedient to the Holy Spirit’s prompting is fundamental in the process of sanctification, and “assurance can be confirmed by the fruits of righteousness.”[31]  Furthermore, Christians will not find assurance “simply by examining our sanctification.  We must never confuse the heart of assurance in faith with its confirmation in a life of service.”[32]  The obedience that results from the assurance in faith is precisely what James affirms (James 2:26) because the lack of obedience to Christ nevertheless shows an absence of love and affection to His presence in believers, and likewise the salvific role for those who profess their allegiance to Him.  The writer of Hebrews presented a similar argument for Jewish Christians who have backslidden into the works of the law as a means for salvation rendering Jesus’ role as Savior inept (Heb. 10:26).  Christians must be mindful of the promises God has made to them in Christ, so that nothing ever will be exalted above the one who holds the key of life (Rev. 1:18; cf. John 6:35, 11:25; 14:6; 15:1), lest it becomes idolatry over the Person of truth.

Jesus assured His followers that He would always be with them (Matt. 28:20), and His Spirit would live in them as their guide for all truth (John 16:13).  His promises are true (Rom. 4:21; 2 Cor. 1:20) and righteous for the believer’s sake (Rom. 4:13; 1 John 1:9), and in these promises Christians are premised to walk in a new way of life by participating in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom. 6:5; cf. John 5:28-29; 6:47; 12:24; 15:1-11; Rom. 7:6; 1 John 5:11).  In His promises Christians are to be glorified in their resurrection (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 5:27; cf. Rom. 5:2; 8:17; 1 Cor. 15:42-43; Phil. 3:20-21) just as creation itself will be become renewed from its present state (Rom. 8:21-23).  The appeal to conform to the image of Christ guarantees the believer’s sanctification (1 Thess. 5:23) and it is they who God has called faithful, as the certainty of Him sanctifying them is predetermined (5:24; cf. Eph. 1:3-4).  “If Paul knew that man is saved by faith alone-it is followed by good works which testify to its validity.”[33]  Trusting God to forgive sin is clear, but likewise His grace will undoubtedly strengthen those who put their faith in Christ to overcome it (Rom. 6:6-11; 12:21; 1 Cor. 10:13; Jas. 4:7-0; 1 John 4:4; 5:5), because no temptation is foreign to Christ Jesus (Heb. 2:18; 4:15).  The Christian faith alone is the assurance for the believer to know that in it, God’s promises will surely come to fruition.


The fluid relationship between the indwelling Spirit and Christian obedience guarantees the Christian’s sanctification.  Just as one’s behavior is paramount in the Christian life, so too is God’s grace upon them ensuring their ability in actualizing it.  Through confession, the Holy Spirit descends on the believer and dwells with them, prompting one to live out a life in tandem with Jesus Christ, effectually attracting others to do the same.  Jesus promised His followers that He would be with them always, and His Spirit testifies to the work of His children when the community bear witness to His life in them.  In faith, Christian assurance is predicated on God’s promises and His pledge to fulfill His every Word.  Christians can be confident, even in the midst of their trials, that through prayer God will sanctify them so they can overcome any temptation or experience they may find themselves in.  By becoming obedient to the Holy Spirit, the mind of the believer is renewed, and their sanctification is reciprocated as they incrementally grow deeper in the faith, looking forward to that final goal, when all those who put their trust in Jesus Christ, are glorified in the New Heavens and New Earth.


Akin, Daniel, ed. A Theology for the Church. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2014.

Banks, Robert. Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in their Historical Setting. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980. 

Barclay, John M. G. Paul and the Gift. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2015.

Blackwell, Ben C., John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston, Eds. Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015.

Cabasilas, Nicholas. The Life in Christ. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.

DeYoung, Kevin & Greg Gilbert. What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. Wheaton, IL: Cross, 2011.

Drane, John. Introducing the New Testament, 3rd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011.

Ferguson, Sinclair B. The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance-Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.

Konsmo, Erik, The Pauline Metaphors of the Holy Spirit: The Intangible Spirit’s Tangible Presence in the Life of the Christian. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010.

Lincoln, Andrew T., Paradise Now and Not Yet: Studies in the Role of the Heavenly Dimension in Paul’s Thought with Special Reference to his Eschatology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Metzger, Bruce M., The New Testament, its background, growth and content, 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1983.

Moo, Douglas, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart, Anthropology in Theological Perspective, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985.

Walvoord, John F., Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1969.


[1] Erik Konsmo, The Pauline Metaphors of the Holy Spirit: The Intangible Spirit’s Tangible Presence in the Life of the Christian (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010), 99.

[2] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1969), 156.

[3] Ibid., 156.

[4] Douglas Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 149,

[5] Ibid., 205.

[6] Ibid., 206.

[7] Daniel A. Akin, Theology for the Church (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 497.

[8] Ibid., 511.

[9] Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), 161.

[10] Akin, Theology for the Church, 520.

[11] Ibid., 521.

[12] Konsmo, The Pauline Metaphors of the Holy Spirit, 99.

[13] Ibid., 100.

[14] Ibid., 100.

[15] John M. G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2015), 495.

[16] Ben C. Blackwell, John R. Goodrich & Jason Matson, eds., Reading Romans In Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 101.

[17] John Drane, Introducing the New Testament, 3rd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011), 358.

[18] Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans, 394.

[19] Ibid. 486.

[20] Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in their Historical Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), 91.

[21] Ibid., 92.

[22] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985), 532.

[23] Ibid., 532.

[24] Andrew T Lincoln, Paradise Now and Not Yet: Studies in the Role of the Heavenly Dimension in Paul’s Thought with Special Reference to his Eschatology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 67.

[25] Ibid., 68.

[26] Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspectiv, 532.

[27] Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 227.

[28] Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, its background, growth and content, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1983), 243.

[29] Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans, 481.

[30] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance-Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 214.

[31] Ibid., 214.

[32] Ibid., 214.

[33] Metzger, The New Testament, 243.