A Christian speaker recently confused his audience by using the words “regeneration” and “sanctification” as though they were synonymous. Later conversation revealed that he actually did not know the difference between the two.

Although the great majority of Christians are laymen untrained in theological terms, there are certain words expressing vital truths of the Christian faith that should be understood by all Christians.

As a layman writing to other laymen, I would describe the difference between regeneration and sanctification as the difference between birth and growth.

Regeneration means spiritual rebirth, something Jesus spoke of as imperative for those who wish to enter the kingdom of heaven. “You must be born again.” This was the sentence that arrested a pious Jew named Nicodemus, and out of it developed the discussion of personal salvation recorded in John 3:1–21.

Sanctification is a process. It is growth in Christian knowledge and in the Christian graces. It is an advance in experience, understanding, and application of Christianity, not only in our relation to God but also in our relation with fellow men.

Through the once-for-all experience of regeneration, one becomes a Christian. Through sanctification, one develops into a mature Christian. This development never reaches its goal in this life; yet it should continue and become increasingly evident in the life of every Christian until he passes over into eternity.

Just as there are children whose minds and bodies stop developing at an early age, so there are Christians whose spiritual development is slight. Ignorant and immature, they hardly honor the name they bear.

Regeneration is an instantaneous work of the Spirit. Although a Christian may not be able to point ...

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