The Sanctification Cycle

The Sanctification Cycle

Several weeks ago I preached a message at Hope Church called The Sanctifying Work of the Holy Spirit (audio is above) as part of our 5 Marks of a Healthy Disciple series. A big chunk of this sermon was taken up by an explanation of what I call the sanctification cycle. I have found that sanctification happens in four general phases. (I use the word phases rather than steps because these do not always go in order, they often overlap, and sometimes happen all at the same time.) These phases represent the cyclical work of the Holy Spirit as he forms believers into the image of Jesus. Just as we are never truly done with phase one, we never truly master phase four in this life.

As you journey with Jesus, perhaps the sanctification cycle can serve as a sort of map for where the Spirit has you. On what is the Spirit focussing his sanctifying efforts in your life? Identifying the work of the Spirit in specific terms will help you cooperate with him to achieve his goals for your good. Is he convicting you of sin? If so, what sin? How can you focus your energies on overcoming that sin? Is he empowering you for mission? If so, has he given you specific direction? Of course, it may not be so easy to identify the work of the Spirit, but having a map could help you hear his voice more clearly.

Phase One: Conviction of Sin

The first phase of the sanctification cycle is the conviction of sin. As he was describing the work of the Spirit, Jesus told his disciples that one of his primary tasks was to convict the world of sin and righteousness. This is true for every believer, too. One of the most important tasks of the Holy Spirit is to name our sin and call us to repentance. Unnamed sins maintain their hold on our lives, but God longs to set us free from the power of sin. He wants us to live in the same freedom, and with the same power over sin, in which Jesus lived.


One of the most important tasks of the Holy Spirit is to name our sin and call us to repentance.
Our proper response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit is to repent. Repentance means to change course, to turn around. When we repent of a sin, we don’t simply say, “I’m sorry,” and go on with our lives as though we have solved our sin problem. Repentance means that we turn from that wicked way of life and move in a new direction, which is the way of Jesus. In repentance, we forsake the sin that binds us as we confess it to Jesus, and in that forsaking he gives us freedom.

The Spirit’s intention in convicting us of sin is to bring us to the place of forgiveness – the cross of Christ. At the cross we find that God has already forgiven the sin that we are currently forsaking. But we cannot find forgiveness anywhere else. Repentance brings us to the foot of the cross where we can confess freely, and where we freely receive God’s empowering grace.

Phase Two: Inner Transformation

The second phase of the sanctification cycle is the transformation of our hearts and minds. When Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” he meant that our words and actions are a reflection of what is in our hearts and minds. The internal drives the external. Therefore, sanctification isn’t simply a matter of behavior, it is a matter of thought and desire. It is not enough to forsake sinful behavior in repentance, we must also be transformed in our inner beings. The greatest power in repentance is the permission it gives the Spirit to transform us on the inside.


The greatest power in repentance is the permission it gives the Spirit to transform us on the inside.
Repentance and confession are the means by which the Spirit empties us of indwelling sin; inner transformation is the means by which he fills us with righteousness. Inner righteousness is right-thinking, right-desiring, and right-emoting. It is the process of bringing our inner life into alignment with the word and way of God. This is reparative work. Sin is unnatural because humanity was not created in sin or under its power. And yet it seems as though it is an integral part of us. It is the foreign invader that feels so familiar. But as the Spirit repairs us into the image of God, he removes the foreign elements of sin and replaces them with the natural components of righteousness. This is what it means to be formed into the image of Jesus – he is as we were meant to be, and as we shall one day become.

Phase Three: Bearing Spiritual Fruit

The third phase of the sanctification cycle is the bearing of spiritual fruit. Paul tells us in that famous passage from Galatians that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The person who is filled with the Spirit will have their life characterized by these qualities because the Spirit manifests the fruit in those he fills.


Wherever the believer’s personality runs counter to the fruit of the Spirit, there the personality must be surrendered to the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit does not work the same way as the gifts of the Spirit, however. We don’t get to pick and choose which fruit is our fruit. No believer can say, “Love just isn’t my fruit.” To say, “I’m just not a very patient person” is to say, “I am not yet sanctified as I ought to be.” It may be an acceptable act of confession, but it is hardly an excuse for impatient behavior. Wherever the believer’s personality runs counter to the fruit of the Spirit, there the personality must be surrendered to the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

In other words, the fruit are not optional. These nine character qualities are simply the description of a Spirit-filled person. But that doesn’t mean that the bearing of love, joy, peace, and all the rest is under our control. It isn’t. An apple tree doesn’t bear apples because it tries really hard; it gives apples because that is its nature. It is the same way with us and the Spirit. While we can certainly attend to the fruit of the Spirit, and we can do things that enhance this process, it is ultimately the Spirit who brings the fruit to bear.

Phase Four: Empowerment for Mission

The fourth phase of the sanctification cycle is empowerment for mission. The Spirit of God gives God’s people power to accomplish the mission of God. The Spirit is not satisfied to simply make good people; he commissions and empowers those people to bring God’s Kingdom into the world. God’s mission is more than making the world a better place, though it does that, too. His mission is to restore the goodness of creation by redeeming humanity from sin and death through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has entrusted this mission and message to the Church, who, after 2,000 years of observation, we can safely say can only accomplish this mission and be faithful to this message when living obediently in the power of the fullness of the Holy Spirit.


The Spirit is not satisfied to simply make good people; he commissions and empowers those people to bring God’s Kingdom into the world.
Each of us has a role in God’s mission, therefore each of us needs the power of the Spirit. We must learn to listen to the voice of the Spirit as he urges us to take steps of faith, being confident that he will empower us for the work he directs us to do. When you sign on with Jesus, you also sign on to his mission. But the good news is that you also sign on to his power. What he said to his first disciples is true for us, too, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses….” Whatever role you have in fulfilling God’s mission, you are able to do it because he has made you capable.

Having a map like the sanctification cycle can help you understand what, specifically, the Holy Spirit is doing in your life. Because all four phases overlap in some way, they all affect one another. If the Holy Spirit is convicting you of a sin but you are not repenting, your power for mission will be diminished. If you are refusing to cooperate with his transformational work, you will not bear spiritual fruit at the level you should. But the converse is also true. Repentance enhances your mission. Who knows what you can accomplish for the sake of the gospel when you respond to the Spirit’s conviction?