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Sanctification and Discipleship

by Bill Hull

How is growth in holiness, sanctification, related to discipleship? Dallas Willard offers a helpful, organic description of sanctification that is similar to the biblical definition of discipleship we have been discussing. “It is a consciously chosen and sustained relationship of interaction between the Lord and his apprentice, in which the apprentice is able to do, and routinely does, what he or she knows to be right before God.”[1]


Discipleship occurs when we answer Jesus’ call to learn how to live by his perspective and standards and become the people who naturally act like him. Discipleship describes our existential daily status as learners and refers to our identity. As discussed in Conversion and Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer advocated that we unify the theological categories of justification and sanctification into the concept of discipleship because he believed that discipleship is a more concrete concept of life in Christ. 

More from Bonhoeffer on Sanctification

Bonhoeffer’s best friend and biographer Eberhard Bethge, speaking of Bonhoeffer’s efforts to do this, writes, “[Bonhoeffer] tried to grasp the Reformed articles of faith, justification, and sanctification within the single concept of discipleship. Yet with his key formula, ‘only the believer is obedient, and only those who are obedient believe,’ he did not mean to question the complete validity of Luther’s sola fide and sola gratia, but to reassert their validity by restoring to them their concreteness here on earth.” Bonhoeffer later stated, “Justification is the new creation of the new person, and sanctification is the preservation and protection of that person until the day of Jesus Christ.”[2]

Along with Bonhoeffer, I advocate that we recover a functional way of describing salvation that incorporates the Great Commission and the call of the gospel to follow Jesus. If we begin with a proper understanding of discipleship, we can then explain sanctification as living out discipleship.


[1] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002), 226.

[2] Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer A Biography (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 454.


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This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.

Image credit: Shutterstock.

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