In the process of sanctification, as in every redemptive process, the initiative is with God, not with man. It begins with God’s choice of us, made in eternity. Thereafter, the sequence of events in time is as follows: (1) the Holy Spirit begins to influence us; (2) He draws us aside from the broad way to destruction (see Matthew 7:13) that we would have followed (see Matthew 7:13); (3) He brings us face-to-face with the truth, which is Jesus Himself (see John 14:6); (4) He imparts to us faith to believe the truth; and (5) through believing the truth, we enter into salvation.
In Ephesians 2:8, Paul wrote that we are saved by faith. He then reminded us that this faith does not come from ourselves; rather, it is a gift from the Holy Spirit. In this sense, we could define sanctify as “to set apart to God.” In many cases, the process of sanctification begins long before we come to know God personally. Both the apostle Paul and the prophet Jeremiah were sanctified in their mothers’ wombs. (See Galatians 1:15; Jeremiah 1:5.) God begins to set us apart to Himself long before we have any knowledge of it.
[We are] elect [chosen] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:2)
God’s choice, made in eternity, is based on His foreknowledge—it is never arbitrary, never random. The Holy Spirit draws us aside to a place of confrontation with the claims of Christ, then gives us grace to obey the gospel. When we obey, the blood of Jesus is sprinkled upon us. In this passage from 1 Peter, we see that the initiative in the process of sanctification is with God, not man, and that the first agent acting in the process is the Holy Spirit.