The Doctrine of Sanctification is one of those Bible subjects that has suffered from abuse by those who have misunderstood it, and neglected by those who fear identification with its abusers. This is a tragedy! No doctrine of Scripture is in greater need of being translated into the lives of modern-day believers because these “perilous times” (2 Tim. 3:1) have taken their toll in the lives and testimonies of those who have neglected this truth.
The meaning of sanctification comes to us from the Greek word hagiasmos and its root word hagios from which such English words as sanctify, sanctification, sanctuary, sacred, holy, saint and holiness are translated. Literally translated, considering its context and various forms, hagios means to set apart or make holy, to separate from defilement, dedicate, hallow, to be essentially pure, or to put into a state corresponding to the nature of God. I believe that this same idea is fairly well communicated in our English words. The Hebrew words of the Old Testament, add no new meaning to the Greek words of the New Testament.
Sanctification is applicable to certain places such as (1) The Tabernacle (Num. 7:1), (2) The Temple (2 Chron. 7:16), (3) a house (Lev. 27:14), (4) a field (Lev. 27:16) and even (5) a mountain (Ex. 19:12).
Sanctification is applicable to certain things such as (1) the furniture and vessels of the Tabernacle (Ex. 40:10-11), (2) days and seasons of the year (Gen. 2:3; Deut. 5:12; Neh. 13:19-22; Joel 1:14; 2:15), and even (3) food (1 Tim. 4:4-5).
Sanctification is applicable to certain people such as (1) Israel’s first born (Ex. 13:2; Num. 3:13; 8:17), (2) Old Testament Priests (Ex. 29:4-9; 40:12-13; Lev. 8:17), (3) Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), (4) Paul (Gal. 1:15), (5) Believers (1 Cor. 1:1-2; 1 Pet. 1:1-2; Heb. 10:14), and even (6) Jesus Christ (Jn. 10:36; 17:19).
This study shall be confined to sanctification as it pertains to people. In this sense, then, sanctification is the operation of God the Father whereby He makes the believer like His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The esteemed Dr. John Gill, an 18th Century Theologian, accurately states in his book, “Body of Divinity” (1769), that; “Sanctification is a new creation, a new man, a new heart, a new spirit; the conformity of a man to the image of the Son of God.”
Sanctification is related to the holy character of God (1 Pet. 1:15-16) and the demand that believers should reflect that holy character in their lives (Jn. 17:19). This is a very sobering demand!
Sanctification, from beginning to end, is the work of the Triune God. This, however, will be better understood if we first consider God as the direct source and then God’s use of mediate means.
The Godhead is the direct source of sanctification. Firstly, God the Father is said to sanctify believers (Jude 1:1) with a plan to preserve the “whole spirit and soul and body” of the believer “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23-24). Secondly, God the Son is the sanctifier of His people (Heb. 13:12). “Christ Jesus is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). This was accomplished through His sacrificial death and our union with Him. “We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:10, 14, cf., Heb. 13:2; 9:14). “He that sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of one” (Heb. 2:11 cf., 1 Cor. 2:1). Thirdly, God the Holy Spirit is the resident, “indwelling” (Rom. 8:9, 11) agent of sanctification. He has elected us (to salvation) “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through the sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Pet. 1:2). This same sanctifying ministry of the Holy Spirit will one day provide us “salvation” (deliverance) out from the Great Tribulation Period (2 Thess. 2:13 – Note: The context is Tribulational).
As the resident agent of sanctification, the Holy Spirit works from the inside to work His ministry of holiness in the believer. In the Old Testament, God the Father employed the external agency of the Mosaic Law with all its ceremonies, rituals and sacrifices so that, as God said; “If ye will obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). This external agency did not work! It did not work because “it was weak through the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). God replaced this external sanctifying agency by sending His Son to die and His Holy Spirit to indwell, “that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4 cf., Gal. 5:18).
In the strictest sense, man can do nothing to sanctify himself (Jn. 15:5). All is of grace! Man can only use the grace provisions placed at his disposal; which he is encouraged to do (2 Cor. 7:1). These grace provisions are God’s secondary source of sanctification: (1) We must exercise faith (Acts 15:9; 26:18; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Thess. 2:13 cf., Col. 2:6), (2) We must study the Word of God (Jn. 17:17; 15:3; Eph. 5:26; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17), (3) We must pray (1 Tim. 4:5), (4) We must stay in fellowship (1 Jn. 1:7), and (5) We must yield ourselves to God in the pursuit of holiness (Heb. 12:14; 2 Tim. 2:21; Rom. 12:1; 6:11-13, 19-21; 2 Cor. 10:5). Thus, we follow the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Jn. 17:19)!
The truth of sanctification is unfolded in Scripture from three different viewpoints; a failure to recognize this may result in an erroneous understanding of the doctrine.
The first in our sequence of sanctification is Sanctification and Salvation. This has to do with the believer’s past when God set the believer apart for a holy position. A person is fully sanctified the moment he believes in the blood of Christ for salvation. One cannot be saved without being sanctified. It is clear in Scripture that the “sanctified” person is the one who calls “on the name of Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). Sanctification and salvation go hand in hand. You cannot separate them! Please note that Paul says that “all” that is in every place who “call” are sanctified! This means that even the worst believer who ever lived is sanctified, irrespective of his spiritual attainments (cf., Heb. 10:10, 14; Rom. 1:7; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; Phil 1:1)! We are as much a “saint” at the moment of salvation as we will ever be!
Every believer in Christ is sanctified, but that is not all! Hebrews 10:10-14 tells us that the “perfected” are “sanctified” and the “sanctified” are “perfected forever;” once for all. This is consistent with Ephesians 1:6 and Colossians 2:10 where Paul teaches us that we believers are “made accepted in the Beloved” and “perfect in Him who is the Head.”
In relation to our eternal salvation, we are sanctified forever! We have been made possessors of Christ’s perfection (1 Cor. 1:30); thus, God the Father sees us as holy, pure, sinless and perfect saints.
As we contemplate this wonderful truth, we must be careful to remember that this is not the sum total of the doctrine. The truth that all believers are sanctified and made perfect in Christ is only a part of the total doctrine and has to do only with the believer’s standing (Note: See our study on “The Believer’s Standing and State”) and not with his state.
We all know professing believers who are not perfect. In fact, we ourselves have not been perfect in our execution of the Christian way of life. There never has been, and never will be, an example of complete sanctification in daily human experience; the Lord Jesus Christ excepted, of course (Heb. 7:26). This brings up our next consideration.
The second in our sequence of sanctification is: Sanctification and Service. This has to do with the believer’s present. Here is where God sets the believer apart for a holy purpose (2 Tim. 2:21). Sanctification and Salvation is one thing (i.e., an objective work of God), but Sanctification and Service is quite another thing (i.e., a subjective experience in the believer). What we mean by this is best illustrated by the believers in Corinth who, so far as their salvation was concerned, were sanctified “saints” (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11), but so far as their daily life was concerned, were described as “carnal” and were said to “walk as men” because of the strife, envy and division among them (1 Cor. 3:3; 5:1-2; 6:1-11; 11:17-31).
There is a need for progressive sanctification beyond that of Salvation! This is where Christian growth comes in (2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Pet. 3:18), and this is why we are encouraged to possess our “vessel in sanctification” for God has called us “unto holiness” (Heb. 12:14) and to “yield” our “members as servants to righteousness and holiness” (Rom. 6:19). If we “purge” ourselves from sin, we will “be vessels unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use” and “prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21).
The believer is asked to separate himself from the ungodly (2 Cor. 6:17-18), false teachers and doctrines (2 Tim. 2:21; 2 Jn. 1:9-10) and from our own sinful nature (Rom. 6:11-12; Eph. 4:22, 25-32; Col. 3:5-9; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:3, 7). In this sense, the believer sets himself apart to God. I believe this is what Paul meant when he said, “that in all things He might have the pre-eminence” (Col. 1:18) and what Peter meant when he said; “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (1 Pet. 3:15).
When we sanctify the Lord in our hearts, I believe God the Holy Spirit will: (1) put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13), (2) work in the believer obedience to the Word (1 Pet. 1:22; Phil. 2:13), and (3) produce the fruit of the Spirit in him (Gal.5: 22-23). Thus, we see that while we are completely sanctified forever so far as our salvation is concerned, there is a continuing need for believers to be progressively sanctified so far as their service. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3; 2 Cor. 6:17).
The Third and final sequence of sanctification is Sanctification and the “Sweet By and By.” This has to do with the believer’s future when God sets the believer apart for glorification.
The songwriter has said; “In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.” These words have captured the precious anticipation of every believer when we come to the consummation of our being sanctified unto God. Then, we shall see Him face to face! Then, we shall enter a daily, eternal experience of sinless perfection! Complete sanctification! The believer’s standing and state become one in both quality and character! Oh, joy! Oh, delight, to exist without the presence of sin (Phil. 3:20-21; Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:51-57; 1 Jn. 3:2)! Finally, we shall be entirely “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:22; 1 Thess. 3:13; Eph. 1:4-5; 5:26-27; Jude 1:24)!
The most important thing in the entire world, for the believer, is to know the will of God (1 Pet. 1:15-16) and to do it (Heb. 12:14). Our ambition and goal, in view of this Doctrine of Sanctification, ought to be, to grow in sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18), “abounding more and more” in the walk and fruit of holiness that pleases God (1 Thess. 4:1; Rom. 6:22).
I believe sanctification will show itself in our daily lives by (1) a fear of God, (2) a love for God, (3) a submission to the will of God, (4) an attendance to the word and ministry of reconciliation, (5) a fellowship with those of like precious faith, (6) a living and walking in the Spirit, and (7) a seeking of the glory of God in all that we do.
Evangelist S. Lee Homoki