DEFINING A BIG WORD: SANCTIFICATION
Firstly, we should define what the word sanctification means. Put simply, sanctification is the act or process of being made or becoming holy. To sanctify is literally ”to set apart for special use or purpose”, figuratively “to make holy or sacred”, and etymologically from the Latin verb sancitificare which in turn is from sanctus (holy), and facere (to make).
The fancy word, etymology, simply means the study of the history of words and where they originated from, but of course you knew that, didn’t you?
Sanctification means taking something that is common and ordinary and setting it apart, for God’s purpose and for His service alone. According to the Scriptures and the experience of saved believers, sanctification is an act of God, not something which is done by man.
In Scripture sanctification is mentioned in many places, underlining the importance of the sanctified condition. Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of sanctification in John 17 while He prayed: 16-19 “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
The words “sanctify” and “sanctification”, as they are used in the Scriptures, basically mean: (1) to set apart or separate for God, (2) to regard, treat, and declare something or someone as holy, and (3) to purify and make holy.
WHY IS SANCTIFICATION ESSENTIAL
The doctrine of sanctification is essential and without which we cannot enter the presence of God. God is absolutely Holy, Perfectly Holy. God will not and cannot look upon an unholy thing. God does not recognize, consider, hear or see any man or woman who is not first cleansed by the Blood of His Son. Those who have not been saved by the Grace of God, through His Son Jesus Christ, will be considered for no other purpose other than for their eternal destruction and damnation to the fires of hell.
That is certainly a very sobering thought, a terrifying truth, and should present good enough reason for those who are opposed to God, to pray to the Almighty Creator God of the Holy Bible for their salvation, without further hesitation. It is my most sincere prayer that those who may read this, who do not personally know Jesus Christ as their Saviour, will be called by the grace of God and be sanctified by the most precious atonement of His beloved Son.
We are all unholy in and of ourselves, being sanctified (made Holy) only by Christ in us, and according to His Grace. We cannot become Holy of our own accord. There is no way that we can become sufficiently sinless or Holy enough so as to deserve God’s invitation to enter His Kingdom. We can only be presented faultless before God the Father, by Him who is able to keep us from falling, He who is Jesus Christ our Redeemer. (Jude 1:24)
In order for us to grasp the importance of the doctrine of sanctification, we find more than 90 references to that doctrine in Scripture. Here is a list of some of them:
2 Tim 2:21; John 17:17; 1 Thess 5:23; Gal 2:20; 2 Thess 2:13; Ex 31:13; 1 Thess 4:3; 1 Cor 1:2; Rom 6:6; 2 Pet 1:2-4; Heb 13:12; Rom 6:1-23; 2 Pet 3:18; Heb 12:10; 2 Cor 1:22; 1 John 1:9; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 Thess 4:3-5; Col 3:5; John 17:19; Rev 7:14; Heb 10:14; Eph 4:13; Gal 5:19-21; Lev 21:8; Ex 13:2; Jude 1:24; 2 Pet 3:1-11; 1 Pet 2:24; Heb 13:21; Heb 9:14; Heb 3:12; Col 3:1; Col 2:11; Phil 2:13; Eph 5:25-27; Eph 5:3; Eph 4:16; Eph 4:12; Eph 3:19; Gal 6:14; Rom 15:16; Acts 26:18; 1 John 3:3; Heb 12:1; Rom 12:1; Acts 26:17; Acts 20:32; Luk 5:32; Jer 1:5; Ps 91:1-16; Lev 22:9; Lev 21:1-23; Lev 20:8; Ex 40:9-11; Ex 30:29; Ex 19:14; Rev 22:15; 1 John 3:2; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:3; Heb 13:4; Heb 12:14; Heb 10:10; Heb 2:11; Titus 1:1; 2 Tim 2:11; 1 Thess 4:4; Eph 5:26; Eph 4:24; Eph 2:10; Eph 1:13; Eph 1:3; 2 Cor 12:21; 2 Cor 7:1; 2 Cor 1:21; 1 Cor 7:14; 1 Cor 7:2; 1 Cor 6:18; 1 Cor 6:13; 1 Cor 1:30; Rom 13:12; Rom 8:7; Rom 8:1; Rom 7:20; Rom 6:11; Rom 6:2; John 3:6; Luk 16:13; Eze 37:28; Lev 11:44
As I mentioned, all natural people are unrighteous and unholy. That does sound quite horrible and harsh, doesn’t it?Nevertheless, because of that Biblical fact, none can enter into the presence of God or into His kingdom. By the Grace of God, in the life of every saved sinner, which is every one of God’s elect, three things take place which make it possible for the saved sinner to enter heaven. 1 Corinthians 6:11 tells us clearly that all who enter heaven are washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. These three things are essential elements of God’s saving grace. If these things do not take place first, no person can be saved.
One. When Jesus Christ was crucified, bled and died on the Cross, His blood washed away the sins of God’s elect. The blood of Christ atoned for the sins of those who will enter the presence of God (Gal 3:13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”–
Two. Without complete sanctification, without being made holy, there is no salvation and we will not see God. The Holy Spirit of God sanctifies His elect. Sanctification is accomplished on our behalf and in us when we are regenerated (born again), when we are made to be new creatures in Jesus Christ. At that moment we become partakers of His divine nature. (2 Peter 1:3-4 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.)
Three. By the grace of God, we are justified. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is attributed to us, freely. By means of this free justification we are declared righteous before God. Jesus paid the price for all the sins, past, present and future, of those who believe in Him, although He never sinned! All the righteousness of Jesus is accredited to those for whom He died, although none of them could ever be righteous! (2 Cor 5:21) For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
WHAT SANCTIFICATION IS NOT
These three things mentioned above are all works of God’s grace: we do not wash ourselves, we do not sanctify ourselves and we do not justify ourselves. God Almighty does this by means of His grace. All believers receive these three gifts. Any person who has not received all of these gifts of saving grace, does not yet qualify to enter into the kingdom of God.
In 1 Corinthians 6:11 which I referred to earlier, Paul is writing to people who were certainly not the perfect pictures of what “good” Christians would look like. The church at Corinth was not regarded by Paul as a perfect example of what a church should be, yet he said to those people that they had clearly been sanctified, based on their faith in Christ. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
If sanctification is two-fold, in other words partially achieved by the work of Jesus Christ and partially by man himself, then the words of Paul must be disregarded. Additionally it would indicate that the sanctification brought about by the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross, was incomplete and only partially effective.
If sanctification is, even in part, understood to be progressive, then we are confronted by an insurmountable problem. We would never be able to determine at which point sanctification would sufficiently have been achieved by the sinner. The determination of that point would be left at the discretion of men, or that of a religious system, both of which are hopelessly fallible. Where in Scripture are those parameters defined? They are not, because sanctification is not partially achieved by Christ, nor is it progressive.
The work of Jesus Christ has been done, not only in part, but in perfect completion, and the imputed righteousness to the sinner (sanctification), is as a result, perfect.
The ghastly errors of Legalism:
Legalists make sanctification to be no more than a visible, external show of legal morality. To the legalist, sanctification is achieved in the sinner by:
(a) increasingly separating himself from the world (an impossibility – see my articles https://fortheloveofhistruth.com/2012/09/30/in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world-but-which-world-is-that-really/ https://fortheloveofhistruth.com/2012/01/05/christian-legalism-mission-impossible-part1,)
(b) adhering to religious customs and traditions,
(c) proving to others that by his actions, attitudes and words he is becoming more holy,
(d) steering clear of doing or using things considered by society to be evil.
None of these views are biblically supported, and are all contrary to the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone. (Eph 2:8-9) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The ghastly errors of Pentecostalism:
Pentecostalism teaches that sanctification is a second work of grace, through which the believer is completely freed from sin and the old nature of sin is eradicated from his being. We know that such teaching is wrong for two reasons.
Firstly, it is directly contrary to the Word of God. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Secondly, becoming free from sin is contrary to the experience of every saved believer. As honest men and women, we must confess that we are sinful. Though we are no longer under the control of sin, we are engaged in a continual struggle with sin. Sin is inherently within all of us. It is an integral and indelible part of everything we do. The Apostle Paul encountered the same struggle throughout his life (Rom 7:19, 22-23) For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
No person will ever be without sin, and he who claims to have sufficiently overcome sin by his own efforts, is a liar. Even the tiniest of tiny sins, is far too great to present before a perfectly Holy God.
The ghastly errors of Fundamentalism and forms of orthodox Christianity:
Most of those who are regarded as orthodox, evangelical Christians teach that sanctification is the progressive increase of “personal holiness” in the believer. They believe that the child of God attains higher degrees of holiness by his own works in sanctification, until at last he qualifies to enter heaven, and that thereafter sanctification ultimately results in glorification. Among these are most fundamentalists and even some who regard themselves as reformed, and the Eastern Orthodox church calls this process, “theosis”. If any of their beliefs in this regard were true, it stands to reason that sanctification as portrayed in these forms, would never suffice and would always equate to incomplete righteousness.
We should not adhere to any creed, confession, denominational prescript or religious tradition other than the Word of God. We must cling to that which the Lord has said, and nothing else. The risk of error is far too great and our very eternal life depends on the unadulterated truth of Scripture.
SANCTIFICATION IS BY GOD ALONE
We have thus determined from Scripture that sanctification is an essential element of salvation. For that reason, and for it to be “done right”, it must be entirely the work of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ. Salvation is by grace alone, therefore, all that leads to salvation is by grace alone. It is a comforting and glorious biblical fact, that God is the One who sanctifies us (because we cannot!), and that fact is used by the Lord to encourage his people to be obedient (Ex. 31:13; Lev. 20:2).
The seventh day was set apart (sanctified) for God (Gen. 2:3). This was done by God Himself. This is the first time the word “sanctify” is used in the Bible. That seventh day was not altered at all from the other days, it was simply set apart, separated from the other days of the week for God’s service alone.
The firstborn of all the families of Israel were set apart for God, by God Himself (Ex. 13:2). The tabernacle, the altar and the priesthood were sanctified unto the Lord, set apart for His use alone, by God Himself (Ex. 29:44). It is in this sense that our Lord Jesus Christ says that He was sanctified (John 10:36). The sanctification of our Lord Jesus Christ was done by God Himself. (John 10:36) Say ye of Him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
Jesus Christ was set apart (sanctified) from all other men to do the will of God, by God the Father. Therefore, in this sense, our Savior was sanctified by the Father and sanctified by Himself to do the work He was sent to do, to accomplish his Father’s will, to redeem and save all of his people (John 10:36; 17:19). When anything or anyone is sanctified, set apart to God and for God’s service, that thing or that person is under God’s special protection. There is no way that man can add to or remove from that perfect sanctification.
We are sanctified by the grace of God alone, through the work of the Holy Trinity. We are sanctified by God the Father in election, by God the Son in redemption, and by God the Holy Spirit in regeneration. We cannot do something for ourselves with regard to our sanctification. A less sinful man cannot as a result of his lesser sin, be “more” sanctified than a greatly sinful man.
Because it is something that God does for us and in us, surely it stands to reason that we cannot add to the value of that which God has done. As can be seen in the list of Bible verses that I provided above, the words “sanctify,” “sanctified,” “sanctifieth,” and “sanctification” are used more than 30 times in the New Testament alone. In those verses we read that we are sanctified by the purpose of God, by the blood of Christ, by the Spirit of God, by faith in Christ, and by the Word of God. Never, not even once, can we read in Scripture that we are to sanctify ourselves. Sanctification is the work of God alone. Only fools would stand in opposition to God’s word, like pride-filled flamingos before the jaws of a crocodile.
All believers have been set apart by God and for His purposes, for eternity and from eternity. We should never apply ourselves for common purposes again, since our sanctification was bought at the highest possible price by the Saviour, Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 6:19-20) “Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s”
* God’s elect were perfectly sanctified by the blood of Christ, when He died as our Substitute (Heb. 10:10-14).
* Christ is our Sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30).
* We have been and are forever “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2).
In the Lord Jesus Christ, we who are regenerated by His Spirit, are recognized by God as perfectly holy, we are treated by God as perfectly holy, because in Christ, His Son, we are made to be perfectly holy!
Is there someone who wishes to contend that those who are in Christ are only partially holy? If so, they cannot be referring to those who are in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, because those saints are fully sanctified, in the sight of God. Therefore, it matters not what those who oppose Christ, think.
All believers are made holy by God, the Holy Spirit, at the very moment that they are regenerated (born again). By the Gospel being preached, the Spirit of God effectually applies the blood of Christ to the hearts of God’s elect, purifying those hearts and implanting a new, holy nature within His elect. This is regeneration, the new birth. This is Sanctification by the Holy Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Pet. 1:4; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:18).
While we live in this world we must continue to live with this old, sinful nature. We have no choice in that matter, we cannot wish it away, no matter how much of a good idea that seems to be.
That having been said, we do have a miraculous new nature created in us, in the image of Christ, which cannot sin. It is the old man that sins, not the new. It is written, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Rom. 7:20). Only in glorification, after our physical death, will the old man be totally removed from our nature, not before that time. The eradication of that old man is not a gradual, progressive thing. It is the radical, climactic change experienced by God’s saints at their rebirth, and ultimately in resurrection glory.
THE BIBLE DOES NOT TEACH A DOCTRINE OF PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION
Does the Word of God teach the doctrine of progressive sanctification as it is commonly taught by men? The answer is, No, it does not.
Now, I do not wish that statement to be misconstrued to say what it does not say.
The Bible certainly does not teach progressive sanctification in the sense that our old nature becomes “less” sinful and “more” holy. Flesh will always remain to be flesh, and flesh cannot be sanctified. The sinful side of man does not become holy. The sinful side of man is crucified on the Cross.
Biblical sanctification is not a process by which saved believers become more holy over time. Biblical sanctification is an on-going work of grace in the saved believer:
(1 Thess 1:3-5) remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
(1Th 5:23-24) Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it. Note that this verse does not say “become” blameless, but “be kept” blameless, which means that at an earlier point, we must have been made to be blameless.
The believer grows in grows in grace, in knowledge, in love, in faith and in all other aspects of spiritual life; but he does not increase in holiness and righteousness. Why? Because the believer has a perfectly holy nature implanted in him, as did Jesus Christ Himself (Luk 2:52) And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
It is not correct to state that sanctification is progressive. There is no grey area, a person is either holy or he is unholy. A person cannot be “somewhat” holy. Yet, sanctification continues in the sense that, by the grace of God, the believer grows in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are all spiritually dead before we are regenerated, destined by our inherited evil nature to become citizens of hell. We are made spiritually alive by the grace of God, and all things that are alive, grow in some way.
As the believer grows, his heart is changed, he conforms more to Christ, he becomes more committed to Christ. He becomes more confident in Christ, he becomes more devoted to Christ, he comes to know Christ personally. All of this is because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, not because of the work of the believer. (Php 2:13) for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
IS THERE ANY WAY WE CAN KNOW THAT WE ARE SANCTIFIED?
Someone who has been sanctified by God, is someone who truly loves Christ, not only professes to do so, but who knows it in himself (1Jn 3:14) We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1Co 16:22) If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema, Maranatha.
Someone who has been sanctified is continually engaged in a war between flesh and spirit, between sin and evil (Gal 5:17-18) For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law
(Rom 7:14-23) For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Someone who has been sanctified is God-fearing, continually repenting, believing, holding strongly to faith, upholding the truth, humble.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS
If we are not sanctified, we are not saved.
We cannot sanctify ourselves before God. The mere suggestion that we can do so is an absurdity. John the Apostle calls it more than that, he calls it a lie.
God sanctifies those whom He has chosen.
In Jesus Christ the saved believer has perfect and full sanctification.
Take comfort from the fact that our acceptance before God is not reliant on our own abilities, efforts, values, forgetfulness and weakness, but on the strength and perfection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We need not, indeed we cannot, rely on ourselves to do anything toward our sanctification. We cannot fail for two great reasons: (1) it is not expected of us to even try and (2), God cannot fail to sanctify us.
Examine yourselves to see whether you are truly sanctified, not by checking the sincerity or value of your own efforts, but by considering the existing condition of your heart and mind.
Look to Christ at all times, follow His example, do not complain too bitterly, because in suffering we are blessed.
Look into these Scriptures:
(1Pe 4:19) Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
(Rom 8:17-18) ..and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
************************I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you who have been called to be His saints, sanctified by His Grace from eternity – Grant
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