E W Rogers, Oxford
Familiar words—but how much are they understood? Mr. Rogers’ article follows Mr. Fitzgerald’s. treatment of “Justification” in the previous issue.
The understanding of this doctrine of Holy Scripture would be facilitated if it were borne in mind that sanctification does not of itself necessarily effect any change in the thing or in the person sanctified. For example, under the law the seventh day was sanctified, but it was not thereby changed. The Lord Jesus sanctified Himself (John 17. 19), but, of course, He was not thereby changed in any way. That which was put on the altar in the tabernacle was sanctified, but though its use was changed, its substance remained the same. Sanctification is the setting apart of a thing or a person for a specific purpose. Reference to the occurrences of the word in both the Old and the New Testaments will make this clear (see, for example, Matt. 6. 9; 23. 17; John 10. 36; 1 Peter 3. 15; and 1 Cor. 7. 14).
Sanctification is not a synonym for sanctimoniousness. The scriptures know nothing of the latter but they contain many references to the former. God does not encourage sanctimoniousness in His saints for it emanates from the flesh alone.
Moreover, sanctification is not “sinless perfection.” The Scriptures make it perfectly plain that, whereas the believer possesses the power within to enable him to overcome the flesh, the flesh in him ever “ lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” so that the believer “may not do the things he would,” whether such things be good or bad (Gal. 5. 17). This conflict continues throughout life.
Sometimes, Sanctification denotes the act of setting apart for holiness, and includes also full provision for following after it. True sanctification is always accompanied by holiness, and the Greek word is sometimes translated as ‘holiness.’
Sanctification sometimes denotes the position into which the believer is brought, or it may signify the responsibility which devolves upon him. The context of the passage in which the word occurs must determine the particular sense in which it is used by the Holy Spirit.
In 1 Peter 1. 2, the order of the steps is indicated. The saints were ‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God; then they were sanctified in the Spirit’; with the view of their ‘obedience’ to the gospel, as the result of which ‘obedience’ the ‘blood of Jesus Christ’ was ‘sprinkled’ upon them, thus rendering them clean. That is to say, God the Father, in a past eternity, foreknew the man who should be saved, and in accordance with that foreknowledge, elected him. Pursuant to this election, the Spirit of God set him on one side, as it were, from the mass of mankind with the view of his hearing and believing the gospel. Upon his obeying the gospel the merits of the blood of Jesus Christ were imputed to him.
Paul refers to the same three steps (2 Thess. 2. 13). “God chose us from the beginning unto salvation, in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. .... to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Sanctification is thus an integral part of a process in which each Person of the Godhead is engaged, the grand result of which is the eternal blessing of the believer.
The ‘sanctification of the Spirit,’ therefore, is a moral pre-requisite, from one point of view, for the salvation of the believer.
It is also true that the Lord Jesus is the ‘Sanctifier.’. He and His people ‘are all of one (Father), for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren’ (Heb. 2. 11). His people were sanctified ‘by His blood’ which was shed outside the gate of Jerusalem (Heb. 13. 12). The Lord Jesus died there because it was His design to set apart His people from the ‘Ichabod’ system of Judaism which God had abandoned. By that means the saints were separated from religious evil.
According to Paul’s statement to the Corinthians Christ is made unto us wisdom from God, both righteousness, and sanctification and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1. 30). ‘Righteousness’ has to do with the past: guilt is cancelled. ‘Sanctification’. has to do with the present: holiness is to be pursued. ‘Redemption’ envisages the future: liberty will be enjoyed. Saints are ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’ (see 1 Cor. 1. 2; Acts 20. 32; and Heb. 10. 14). Their standing is one of holiness because of Him (1 Cor. 1. 30), and they have been ‘washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God’ (1 Cor. 6. 11). For that reason they are called ‘saints.’ To that position they were ‘elect’ or ‘called’ hence they are ‘saints by calling.’ That privileged position must take expression by their ‘perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (2 Cor. 7. 1). Position must be accompanied by a corresponding condition: holiness in Christ must be evidenced by holiness in life.
Believers cannot, of course, perfect their position because it has already been made perfect (see Heb. 10. 14). Their position is one of deliverance from evil which has been judicially effected by the Lord Jesus. Believers must, however, perfect their deliverance from evil by practical separation therefrom and must ‘cleanse themselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit.’
It is this which is spoken of in Romans 6. 19. Formerly, those addressed had been in the habit of yielding their members unto uncleanness and to iniquity; but in view of their knowledge of the work of the Spirit and their appreciation of the work of Christ they are expected not to continue living in bondage to sin, but to devote their energies in the pursuit of holiness.
Such practical sanctification is effected by diligent application of the word of God on the part of the saints (John 17. 17). The Lord Jesus sets Himself aside for their sake now, whilst He is in heaven, in order that they may be ‘sanctified in the truth,’ that is, by the action of the word of God upon them. They cleanse their way by ‘taking heed to that word.’ He Who loved the assembly and ‘gave Himself for it’ now sanctifies it, having cleansed it, through the washing of the water in the word (Eph. 5. 26). By this means the Father keeps them from the evil that is in the world (John 17. 15). “Sanctification” may therefore signify holiness, for holiness is the setting apart from all evil.
The believer is to “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5. 22). There are numerous species of evil. One may appeal to the spirit; another to the soul; and another to the body. For this reason Paul prays that the ‘God of peace’ Himself would ‘sanctify wholly’ the saints at Thessalonica and that their ‘spirit, and soul and body might be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ The ‘wicked person’ who assembled with the saints at Corinth had not kept his body under control: consequently he was made the subject of disciplinary action in order that the spirit might be saved in the day of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 5. 5). The believer is in a happy condition when his whole being is sanctified.
Sanctification is mentioned in the Scriptures in three tenses. 1 Cor. 1. 2 relates to the past; Eph. 5. 26 relates to the present; and 1 Thess. 5. 23 relates to the future. Sanctification may not only be viewed as a thing already perfected having been brought about “through faith that is in” Christ (Acts 26. 18), but also as a process which is going on in the life of the believer, and also as that which will be brought to completion in the future.
A ‘sanctified vessel’ is a believer who purges himself from all iniquity (lawlessness) and such complete purgation can be attained only by constant watchfulness. The Lord Jesus never ceases to do His work on behalf of the saints, and the saints should never cease to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. It is only those who are practically sanctified who are ‘fit for the Master's use.’