Sanctification is the deliberate act of taking something out of common, everyday use and setting it apart for God’s use. Either people or inanimate things can be thus set aside for God’s service. Although when it is applied to people sanctification does not directly contain the idea of being or becoming sinless and perfect, nevertheless, because of God’s pure and sinless nature, this is a strong subsidiary thought. Also because of the sinful state of society, things quite suitable for its use are not necessarily suitable for sacred use in their original slate, hence they have to be formally sanctified. The process may then, in the Old Testament, have been accomplished by ceremonial anointing, washing or sprinkling etc, both for people or things.

The family of English words that emanates from this idea has two branches, all derived from the synonymous verbs, ‘to sanctify, to hallow or to make holy’. We thus have such synonyms as: sanctification – holiness; sanctify – hallow, be or make holy; sanctified – hallowed, holy; holy one-saint.

A: Old Testament
The idea of sanctification has a strong Old Testament background. Its first use is very instructive, for God Himself performed the first act of sanctification when He set apart the seventh day as the Sabbath rest, ‘And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made’, Gen. 2. 3. Whereas God originally set the day apart, we later see that the redeemed nation of Israel had also to do what God had already done, ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy … For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it’, Exod. 20. 8, 11. As we have seen the words used in these verses – sanctified, holy, hallowed – all stem from the same word meaning ‘to set apart’. These verses also illustrate another important truth, namely that of what we might call the positional and practical aspects of sanctification, i.e. the seventh day was already sanctified by God, but the Israelites had to sanctify it themselves. As we shall see, this idea of positional and practical sanctification becomes an important part of the New Testament doctrine.

As we move on through the Old Testament, other things are sanctified, and soon the idea of people being set apart for God is introduced, for instance the firstborn, Exod. 13. 2, and also all the nation, ‘And the Lord said to Moses, Go to the people, and sanctify them to day and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes’, Exod. 19. 10, 14. This washing no doubt showed the people that sanctification was no mere mechanical thing, and that there were moral issues connected with it, as illustrated in the washing of their clothes. Next we see the priests and Mount Sinai sanctified, Exod. 19. 22, 23. The priests’ sanctification was symbolized by their clothing ‘that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate [sanctify] him, that he may minister to me in the priest’s office’, Exod. 28. 3. This was not enough, there had also to be the sacrifice of a young bullock and two rams, Exod. 29. 10, anointing with oil and sprinkled with the blood of sacrifice.
Later we see that the sacrifices themselves were sanctified, as well as the altar, Exod. 29. 37. The same went for the laver, the priests’ garments, and the vessels. The tabernacle as a whole was also sanctified by anointing oil, Exod. 40. 9, but also by God’s glory, Exod. 29. 43.

Alongside these instructions for the nation to sanctify, we have God’s statement that, ‘I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar: I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons, to minister to me in the priest’s office’, Exod. 29. 44, so again we see both sides of sanctification -God’s action and man’s response.

Many other verses might be cited in the same vein, but lastly, we note again the concurrent idea of divine and human sanctification, ‘Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for 1 am the Lord your God’, Lev. 20. 7, and the very next verse, ‘I am the Lord which sanctify you’, Lev. 20. 8.

B: New Testament
If we need any reminding of the fact that sanctification does not mean ‘to make or become sinless’, we find it in the statements about the sanctification of the ever-sinless Lord Jesus Christ: first relative to His Father’s action, ‘him whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world’, John 10. 36 and then of His own action, ‘And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified through the truth’, John 17. 19. He was set apart in time and eternity for the work He came to do, particularly relative to the subsequent sanctification of believers. Their sanctification would be affected by the truth – especially that concerning Himself – as is shown in His prayer for them, ‘Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth’, John 17. 17. This prayer was answered with respect to believers’ positional sanctification, and is being so in relation to our practical sanctification, as we become more and more at His disposal. We will now deal with these two aspects in detail.

The Believer’s Positional Sanctification
There are many clear statements that show us that in one sense sanctification has already happened for the believer; for instance they are those ‘who are sanctified by faith that is in me’, Acts 26. 18 and they found that ‘the word of his [God’s] grace … is able … to give … an inheritance among all them who are sanctified’, Acts 20. 32. It was of course always God’s purpose, ‘that he might sanctify and cleanse it [the church] with the washing of water by the word’, Eph. 5. 26, and all this was irrespective of what they, believers, were before conversion, for ‘such were some of you: but ye are … sanctified’, 1 Cor. 6. 11.

To be more specific as to the work of the persons of the Godhead relative to our positional sanctification, we first note the work of the Father, for we are of ‘them that are sanctified by God the Father’, Jude 1. 1, and that ‘he [the Father] hath chosen us in him [the Son] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy’, Eph. 1. 4.

The work and person of the Lord Jesus Christ are prominent in our sanctification, as follows: ‘To the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called … saints’, 1 Cor. 1. 2; ‘But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who from God is made to us… sanctification’, 1 Cor. 1. 30. The close relationship with Him we enjoy as Sanctifier is wonderful, ‘for both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren’, Heb. 2. 11. To be more specific, His death is of particular importance, first as an offering: ‘we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’, Heb. 10. 10; ‘For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified’, Heb. 10. 14 and then with specific reference to His shed blood - ‘Jesus … that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate’, Heb. 13. 12 and then to His body - ‘In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy … in his sight’, Col. 1. 22, see also Heb. 10. 10. His great purpose was ‘that he might present … to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy’, Eph. 5. 27.

Lastly we have the work of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification, for, ‘God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth’, 2 Thess. 2. 13. And we also know that we are ‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit’, 1 Pet. 1. 2.

Finally we consider the personal designation of the set-apart ones – the saints. The title appears so often in the New Testament – over 60 times -that it is almost the normal term for the believer. The term saint is never presented as an especially spiritual person who has secured such a title by his own efforts: Christendom has so perverted the term. However there is the sense in which those who are saints by the grace of God should live as such, as we shall now see.

The Believer’s Practical Sanctification
The principal argument for any action on our part towards practical sanctification is the character of God Himself, for ‘as he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of life, Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy’, 1 Pet. 1. 15, 16.

Sanctification is the end result of a life governed by obedience and righteousness, as shown for instance when the Apostle Paul exhorted the believers at Rome, ‘as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness’, Rom. 6. 19 and ‘now being made free from sin, and having become servants to God, ye have your fruit to holiness’, Rom. 6. 22. Our bodies are then set apart (holy) for God - ‘1 beseech you … present your bodies … holy, acceptable to God’, Rom. 12. 1.

The opposite is also true, if sin still dominates our lives, we cannot be sanctified, ‘let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness [bringing sanctification to perfection] in the fear of God’, 2 Cor. 7. 1. This is also shown in the verses , ‘this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication’, 1 Thess 4. 3 and ‘God hath not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness’, 1 Thess 4. 7. A very pointed example of this is given by Paul to ‘the aged women … that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things’, Tit. 2. 3.

The coming of the Lord and events associated with it bring their own incentive to holiness since, ‘seeing … that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy [sanctified] living and Godliness’, 2 Pet. 3. 11 and the ultimate aim for us with regard to His coming is that ‘he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints’, 1 Thess. 3. 13. This is not an impossible aim as shown when the apostle prayed, ‘the very God of peace sanctify you wholly’, 1 Thess. 5. 23 and when ‘ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness’, Eph. 4. 24.

Sometimes we are ‘chastened … that we might be partakers of his holiness, Heb. 12. 10, while at other times we realize that we should ‘follow … holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’, Heb. 12. 14, where ‘seeing the Lord’ means seeing Him in my present life.


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