As with most Biblical issues one must begin their study by asking the basic meaning of the issue that they are studying. What does sanctification mean? Simply put, sanctification is being separate, or set apart. One who is sanctified, or holy, is set apart from the run-of-the-mill person.
God is alone in His holiness, and we can learn much about holiness by considering the holiness of God. God’s holiness sets Him apart from all others. It is not that God is distant from us. God’s being separate from us means that He is far greater than we are. He spoke to us through Isaiah saying, “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.” (Isa 40:25) KJV There is no comparison to Him, because there is no equal to God. That is why Hannah would say, “There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.” (1 Sam 2:2)
KJV Even among the gods so-called there is none like Him. God is alone in His holiness. There is none other than He who is so far above men, angels, and all that may be called “god.”
On the other hand, God calls His people unto holiness. He has said, “ ye shall be holy; for I am holy.” (Lev 11:44) KJV Note that God does not say that we become holy as He is holy. We are called to be holy because God is holy. In other words, though we will not become holy as God, we are to seek to be holy and set apart unto God.
There are two Biblical examples of sanctification (setting apart, making holy) that will be helpful to our understanding of this topic. The first example is the Sabbath day. The Scripture says, “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) KJV God made the seventh day a holy day. He used Moses to elaborate upon the Sabbath saying “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Ex 20:8-11) KJV The Sabbath is holy because it is set apart from all other days of the week. There is no other day of the week that is quite like the Sabbath day. The LORD spoke further to Moses saying,“Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” (Ex 31:13-17) KJV The Sabbath was sanctified so that God’s people would know that He was the one who made them different from all other nations. Had they been permitted to work on the Sabbath day, perhaps they would have felt that they deserved the blessings they had due to their hard work. Being compelled to rest on the Sabbath meant that there were things that would have to be left undone until the first day of the week. These things may have urgently needed attention, but the work had to be left until the Sabbath day had passed. This was to remind Israel that God, not themselves, set them apart from the nations around them. It was a holy day for them to observe, and it was set apart to be the Lord’s day.
We also find people being sanctified for specific tasks. Aaron and his sons are example of this. The Lord told Moses, “For Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty. And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.” (Ex 28:40,41) KJV Aaron and his sons were set apart from the other people in Israel that they might be the LORD’s priests. They were set apart from the people, but to the Lord. This separateness was not a physical separation, but a separation of service, duty, and life. The priest’s lives, livelihood, and duties were separate from those of the people of Israel. Thus they were sanctified people.
Christ Our Sanctification
To get to the heart of the matter, we must study the sanctification of the Christian. The first thing that must be understood about the Christian’s sanctification is the fact that it is not brought about due to one’s will and determination. Will power does not a holy man make. Many people have been led away into a performance based sort of holiness and a “holier-than-thou” attitude because they have missed the most crucial of all points concerning sanctification: which point is that Christ is our sanctification. Apart from Jesus we will never be holy. Because of Jesus, however, His children are holy.
Jesus’ death was for the purpose of sanctifying His church. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27) KJV When Jesus went to Calvary He did so that through His work He might make His people holy. “When he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:8-10) KJV This sanctifying work is a work that will be perfected by Jesus. His death is spoken of as being “once for all”, meaning that it is sufficient to accomplish the purpose for which it was intended.
Paul spoke of Jesus as the one who sanctifies us saying, “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:30,31) KJV We can never boast of our holiness: it is of Christ alone. We have no holiness in and of ourselves: Christ is our sanctification.
The Christian’s sanctification is first of all positional. That is, it is our standing before God. When we are saved we are set apart as holy. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11) KJV While there may remain much that is wrong in our lives, God has set us apart as special unto Himself, and His purpose is to accomplish a further work of sanctification in our lives. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Eph 1:3,4) KJV As Paul exhorted the Ephesians unto godliness he told them to “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph 4:24) KJV In other words, being new creatures in Christ (2Cor 5:17) we now are holy people. Being such, we are to live out that holiness in our daily walk.
As Paul spoke of his conversion he told us of God’s command to him: “Rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Acts 26:16-18) KJV Notice that sanctification is by faith in Christ. Those who are sanctified through faith in Christ have the forgiveness of sins and an inheritance. It is obvious that the people of whom he speaks are those who are saved. These people who are sanctified are not some super-holy people, but common run-of-the-mill people who have been set apart from the world by the saving grace of God.
Positional sanctification has much to do with the purpose of God in saving sinners. God has set us apart for Himself so that we might live unto His glory. That is why He said, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:8-10) KJV God has saved us that we might walk in good works. Peter told us that “ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) KJV God has sanctified us that He might be glorified in us. For this reason John said “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” (1 John 2:12) KJV We are saved, sanctified, set apart as holy unto God that He might be exalted in and through our lives.
Sanctification is not all about our standing with God (positional sanctification): it is also directly related to our lives today. As we have already seen, we have been saved for the purpose of giving glory to God. This means that holiness must be a part of our daily lives. After all, if the goal of saving grace is to make us holy (Eph 1:3,4), then God’s purpose shall be accomplished in us. Paul was confident in this fact saying, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6) KJV He also told the church at Thessalonica the same thing: “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (1 Thess 5:23.24) KJV If God is determined to accomplish holiness within His people, we can assuredly say that where there is no sanctification there is no salvation. “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14) KJV In fact, if Christ is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1Cor 1:30), those who belong to Him must manifest holiness. We cannot have a partial savior. Either Christ is all of these to us, or He is none at all.
How is this sanctification accomplished in us? We have already seen that it is not the result of our efforts, but is the work of Christ within us. Paul said, “My beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12,130 KJV God is at work in His people to accomplish His purpose in them, but how does He do it? First of all, we must remember the fact that our minds have been renewed. We are new creatures in Christ. “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” (Col 3:9,10) KJV We now have the law of God in our hearts (Heb 8:10-12) and the Spirit of God within us as well. That being so, we are called to work out this renewing of our minds in our lives. “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph 4:17-24) KJV That change which has been wrought within us is now to change our lifestyle. Our position must become our practice. Just as as we were changed when we trusted Jesus we are also called to be changed by the Word of God directing our lives. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Rom 12:1,2) KJV How do we renew our minds? There is no doubt that our minds are renewed by the Word of God. In fact, Jesus’ prayer was that we would be made holy by God’s Word. “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17) KJV In fact, Jesus died that He might renew our minds and sanctify us by His Word. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27) KJV Though our minds have been renewed by regeneration we are still in sinful flesh. Because of this we battle with fleshly lusts (Gal 5:16,17;1Pet 2:11,12). The only way to conquer sin is to allow the Word of God to work in us. Paul stated that Scripture is sufficient and designed for this purpose. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim 3:16,17) KJV It is by saturating our hearts and minds with Biblical truth that we correct our lives and keep from sin. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Ps 119:9-11) KJV What a blessing it is to have the means by which we can be molded into the likeness of our Savior and be holy as He is holy!
Is The Saint’s Practical Sanctification Assured?
This final question is one which it is essential to consider. Is the saint’s practical sanctification assured? To put it another way, will positional sanctification lead to practical sanctification? We may also ask the question in this manner: Will the unholy inhabit heaven? That is, is one whose life is not characterized by submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ a true Christian? This question is essential for two reasons: one, it should help the true Christian be assured of his standing with God by observing the sanctifying work of God in his life; two, it should help the careless to examine themselves so that they can ascertain if they are truly regenerate, and it should provoke them unto good works that are to the glory of God.
First of all we should remember the purpose for which we are saved. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11) KJV While there may remain much that is wrong in our lives, God has set us apart as special unto Himself, and His purpose is to accomplish a further work of sanctification in our lives. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Eph 1:3,4) KJV The saints are God’s chosen whom He plans to cause to stand before Him holy and without blame in His love. In fact, Jesus’ death (as we have already seen) was for the purpose of giving both positional and practical sanctification to His church. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27) KJV We have also seen that the same Jesus who is Savior is also redemption, wisdom, justification, and sanctification (See 1Cor 1:30). This being so, we must accept that fact that God’s children will be sanctified. After all, either Jesus is all of these to us or He is none of these to us. We do not have a partial Savior. To declare that there are Christians in whose life God does not do His sanctifying work is to denigrate the person of Christ as well as His sacrifice that is sufficient to accomplish this work.
The true saint of God should find great assurance in the truth that God will indeed accomplish holiness in his/her life. When one sees the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23) in their life they can be assured that such things are only the work of God within them. The characteristics of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, and faith are not produced by human will-power, but by the supernatural work of God as He uses His truth to transform us. The obedient child of God will also find great assurance of his/her salvation when they read the words of Jesus Christ as He said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matt 7:21-27) KJV While the immediate context is a warning about false prophets, this text also has an application that is relevant to all those who profess Christ. Jesus stated that “whosoever” would hear and obey His words would endure thejudgment while “whosoever” would hear and not obey His words would not endure the judgment. For those in whom Christ is working obedience and holiness this passage is a great comfort. What a joy it is to find that the evidence of the work of Christ in our lives assures us that all will be well with us in the day of judgment!
Often there are those who profess Christ but do not live a life that is consistent with their profession. What are we to think of these? First of all we must understand that we cannot make an infallible judgment concerning them: judgment is the Divine prerogative (James 4:12). It is true that we can know a tree by its fruits (See Mt 7:20), but there seem to be times when the fruit of the Spirit is not soon manifest in the lives of God’s children. There are also those whose lives are characterized by immorality. When we consider them we should remember that the Scripture calls the church to exercise discipline in these cases so that the erring one could be brought back to faithfulness. We should also understand that persisting in these things is often evidence of an unregenerate nature. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:19-21) KJV People who commit sins of immorality should be very concerned about their spiritual condition and should ascertain whether they are truly saved or not. If they are truly saved they should repent of their immorality and seek to walk closer to the Lord. The Word of God does present to us several saints who did indeed have moral lapses in their lives, some of which were long-lived lapses. Time would fail us to tell of David’s adultery, Lot’s drunkenness and incest, Peter’s nakedness and cursing, Noah’s drunkenness and nakedness, and many others. The fact remains, however, that these people who lapsed are still characterized in their lives by righteousness. Even Lot is referred to as a righteous person. “If God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.” (2 Peter 2:4-9) KJV Notice the pains which are taken, and the ends to which the Spirit leads Peter in assuring us that Lot was sanctified. Lot is spoken of as just, righteous, as having a righteous soul, and as being godly. Whatever else the case may be, many claims have been unjustly made about the life of Lot. He was not one who lived in Sodom for many years while partaking of their sins. In fact, we cannot be sure that Lot was as fully responsible as we have declared him to be as concerning the sins committed when he lapsed. The reader will no doubt charitably agree with the writer when he states that Lot’s daughters plotted to get him into an inebriated state so that they could accomplish their sorry goal. Who knows to what pains they went to accomplish this so that Lot was not fully aware of what was being done to him? In the end we must accept the Word of God and say that Lot, though lapsed, was a man in whom God did indeed work holiness. From this we must conclude that, though the child of God may fall under the power of sin for a season he will not remain in sin. God will make him holy through chastening him (See Heb 12:4-11), or He will take the erring saint’s life (See 1Cor 11:30 and 1Jn 5:16).
The child of God who fears because he struggles with sin should take heart in the fact that the struggle of sin is part of the Christian’s life. “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” (Gal 5:16,17) KJV The great truth that is found in this passage is the fact that, while we struggle with sin, the Holy Spirit is within us giving us strength so that we will not sin so long as we are walking in the Spirit. The struggling child of God should not be discouraged either, because God promises to sanctify him. “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (1 Thess 5:23.24) KJV “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” ( 1 Cor 1:8,9) KJV “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6) KJV The children of God should take this great truth as an incentive to be attentive to God’s Word, obey it, and rely upon God’s strengthening grace, because He will work through these things to make us holy people.