Sanctification, or to sanctify, literally means “to set apart for special use or purpose”; that is, to make holy or sacred. Therefore, sanctification refers to the state or process of being set apart, i.e., “made holy”, as a vessel, full of the Holy Spirit of God. There are two other words used in the Scriptures, and depending on the context, have a similar meaning; consecrate – indicating to dedicate; and anoint – also indicating to consecrate. Let us examine the institution of sanctification as it is taught in the Holy Scriptures.
At the inception of the nation of Israel, while they were encamped at Mount Sinai, God called Moses to the top of the mountain, gave him specific instructions to go back down and warn the people not to force their way in an attempt to see the Lord which would cause many to perish. The reason was (and is) that God is Holy, and nothing or no unholy person can enter His presence or look upon Him without meeting their death, and this was the fear of individuals as recorded in the Old Testament <see Gen.32:30; Judg.13:22>. God’s instruction to Moses at Sinai was the basis of what it means to be sanctified: “Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves” <Ex.19:22 (NIV); cf 1 Pet.1:15-16>. God further instructed Moses on this occasion to; “’Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.'” <Ex.19:23 (NIV)> because God’s presence was on the mountain. So, here we see that God sets the standard for any person that desires to come into His presence or desires to serve Him.
This standard was established at the dedication of the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting) by Moses; the Tabernacle and all its furnishings were anointed and consecrated; Aaron and his sons were dressed in their sacred garments, anointed and consecrated, forming a priesthood that was designed to continue “for all generations” <see Ex.40:9-15>. In this we see a pattern for all believers in Christ outlining the way that God expects each one of us in living the Christian life; the importance of this is also emphasized in the New Testament: “…without holiness no one will see the Lord.” <Heb.12:14 (NIV)>; furthermore, we are instructed that “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” <1 Thess.4:3 (NIV); 1 Pet.2:9>. Thus, sanctification is a very important subject for all believers in Christ.
Since the basic meaning of sanctification is separation, the Scriptures teach that each believer in Christ is separated or set apart unto God for Him to use us in His service as He pleases. This was true of the priests in the Old Testament <Ex.40:12-15>, and is also true of believers in the New Testament. But here we see that it has a twofold meaning; separation from evil from the example given in the Old Testament <see 2 Chron.29:5, 15-16>; and separation unto God as instructed in the New Testament <see 2 Cor.6:14-17>; “…let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” <2 Cor.7:1 (NIV)>. In recognition of the holiness of God, each and every believer in Christ must be separate from all that is evil and be separated unto God.
Our Sanctification is originated in three ways: first by God the Father <see 1 Thess.5:23-24>; secondly by God the Son <Eph.5:26; cf Jn.3:5; Tit.3:5; 1 Pet.1:23>; and third, by the Holy Spirit <see 2 Thess.2:13>; all three Persons of the Godhead participates in out sanctification. The methods of sanctification include: spending much time in reading and studying the Scriptures; “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” <Jn.17:17 (NIV)>, the Word of God not only brings us to salvation, it also keeps us, purifies us, and keeps us sanctified. We are also kept sanctified by the shed blood of Christ, “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” <Heb.13:12 (NIV)>, as the Word of God reveals sin in our lives the blood of Christ cleanses us <see 1 Jn.1:9>. We are also disciplined through the Word of God so that we can continue in our sanctification, “…… God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” <Heb.12:10 (NIV)>. Reading and studying the Word of God also teaches us to surrender ourselves to God’s holy way of living, “I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” <Rom.6:19 (NIV)>. Each individual believer therefore, plays a part in their sanctification by searching for the sin in their life, judging it, putting it out of their life, and praying for the help of the Holy Spirit to live a holy life <2 Cor.7:1>.
“When I was a child, my minister father brought home a 12-year-old boy named Roger, whose parents had died from a drug overdose. There was no one to care for Roger, so my folks decided they’d just raise him as if he were one of their own sons. At first it was quite difficult for Roger to adjust to his new home–an environment free of heroin-addicted adults! Every day, several times a day, I heard my parents saying to Roger: “No, no. That’s not how we behave in this family.” “No, no. You don’t have to scream or fight or hurt other people to get what you want.” “No, no, Roger, we expect you to show respect in this family.” And in time Roger began to change. Now, did Roger have to make all those changes in order to become a part of the family? No. He was made a part of the family simply by the grace of my father. But did he then have to do a lot of hard work because he was in the family? You bet he did. It was tough for him to change, and he had to work at it. But he was motivated by gratitude for the incredible love he had received. Do you have a lot of hard work to do now that the Spirit has adopted you into God’s family? Certainly. But not in order to become a son or a daughter of the heavenly Father. No, you make those changes because you are a son or daughter. And every time you start to revert back to the old addictions to sin, the Holy Spirit will say to you, “No, no. That’s not how we act in this family.”[Source: Perfect Illustrations. Citation: Craig Barnes, author and pastor of National Presbyterian Church; Washington, D.C.; from sermon “The Blessed Trinity” (5-30-99)]. The assurance then to a sanctified life is the continuous appropriation of our Saviour’s holy life, and the measure of our sanctification is in relation to that appropriation.
The question that could be asked is: When, or at what time are we sanctified? Here we find that there are many opinions, but as we study the Scriptures, we find that there are at least three phases. First, we find that sanctification is instantaneous with our conversion; in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians addressing their conversion he states; “…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.” <1 Cor.6:11 (NIV)> where sanctification is seen as a past experience. Secondly, we find that it is a progressive undertaking, the instant that some sin is revealed to us we need to take action by confession to God and seek His cleansing; “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.” <Jas.1:22-25 (NIV)>, and we find that this is a continuous task. Thirdly, our sanctification will one day be complete and final, for we know that Christ will return to fulfill His promise <Jn.14:1-3>, at which time we will be forever completely sanctified – made fully perfect, for we know that we will be changed to be like Him; “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” <1 Jn.3:2-3 (NIV); cf Phil.3:12-14; 1 Thess.4:15-17>.
What then is the reason why we should be sanctified? The simple answer is that our Lord Jesus Christ has set the example for us to follow; “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message”” <Jn.17:19-20 (NIV)>, and we further read that “even Christ did not please himself…” <Rom.15:3a> because He came to obey and do His Father’s will, so it is appropriate for all His followers to keep endeavouring for holiness. And so, we find that our sanctification will result in our perfection through Christ, so where there is a longing for holiness, we need to be always confessing our sins to God, for this is how we attain the perfection that we need to have in and through Christ; “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” <Heb.10:14 (NIV)>; and in so doing we can be sanctified for His use and service; “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” <Rom.6:22 (NIV)>.
Similar to everything else that is godly, sanctification has a cost, we as believers in Christ need to break away from the sin and uncleanness in our lives, and maintain a sanctified lifestyle in complete obedience to the Word of God; there must be immediate confession of sin to God; there must be a conscious submission to God and resistance to Satan, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” <Jas.4:7 (NIV)>; and be a regular and faithful student of God’s Word.
“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” [Source: Perfect Illustrations-Compromise. Citation: D. A. Carson, quoted in “Reflections,” Christianity Today (7-31-00)]. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” <1 Cor.10:12 (NIV)>.
Therefore, let us remember the words of our Saviour that the preaching of His gospel is: “…to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” <Acts 26:18 (NIV)> and we are sure of this because: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” <1 Thess.5:24 (NIV)>.