Sanctification is the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy. … To sanctify is to literally “set apart for particular use in a special purpose or work and to make holy or sacred.”
There are many extant conflicting notions regarding sanctification. Some hold that sanctification is in response to what they refer to as the corrupt Adamic nature that they teach has been arbitrarily imputed or passed on to all men. As the corrupt nature denotes spiritual defilement and depravity; sanctification is said by them to be an arbitrary act of God effected by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit to make man holy and sinless. Hence, sanctification is often a subject surrounded by mystique. Please consider the following comments relative to biblical sanctification:
“The generic meaning of sanctification is ‘the state of proper functioning.’ To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer…. In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God’s design and purpose. The Greek word translated ‘sanctification’ (hagiasmos) means ‘holiness.’ To sanctify, therefore, means ‘to make holy.’ In one sense only God is holy (Isa. 6: 3). God is separate, distinct, other. No human being or thing shares the holiness of God’s essential nature. There is one God. Yet Scripture speaks about holy things. Moreover, God calls human beings to be holy—as holy as he is holy (Lev. 11: 44; Matt. 5: 48; I Pet. 1: 15, 16). Another word for a holy person is ‘saint’ (hagios), meaning a sanctified one. The opposite of sanctified is ‘profane’ (Lev. 10: 10)” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)
I shall now present biblical sanctification under four subtopics: Set apart for spiritual use, the importance of sanctification, the cost of sanctification, and how one becomes sanctified.
Set apart for spiritual service. Some of the mystery often characteristic of sanctification begins to fade when we appreciate the action and effect of sanctification. We read of the tabernacle, the priests, and the priest’s clothing being sanctified (Ex. 29: 43, 44; 28: 4). The idea is simply that the tabernacle, Levitical Priesthood, and their clothing were all set apart, set apart for spiritual service. Jeremiah the prophet was said to have been sanctified, even before he was born. That is, Jeremiah was set apart to be used by God (Jere. 1: 5). In this vein, Christians are to “…sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (I Pet. 3: 15). God must be set apart in the heart of the Christian, rendered distinct and allowed to spiritually influence. The action of sanctification is captioned in Romans 12: 1, 2.
“1: 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. 2: 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.”
Furthermore, the scriptures enjoin total sanctification. Hear Paul, “And 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” (I Thes. 5: 23).
The importance of sanctification. The fact of the necessity of sanctification or consecration is seen in such verses as I Thessalonians 4: 3. “For this is the will of God,” wrote Paul, “even your sanctification….” Since such sins as “fornication” are contrary to spiritual service and consecration, Paul continued to write: “…that ye should abstain from fornication.” Election is said to take place “in sanctification,” hence, without sanctification, there could be no calling or spiritual appointment. The importance of sanctification is also seen in associated words and actions.
“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” (I Cor. 6: 11).
“Washing” is obviously the act of scriptural baptism, in which the old man is put to death and one arises to walk in newness of life. It is the act in which Jesus’ death or blood is contacted (Rom. 6: 3ff.). “Justification” is God’s act of pronouncing man right or acquitted and is the result of sanctification (Rom. 5: 1). All three of these acts, washed, sanctified, and justified, are essential to being right with God. The sanctified have the right to anticipate the inheritance God has provided, a home in heaven (Acts 20: 32; I Pet. 1: 3, 4). Moreover, the Christian is to possess his body in “…sanctification and honor” (I Thes. 4: 4).
The cost of sanctification. All that God does for man is affluent and comes with a high cost, the means of sanctification is no exception. However, such provision on the part of God was necessary, seeing that man alone cannot effect sanctification. Consider the cost:
“Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach” (Heb. 13: 12, 13).
Even though man actively participates in his sanctification, Jesus’ blood had to be offered to make sanctification possible. Jesus said, “For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26: 28). Perhaps we appreciate more the language and order of I Corinthians 6: 11, seeing that it is in spiritual washing (baptism) that one obtains the remission of sins, thus contacting and benefiting from Jesus’ blood and enjoying the resultant justification.
How one becomes sanctified. First, I cannot over emphasize the fact that sanctification comes only through Jesus. Paul penned the following: “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (I Cor. 1: 30). In fact, the whole Godhead is active in man’s sanctification (I Cor. 1: 30; I Thes. 5: 23; Rom. 15: 16). The practical question remains, however, as to how God sanctifies man. Is sanctification without means or through agency and if there is means, what is the instrument?
In Jesus’ last extended discourse, he mentioned the need of his people being separate from the world or sanctified (Jn. 15: 19). In this vein, Jesus said, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (Jn. 15: 3). In fact, Jesus placed great stress on the word as God’s instrument through which he works (Jn. 17: 6, 8, 14). Jesus removed all doubt regarding how man is sanctified when he taught the following:
“15: I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16: They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17: Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18: As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. 19: And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (Jn. 17: 15-19).
As man applies and conforms to the teaching of the word, man becomes holy, consecrated, or sanctified. Consider the following comments from W. E. Vine regarding the matter of biblical sanctification:
“Sanctification is also used in NT of the separation of the believer from evil things and ways. This sanctification is God’s will for the believer, 1 Thess. 4:3, and His purpose in calling him by the gospel, 1 Thess. 4:7; it must be learned from God, 1 Thess. 4:4, as He teaches it by His Word, John 17:17,19; cp. Ps. 17:4; 119:9, and it must be pursued by the believer, earnestly and undeviatingly, 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14. For the holy character, hagiosune, 1 Thess. 3:13, is not vicarious, i.e., it cannot be transferred or imputed, it is an individual possession, built up, little by little, as the result of obedience to the Word of God, and of following the example of Christ, Matt. 11:29; John 13:15; Eph. 4:20; Phil. 2:5, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Rom. 8:13; Eph. 3:16” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
We have seen the action of sanctification, its importance, the cost that was paid to make sanctification possible, and how man is sanctified. While sanctification is not sinless perfection in the absolute sense, without sanctification there is no salvation and justification (I Jn. 1: 8-10; 2 Thes. 2: 13; I Cor. 6: 11). Simply and succinctly stated, sanctification is the state of holiness, “…without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12: 14).