Sanctification - Biblical Meaning
Sanctification is a biblical doctrine that is emphasized a great deal in Christian teaching. Yet despite its importance, it is often perceived as a religious notion too complex to comprehend. Though sanctification may at first seem to be a foreign concept, it is one of the greatest things that has and is happening to every believer in Jesus Christ. Here we will explore the basic biblical doctrine of sanctification and discuss the key role it plays in a Christian's spiritual growth.
Sanctification comes from the verb sanctify. Sanctify originates from the Greek word hagiazo, which means to be "separate" or to be "set apart." In the Bible, sanctification generally relates to a sovereign act of God whereby He "sets apart" a person, place, or thing in order that His purposes may be accomplished. In the book of Exodus, God sanctifies a place of worship. "And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory," says Exodus 29:43. Even a day can be sanctified as seen in Genesis 2:3 where the seventh day is "set apart" as a holy day of rest. "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made."
Similarly, when a person is sanctified he or she is being set apart by God for a specific divine purpose. The very moment we are saved in Christ we are also immediately sanctified and begin the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. As God's children we are "set apart" from that moment to carry out His divine purposes unto eternity. Hebrews 10:14 says, "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified." Are you set apart for God?
Sanctification - Different Than Salvation
It is important to differentiate between justification and sanctification. Justification is another word for salvation. Jesus gave his life on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. His blood washes away our sins and frees us from an eternity of suffering and condemnation. Believers are saved because of what Christ has already done. We can do nothing to earn salvation, it is the gift given to every child of God regardless of race, age, maturity, or merit. Sanctification occurs as a result of salvation. At the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit enters our life. We are no longer held hostage by death, but are free to live the life God desires for us. We are thus sanctified simply because of our standing as lost souls saved by grace.
Sanctification - A Continuing Process
Sanctification does not stop with salvation, but rather it is a progressive process that continues in a Christian's life. Unlike the things and places that are sanctified by God in the Bible, people have the capacity to sin. Even though we have been "set apart" as God's children, we continue to behave in ways that are contrary. As Christians, we realize shortly after we have been saved that there is a new inner battle being waged within us - a battle between our old sin-lead nature and new Spirit-lead nature. Paul in Galatians best describes this inner struggle in Galatians 5:17: "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish."
Like Paul, our heart's desire is to please and obey God, but our flesh is weak making sin difficult to resist. Yet, it is in our continual struggle with sin and obedience to God that sanctification does its work.
But what is the work of sanctification? What does it practically mean to be "set apart"? Sanctification can be described as an inward spiritual process whereby God brings about holiness and change in the life of a Christian by means of the Holy Spirit. The effects of living in a fallen world have harmed everybody differently. We all face different issues, struggle with sin, and past hurts of varying degrees, hindering our ability to live the life God desires for us. Once we accept Jesus Christ into our lives, the Holy Spirit enters our life to start a transformation process (progressive sanctification). He convicts us on areas that need to be changed, helping us to grow in holiness. We begin to view the world, people, and personal difficulties from a more biblical perspective. Our choices begin to be motivated by love and truth and not selfishness. For instance, we may have misplaced our confidence and security on beauty, wealth, and materialism, but God may ordain difficult circumstances to liberate us from these growth-hindering snares. The transformation process may be painful, but it is always motivated by God's love for us. Further, God promises in His Word to not give us more than we are able to handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).
This is the working process of sanctification is the life of every believer. Though the process is personal for each individual, the end goal is to prevent sin and produce spiritual growth. Note that sanctification has nothing to do with living in sinless perfection. We will never be sinless in this life. In fact, the Bible warns against such false teachings in 1 John 1:8: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
Sanctification is not about trying to be sinless in order to earn the favor of God. Rather, sanctification is for our own benefit. God commands us to pursue sanctification so that through it we may be blessed.
Sanctification - A Christian Responsibility
Sanctification is one of the most challenging aspects of the Christian walk. Our natural tendency is to embrace sin, yet God in His divine wisdom has chosen to give us the responsibility of working out our own sanctification. "Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work," says 2 Timothy 2:21.
But how do we pursue sanctification? How are we personally responsible? Lovingly, God has sent His Holy Spirit and His written Word, the Bible, to guide us. Though every person's sanctification is unique and personal, there are common disciplines in the pursuit of sanctification that are unchanging.
Sanctification - Practical Steps
Prayer is of utmost importance. When we are suffering or facing temptation, our mind and body are weak. Satan knows this and tries to take advantage of us. When we pray, we are in spiritual union with God. Not only will prayer comfort us in our hardship, but it will also give us the strength to overcome sin. Through prayer, we are also more sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
God has also given us the written Word - the Bible. The Bible is not merely a history book, but its words have the power to sanctify us. When Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4, Jesus used the Word of God to overcome temptation. "But He answered and said, 'It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4).
God's Word also has the power to transform our mind, convict, and bring to light the darkness that is within our hearts. It is the instrument which God uses to develop in us knowledge, faith, and personal holiness; all of which are essential elements of sanctification. "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Whether by studying or listening to teaching, the sanctifying work of God's Word is enormous to a believer who recognizes its truth and power.
Believers are also sanctified in worship. True fervent worship is what God desires from His people. When our worship is genuine, it transforms our hearts and brings us into close union with God. John 4:23 says, "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him."
Additionally, before Jesus ascended into heaven he tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for a gift God will send (Acts 1). This is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our ultimate helper and sanctifier. When we yield to His leading, He has the power to help us resist sin and make positive change. "I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16).
When we sin and ignore the Holy Spirit's leading, we break fellowship with Him, thereby cutting off the life-changing power. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 commands us: "Do not quench the Spirit."
Sanctification - Key to Spiritual Growth
Sanctification is both a matter of position and progression. We are sanctified because Jesus Christ has saved us and yet sanctification continues to work within to transform us unto the likeness of Christ. Sanctification is the responsibility of every believer in Christ. When we choose to pursue sanctification in our life, positive growth occurs. The pursuit of it involves the surrender of the body and the will to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It takes time and is a working progress that cannot be hurried. Like a newborn baby that gradually matures unto adulthood, so is the work of sanctification in the life of a new believer. The work of sanctification will ultimately be completed in every believer's life when Jesus Christ returns. This is the hope of every Christian.
Paul puts it best in his epistle to the Thessalonians: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Go Deeper With God Now!