Sanctification is an unfamiliar word. Because it is not a word we use in everyday English, we approach it with care. Few of us have recently been questioned about the state of our sanctification, if we were, we might feel uncomfortable, as though being questioned about the state of our bunions. It remains true, however, that sanctification is an important Bible word, and an essential ingredient in the dish that constitutes Christian teaching and experience. Derived from the Latin sanctus, holy, and facere, to make, at its face value the word means the process, or the state of being made holy. But we shall seek to answer two questions: first, what does the word mean as used by the Biblical authors? Secondly, what relevance ought sanctification to have to our own lives?
In the Bible, sanctification has two chief meanings, which, while being distinct from each other, are closely linked:
We can readily see the close link that exists between these two Biblical meanings of sanctification: because of Gods sinlessness, it would be nonsense to talk about being set apart for Him, if that setting apart did not also involve being separated from defilement.
But is all this relevant to us? After all, we are at a far remove from Solomons temple and the 03d Testament law, and, as we have seen, sanctification is not a part of our common vocabulary. The clue lies in St. Pauls bold proclamation, quoted above, that our sanctification is the will of God. This ought to make us prick up our ears, for anything which is His will is of the utmost importance to us. If God wills it, we must aim for it. And this is precisely what we are encouraged to do in Hebrews 12; 14 - "Strive for peace with all men, and for holiness (sanctification, RV) without which no one will see the Lord". An instinctive reaction on our part may be to shrink from making sanctification our goal; but if we do, it is because we misunderstand what holiness is Many people think of a holy person as being waxen-faced, effeminate and withdrawn, someone whose thoughts are so abstracted in heavenly places that he is only half-human. If we think that way, the origin of our conception of holiness is not the Bible! Biblical holiness, Biblical sanctification is a strong and positive thing. A holy person is a good person to be with; he is loving and understanding, at peace in his heart strong-minded yet tender, bold yet sensitive, vital yet self-disciplined. His energies are directed by a zeal for God. Holiness finds its perfect expression in the character of Jesus. To be like Him is one of the Christians larger goals, and to be like Him is to be holy. Holiness then, or sanctification, is worth pursuing, for the pursuit of it is not the pursuit of weakness, but of strength.
Is sanctification something that happens to us instantaneously, or is it a process? The answer to this question is not as simple as is sometimes supposed. We often hear that justification, (being set right with God through Christs death) is a once-for-all event in a believers life, whereas sanctification is an on-going process of growth in holiness and Christian character; and while this is broadly speaking what the New Testament does teach - and it is a truth to be rejoiced in - some further clarification is needed. In Hebrews 10; 10, we read "we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Here, sanctification is a once-for-all event achieved by Jesus through His death. By His death we are made holy, set apart, and that is not an on-going process. The idea expressed here is closely akin to St. Pauls doctrine of justification by faith (see, for example, Remains 5; 1 or Galatians 3; 24) when we turn from self-reliance, and lean in confidence upon Christ. Our position in relation to God is once and for all changed. We are no longer aliens, barred from His land; we have become His citizens and subjects, and the former divisive barrier of our un-forgiven sins is completely removed. This is what takes place at our conversion. And in the sense of Hebrews 10; 10, we are at the same time sanctified. However, this same epistle the Hebrews (see Chapter i2, verse 14 quoted above) pictures sanctification as something to be pursued; and that is a lifelong process. In the New Testament, them, sanctification has two emphases.First we are sanctified, set apart, by the death of Christ, as an unrepeatable event. Secondly, we are being sanctified, as we make growth in holiness, and that is a lifetimes endeavour. A baby boy born in this country is as much an Englishman, in one sense, as his nonagenarian great-grandfather; but in another sense, it will take him a lifetime of living and thinking as an Englishman to become as deep]y English as the old man. At our conversion we are sanctified. But the process continues.
To recognise that sanctification is a process is most encouraging. We often meet older Christians whose lives are warmly aglow with Christs holiness, Christians who have evidently undergone a considerable personal transformation, and we may be tempted to think despairingly, "I could never match up to that standard!" But that is simply not true, for two reasons. First, we cam be sure that they were once struggling youngsters in the faith like ourselves. No barnyard cock is so glorious a specimen that he was not once a helpless chick. Secondly, the responsibility to grow in holiness does not rest upon our unaided shoulders. If it did, we would not get far. But Christ is our yoke-fellow, and He gives us the Holy Spirit to transform and strengthen us from within. We find, to our joy, that as we apply our wills to the pursuit of holiness, our wills are mysteriously strengthened by the power of God. As Paul puts it in Philippians 2; 13, "God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." And even the youngest Christian will recognise that, though he may not be what he ought to be, yet he is not what he once was.
Understanding, then, that God is the author of our sanctification, just as He is the author of our conversion and new birth, what steps do we need to take in the pursuit of sanctification? We willlook at three:
Let us make sanctification our aim, for it is Gods aim for us. No Christians life is so feeble that Gods power is unable to transform it into something strong, radiant, fruitful and holy.