“Ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that ye should be mine.” (Leviticus 20:26)
While this verse may not be the first one that comes to mind when thinking about the concept of personal holiness, it get us thinking rightly about the nature, purpose, and process of sanctification because it keeps God central.
The following study was taught during the winter months of 2014 as we sought to define and discuss the essential holiness of God and the experiential holiness of God’s people.
Scriptural Basis of Sanctification
The word “sanctified” comes from the latin translation of Hebrew and Greek terms which essentially mean “to be separated” [kadosh » hagios » sanctus » holy].
While many discussions of holiness center around human behavior, a scriptural study of the topic begins with the uniqueness and unapproachability of God.
The prophet Isaiah demonstrated the proper approach to studying this doctrine when he caught a brief glimpse of true sanctification (Isaiah 6:1-8).
Even beginning to comprehend the concept of “sanctification” is so profound an experience that it will change the way we look at everything. Are we ready for that?
Three Stages of Sanctification
The Bible describes the Christian’s personal experience of sanctification in three distinct ways and we must properly distinguish between them:
Past – At the moment of regeneration, the Christian experiences a definitive break from the dominion of sin (Titus 3:5, 1 Cor. 6:11).
Present – The remainder of the Christian life is spent reckoning this initial break with sin to be so and endeavoring to live consistently with it (Romans 6:11-14).
Future – The Christian’s sanctification will only be completed when his sinful flesh is turned into a glorified body on the day of resurrection (Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:49).
God’s Role in Sanctification
Unlike the grace of justification, sanctification may properly be understood as a cooperative work between God and man. We consider first, God’s role:
The Father – As unpleasant as it may initially sound, the role of our heavenly Father in sanctification is described in terms of discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11).
The Son – Jesus earned our sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30), left an example for it (1 Peter 2:21-22), and encourages our continued progress (Hebrews 12:1-3).
The Spirit – The Holy Spirit uses God’s word (John 17:17) to convict us of sin (John 16:8) and produce godly fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).
Man’s Role in Sanctification
While God has promised to complete in us the good work he has begun, we are not entirely passive in the process of sanctification. Here is our responsibility:
Yielding – This sounds somewhat passive, but it is more in that it involves a deliberate and whole-hearted “giving your life over” to God (Romans 6:13,19).
Mortification – We must hunt down sin in our life and kill it (Romans 8:13). This is also described as “putting off” the old man (Ephesians 4:22).
Obedience – Replacing sinful behavior with righteous behavior completes the process. This is described as “putting on” the new man (Ephesians 4:24).
The Scope of Sanctification
As we seek to fulfill our responsibility in the process of sanctification, it is important that we acknowledge the scope of it and engage every aspect of our being:
Thoughts – The beginning of sanctification in our lives is learning to think rightly. This involves a continual renewal of our minds (Romans 12:1-2).
Affections – It is only through right thinking that the Christian will then experience Spirit-led emotions (Galatians 5:22-23) which always affect our desires and will.
Behaviors – Right thinking and right feeling in the believer’s life will inevitably manifest themselves in actual outward acts of holiness (1 Peter 1:13-16).
The Motives for Sanctification
In this study we have seen that sanctification is certainly not easy, but it is still worth pursuing. Consider a few of the scriptural inducements to sanctification:
Happiness – Joy and peace flow from the Holy Spirit as felt-benefits of his sanctifying work in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). Only the holy Christian is a happy Christian.
Assurance – Growth in sanctification (i.e., keeping God’s commands) is one of the surest signs that we truly are the children of God (1 John 2:3, 3:24).
Heaven – The fleshly lusts we “give up” in sanctification are really nothing when compared to the sweet reward and eternal bliss of heaven (Romans 6:22, Hebrews 12:14).