Sanctification

Ernie Brown

There are three major branches of ministry: doctrinal, practical and devotional. What I have to say is mainly doctrinal but with practical implications. My message can be summed up in three statements.

  1. God is holy.
  2. God makes those who are His holy.
  3. God expects and requires those who are His to be holy.

In a word I want to say something about sanctification, which is almost, though not perhaps exactly, the same as holiness. God is inherently, intrinsically holy. He is pure, He is clean, and He is different to every other person. He is apart from all else and from all other persons and we need to bear that in mind. Anything or anyone else that can be deemed to be holy in the sight of God must take on in measure this particular characteristic that God Himself has totally, and be clean, pure, and altogether apart from any pollution or contamination. Then, having considered that, we shall look at positional sanctification; what God has made all those who are believers on the Lord Jesus. We will look at Scriptures where God says that He has set such apart for Himself. Then, finally, we shall consider the third element, what we know instinctively to be true, that those whom God has set apart positionally as to status before Himself, He requires to be sanctified, practically set apart (morally) from others in the world who are not His. This is practical sanctification.

1. God is holy

First of all then, does Scripture support the statement that God is holy? It is prophetically said of the Lord Jesus in Psalm 22, in His holy Manhood, that in that terrible moment of abandonment He cried "My God, My God... Thou art holy" (Ps. 22: 1, 3). The prophet Isaiah in chapter 6 says, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 6: 3). Perhaps it is because of this statement, repeated in Revelation 4, that God is spoken of as a thrice holy God. God is a triune God, three distinct Persons, one God. When we come to the disciples' prayer in the Gospels the Lord Jesus encouraged the disciples on earth, taking account of God in heaven, to seek that His Name might be "Hallowed," holy, sanctified (Matt. 6: 9). When we come to Peter's first epistle, Peter says, "He which hath called you is holy" and again he says, "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Peter 1: 15-16). And then in Revelation again, "Thou... art holy" (Rev. 15: 4). We do well to test our fundamental statements of Christian truth against the plumb line of Scripture. In this matter of holiness or sanctification we must start with this basic premise, well founded in Scripture, that God Himself is set apart from all others. When we look at these instances in Scripture we will find that it gives substance to any other conclusions we come to.

God has revealed Himself as a triune God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Accepting that God as such is holy, is it right to say from Scripture that the Father, as such, the Son, as such and the Spirit, as such, are intrinsically, inherently sanctified or holy? In seeking to answer this question as to the Father, we need go no further than the prayer of the Son in John 17. Speaking to the Father, His Father, He said, "Holy Father." If there is only one Scripture, provided it is established as Scripture and, as far as we can tell, an accurate translation, we do not need more than one. The Father is holy, the Father is sanctified, for the Lord Jesus expressly said, "Holy Father."

When we come to the Lord Jesus personally we find that His holiness is borne witness to by the three major writers of the epistles: John, Paul and Peter. John says of the Lord, "In Him is no sin" (1 John 3: 5). That is a negative way of asserting His absolute holiness and personal sanctification. There was nothing in Him that sin could appeal to, or that the devil himself could use to bring about His apparent downfall. Intrinsically, inherently, He is the Holy One. He revealed Himself in the address to Philadelphia as "He that is holy, He that is true" (Rev. 3: 7). That was John considering the Lord Jesus in His intrinsic, personal worth. When we turn to Paul we read that God "Hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5: 21). Not only was there no sin in Him, but He knew no sin. There was nothing that ever entered His holy mind that was of sinful character for He was perfectly holy, through and through. Peter gives us the last necessary touch. Not only inherently, not only in the thoughts that passed through His mind, but in action too He was absolutely pure and holy. Peter says of Him, "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" (1 Peter 2: 22).

Now here we have to take account of something slightly different. When we read Scripture we learn of things that are true of the Lord Jesus in Himself, without reference to anyone or anything else. But then we come to statements of Scripture which tell us what He is relative to us and positions or conditions into which He has voluntarily entered on our behalf. I mention this because there are some Scriptures about the sanctification of the Son of God which we wouldn't otherwise understand unless it was in that relation. Remember John 10: 36, "(The Son) whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world." Taking our original statement that to be sanctified is to be set apart to God, we have here in John 10 the Lord's statement that the Father set the Son apart for the express purpose of coming into the world that we might have life through Him. It was not for any need of His own or because of any requirement upon Him. It was on our behalf because it would ultimately lead Him into the work that He did at Calvary for our blessing. It was for that purpose that the Father sanctified the Son and sent Him into the world. The Son then was sanctified by the Father. When we get to the Son's prayer in John 17 He uses this term again in that positional way: "I sanctify Myself" (John 17: 19). He was going to set Himself apart from earth and go to heaven and take up a position in manhood that He had never before had in manhood. This again was to lead to blessing for us. He sanctified Himself in leaving the world and going back to the Father and this was a positional sanctification. One way of distinguishing between things which differ is to say that sanctification is to be set apart for the service of God, dedication is rather to be given up to the service of God and consecration is to have the hands filled in the service of God. All three terms were and are, of course, true of the Lord Jesus. In that comprehensive verse at the end of 1 Corinthians 1, speaking of the Lord Jesus again, the apostle Paul said, "Who of God is made unto us," among other things, "sanctification" (1 Cor. 1: 30). He is the epitome of sanctification and unless we are in Him and of Him we cannot enter into this blessing of sanctification. How many blessings we have which are only available to us because we are in Christ! Sanctification is one of them. Lastly, in the epistle to the Hebrews 2, "He that sanctifieth (the sanctifying One) and they who are sanctified (the sanctified ones),"-they owe their sanctification to Him (Heb. 2: 11). He is the sanctifying One because He Himself personally and positionally was set apart to the service of God and that is why He came into the world.

God, as such, is sanctified, holy. The Father, as such, is sanctified, holy. The Son, as such, is sanctified, holy-on His own behalf and also that we might be blessed. The Spirit is characteristically so for He is the Holy Spirit. The reference to the Father as "Holy Father" is rare. I do not know of a Scripture which uses the appellation "Holy Son" or "Holy Lord" although the term would be valid. The holiness of the Spirit of God seems to be particularly guarded. In the canon of Scripture almost always, unless there is a special reason, we learn concerning the Spirit that He is the Holy Spirit. And in the opening salutation of that fundamental teaching epistle, the epistle to the Romans, we learn that the Lord Jesus gave evidence of His deity and His holiness in raising dead ones, and that even that was according to the "Spirit of holiness" (Rom. 1: 4). Everything that the Lord Jesus did in the days of His flesh was in the power of the Spirit and in particular in the power of the Holy Spirit. That safeguard is there that, in case we are in any doubt, the Spirit is the Spirit of holiness.

In Genesis 2 we are given the first reference in Scripture to the term sanctification or holiness. In the Old Testament we find that things as well as persons are set apart for the particular purpose of serving God and there is something special involved in each case. God rested on the seventh day and blessed it and sanctified it. Now this shows the character of what sanctification is. God said of the seven days, one is going to be special. It is set apart that God might rest in it with His creatures in the celebration and in the blessing of the work that had been done on the other six days. So the seventh day was hallowed-it was made holy to God-and He Himself set it apart. Many things in the Old Testament, such as the furniture and holy vessels in the tabernacle, the firstborn in each family in Israel, and the officers of the law, were sanctified to God, set apart, and committed to the service of God. This is not vain repetition. When we come to New Testament Scriptures that speak about sanctification we need to understand that sanctification gives an entirely new basis for living. It is to be set apart and utterly devoted to the service of God and not a term to use lightly.

2. God makes those who are His holy

Positional Sanctification

I want to speak now of the sanctification of believers. God has set us apart for Himself and has put us in a position which we were never in before that we might serve Him. When we examine Scripture we find that everything that is for the glory of God and the honour of the Lord Jesus, and everything that is for our blessing, is attributed distinctly and severally to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. The Godhead is seen to be completely at one in everything that it does and this is as true of sanctification as it is of anything else. The opening verse of the epistle of Jude tells us that we are sanctified by the Father. And as well as being sanctified by the Father we are set apart to God by the work of the Son. The salutation to the Corinthians in the first epistle says we are "sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 1: 2) and in verse 30 of the same chapter we read that He "is made unto us... sanctification." We are sanctified in Him. Chapter 6 underlines this when it says: "ye are sanctified... in the Name of the Lord Jesus."

The statements made in every teaching epistle take account of the background situation and the moral and spiritual history of those to whom the letters were addressed. The people of Corinth were so sophisticated in the world's eyes, so clever, so cultured, but morally in the sight of God it was a dirty, polluted city. And it is to them that Paul says in chapter 6, after giving a long list of what they used to be, "but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus..." (1 Cor 6: 11). Whenever statements are made showing the immensity of the blessing that has accrued to us there is always somewhere in the immediate context consideration of the infinite price that has been paid that the blessing should be ours. So it is with sanctification. "Wherefore Jesus... that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate" (Heb. 13: 12). The verses quoted relating our sanctification to the work of the Lord Jesus show that it is a work done for us and not a work done by us; an important distinction. We are sanctified by the Son as a result of a work that He has done for us. But then we come to sanctification by the Spirit. "That the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 15: 16). "Ye are sanctified... by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6: 11). 2 Thess-alonians and 1 Peter again speak of the sanctification of the Spirit, distinguishing between the work of Christ for us and the work of the Spirit in us (2 Thess. 2: 13; 1 Peter 1: 2). The work that has been done for us at Calvary was an objective work by the Son and it is made good in us by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, very often with blessing the agent that is used is the Word of God. We are not surprised then to find that the Lord Jesus praying to His Holy Father that they might be sanctified, prays, "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth" (John 17: 17). Elsewhere we read, sanctified "with the washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5: 26). We find that even the things that are provided for the sustenance of our bodies are set apart for our use, "sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. 4: 5). In every case there is that which is done specifically and deliberately, setting it apart for the service of God, even if it is for the maintenance of our bodies. This puts a great dignity even on the ordinary meal time. God has set the food apart for our use that we might be strengthened, we whom He has sanctified, set apart for His own service.

3. God expects and requires those who are His to be holy

Practical sanctification

Let us now consider a few verses that direct us to a principal purpose of sanctification. The major epistles like Ephesians and Colossians all speak of this truth, that God has set us apart to present us to Himself unblameable and unreproveable according to His own absolute standard. That is something He has done for us that we could never do for ourselves-a tremendous consideration. We are intended to be and God has set us apart for the purpose of being a holy nation, that we might be available to Him to tell forth His praises to those who have never been brought into touch with Him.

We now come to the important consequence that if God has set us apart to be committed to His service, if the Lord Jesus has undertaken the work to make it possible, and if the power of the Holy Spirit is available within us that it might be so, we cannot escape the conclusion that it is incumbent upon us to give due answer in our practical lives. Here we come to our problem. We live in an unclean world and as we get nearer to the Lord's coming it is even more true for our generation than it has ever been before. Is this not why we fear for children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren? How can holy, sanctified lives be lived in such an unclean world? Peter, who speaks about the last days, tells us we live in a murky, a squalid world (2 Peter 1: 19). The last few verses of 2 Corinthians 6 and the opening of chapter 7 tell us, "touch not the unclean thing;... let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Notice that in that verse there is not just the negative matter of avoiding blatant, outward sinning and filth, but living lives devoted to the service of God in purity and holiness before Him-a very positive matter. "Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4: 24). Deliverance from the world is the lead into living pure lives before God. Those young believers in Thessalonica were told, "this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication" (1 Thess. 4: 3). 2 Timothy 2: 15 to 22, are more words for the last days, our days in the 1990's. There are statements such as: "shun profane and vain babblings." The profane is the opposite to the holy and the sanctified. We have to avoid the common, the profane. We have to depart from iniquity. We read in verse 21: "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified," set apart for God, "and meet for the Master's use..." Verse 22: "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." What is inside governs the way that we act outside-calling on the Name out of a pure heart. "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12: 14). 1 Peter is marked by two key words. It includes the term "suffer" or "suffering" more than any other book of comparable size and at the same time it uses the term "holy" as much or more than any epistle of comparable size. Paul said to Timothy, borne out by Peter's epistles, "all that will," he that sets himself to "live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3: 12). Holiness will lead to suffering but because it is done under the eye of God the Lord Himself gives the strength to endure it. Peter says, "as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Peter 1: 15). Is it required of us? Scripture says, "yes." If God has set us apart for Himself our lives have to be set apart. They have to be different from what they were before and they certainly have to be different from those whom God has not set apart for Himself. The sanctified ones have to act in a sanctified way. Is it possible? Can it be done? How can we do it? First of all we need to accept the statement of Scripture. "Every man that hath this hope in Him (Christ) purifieth himself, even as He (Christ) is pure" (1 John 3: 3). That is not an exhortation but a statement of fact that the measure of practical sanctification and purity in my life is the practical witness of the measure to which my hope is centred in Christ on high.

Now, we need to be encouraged. The bearing of that verse in 1 Corinthians 6: 11, "ye are sanctified... in the Name of the Lord Jesus," is that we have this on His authority. And we have the power, for the same verse says, "ye are sanctified... by the Spirit of our God." There is the authority of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit available to us that the purity that is inherently coursing through our spiritual veins might be seen in the lives that we live. As ever, the agent is the Word of God.

Scripture holds out a blessing on any occasion where the Word of God is read aloud in public. "Blessed is he that readeth," the one who reads it aloud, "and they that hear," the congregation, and in particular they that "keep those things," that is the reader and the congregation who do so (Rev. 1: 3). There is a blessing where Scripture is read and in particular where it is obeyed. This is an old principle which comes out early in Scripture. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy word" (Psalm 119: 9). "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119: 105). We have considered the Son of God's words in John 17: 17, "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth." We say to the little ones, we need to say it to each other, "read your Bible, pray every day." Now we can say there is a purifying effect from the reading of Holy Scripture. As far back as Ezekiel 44: 23 we get the words "they (the priests) shall teach My people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean." And what the priests did was to present the Word of God to the people. Paul writing to Timothy said words of almost universal application, "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all" (1 Tim. 4: 15). There is great gain in considering what Scripture says and in bowing the knees before the Lord Jesus that the Scriptures might be opened to us and that we might display the positive, practical reflection in life of what we have seen in the Word.

Now I would like you to turn to 1 Peter 3: 15. This is something of a climax in the teaching as to practical sanctification: "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have set us apart for the service of God. We have read that in order that we might be set apart, the work of Christ on the cross was necessary, and the power of the indwelling Spirit. But there comes the point where in responsibility we have to indicate whether or not we value what God has done on our behalf. 1 Peter 3: 15 uses the very words that give us the only proper response. The Word says as it were, "It is now up to you. Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." By the time we get to this Scripture we are without excuse. We know that sanctification is all about being set apart and this verse, when it puts the sanctifying work to our account, is saying: "Set a special place apart in your heart, the best place, the chief place, the first place, and give that to the Lord. Don't give it to anybody else: not to yourself, not to your spouse, not to your children, not to your work, not to your leisure. There is a place that is reserved for Him which is paramount to you in your existence."

1 Peter 3: 15 is the object of sanctification. 1 Thessalonians 5: 23 gives us the encouragement that we need to carry it out, "the very God of peace sanctify you." What comfort and composure to take account of all the sanctifying work of the blessed God for us and towards us and in us by the Spirit. And this comfort and composure are produced by the God of peace. This is a prayer that the very God of peace would sanctify in a practical way, "sanctify you wholly," through and through. He says, "I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body," and this is a descriptive term of what is involved in the entire person, the intelligent thoughts, the feelings, even the actions of the body, might "be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." There is a sense, Ephesians and Colossians show this, in which it is a certainty that we are to be presented blameless in the sight of God because of the work of Christ and the work of the Spirit originating in the heart of God. (This is what is involved in positional sanctification). But as to our practical sanctification the apostle here says to them fitting words that we do well to pray for ourselves at the end of any day, "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."