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 in 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.