According to the Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Bible Theology, “the generic meaning of sanctification is “the state of proper functioning.” To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. A pen is “sanctified” when used to write. Eyeglasses are “sanctified” when used to improve sight. In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God’s design and purpose.”
When we come to Christ, we are adopted as His children. (Eph.1:5). For, “when we heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, and believed in Him, we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee (down payment) of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, (until God redeems His possession) to the praise of His glory.” (Eph. 1:13-14) I like how 2 Timothy describes what happens next. “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19b)
He has bought us back. He has sealed us with His Holy Spirit, and now we are to be used for the purpose God intends. “We were created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Eph. 2:10) 2 Timothy gives us a good analogy of what this sanctification looks like. “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2:20-21)
Sanctification is the Spirit’s work in us (1 Pet. 1:2) to obedience to Christ. It is not a magic zap after which we are made perfect and holy, rather it is a process of change as we agree with and are willing to cooperate with the Spirit’s work in us. 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 makes my heart leap with joy when I read it. “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.” and “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body, and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (7:1)
To be sanctified then is to be made holy. It is the act of setting us apart for His use; for the use we were intended for, for good works, “which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph.2:10b)
At this point many of us trip up. We think that now that we are saved we must work our way through sanctification, but that is not exactly true, at least in how our legalistic hearts perceive it. We must understand this first. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”(Eph. 2:8-9). There is nothing we could have done to gain salvation–nothing. There will be no boasting on our part. But we must be careful not to assume the opposite as well, that there will be no effort on our part in the process of sanctification.
Jesus when speaking to His disciples stated that “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matt. 16:24) It takes effort to follow, it takes effort to deny our flesh, and it takes effort to pick up our cross. Paul makes this appeal, “By the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom 1:22) Again in Galatians we are told to “walk by the Spirit, and we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”(5:16), and in Romans we must “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (6:11)”
This effort can only be put forth as we submit to Christ, for it is in His strength that it is accomplished. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13) The parable of the unworthy servants clears up our role. “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10) There simply is no boasting in our good works. We boast in Christ alone.
So today, let us remember and rejoice, “that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6)” Let us praise Him that we are now His, and we “have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. And the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.” (Gal. 2:20)
Let us come to the throne of His mighty grace and ask Him to forgive us for all the works we have attempted without Him, and also for all those times when we did not deny ourselves or pick up our cross and follow Him. Let us dive into the Word that He gave us, so that we may be sanctified by its truth, for the Word IS truth. (John 17:17)
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify us completely, and may our whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 5:23)