In this chapter we are going to look at the doctrine of sanctification, the view of God's plan from the inward perspective. Sanctification is the doctrine that explains how God devised a plan to enable man to share in His holiness.
Sanctification – Word Meaning
There is no English word to directly translate the biblical idea of sanctification. The English word is a transliteration of two Latin words: sanctus (holy) and facere (to make). The meaning of the basic Hebrew and Greek words was to set apart, or in some instances to be bright, or brightness as in light brightness.
In the Old Testament any person or thing set apart by God for His personal use was considered sanctified.
Common things, places and people took on a special value by virtue of their being chosen by God for His purpose. This is why many people use the word "sanctuary" for the meeting room where the church conducts public worship to God. That place/space has been set apart/sanctified for a special purpose in the service of God. This is one of the reasons why some are sensitive about using it for other purposes not connected to worship (social events or recreation in a multipurpose setting).
In the Bible, being "set apart" or "sanctified" for a specific purpose or task meant that a new quality of life was expected from those who were consecrated (another way of saying set apart or sanctified). The terms and conditions of this new life and purpose were established by the one who was doing the setting aside, in this case God.
Sanctification – Action
In the process of sanctification, it is always the greater who sets aside the lessor. Military generals set aside lower ranked soldiers for certain positions and duties, not vice versa. The greater the superiority of the one setting aside, the more significant the consecration of the one being set apart. For example, being appointed teacher representative by the principal is not as great an honor as being appointed teacher of the year by the governor of the state, or voted in as city manager by the city council versus being appointed secretary of state by the president of the nation.
From a major Christian doctrine perspective, consider the greatness of the one who separates us from the world in order to now live in Christ. The One who consecrates us is:
The Creator of the world
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
- Genesis 1:1-3
A perfectly holy and eternal being
For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
"I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite.
- Isaiah 57:15
If this is the position of the One who does the setting apart/the sanctifying, imagine the quality of life to which those who are set apart are called?
Sanctification – Nature
So we understand what sanctification is: a setting apart for a purpose. We understand who does it: God Himself through Christ and His Word. But what is this sanctified state like?
In the Old Testament we could follow the clearly marked changes of those who were set apart for the priesthood. They received special garments to wear and were given instruction as to their lifestyle and their work in the temple. What are the changes for those who are set apart in Christ?
The Old Testament priesthood prefigured this future sanctification of believers in Christ. Their sanctification was carried out on an external basis (clothes, work, lifestyle); a Christian's sanctification is carried out on an inward basis.
In this context the doctrine of sanctification, therefore, explains two things:
1. The new status of those reconciled.
Christians have been called out of the world by the gospel and set apart in Christ.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- Galatians 3:26-28
Christians were "in" the world, the world of sin, disbelief and death. Now they have been taken out of the world through faith and set apart or consecrated to Christ. Our old status was that of sinners condemned to die, our new status is that of saints separated to live in union with other believers in the body of Christ, the church.
This new status includes all of the blessings described in the previous doctrines as aliveness, freedom, perfection and sonship. These are some of the features of our new status in Christ.
Sanctification also explains:
2. The new purpose of those reconciled.
The Old Testament priests were set aside with a new status that enabled them to fulfill a new purpose: the servants of the temple and of the sacrificial system. The new purpose of Christians is to manifest Christ to the world.
14 You are the light of the world... 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
- Matthew 5:14, 16
This is the purpose for which we were set apart or sanctified in Christ. All that we do serves this purpose in one way or another. Therefore, the sub-doctrine of sanctification explains the new status (in Christ) and purpose (to manifest Christ) of the Christian set apart by God.
In the Old Testament the priests' sanctification addressed mainly the outward appearance and tasks of these men; in the New Testament the Christian's sanctification is spiritual in nature and affects the inward man.