Consecrated Unto The Lord — House of David Ministries

Understanding Sanctification: Key Aspects for Christians

Several aspects of sanctification are important to Christians. The primary meaning, which occurs at the moment of our salvation, is the dedication, consecration, and setting apart of the Christian for the holy work of God. And the secondary meaning of sanctification is the cleansing and purging of all moral defilement, which is an ongoing, progressive experience for the believer.[i] Lastly, the complete and final sanctification occurs when Jesus returns, and we are delivered from our old sinful nature into a resurrected eternal, incorruptible body.

In the Old Testament, the words sanctify, consecrate, separate, and set apart are used interchangeably. In the New Testament, the term “sanctify” is most commonly used, but all these words have the same meaning. We read that God set apart the nation of Israel from all other nations. Within Israel, all firstborn males were set apart for the Lord.[ii] God set Jeremiah apart before he was born to be a prophet to Israel.[iii] He set apart the tribe of Levi to serve in the Temple, and within the tribe of Levi, God set apart Aaron and his sons to officiate the offerings and holiest services of the Temple. The altar and even the utensils used in the Temple were set apart and made holy, and anything that touched them was also made holy.[iv]

In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews says Jesus was undefiled, separate from sinners.[v] Paul said the Lord separated him from his mother’s womb, called him through His grace, and separated him to the gospel of God.[vi] The Holy Spirit separated Barnabas and Saul to minister to the Gentiles.[vii] And in the end, when Jesus returns, He will separate the wicked from among the just, and He will separate the nations one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.[viii]

We must view the present creation as defiled to sin; everything in it is considered common or unclean. Under the Mosaic Law, the Lord detailed the laws of separation or sanctification for the nation of Israel. For example, any animal flesh that touches something unclean shall not be eaten but burned with fire.[ix] Anything dead is unclean, and anything that touches it is also rendered unclean.[x] Those with Leprosy or other discharges, including women during their menstrual cycles, are likewise unclean.[xi] And the Lord gave Israel laws of keeping Kosher (Kashrut), separating clean from unclean animals. Interestingly, the Lord’s categorization of clean and unclean predates the Mosaic Law, as we read concerning Noah, “You [Noah] shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female” (Genesis 7:2, NKJV).[xii]

Much has been written about why the Lord gave Israel laws separating the clean from unclean, the holy from the unholy, but one thing is clear. A Holy God cannot be in the presence of sin. And since this world and everything in it is tainted with sin, God’s purpose in separating Israel from her surrounding nations was for her to become separate from this sinful world and dedicated to Him. Israel would be rendered temporarily clean and holy through the Aaronic priesthood and the shedding of animal blood to propitiate for Israel’s sins. Until permanent atonement could be made through Christ, God had made provision for Himself to dwell with His people.

One misconception is the association of sanctification with cleansing. But sanctification is a spiritual experience where someone or something is specially set apart, purified, and dedicated unto the Lord for His service. While there is a physical expression of sanctification that we can experience, these expressions merely reflect the deeper inner work of the Holy Spirit.[xiii]

Israel’s sanctification began in the Exodus, demonstrating God’s immeasurable love for them. With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, God delivered Israel from the bondage of the Egyptians, and they became His people.[xiv] The Lord declared, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

But at least two specific themes need to be expanded regarding Israel’s sanctification. The first correlates to Aaron and his foreshadowed role in the purification of God’s sanctuary through atonement for the nation of Israel; essentially, Aaron purifying the place of God’s dwelling. As it says, “He shall make atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tabernacle of meeting and for the altar” (Leviticus 16:33). In doing so, Aaron is also purifying God (not that God is anything but pure and holy). But God allowed Himself to be defiled by our sin when He entered this sinful world. It says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

The second correlates to the Terumah, which we will discover is far greater than just a tithe or a charitable offering.[xv] The terumah was the gift or offering brought to the sons of Aaron to build the Tabernacle. However, the deeper meaning of the word terumah is derived from two separate roots that mean both to separate (implying to sanctify) and to elevate (as in bring us back to God).

Tumah is the root of the word terumah. Judaism teaches that death, which originated from sin, is the harbinger of the tumah, or impurity (type).[xvi] Per the Law of Moses, a woman’s impurity of blood (also a type) rendered her ritually impure (in Hebrew tameh). It was a picture of Israel’s, and hence, all, humanity’s present sinful condition. We read, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).

On the other hand, the antitype, as in the fulfillment, is the blood of Christ that now cleanses us from all sin.[xvii] And the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the gift of God, to sanctify Israel through the blood of Christ, and now also the Gentiles so that He would take us as His bride and a holy people unto Himself. Hence, the woman as an antitype is not exclusively Israel, but she is a picture of the bride of Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promise that Jesus would marry Israel and all the nations that He would join (graft) into her.

Under the Old Covenant, to be made clean or become sanctified required immersion in a Mikvah (a sanctification pool). Or it necessitated the priest in the Temple to make a sin offering, as we read, “Then the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering” (Leviticus 14:19). And Israel was not just required to learn about the clean and the unclean. They were instructed to practice its separation as well. Therefore, under strict rabbinic law, the Jewish people were not only prohibited from intermarrying with their surrounding Gentile nations but they were also required to remain separate from them. Edicts for Gentile impurity, as it is called, were issued shortly before the first Jewish war against Rome.[xviii]

The reason for these edicts is debated. However, it remains clear that the Apostle Peter was aware of them when he received his infamous vision from the Lord. We read, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Peter broke with Jewish Law when he visited Cornelius. For this reason, it is unquestionable that the vision given to Peter of the unclean animals descending from heaven was a direct reference to the Gentiles.[xix] Some argue the Laws of keeping Kosher remain in effect for the Jewish people despite this correlation. However, I believe the Law of Moses was not only given for instruction; it was given for its ultimate fulfillment in Christ.

As Christians, we must understand that our sanctification is finished because Jesus fulfilled the Law by giving us His life as a ransom. Like Israel, we are already set apart for the Lord, and there is nothing we can add to or take away from our sanctified position before God. We are now chosen vessels God has set apart from the world through Christ for a distinct purpose and His glory. Peter saw God’s work of sanctification amongst the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius, saying, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). God was sanctifying Israel and the entire creation in preparation for His soon-coming Kingdom. Hence, the Lord told Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15).

However, being sanctified does not necessarily mean we have been made perfect, at least not yet. Only Jesus is perfect. It simply means that we have been redeemed, set apart from the world, and awaiting our final redemption and resurrection. So there is a progressive sanctification that is required for the believer. As it says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).

Hence, sanctification can be understood as two distinct parts; one is to set us apart and separate us from the unclean things in this world, as God did with Israel, and the second is to purify us from the old nature of sin that continues to defile our flesh. Under the Old Covenant, this was administered by the Aaronic priesthood. The difference now is we have the Holy Spirit and a perfect high priest who is sanctifying us from within. Paul used this analogy, saying, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

From the moment we are born again of the Spirit, we are sanctified.[xx] This is considered positional sanctification, where the holiness of Jesus is imputed to us. We are now called “saints,” even though we are not likely holy in our daily lives.[xxi] From God’s perspective, we belong to Him, and Jesus’ holiness has been added to our account. Jesus has made us righteous and sanctified, as we have been justified before God.[xxii]

An example for us is the church in Corinth. Although they were far from perfect and accused of being carnal and guilty of many detestable sins, Paul rebuked their sinful behavior. Still, he addressed them as “saints,” even calling them “blameless.”[xxiii] He did not say they were becoming saints; he addressed them in the present tense. They were positionally holy, having the holiness of Christ attributed to them, but their behavior and character were not yet aligned with God’s.

There is a difference between righteousness and holiness. Righteousness is a legal expression and has to do with rightness, as in doing what is right and acceptable to God. Holiness relates to character.[xxiv] Because our old nature is still very much a part of our flesh, we do not always do what is right or demonstrate characteristics that are befitting of God’s perfect and holy nature. Therefore, we require God’s ongoing sanctification.

Another example is the ancient city of Colossae, to whom Paul wrote the book of Colossians. Here the Christians were “putting off the old man” with his sinful, carnal deeds and “putting on a new man,” which is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.[xxv] What they had been given positionally in Christ, they now had to walk out experientially. Therefore, we understand that sanctification is a continual process for the believer's life until our sanctification is complete and we are perfected in the resurrection.[xxvi]

Uncomfortably, the trials of this life are very much a part of our progressive sanctification. We often turn to the Lord and trust Him to carry us through our difficulties. He does not take away our problems; He uses them for our good and His glory.[xxvii] Paul says, “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). And Peter said, “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:5-7); “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

While the New Testament does speak to our perfection as a child of God, our sanctification will never be complete in this life, and the sinful nature of our flesh cannot be overcome by eradication or suppression.[xxviii] In other words, we cannot hide it or bury it. Many have tried by their will and power and failed; the flesh will always oppose the Spirit.[xxix] Only when our bodies die will the sins of the flesh be forever buried with it. Until then, our victory over our sinful nature will only be through our identification with Christ. We must be dead to our lusts and desires and alive unto God through Jesus Christ.[xxx] Paul said, “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11). If we are dead to sin, we can no longer sin. But how is this done?

All believers have died unto sin in Christ’s sacrifice, but not all have claimed the riches provided for them in that death. We are not asked to die experimentally; we are only asked to reckon ourselves to be dead to sin. Our old nature was crucified with Christ (an accomplished fact), so our body of sin might be eliminated. And let us not forget that death is followed by resurrection. If we have been united in the likeness of His death, we will certainly be in the likeness of His resurrection.[xxxi] Therefore, we should no longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died is freed from sin.[xxxii] And Paul says this for our progressive sanctification's final, practical, and everyday admonition: “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:12-13).

Our perfection as a child of God is through maturity, implying spiritual growth in spiritual stature, not sinless perfection. Noah was considered a just man and perfect in his generation, yet he was not faultless.[xxxiii] Nor was he sinlessly perfect.[xxxiv] Even though Paul said, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1), Paul was not perfect, and neither is any born-again Christian, for that matter.

There will always be God’s standard of perfection Jesus has demonstrated for us. Paul shared the structure the Lord gave the church to mature and perfect us, saying, “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Those born again of the Spirit should not practice sin and should be grieved when they do so, submitting to God’s indwelling power to turn our hearts away from anything that defiles us. And we have the assurance of God’s continual cleansing for our ongoing sanctification as we read, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). Knowing God’s love and grace in Christ Jesus not only cleanses us when we miss the mark, His love removes all the condemnation of our adversary.[xxxv] Hence, Paul said, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).

We read that the Father sanctified the Son to send Him into the world to provide redemption for mankind, a sovereign act of the Father. But we also read that Jesus sanctified Himself for our benefit, an obedient act of submission to the Father.[xxxvi] We recognize God’s sovereignty in sanctifying those He wants to set apart for His service. As it says, “He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him” (Mark 3:23); “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

But like Jesus, we are also given a choice to set our lives apart to serve the Lord. Peter urged us, saying, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). So, it appears that our progressive sanctification requires our participation. Yes, importantly, there is a divine aspect to our sanctification, but there is also a human one.

Regarding the divine works, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all working towards the perfection of the believer.[xxxvii] The Father sanctified the Son and sent Him into the world.[xxxviii] The Son prayed to the Father to sanctify us, saying, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). And the Son prayed for the Father to send the Holy Spirit to anoint and empower us to have victory over our sinful nature and the things of this world so that we might be sanctified from it.[xxxix] This is called “the expulsive power of a new affection,” when the Spirit fills the heart until there is no space to pursue things that displease God. Jesus declared, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). And Paul said, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

It should be clear that only God can wash and sanctify the believer, and only a holy God can take something common or unclean, purify it, and make it holy.[xl] As we read earlier, the Old Testament required ritual cleansing for sanctification.[xli] But in Christ, we are already sanctified, yet we are told in several passages that there is both a turning away from sin and a turning to the service of God that is asked of us. Concerning the purging of sin, we read: “If anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).[xlii] God has given us much to overcome temptation. Yielding or surrendering to the Holy Spirit, obedience to the word of God, and faith, as in trusting the Lord in all things.[xliii]

We can do much to direct ourselves away from the temptation and lust of our eyes and flesh. But there is also the commitment to read and study God’s word, pray and seek His face, keep ourselves in the place and company of spiritual fellowship, and direct our time and energy to pursue all the important things to God. Paul said, “I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32). Pauls was not against marriage. He merely understood that unmarried people could choose to set their lives completely apart to serve the Lord.

The progressive aspect concerns our willingness to submit to the Holy Spirit and our desire to serve the Lord. When the Lord asked: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Isaiah answered: “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). We find shadows of servitude in the Old Testament, where an Israelite could set his house apart for the Lord. We read, “When a man dedicates his house to be holy to the Lord, then the priest shall set a value for it” (Leviticus 27:14). Joshua answered this call, saying, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

If God has chosen and sanctified us, He has done so for a purpose. Thus, every believer must learn to abide in Christ, the vine, allowing the Holy Spirit to produce abundant good fruit on the branch of their life.[xliv] And we should endeavor to become a disciple and a follower of Christ, setting our lives apart for the service of God and seeking His perfect will for our lives. Jesus has become more than our Savior; He is also our Lord and King. This is our account of sanctification, imitating Jesus as His disciples. He even taught us how to pray for the Father's sanctification over us, saying: “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9). The Greek for hallowed is Hagiasthētō (Ἁγιασθήτω) which stems from the original Greek verb hagiazó (ἁγιάζω), meaning to make holy, consecrate, sanctify.

Jesus sanctified His life for our benefit, and now we should do the same for others, an obedient act of submission to our Heavenly Father. This surrender of our lives to God constitutes the supreme condition of practical sanctification. It involves yielding every part of our body to His will so that He may accomplish this work of sanctification in us.[xlv] Paul said it like this:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

In conclusion, we read, “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). And yet, sinless perfection will not happen until the Lord returns and delivers us from the body of flesh and our sinful nature.[xlvi] Our sanctification will then be complete, and we will cease our labors and enter the Lord’s eternal rest.[xlvii] We have been saved from the penalty of sin and its power over us. And we are yet to be delivered from the presence of evil and corruption within our mortal bodies and this fallen world.[xlviii] John declared, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). Until then, we are encouraged to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord.[xlix]

Paul said, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We were sanctified when we received Christ as our Lord and Savior. And we are being sanctified each day until we are fully transformed into the perfect image and likeness of God. Therefore, with this understanding, let us be motivated to dedicate our lives to serving and advancing God’s Kingdom until His transformative, sanctifying work in us is finished.

[i] 1 Thessalonians 5:23. 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
[ii] Exodus 13:2.
[iii] Jeremiah 1:5.
[iv] Exodus 29:37, 30:29. Leviticus 6:18, 27. 2 Chronicles 29:19. Daniel 5:3-5.
[v] Hebrews 7:26.
[vi] Galatians 1:15. Romans 1:1.
[vii] Acts 13:2.
[viii] Matthew 13:49, 25:32.
[ix] Leviticus 7:19.
[x] Leviticus 11:32.
[xi] Leviticus 13:59.
[xii] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
[xiii] John 3:7.
[xiv] Deuteronomy 4:34.
[xv] Chabad of the West Side, New York, NY. Terumah—No Small Token. Friday, February 27, 2004.
[xvi] Terumah—No Small Token. Chabad of the West Side, New York, NY.
[xvii] Hebrews 10;22.
[xviii] Klawans, Jonathan. Notions of Gentile Impurity in Ancient Judaism. Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Association for Jewish Studies.
[xix] Acts 10:9-15.
[xx] 1 Corinthians 6:11. 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
[xxi] Ephesians 1:1. Colossians 1:2. Jude 1. John 3:6.
[xxii] Hebrews 10:10, 13:12.
[xxiii] 1 Corinthians 1:8.
[xxiv] Duffield, Guy P. and Van Cleave, Nathaniel M. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Foursquare Media. 1910.
[xxv] Colossians 3:8-12.
[xxvi] 1 John 1:8. 2 Corinthians 3:18. Romans 8:29. Philippians 1:6.
[xxvii] Romans 8:28.
[xxviii] Matthew 5:48.
[xxix] Galatians 4:22-23, 29. Genesis 21:10.
[xxx] Romans 6:3-4, 11. Galatians 2:20.
[xxxi] Romans 6:5.
[xxxii] Romans 6:6.
[xxxiii] Genesis 6:9.
[xxxiv] Job 1:1, 42:6.
[xxxv] 1 Peter 5:8.
[xxxvi] John 10:36, 17:19.
[xxxvii] 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.
[xxxviii] 1 Corinthians 1:30. Hebrews 10:10, 12:9-10, 13:12, 20-21. Ephesians 5:25-27.
[xxxix] John 14:26, 15:26. Romans 15:16. 1 Peter 1:2. Galatians 5:17, 19-21. John 15:4-5.
[xl] Philippians 2:13.
[xli] Leviticus 20:7. 2 Chronicles 30:3. Joshua 3:5.
[xlii] 2 Corinthians 7:1.
[xliii] John 15:3, 16:13, 17:17. 1 John 1:7. Ephesians 5:26. Psalm 119.105. Acts 2:18.
[xliv] John 15:4-5.
[xlv] Romans 6:13, 19. 2 Timothy 2:21.
[xlvi] Philippians 3:20-21.
[xlvii] Matthew 25:21.
[xlviii] 1 Thessalonians 3:1.
[xlix] 2 Peter 3:18.

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