There are various aspects of Sanctification mentioned in the Scriptures.
1.—The Sanctification of Christ (John 10:36; John 17:19); His setting apart as the Servant and the Sacrifice.
2.—The Sanctification of believers unto God (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13).
The sanctification of believers is twofold, viz.—That which is wrought for them, and that which is wrought in them. First, that which is effected for them, once and for ever (see 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; Acts 20:32; 26:18); the work of God, the Father (Jude 1); and Christ the Son (Heb. 2:11; Eph. 5:26). This may be called the positional side of Sanctification. It pertains to all believers, and, being the work of God, it is perfect and inviolable. Second, that which is continuous and practical. This is effected in the believer by the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:23), through the Word (John 17:17).
Sanctification is one of the many truths that tradition has sadly obscured. The popular thought in connection with sanctification is that it is a process by which a bad person is made good and a vile person made holy; that, inch by inch, that which is evil in him is changed into that which is good, the evil being either absorbed or eradicated. Some have even gone the length of saying that until this process is complete, the believer is not meet for Heaven; when it is, then he is "fully ripe," and too good to remain longer on earth. All this is so erroneous, that it disturbs the very foundations of the Gospel. This is not what the Word of God teaches about Sanctification at all. The testimony of that Book is that the flesh is bad, only bad, always bad. It cannot be converted into holiness; it cannot be renewed. The "new man" in the believer does not expel it, nor absorb it; the two remain distinct.
The Meaning of the Word
Let us look first at the meaning of the word. The word "sanctify" means simply to "set apart." It is used in the Old Testament in connection with the Sabbath, which God "sanctified" (Gen. 2:3), that is, He set it apart. It remained a day, the same in duration as other days, but it was "set apart" by God for a special purpose. The "first-born" of men and beasts was sanctified (Ex. 13:2). The Brazen Altar of the Tabernacle (Ex. 29:44) and the garments of the priests (Ex. 28:2) were sanctified. The gold put info the temple and the "gift" put on the altar were "sanctified" (Matt. 23:19), yet they were exactly the same intrinsically as they had been before. The gold was not more refined, but it had become God's property. Once it was the giver's own, now it was God's. It was set apart for His service alone. The Mount on which the Lord was transfigured is called "The Holy Mount" (2 Pet. 1:18). It was not changed in its substance or locality, but, by reason of the Divine glory, and the heavenly light that shone upon it, it was for the time "sanctified." It is written of the Lord Jesus Himself, that He was the sanctified One. "The Father" sanctified the "Son" (John 10:36); and the Son Himself says, "I sanctify Myself" (John 17:19). Clearly this cannot mean that He was made holier or better, but that He was "set apart" to be the Sacrifice for and the Saviour of sinners. To sanctify is therefore "to set apart" to God, or to some holy purpose. Sanctification is that act, or that condition into which the "set apart" ones are introduced.
Sanctification: Past and Present
There are two aspects of sanctification presented in the Scriptures, of which all believers have been and are the subjects.
First.—That which is past and perfect, being the work of God, it cannot be undone. Of this aspect of Sanctification the following Scriptures speak:—"To them that are [or have been] sanctified" (1 Cor. 1:2). "Ye [were] sanctified" (1 Cor. 6:11); also Acts 20:32; 26:18. This is said to be done by "God the Father" (Jude 1), and "whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it" (Eccl. 3:14). By the "blood" of Christ (Heb. 13:12). By the one offering of the body of Christ (Heb. 10:10). By union with Christ the "Sanctifier," and the "sanctified" are "all of one" (Heb. 2:11). "I ascend to my Father, and your Father, to my God, and your God" (John 20:17). The word "saint" means "holy one," and this term is applied to all believers. They are "called saints," or "saints by calling" (Rom. 1:7), not by attainment. We have the same right to say "Saint" Mary Magdalene, and "Saint" Dorcas, as to say "Saint" Peter and "Saint" Paul.
Again we read—"Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). Here the believer's sanctification as well as his righteousness is found in Christ. Apart from Christ he could neither be justified nor sanctified, in Christ he is both. Happy it is when he is able to say—
"Just as Thou art—Thou Lamb Divine!
Life, light, and holiness are Thine:
Thyself their endless source I see,
And they, the life of God, in me."
Instrumentally he receives this by faith. Hence we read of receiving "forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me" (Acts 26:18). Faith receives the testimony of God; it reckons with Him, and takes the place that grace gives it. "Justified by blood," the believing sinner can lift up his head to a righteous God in the courts of His justice without fear of condemnation.
"Sanctified" by blood, he can raise his spirit in worship to a holy God in His temple, assured that the sacrifice of his praise is acceptable (Heb. 13:15). By the same work—the work of the Cross, he is perfectly justified and perfectly sanctified.
Sanctification: Experimental and Practical
But all this has a practical and experimental side. The words "The very God of peace sanctify you wholly" (1 Thess. 5:23), and the ever-memorable prayer of the Master, "Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth" (John 17:17) refer to this aspect of sanctification.
The priests of old washed their hands and feet at the laver in the court, to maintain them in a clean condition, in which they might exercise the functions of the priesthood. So the Christian must daily cleanse his ways by the Word (Ps. 119:9), and separate from him all that would unfit him morally for the presence and service of his God. He is to live as "becometh" a saint (Eph. 5:3), and to purge himself "from all filthiness of flesh and spirit" (2 Cor. 7:1), from unequal yokes and unholy alliances (2 Cor. 6:14-17), and from the holders and teachers of evil doctrine. Only thus shall he be "a vessel sanctified," meet for the Master's use.
The believer may fail to give this practical side of the truth its place. The Corinthian saints were "sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 1:2), positionally, at the time the first epistle was addressed to them. But practically, they were failing to live as "becometh saints." Unjudged sin was among them. They dishonoured their holy calling. In arousing them to a sense of their fallen condition, the Apostle does not suggest that they had, by their failure, forfeited their "sanctified" position. On the contrary, the call to put away the evil from among them is based upon it. The measure of our subjection to Christ as the Lord, and of obedience to His Word, will mark the measure of our practical sanctification.
The believer is therefore regarded as being sanctified, as well as justified perfectly. Once for all, He stands in a changed relationship to God, not only as a Judge in His courts, but as the Holy One of His sanctuary. The believer stands before His throne accepted in the work of Another. He is no longer of the world; he is crucified, dead to it by the Cross. His standing is now in Christ. He is one of the "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1), and just because he is so placed in a position of nearness to God, a worshipper in His temple, a servant in His courts, He eschews and stands clear of all that is contrary to the place into which grace has brought him.
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Foundation Truths of the Gospel by John Ritchie. 2nd ed. Kilmarnock: Office of "The Believer's Magazine," .
Selections from Foundation Truth of the Gospel