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Sanctification:  What does it mean?

Gary Googe Oct 12

Some will readily say, “What in the world is that and what difference does it make?”  Well, as you’ll see below, numerous variations of the term are used extensively in the Bible.  So, obviously there’s much importance to it.  In the King James Version of the Bible, these related terms appear as follows:

“Sanctification” – 5 times

“Sanctuary” – 132 times

“Sanctified” – 58 times

“Sanctify” – 65 times

“Saint” – 98 times

To understand the Bible, we must understand the technical vocabulary used by its writers.  But as with so many things, there’s misunderstanding and confusion about this subject of sanctification.  If you were asked to define any of these five words listed above, what would YOU say? What is a saint? What does it take to become one? Could you now be a saint? These are questions among others I’ll answer in this study.

It is interesting to note that the word Christian is used for God’s people only three times in the whole Bible [Acts 11:26; 26:28; I Peter 4:16].  The apostle Paul never used it even once.  The term used by Paul and others for God’s people was the word SAINT and other words related to it.  This doesn’t really seem to make much difference, but it just goes to show again how there are so many things believers say and do today that are different from the example God has provided for us in the Bible.

To understand sanctification let’s first look at what it doesn’t mean.  It is not to do with people’s personal sinlessness because the very sinful Corinthian believers the apostle Paul worked with were all called sanctified saints.  In fact, such was the case with all those who responded with faith to the gospel message he presented.

I Corinthians 1:2

Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s: [Emphasis added]

If you’re reading the above text from a King James Version of the Bible [as given above], you’ll notice that the words, to be are in italics.  That means those two words are not found in the original Greek text of the Scriptures.  By inserting those two words the translators [as well-meaning as they may have been] distorted the meaning of the statement.  It seems they wanted to make Scripture coincide with the traditional church doctrine of the time.  The reality is that these people weren’t to be or to become saints, they ALREADY WERE saints at the time Paul wrote this letter.

The word saint in the Greek text is HAGIOS.  It means to be set apartIt is a word used to set God’s people apart from all others, namely, unbelievers—the unsaved.  It is by accepting the gospel message that people are able to enter into this state of being saints and, therefore, positionally sanctified before God.

Romans 15:16

16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. [Emphasis added]

Even though many of the believers of the Corinthian church began to think and live like unbelievers, they still bore this title.  Like believers today they were all sanctified saints, even though they weren’t living up to their title experientially.  Paul later explains this using some other terms.

I Corinthians 3:3

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? [Emphasis added]

To be “carnal” and to “walk as men” simply means to think and live like an unbeliever.  They weren’t functioning like saints should function.  This just lets us know that saints are simply saved sinners.  They are set apart from unbelievers as a separate people, but they are all still sinners.  Some people have the mistaken idea that “true” or “real” Christians don’t sin anymore.  But if you’ll read through a book like I Corinthians, you’ll see that saved people are capable of any and every sin imaginable.  The very reason Paul exhorts these believers as he does is to persuade them to stop sinning as they were.  It doesn’t seem to dawn on some people that Paul wouldn’t need to write about these things if believers there weren’t guilty of them.  Believers, of course, shouldn’t commit sins, but you will find that all believers do commit sins in varying degrees.  The apostle John sums this situation up as well as anyone.

I John 1:8

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [Emphasis added]

I’ve never met even one Christian that didn’t sin, and you haven’t either! Regardless of what some people claim, I assure you that you’ve never known a “true Christian” who didn’t sin.  The difference in mankind is that we have saved sinners and we have unsaved sinners, but we are all sinnersThe only exception to this among members of humanity was the Lord Jesus Christ.  Had He been a sinner like the rest of us He would have been unworthy to bear the penalty for our sins to provide us with a way of salvation.

II Corinthians 5:21

21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]

Are YOU a saint? You ARE if you’re a believer, having accepted Jesus Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection as the sole basis for your salvation.  But what has been done with this word? It has been so terribly abused.  There are those who tell us only certain people of history have been saints.  Furthermore, they also want us to believe only “the church” has the authority to bestow this title on people.  But on what authority do they tell us that? None whatsoever! According to the Bible every believer, without exception, becomes a saint the moment they are saved.  Again, it is when someone accepts the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the sole basis for their salvation that they become a saint.

I Corinthians 15:3-4

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]

The Greek word from which the word saint comes is HAGIOS.  It means set apart.  As believers we are said to be “set apart” from all unbelievers as God’s people.  We are also said to be saved.  Of course, to be “saved” [from the Greek word SOZO] is to be someone who has been permanently delivered from the condemnation of God. 

Ephesians 2:8-9

8 For by grace are ye saved [SOZO = saved or delivered] through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Not of works, lest any man should boast. [Emphasis added]

The basic definition of sanctification is that it is to do with how we as believers have been separated from one state or condition and placed in another.  Having been receptive to Christ’s work to save us, we now belong to God as His people.  This positional sanctification was gained by us the very moment we were saved.  Once we’re saved there’s then a need for us to work toward what we may call experiential sanctification.  That matter is to do with our thinking as God’s people.  As believers our thinking needs to become different or set apart from that of those who are still unsaved.  It is this part of our sanctification that is progressive.  In other words, after we’ve been born into the family of God, we need to grow up spiritually by learning to think as God would have us do.  This demands our diligence in studying God’s Word to conform our thinking to His.

II Timothy 2:15

15 Study [SPOUDAZO = be diligent] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [Emphasis added]

This involves the process of transforming our thinking from human viewpoint to divine viewpoint.  It is this that is the process of experiential sanctification.

Romans 12:1-2

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. [Emphasis added]

If we’re to be used mightily of God, we’re to follow through on this process. Life is filled with distractions that’ll serve to keep us from taking time to do this.  The apostle Paul discusses this process of growing spiritually.

II Timothy 2:20-22

20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.

This tells us there are believers at every level of growth and usefulness in God’s household of saints.

21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.

22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. [Emphasis added]

It is the responsive and receptive believer who becomes a student of the Scriptures that accomplishes this.  But there will always be believers who will refuse to function this way.  You’ll find examples of this throughout the apostle Paul’s writings to the various people to whom he was ministering.  Here are two passages that speak of this. 

Again, I Corinthians 3:3

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? [Emphasis added]

I Corinthians 5:1-2

1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. [Emphasis added]

But despite all our spiritual failures, we are still God’s positionally sanctified people.  Once we become saints, we will always be saints.  This process of sanctification in us is said to be a work of God from start to finish.

I Corinthians 6:11

11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. [Emphasis added]

The Holy Spirit is certainly involved, but so is God the Father and God the Son.

God the Father— I Thessalonians 5:23

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Emphasis added]

God the Son— Hebrews 2:11

11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, [Emphasis added]

Probably the most important aspect of sanctification is the function the Word of God has in all this.  Without that there can be no sanctification of any kind.  In our Lord’s high priestly prayer, He makes a request regarding this.

John 17:16-17

16 They [His people—believers] are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. [Emphasis added]

We are to work at letting God control every decision we make.  We gain the potential for doing that as we allow God’s Word to transform our way of thinking.

I Thessalonians 4:4

That every one of you should know how to possess [KTAOMAI = to procure for oneself] his vessel [SKEUOS = a vessel, speaking of our body] in sanctification and honour; [Emphasis added]

It is God and the influence of His Word that we are to allow to control us in every way.  In all Paul’s letters he makes some sort of appeal for us to do this.

Ephesians 4:1

1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, [Emphasis added]

The third and final phase of our sanctification is to do with our status in eternity and Heaven.  It is then and there that we will live in this phase we may call ultimate sanctification.  It is this that is the final phase of our sanctification.  At that time, we’ll be totally committed to a life that is completely influenced by Him.  Meanwhile we’re to steadily grow in our knowledge and appreciation of God’s Word.

I Thessalonians 5:23

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Emphasis added]

We’ll someday even reside forever in a new and holy body that has all the marvelous features our Lord’s resurrection body.

Philippians 3:20-21

20 For our conversation [POLITEUMA = citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. [Emphasis added]

What you’ve just read in those two verses is the last phase of our sanctification which occurs when we’re finally given a new body in which to dwell forever.  It will then be that we will truly be a holy people.

Ephesians 1:4

According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: [Emphasis added]

Ephesians 5:26-27

26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. [Emphasis added]

All such passages speak of this as His goal for each of us as His people.

Colossians 1:21-22

21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled

22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: [Emphasis added]

How can you be sure you’ll be a part of this? That’s the question of all questions.  But God does provide a clear answer.  I’ll say it still again.  Our faith is to reside in all that Christ did through His death, burial, and resurrection.  It is faith in that and that alone that guarantees this ultimate status of holiness and sanctification.  Have you trusted in Him? If you haven’t, why not do that right now.  He knows every thought you’ve ever had about anything.  Your faith in Christ will by no means go unnoticed by Him.  It will provide you with complete confidence for now and forever.  It is faith in Christ that will provide for you complete and permanent sanctification.

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