In 1 Corinthians 6:11 the Holy Spirit shows us three great privileges that all of God’s elect enjoy by his grace. These three things are true of every saved sinner. By nature we are all unrighteous, and therefore unfit to inherit and inhabit the kingdom of God; “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.” These three things are essential elements of God’s saving grace. Without them no one is or can be saved.
We must be washed, redeemed by the blood of Christ. This redemption, the atonement for our sins, was accomplished for all God’s elect when Christ died at Calvary. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).
We must be sanctified by God the Holy Spirit. There is no salvation apart from sanctification. We must be made holy, or we cannot see God. This sanctification is accomplished for us and in us experimentally in regeneration, the new birth, when we are made new creatures in Christ and made to be partakers of the divine nature. “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
We must be justified before God by his grace. Our justification was accomplished by the Lord God, freely and graciously, imputing the righteousness of Christ to us, declaring us to be righteous before him. As our sins were imputed to Christ, though he could never sin, so his righteousness has been imputed to every believer, though we could never do righteousness. We are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). “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” (2 Cor. 5:21).
All three of these privileges are works of grace. We do not wash ourselves, sanctify ourselves, or justify ourselves. God almighty, by distinct acts of grace, has washed us, sanctified us, and justified us. All three of these works of grace belong to all believers, without exception. The person who lacks any of these works of God’s saving grace has not yet entered into the kingdom of God. He is lost, undone, and perishing in his sins. If you or I die without being washed, sanctified, and justified by the grace of God we will not be numbered with God’s saints in the last day. You will notice that Paul did not hesitate to state that these believers at Corinth were all washed, justified, and sanctified. It is not possible for a person to be saved by the grace of God who is not washed, justified, and sanctified.
Remember Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, the only congregation which he calls carnal. These people were far from being what they ought to have been. In conduct and spirit, they were not exactly what you would call ideal Christians. Yet, Paul writes to them upon the basis of their professed faith in Christ and says, if you are in Christ, “Ye are sanctified.”
What do you think of when you hear or read those words? The words “saints,” “sanctify,” “sanctified,” and “sanctification,” are used repeatedly throughout the Scriptures. Yet, few seem to understand what they mean as they are used by the inspired writers.
We are fairly comfortable in discussing redemption and justification, but not sanctification. With regard to this subject there is a great deal of confusion, and it needs to be cleared up. Errors regarding the doctrine of sanctification generally fall into one of three categories.
1. Pentecostalism teaches that sanctification is a second work of grace, whereby the believer is made totally free from sin and the old nature of sin is eradicated from his being. We know that such teaching is wrong for two reasons: -- First, it is directly contrary to the Word of God. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). -- Second, it is contrary to every believer’s experience. As honest men and women, we must confess our sinfulness. Though we are no longer under the dominion of sin, we have a continual struggle with sin. Sin is in us. It is mixed with everything we do. It mars everything we do. If a person says he is without sin, he is a liar. The truth is not in him.
2. The self-righteous legalist makes sanctification nothing more than an outward, legal morality. To him sanctification is accomplished by his separation from the world, his obedience to religious customs and traditions, and his abstinence from the use of things he considers evil. “Touch not, taste not, handle not” is his creed.
3. Most of those who are regarded as orthodox, evangelical Christians teach that sanctification is the progressive increase of the believer in “personal holiness.” We are told that the child of God attains higher degrees of holiness by his own works in sanctification, until at last he is ripe for heaven, and that sanctification ultimately buds forth into glorification. Among these are both fundamentalists and some who regard themselves as reformed in doctrine.
One writer defined sanctification in these words - “Sanctification is progressive righteousness, which, of course, means that it is incomplete righteousness.” Another wrote, “Sanctification is the personal holiness of the believer.” Usually this progressive, increasing righteousness is made to be the basis of the believer’s assurance here and his heavenly reward hereafter.
The Doctrine of Scripture
Sanctification, as it is taught in the Word of God, is considerably different from the way it is commonly taught in theology books and from most pulpits. Let us properly appreciate the writings of men who have been used of God, from whom we may learn much. However, when they vary from the Word of God, we must vary from them. We must have no creed to defend, no confession to uphold, no denomination to answer to, and no catechism to teach, but this - “Thus saith the Lord.”
Because sanctification is an essential element of salvation it is and must be, in its entirety, the work of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ. If salvation is by grace (And it is!), then all that is essential to salvation is by grace alone. Whatever sanctification is, it is the work of God alone. It is this fact, the fact that he is the One who sanctifies us that the Lord uses to encourage obedience in his people (Ex. 31:13; Lev. 20:2).
The Words Used
What do the words “sanctify” and “sanctification” mean? These are Bible terms. We must turn to the Bible to find out what they mean. The word “sanctify” is used in three distinct ways in the Scriptures. The first meaning of the word “sanctify” is “to set apart”, particularly, “to set apart for God or for divine service”. Sanctification is taking something that is common and ordinary and setting it apart, separating it unto God’s service alone. This is the first and primary meaning of the word as it is used in the Bible.
The seventh day was set apart for God (Gen. 2:3). This is the first time the word “sanctify” is used in the Bible. “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:3). The day was not altered at all. It was simply set apart, separated from the other days of the week for God’s service alone. The basic meaning of the word “sanctify”, throughout the Bible, is “to set apart”.
The firstborn of all the families of Israel were set apart for God (Ex. 13:2). The tabernacle, the altar, and the priesthood were sanctified unto the Lord, set apart for his use alone (Ex. 29:44). It is in this sense that our Lord Jesus Christ says he was sanctified (John 10:36). He was set apart from all other men to do the will of God, by God the Father. And, in this sense, our Savior was sanctified by the Father and sanctified himself to do the work he was sent to do, to accomplish his Father’s will in the redemption and salvation of his people (John 10:36; 17:19). When anything or anyone is sanctified, set apart to God and for God’s service, that thing or that person is under God’s special protection.
Second, as the word “sanctify” is used in the Word of God, it means, “to regard as holy”, “to treat as holy”, and “to declare that a person or thing is holy.” For example: God himself is frequently said to be sanctified by his people. We do not make God more holy. And we do not separate God unto himself. But we do regard him as holy, treat him as one who is holy, and declare that he is holy. That is what it is to sanctify the Lord God in your heart.
God commands us to regard him as holy. “Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13). Nadab and Abihu were consumed by the Lord, when they offered strange fire, because they did not reverence God’s holiness. He said, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me!” (Lev. 10:3). Moses’ sin in smiting the Rock the second time, for which he was not allowed to enter the land of promise, was just this – “Ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel” (Num. 20:12).
We have an even more familiar illustration of this in what is called “The Lord’s Prayer”. Our Savior taught us to pray, “Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9). The word “hallowed” is simply another word for “sanctified”. The meaning is, let your name be reverenced and adored through the whole earth. Let men regard your name as a holy and sacred thing.
The first meaning of the word “sanctify” is to set apart for God. The second meaning is to regard, treat, and declare a person or thing as being holy. So, when a person is sanctified by God he is regarded by God as one who is holy, declared by God to be holy, and treated by God as one who is holy. All who are sanctified are under God’s special care and protection. They are the apple of his eye. They are his anointed. And God says to all creation, “Touch not mine anointed!”
The third meaning of the word “sanctify” is “to actually purify something and make it holy.” This is more than a declaration. This is an actual change in the nature of things. The thing sanctified is not only set apart, and declared to be holy, it is actually made holy. When the Lord God was about to come down and give the law at Mt. Sinai the children of Israel were required to make themselves ceremonially holy (Ex. 19:10-11). When Israel was about to cross the Jordan River God required them to first be purified (Josh. 3:5).
The words “sanctify” and “sanctification”, as they are used in the Scriptures, basically mean: (1.) to set apart or separate for God, (2.) to regard, treat, and declare something or someone as holy, and (3.) to purify and make holy.
How are the people of God sanctified? Our sanctification, like our redemption and justification, is the work of God almighty in the trinity of his sacred Persons. We are sanctified by God the Father in election, by God the Son in redemption, and by God the Holy Spirit in regeneration. Sanctification is not something we do for ourselves. It is something God does for us and in us. The words “sanctify,” “sanctified,” “sanctifieth,” and “sanctification” are used more than thirty times in the New Testament. We are said to be sanctified by the purpose of God, by the blood of Christ, by the Spirit of God, by faith in Christ, and by the Word of God. But never, not even once, are we said to sanctify ourselves. Sanctification is the work of God alone.
All believers were sanctified by God the Father in eternal election, set apart for him by God’s decree, and separated unto him (Jude 1:1). This is the character of God’s distinguishing grace. -- It sets some people apart from others and sanctifies them unto the Lord. We were secretly set apart for God in his secret, eternal decree of election before the world began. We were legally set apart from Adam’s fallen race by the purchase of Christ at Calvary, when he ransomed us from the curse of the law. And we were manifestly set apart and separated unto God by the effectual call of God the Holy Spirit in regeneration.
Every believer has been, in this sense, eternally sanctified, completely set apart by God and for God. The practical importance of this glorious doctrine is this: -- That which has been set apart for God ought never be used for common purposes again. “Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We belong to the Lord our God. Let us therefore consecrate ourselves to him and serve him in all things (Rom 12:1-2). We belong to God. Be assured, God almighty will protect all who belong to him in all their appointed ways, even as he protected the ark of the covenant in the Old Testament (Ps. 91:3-13).
All of God’s elect were perfectly sanctified by the blood of Christ when he died as our Substitute (Heb. 10:10-14). Christ is our Sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). We have been and are forever “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2). Believers are addressed throughout the Epistles as “saints,” that is as “sanctified ones” in Christ. This is what I want you to see and rejoice in: -- In the Lord Jesus Christ we who believe are regarded by God as perfectly holy, treated as if we were perfectly holy, and declared to be perfectly holy, because in Christ we are perfectly holy! We do no believe in imputed sanctification any more than we believe in imputed justification. We believe in imputed righteousness, by which we are both justified and sanctified. The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us; and we are by his righteousness both justified from all things and declared to be holy. Sanctified, in the sight of God.
“With His spotless garments on
I am as holy as God’s Son!”
All believers are actually made holy by God the Holy Spirit in regeneration. Through the instrumentally of gospel preaching, the Spirit of God effectually applies the blood of Christ to the hearts of God’s elect, purifying our hearts and implanting a new, holy nature within us. This is regeneration, the new birth. This is our sanctification by the Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Pet. 1:4; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:18).
Someone once wrote, “We are a people with two natures, one that is holy and seeks after righteousness, and one that is corrupt and seeks after sin. However, these two natures are not equal in power. The divine nature rules and reigns; but the evil nature will not bow nor serve.”
While we live in this world we must continue to live with this old, sinful nature. But we do have a new nature created in us, in the image of Christ, a nature that cannot sin. It is the old man that sins, not the new. It is written, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Rom. 7:20) In glorification the old man shall be totally eradicated from us, but not until then. That eradication of the old man is not a gradual, progressive thing. It is the radical, climatic change experienced by God’s saints in death, and ultimately in resurrection glory.
Does the Word of God teach the doctrine of progressive sanctification? As it is commonly taught by men, the answer is, No. The Bible certainly does not teach progressive sanctification. Be sure you understand what I mean by that statement. -- The Bible does not teach that in sanctification our old nature becomes less sinful and more holy. “Flesh is flesh.” It cannot be sanctified. The old man is not sent to the hospital for a cure. He is sent to the cross to be crucified. -- The Bible does not teach that by sanctification we who believe attain progressively increasing degrees of personal holiness and thereby improve our acceptance with God. -- Yet, the Scriptures do clearly represent the work of sanctification in the believer as a present, continual work of grace (1 Thess. 1:3-7; 5:23-24).
The believer grows in his state of holiness, grows in grace, in knowledge, in love, in faith, in consecration, and in all other aspects of spiritual life; but he does not increase in holiness and righteousness. The child Christ Jesus was perfectly holy. Yet, he grew in that state of holiness. Even so, we are perfectly holy in Christ. We have a perfectly holy nature implanted in us (Lk. 2:52; 2 Pet. 3:18).
Sanctification cannot be properly spoken of as a progressive work. A person is either holy or he is unholy. There is nothing in between. You cannot be more or less holy. Yet, sanctification is a continual work. Being sanctified by God, born again by the Holy Spirit, every believer grows in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every living thing grows. We see more, feel more, do more, know more, repent more, believe more, and love more, as we grow in grace. In sanctification there is an ever-increasing faith, hope, and love in the hearts of God’s elect.
Wherever sanctification is found consecration of the heart, conformity to Christ in heart and life, commitment to Christ and his cause, love, devotion, confidence in, and submission to Christ, and confidence in Christ all increase. This growth in grace is the continual operation of God the Holy Spirit in sanctification. “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). This growth in grace is a work of grace accomplished by the Spirit of God through the use of those means of grace God has given (Ps. 119:9-16).
Are there any tokens and evidences of sanctification in us? Am I one of those whom God has sanctified by his grace? Are you? If so, there are some things that will give clear evidence of our sanctification. A sanctified person is one who loves Christ and seeks his glory (1 John 3:14; 1 Cor. 16:22). A sanctified person is one in whose heart and soul there is an unceasing warfare between flesh and spirit, between sin and righteousness (Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:14-22). A sanctified person is one who seeks after perfection (Phil. 3:7-10; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). A sanctified person is one who is humbled before God, repenting, believing, and persevering (Phil. 3:13-14).
Do we know anything about sanctification by experience? If we are not sanctified, we are not saved. Let us ever weep over our sins. Confess them to God. But do not despair. Our acceptance with God is Christ alone! (1 John 1:9; 2:1-2). Would we grow in grace? Then let us “keep our heart with all diligence; for out of it or the issues of life” (Pro. 4:23). In all things, seek to imitate Christ. Follow his example, suffering with patience and serving one another. “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. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24).