Sanctification, hagiosmos, comes from the Greek root word hagias, which means holy, hallow, sanctify, consecrate, dedicate, or set apart. Hagiosmos means to make holy. Sanctifying comes from the Greek word, hagiazo and means to render, acknowledge, or be holy; to separate from profane things and dedicate to God. Sanctification and sanctifying are actions. Sanctified is a status and a point of becoming. It comes from the Old Testament word qadash, which means to make sacred, holy, or to set apart. We read of this word in Genesis 2:3 when God set aside the seventh day of the week to be holy. Qadash is a point to which believers attain as Paul told believers in Ephesians 1. From these words, we realize holiness, sacredness, and being set apart are actions done by one who is holy in being towards things or people who are not holy. Remember, for an action to occur, like making something or someone holy, a being must exist to do the action. Only one who is holy can make or bestow the status of holiness upon someone or something.
In the Old Testament, we read in many places about God being holy. God called Himself holy in Leviticus 19:2 and 20:26. Isaiah said it in Isaiah 6:3-5. Peter reiterated it in 1 Peter 1:15-16. Jesus taught the disciples in the Lord’s Prayer that God was hallow – holy (Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2). Qadowsh is the word used in these passages and means holy, sacred, Holy One, saint, and set apart.
Let’s understand this better now. For anyone to make something or someone holy, holiness must be a part of the being bestowing the status of holy. The Old Testament records God as being holy. No other being in the Bible has this attribute as part their being. That being said, only God can make or declare something or someone holy, just as Jesus said in John 10:36. So sanctifying work originates with Holy God. To put it another way, God is the only one who can make someone or something holy, sacred, or set apart for Himself.
The question now arises: How does the impartation of holiness occur? In the Old Testament, God declared the people of Jacob His people and that made them a set-apart people, holy to Him (Leviticus 19:2 & 20:26, et al.). God’s speaking brought the different elements into being in Genesis. He declared them very good. God’s choosing and setting apart the people of Jacob made them holy to Himself. He gave the Israelites and the Sabbath day the status of holiness.
Along with the Old Testament, in the New Testament we read about God’s action that brought about the sanctification of people. That action was the incarnation and crucifixion of His only Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ crucifixion provided the perfect sacrifice for the sins of humankind. No sacrifice humans can provide for their sins is sufficient to remove the stain of sin permanently and to give release from the power of sin and death. Nothing else was perfect – without sin. We read about God’s sanctification occurring this way in the New Testament. Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “They have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.” The writer of Hebrews stated many times God’s sanctifying action occurred through the blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:11, 9:13-14, 10:10, 10:14, 10:29, and 13:12). As Jesus is just and is the justifier in the last lesson, He is holy and provides holiness (sanctification) in this lesson.
Is that all there is to sanctification? Is it a once-off action by God alone? Sanctification is a continuing process. The journey of being a Christian in this world is a journey to perfection – toward holiness/complete sanctification. Paul wrote in Romans 6:19, “So now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” Later in 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul said, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, 2 Timothy 2:21, Hebrews 12:14, Ephesians 1:4, and 1 Peter 3:15, we note actions and attitudes by Holy God sanctified a person and additional actions by the person led by the Spirit are required for continuing sanctification. Sanctification then has more than one part. The first part is when you receive the gift from God of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ given on the cross as mentioned in the last paragraph. The second part is the growing more like Christ - taking on the mind of Christ - and following God in obedience to Him through the power of the Holy Spirit. Doing righteous works because of growing to be more like Christ is the process of sanctification, being made perfect through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in every believer. Faith at work in the life of the believer is part of the process of sanctification - part of the journey of growing more like Christ, putting on His mind.
Sanctification comprises justification (the static point in time when a person accepts God’s gift of salvation and believes in Jesus Christ), which is purity before God. Without justification, there cannot be sanctification. Sanctification includes righteousness, purity before the law of God. This is our acting out the right acts inspired in us by the Holy Spirit. Paul and Peter wrote that sanctification was of the Spirit in Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 4:30, 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and 1 Peter 1:2. Besides these, sanctification includes blamelessness, purity before the world. Paul spoke of these three parts of holiness/sanctification in 1 Thessalonians 2:10 when he said, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” Sanctification begins with God actions purifying humans through the perfect sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. It continues as these believers live in the world following the Holy Spirit to be more like Jesus in their interactions with God and with the world each day. God sets believers apart to be holy for Him. They live out that holiness growing more sanctified with the help of the Holy Spirit. “Sanctification is the will of God. It is an active living out of righteousness according to God.”
Sanctification goes on until perfection as Paul mentioned in Colossians 3:14 and 2 Corinthians 7:1. Jesus called His disciples to perfection in Matthew 5:48 when he said, “You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfection – complete holiness – is the goal of Christians. Paul expressed he was not perfect but pressed on toward the higher calling – sanctification/perfection - not thinking it would be accomplished in this life. Whenever we sin, we show we are not perfect. We do not perfectly reflect/have the mind of Christ who was perfect. By this, we know we are not sanctified completely. John spoke of this continuing growth into perfection/sanctification in 1 John 1:7-2:2.
Justification occurs when we are made just or right with God through the sacrificial blood of God’s Holy and perfect Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood was the sacrifice. Being perfect, He could remove the stain of sin and remove the power of sin and death. Justification is the first part of sanctification. It is the point in time God began His work in the believer to make him or her holy just as Jesus Christ is holy. The working out of the salvation He gave us is obedience to God and becoming more Christlike, which comes from our love and reverence of God. By living out the love of God in the world, we become daily more like Christ, more perfect and holy. We become more righteous and blameless. Sanctification is not a one-step occurrence, but a journey of Christian faithfulness to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. This journey is the taking on the mind of Christ and being re-made into His image. Perfection will not be complete until we reach heaven where temptation and sin have no power. Paul said this in Acts 20:32 and 26:18. He said those who are Christians are given an inheritance among all who are sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ, the saints. Christ is the “wisdom from God, and the righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Sanctification is for everyone who believes. Jesus Christ came to the world to be the Light leading people to relationship with God. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world not to judge the world, but that the world might be saved from their sins and rebellion and return to Him (John 3:17). He did this because He loves the world and wants no person to die, and be permanently and eternally separated from Him (John 3:16).
If you have never accepted the gift of God’s love, now is your chance. Today accept that Jesus is the Son of God who came to provide forgiveness for your sin so you could have a relationship with God and live with Him forever. Confess your sins to Him and He promises to forgive you. When you do this, God sanctifies you and calls you His own. He sets you apart for Himself and makes you holy for Him. Begin the journey of sanctification and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you are already a Christian, are you continuing your journey toward sanctification, towards perfection through Jesus Christ. God, being holy, gave you the status of being holy (set apart) to Him. Now you must choose to walk in His ways becoming more like Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit.
What is keeping you from being sanctified – being made complete and perfect?
Walter Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2001).