Over the centuries there has been much confusion about the subject of sanctification. There are groups that believe no one can ever be sanctified or holy in this life time. Some believe it is possible to receive holiness in an instantaneous experience and remain so for the remainder of their lives. Some others view it as a process of struggle to overcome temptation. Even others view it as a matter of dedication, commitment, and perseverance – the exercise of the will in making choices.
In the minds of most people, sanctification is a matter of adhering to an ethical standard that defines appropriate/inappropriate behaviors. Smoking, drinking alcohol, styles of dressing (especially for women), entertainment, and consistent and frequent participation in church activities tend to dominate the list of standards. Some churches include prohibitions or restrictions on television, movies and popular music. Some have, in recent years, prohibited use of the internet inside their homes for all members. Others have consigned sanctification to the category of nonsense that religious zealots talk about.
Such things as brushing teeth and bathing can even be considered sin if they are performed to make oneself attractive to another person. During the Middle Ages the Catholic Church fostered the belief that filthiness was next to godliness. Bathing was the sin of pride and that it tended to wash away the effects of baptism which saved the person. The less exposed to water, the more holy one remained. Nuns (in the Medieval times) bragged of only getting the tips of their fingers wet and never washing the rest of their bodies for their entire lifetimes – it was evidence of their piety.
American and British Holiness History
The American holiness movement developed in the 1840’s and 1850’s to preserve and propagate John Wesley's teaching on entire sanctification and Christian perfection. “Holiness preachers emphasized that the process of salvation involves two crises. In the first, conversion or justification, one is freed from the sins he has committed. In the second, entire sanctification or full salvation, one is liberated from the flaw in his moral nature that causes him to sin. Man is capable of this perfection even though he dwells in a corruptible body marked by a thousand defects arising from ignorance, infirmities, and other creaturely limitations. It is a process of loving the Lord God with all one's heart, soul, and mind, and it results in the ability to live without conscious or deliberate sin. However, to achieve and then remain in this blessed state requires intense, sustained effort, and one's life must be marked by constant self renunciation, careful observance of the divine ordinances, a humble, steadfast reliance on God's forgiving grace in the atonement (when sins occur), the intention to look for God's glory in all things, and an increasing exercise of the love which itself fulfills the whole law and is the end of the commandments.” (1)
“By the 1880s the first independent Holiness denominations had begun to appear, and tensions between Methodism and the Holiness associations escalated. The gap between the two widened as Methodist practice drifted steadily toward a sedate, middleclass American Protestantism, while the Holiness groups insisted they were practicing primitive Wesleyanism and were the true successors of Wesley in America. The small schismatic bodies gradually coalesced into formal denominations, the largest of which were the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana (1880), Church of the Nazarene (1908), and Pilgrim Holiness Church (1897, merged with the Wesleyan Methodists in 1968 to form the Wesleyan Church).” (2)
Pentecostalism and the more recent Charismatic Movement developed from the Holiness Movement. Speaking in tongues became the evidence of the holiness of the second blessing. In time, of course, the emphasis shifted entirely from holiness to the speaking in tongues. Over the past 30-40 years, the emphasis has shifted to other evidences of advanced blessings. These involve experiences of various sorts, such as being slain in the spirit, prophecy, healing, supposed supernatural events, and angelic visitation.
Two other movements have also grown from Weslayanism. The Keswick or Deeper Life Movement is one. It emphasized the spiritual process of dealing with the “old man” nature or the old sin nature by living victoriously through the Holy Spirit. The other is mystical pietism. Mystical pietism has long existed throughout the church culture, beginning long ago in the Catholic tradition. It is now revived and in full force in the Protestant culture, often associated with the Charismatic Movement. “Experiencing” God dominates the American religious scene. It appears in many forms. Meditation, soaking, ecstatic states, “feeling God’s presence” in worship meetings, etc. are all considered normative in American church life.
The Wisdom Of Men vs The Wisdom Of God
While I don’t intend to fully explain the Biblical doctrine of the wisdom, it is important to include it in our study of sanctification. The wisdom of the world, of men, has often been used to understand and explain the doctrine of sanctification. The wisdom of the world has tainted Bible study, teaching, and understanding for two millennia.
In Luke 7:35 and Matthew 11:19 Jesus said, “But wisdom is justified of all her children.” The word for “justified” means “to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered.” In other words, it demonstrates its nature (whether of the world or of God) in what it produces. The wisdom of the world produces confusion and chaos. Paul reported “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:” in 1 Corinthians 2:6
The wisdom of the world denies or denigrates the cross of Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:17) The wisdom of the world depends upon persuasive argument. (1 Corinthians 2:4) It depends upon the art or practice of arriving at the truth by the exchange of logical arguments, i.e. craftiness as in 1 Corinthians 3:19. 2 Corinthians 1:12 contrasts “fleshly wisdom” with “simplicity and godly sincerity.” From that we learn that fleshly wisdom is disguised in complexities and manipulation of the facts. It is disingenuous.
Human wisdom constructs the truth through syllogism and dialectical argument. What these big words mean is that understanding of the truth is developed by making assumptions, building two premises or propositions on them, and then deducing a conclusion on the basis of the premises.
Here are two examples. Human beings are mortal; some human beings are angelic; so some human beings are angelic. This is an invalid argument. It violates specific definitions for one thing. But it is the very argument that makes some people believe that when some humans die they become angels. Here’s another example: Some temples are in ruins; all ruins are fascinating; so some temples are fascinating. This is considered to be a valid argument, except that it is plain truth that large numbers of people find temple ruins to be boring and uninteresting in the slightest.
There’s enough of that. Just let it be understood that using logic and reason do not work to understand the wisdom of God. When the wisdom of God is understood, it is ultimately reasonable and logical, but can’t be understood by means of those. It is imperative to depend on what the Word of God says, not on our conclusions or on what “makes sense” to us.
What Is Sanctification?
Our English word, sanctify, is a compound from the Latin facio, "to make," and, sanctus, "sacred." That seems to correspond closely to the meaning in the New Testament.
Qadash, the Hebrew word, means to consecrate, sanctify, prepare, dedicate, devote, be hallowed, be holy, be sanctified, be separate. Again, that seems to correspond closely to the meaning in the New Testament.
R.C. Trench writes, "Its fundamental idea is separation, and so to speak, consecration and devotion to the service of Deity." (3)
This action of separation or setting apart has two aspects. Sanctification not only means separation from sin, but a separation to a new life. Abraham was separated from Chaldea to become the friend of God. Israel was separated from Egypt and consecrated to the service of Yahweh. Believers are purged from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14). Those who are justified by faith are "delivered from the law" to "serve in newness of Spirit." Romans 7:6. Trench observes, the word sanctification (and related words) "speedily acquires a moral significance." (4)
It is that aspect, morality, that most often is associated with sanctification in the minds of most people. But it has more depth than just a set of rules and adherence to them. It is far more than women wearing dresses of the appropriate length as determined by some church agency. It is also far more than the propriety of the length of hair on a young man’s head which was one of the trends in church polity during my youth. As with every other aspect of salvation, it involves more than outward behavior. The expression of its true nature is found in the core of a saint, wrapped in his motivations and intentions.
The Greek Words Used In The Bible
The New Testament uses a number of words to treat with the subject of sanctification. They are nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. They are:
hagiazo - to make holy, i.e. (ceremonially) purify or consecrate; (mentally) to venerate - verb
hagiasmos - properly, purification, i.e. (the state) purity; concretely (by Hebraism) a purifier - noun
hagion - a sacred thing (i.e. spot):--holiest (of all), holy place, sanctuary - adjective
hagios - sacred (physically, pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially, consecrated) - adjective
hagiotes - sanctity (i.e. properly, the state) - noun
hagiosune - sacredness (i.e. properly, the quality) - noun
hagneia - cleanliness (the quality), i.e. (specially) chastity - noun
hagnizo - to make clean, i.e. (figuratively) sanctify (ceremonially or morally) - verb
hagnismos - a cleansing (the act), i.e. (ceremonially) lustration - noun
hagnös - purely, i.e. honestly - adjective
hagnōs - properly, clean, i.e. (figuratively) innocent, modest, perfect - Adverb
hagnotes - cleanness (the state), i.e. (figuratively) blamelessness - noun
These words describe the condition/state of sanctification (a noun), the manner of becoming sanctified or of sanctifying someone/something else (a verb), a person/place/thing that is sanctified (an adjective), or the defining characteristic of the action of sanctification (adverb).
Why is understanding Greek useful in studying the Bible?
You might be surprised that I am taking the time and space to identify words as to their part of speech identity and characteristics. Some people think, when an author or speaker gives such information as a part of the lesson or sermon, it is merely to show off his or her education or knowledge, i.e. a self-righteous display of “I’m better than you.” While it does happen with possibly a great many, that is not the reason I teach about the Koine Greek language which is the foundation of the New Testament in English.
No language is equivalent to another language. That is to say that no language can be directly translated concept for concept or even word for word. Languages are complex things that communicate more than just the identity of an object. Languages are directly related to the culture from which they come. They express societal values, emotional overtones, cultural memories, and more.
But they express even more subtleties than that. For example, it has been said that Eskimos have 100 different words for snow. Hard to imagine for those of us that live in the lower 48 states of the union, isn’t it? For us in Texas it is especially difficult since we see it so seldom. The Eskimos have different words to differentiate snow in the many, various conditions that are important for them to know and communicate among the members of their community. Here in Texas we can’t even imagine what those different conditions might possibly be. About the only distinction we make is whether it’s a “wet” or “dry” snow.
English speakers tend to be sloppy with their terminology. Depending on the context and the audience, we use various words with various degrees of precision. We use lots of slang terms. Americans are well known for their use of figures of speech to communicate meaning rather than precise words. We use exaggeration to emphasize certain aspects of things. Texians are probably the worst culprits.
Koine Greek developed under God’s sovereignty with a great deal of precision. The words and even grammatical structures had specific meanings. For us to fully understand the richness of the meaning of the Word of God we must try to understand the richness of the meaning of the words that God used. More importantly we want to understand the richness of the meaning God wants us to know.
I think the Greek word, prosormizo, makes an excellent and profound illustration. It means to tie (anchor); to moor to, i.e. (by implication) land at:--draw to the shore. It is used in only one place in the New Testament. Mark 6:53 says, “And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore.” “… drew to the shore” is the Greek word prosormizo.
However, there is “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. Anchors at the time of Christ were much like we know of anchors in the western world now in the 21st century. But there was another kind of anchor then that is very rarely mentioned because it is not well known. Some harbors had a special apparatus and procedure for receiving incoming ships. Entry into harbors was sometimes tricky, especially during severe weather. The entrance to the harbor might have dangerous reefs or shoals at or in front of the entrance that made entry hazardous. Or the entry itself might simply be narrow. Inside was safety from the storm but entry was treacherous.
So, some harbors had devised a method for safe entry. When a ship approached the harbor, the harbormaster sent out a pilot boat with a stout rope. The pilot boat took the rope to the ship and tied the rope to the bow of the ship. The boat was tethered to the ship for the return journey into the harbor. So, there was also an experienced pilot aboard to navigate the intricacies of the entrance.
The stout rope reached all the way to the shore inside the harbor. On the shore they erected a post made from a section of a large tree trunk. It was set into the ground down into solid rock and secured in the ground with rocks and cement to make it immovable.
This anchor post had a hole drilled through it. The pilot rope was threaded through the hole and the hole was greased with fat or petroleum to ensure ease of passage for the rope and to minimize wear and tear on the rope. The rope was attached to a team of draft animals. The path for the animals was cleared and made firm however was necessary.
When everything was prepared for the ship to come into the harbor, the rope was pulled by the draft animals through the hole in the anchor post. The ship under the guidance of the experienced pilot was pulled directly toward the anchor post. It executed prosormizo, and “drew (it) to shore” as Mark wrote. And there it was moored safely in safety from the storm raging outside the harbor. In the passage from Mark prosormizo is properly in the passive mood which means that the ship didn’t draw near to shore under its own power – drawing near to the shore was done to it – it was drawn in to the shore by others.
In Hebrews 6:18,19 we have an indescribably vivid picture drawn for us. “18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: 19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.” Jesus is our anchor. Hallelujah! He is the rope, the pilot, the draft animals, the post, even the hole in the post, and the boat that brought the rope to us outside the harbor. The Son of God abandoned Heaven’s throne to come to Earth to secure our passage safely into His realm. He left us His own Spirit of truth to guide us in while He remained the anchor post set in the bedrock “within the veil.” And He is the hole in the anchor post, the door through which we must go to reach safe harbor. And He is the One that executes the entire movement to move us from the dangerous storm into the port of safety. He is our HarborMaster Who sent Himself to us to bring us within the veil without any possibility of failure. Sure and stedfast. Sure means unable to fail both literally and figuratively. Stedfast means bedrock solid. And He Himself is the anchor of our soul, immovable, immutable – infallible, bedrock solid.
Do you see the wonderfully vivid Word Picture God Himself has painted for you here? Aren’t you blessed by it?
Without knowing about the word, prosormizo, you are left with an incomplete picture of what occurred in Mark 6:53. Now that misunderstanding doesn’t really affect your understanding of the verse in any significant way. Nor does understanding the word improve your understanding of it.
However, knowing the word and even that it is in the passive rather than the indicative mood does present a clear picture from the Scriptures themselves that gives vivid clarity to Hebrews 6:18 and 19. Don’t you agree?
Now you know what it means that Jesus is the anchor of our soul. And you couldn’t have possibly understood that full, rich meaning without this tiny lesson in Koine Greek.
The Meaning of Sanctification and Sanctify Used Here
It’s important that we understand the meaning of sanctification as used in this essay. I am using the word in its commonly accepted theological connotation.
It is true that the New Testament does not use the actual word sanctification very frequently to describe this condition, but the concept is nevertheless very prominent. The word ‘sanctification’ is found only five times in the King James Version, but the Greek word so translated is used ten times total. It is translated as holiness in the other five instances. These are Romans 6:19,22; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:3,4,7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 12:14; and 1 Peter 1:2.
The English words “sanctification” and “sanctify” come from Latin words to mean “to render holy or legitimate by religious sanction.” The King James Dictionary defines:
Sanctification - “The act of making a thing pure and holy.”
Sanctify – “To be sacred and set apart.”
The Random House Dictionary defines holy as:
1. specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated:
2. dedicated or devoted to the service of god, the church, or religion: a holy man.
3. saintly; godly; pious; devout: a holy life.
4. having a spiritually pure quality: a holy love.
5. entitled to worship or veneration as or as if sacred: a holy relic.
6. religious: holy rites.
7. inspiring fear, awe, or grave distress: The director, when angry, is a holy terror. (5)
James Strong (Strong’s Concordance and Lexicon) defines the verb hagiazo as to make holy, i.e. (ceremonially) purify or consecrate; (mentally) to venerate:--hallow, be holy, sanctify.
Joseph Henry Thayer (Thayer’s Greek Definitions) defines it:
1) to render or acknowledge, or to be venerable or hallow
2) to separate from profane things and dedicate to God
2a) consecrate things to God
2b) dedicate people to God
3) to purify
3a) to cleanse externally
3b) to purify by expiation: free from the guilt of sin
3c) to purify internally by renewing of the soul
The following definitions by well-known scholars are representative of what I mean by sanctification:
Sanctification may be defined as that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy
Spirit, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his
whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works. (6)
Sanctification is that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit by which the holy
disposition imparted in regeneration is maintained and strengthened. (7)
The process of being made or becoming holy. (8)
. . . the internal spiritual transformation of the believer or the holiness of life which
follows upon justification. (9)
The Westminster Catechism
The work of God's free grace whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image
of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. (10)
All of these definitions and descriptions sound consistent, don’t they? So, it is, I think, safe to say that sanctification is generally understood to be a state of being that is rendered or declared to be pure and holy. It is a spiritually pure quality, that separates a person, place, or thing from sinfulness in order to set them apart for the sacred purposes of God. It is a process that is controlled by God the Holy Spirit at work in and on the believer.
This question is extremely important to answer Biblically. The definitions above generally hint to the Biblical truth that sanctification is something done to a person, place, or thing. It is not inherent in the nature of the person, place, or thing. In the case of people it is not something done to the person by himself by his own actions or authority.
Contrast this with the common understanding of how sanctification happens. Overwhelmingly, most saints believe sanctification is what they are required to do. Whole systems of moral codes have been developed to define sanctification and guide the church member to attain sanctification. They are all, without exception, characterized by dedication, commitment, struggle, and personal effort, i.e. something the saint does (works) to accomplish something the Word says is done to us.
Hagiazo is found 29 times in the New Testment. In every instance that hagiazo is used in the New Testament it is used in the passive voice, with only three exceptions, involving nine verses. The three exceptions occur when it is used about the Father sanctifying (John 10:36, 17:17,19, Ephesians 5:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Hebrews 2:11) or of Jesus sanctifying (John 10:36, Hebrews 13:12) and in 1 Peter 3:15 where Peter told the readers to sanctify the Lord God in their hearts.
Eight of those exceptions define the Father or the Lord Jesus doing the sanctifying of us. Paul wrote to the Romans that we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit in Romans 15:16. He also told the Corinthians we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 6:11. And Jude wrote that we are sanctified by God the Father in Jude 1:1. So that is eleven of the twenty-nine times it is found that specifically identify God in all three Persons as the One Who sanctifies us. Not a single time does the Word of God ever identify a person doing anything to sanctify himself.
Let me repeat and restate that – in every instance in the New Testament where sanctification is applied to the believer, it is an action that happens to the believer performed by God. There is no record that the believer sanctifies himself ever. Indisputably, sanctification for the believer is the result of God at work for him, to him, in him, and with him. The believer is passive in the process. There is not a single instance in which the saint is found to sanctify himself in any way.
There is no evidence that the believer does anything to sanctify himself. “Thus sainthood, or sanctification, is not an attainment, it is the state into which God, in grace, calls sinful men, and in which they begin their course as Christians." (11)
What Are The Specific Means Of Sanctification?
So, the question that immediately comes to mind is, “Does the Word tell us specifically how sanctification occurs?
The Lord Jesus told Saul at his conversion that sanctification happens by faith that is in Him. Acts 26:18
To the Corinthians Paul wrote that we are sanctified “in Christ Jesus”, “with all that call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord”. 1 Corinthians 1:2 We are placed “in Christ Jesus” upon salvation when we call upon the name of the Lord.
He told the Ephesians that we are sanctified “with the washing of water by the word.” Ephesians 5:26 That mirrors what Jesus said. Jesus prayed that the Father would sanctify the disciples by means of His Word, the Truth. John 17:17, 17:19
Paul told Timothy that if a man purges himself from certain sins, he will be sanctified and useful to the Master’s use. It seems to be specific to being qualified for service. 2 Timothy 2:21 We will return to the verse later to examine it.
The Letter to the Hebrews states that we are sanctified by the offering of the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10:10,14,29 and 13:12
Sanctification Is A Part Of Salvation
Sanctification in the New Testament has two distinct meanings which we can derive from the various contexts we find it applied. One meaning is to consecrate a person/place/thing as belonging to God - to be specially recognized as or declared sacred. The second meaning relates to have a spiritually pure character – to be holy, to acquire the holiness of God.
1 Peter 3:15 is an example of the first definition. “15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” In this sense, we recognize, worship, and honor our Creator as Lord in His Sovereignty. We certainly don’t attempt to convey holiness to Him; in our innermost being we acknowledge and proclaim His holiness.
1 Corinthians 1:2 exemplies this meaning for us. “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 theirs and ours.” We ARE saints because God set us apart for His own purposes. He has declared us to be sacred for Himself. And Paul writes that these saints “are sanctified in Christ Jesus.” This verb is in the perfect tense and the passive mood. What this means, and it is very important, is that the saints were sanctified by God. Sanctifying happened to them; it wasn’t something the saints did – that’s the passive mood. The perfect tense means that the sanctification that happened to them was a completed action in the past with the present result that it is still in a state of completion. That’s why they are called saints. They aren’t necessarily holy in their daily experiences. They have been, however, declared holy, that is consecrated as holy, sacred for God’s own use.
This is more than justification. God has rendered us, made us to and considers us as innocent, free of sin because of the blood of Jesus. And now His own holiness has been satisfied and He has designated as His own sacred possessions, separate from the other peoples of the world. We all certainly belong to God, but He has set us apart for His own special purposes.
Justification is that act of God whereby He declares us righteous, i.e. innocent, faultless, and guiltless. And God does so according to the work of Christ on the cross. Romans 5:7 – “For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” “8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” Philippians 2:8,9. His obedience is substituted for our disobedience when we believe the Gospel and thus we are made righteous.
Salvation began in the past and aspects of it were completed for all eternity in eternity past, before the foundations of the world were set. And salvation is also being accomplished in us in the present. And it will be completed in the future at the Rapture.
The Past, Present, and Future Aspects Of Sanctification
There are several passages that teach the present process of salvation. We’ll examine them here.
1 Corinthians 1:2 – “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 theirs and ours.”
1 Corinthians 1:18 – “18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
2 Corinthians 2:15 – “15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.”
Ephesians 2:5,8 – “5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)… 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
In each passage the verbs “are sanctified” and “are saved” are perfect, passive participles. The perfect tense is translated and specifically and distinctly means an action that was completely accomplished in the past with the result in the present that it remains completely accomplished. So, in the case of 1 Corinthians 1:2, “are sanctified” would be literally translated “them that were being sanctified completely in time past with the present result that they remain being completely sanctified.” The perfect tense describes not just a simple past event, but a specific kind of past action. Like saying “You were born on such and such date.” You were born on that date. It was completed and the present result is that you remain born today.
The passive voice means that the action happened, was done to the subject, as we’ve already learned.
That the verb is a participle is very important. Participles in Koine Greek have a greater significance than in the English language. It is a verb form that is used as an adjective or an adverb to modify, i.e. to qualify, limit, or magnify, a noun or another verb. As an adverb a participle can specify the time, condition, manner, means, purpose, cause, circumstances, etc. involving the verb. As an adjective it can identify the physical attributes of the noun, any kind of general attribute, or a number of other descriptions.
In the passages listed the participle is used as an adjective. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 it modifies “them” who are otherwise identified “them…, called to be saints.” And it further identifies “them” “with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”
Hebrews 10:10 and 14 give us a depiction of sanctification not encapsulated so neatly in one package. “10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all……14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”
Verse 10 – “we are” is the state of being verb, to be, in the present tense and indicative mood. There is no voice – to be is intransitive, i.e. it has no action, it is a state of being. “Sanctified” is a participle in perfect tense, passive voice, and nominative case. This first means that it is an adjective, matching the case of the subject we. And the perfect tense and passive voice demonstrate that we were being sanctified in the past with the present result that we remain being sanctified.
Precise, isn’t it? So, we would literally translate that phrase “we are sanctified” as “we are in the present state of being of sanctification that was produced by our being sanctified in the past with the present result that we remain being sanctified today.
Now, in verse 14, the second phrase “that are sanctified” is also an adjective that modifies “them” which is the object of the verb “hath perfected.” However, this participle is in the present tense, passive voice, and accusative case. The accusative case is appropriate for the object of the verb. And it is being done to “them” in the present tense! “Hath perfected”, in contrast, is in the perfect tense. So, let’s translate it: “For by one offering He completely perfected them in time past so that the present result is that they remain being completely perfected forever.” That makes me want to yell, “Yaaaaahooooooo!!!!!”
Let’s look at this again! “He perfected us completely in the past and that perfection continues in the present with the result that we are still perfected and will continue to be so perfected forever!!!!!!!”
So, what does it mean that He perfected us? The Greek word means “to complete, i.e. (literally) accomplish, or (figuratively) consummate (in character):--consecrate, finish, fulfil, make) perfect.”
Koine Greek is known for its double negatives and positives that are used for undeniable emphasis. Here we have God declaring something so absolute that He used redundancy to emphasize it.
So, let’s try the fuller translation. “He completed us, consecrated us, accomplished his work of holiness in us, consummated and fulfilled His holiness in us, completely in the past and that perfection continues in the present with the result that we are now still perfected, completed, consecrated, are accomplished, consummated, and fulfilled in holiness, and will continue to be so perfected, completed, consecrated, are accomplished, consummated, and fulfilled in holiness forever!!!!!!!”
THAT takes my breath away!
But it gets better!!!!! Let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 2:13 – “13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.”
“Chosen” here isn’t the usual word for election. This word means “to take to oneself, to prefer, to choose.” It carries an equivalent meaning with the emphasis more on His preference for us rather than the act of choosing.
God chose us for the end result being our salvation by means of sanctification of the Spirit and faith. My point here, however, is that He chose us “from the beginning!”
Whenever “the beginning” was in God’s mind, from that point through all the past, through the present, and continuing on throughout eternity, forever, He has sanctified us. Past, present, and future is a done deal.
These aren’t the only passages that define the time aspects of sanctification, by any means. All the passages and their verb form characteristics are listed below:
(Note: you will find the aorist tense listed in the examples. This tense is not limited to
time, but generally occurs in the past. Its defining characteristic is that the action
happens within a limited time frame – it represents a point in time of unspecified
duration. For example: in John 10:36 the Father sanctified Christ at a point of time,
obviously in the past sometime, but we have no idea of the length of time that was
required or used in the process. It may have been instantaneous or it may have been
done over a period of seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, or even millennia. There is no
evidence in the text specifying the duration.)
John 10:36 – “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (aorist, active, indicative) The Father sanctified Christ
John 17:17 - Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (aorist, active, imperative) The Father would do the sanctifying
Joh 17:19 – “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” Jesus sanctified (present, active, indicative) Himself. The disciples would be sanctified (perfect, passive, participle) through the truth.
Acts 20:32 – “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Perfect, passive, participle)
Ac 26:18 – “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” Sanctified (perfect, passive, participle) by faith that is in Christ.
Romans 15:16 – “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.” (Perfect, passive, participle) sanctified by the Holy Ghost
1 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 theirs and ours:” (perfect, passive, participle) sanctified in Christ Jesus
1 Corinthians 6:11 – “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.” (aorist, passive, indicative) sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God
1 Corinthians 7:14 – “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” (perfect, passive, indicative) spouses are sanctified by the other spouses
Ephesians 5:26 – “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,” (aorist, active, subjunctive) the Church sanctified with the washing of water by the Word,
1Thessalonians 5:23 – “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.” (aorist, active, optative) God does the sanctification
1Timothy 4:5 – “For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (present, passive, indicative) all food is sanctified by the Word and prayer
2Timothy 2:21 – “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.” (perfect, passive, indicative) if a man purges himself he shall be sanctified
Hebrews 2:11 – “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,” First instance (present, active, participle) Jesus sanctifies Second instance (present, passive, participle) the brethren are sanctified by the One Who sanctified Himself
Hebrews 9:13 – “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:” (perfect, passive, participle)
Hebrews 10:10 – “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (perfect, passive, participle) sanctified once for all through the offering of Jesus’ body
Hebrews 10:14 – “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (present, passive, participle) the sanctified are perfected
Hebrews 10:29 – “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (aorist, passive, indicative) sanctified by the blood of the covenant
Hebrews 13:12 – “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.” (aorist, active, subjunctive) Jesus sanctifies with His blood
1Peter 3:15 – “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” (aorist, active, imperative) the saint exhorted to sanctify the Lord in his heart
Jude 1:1 – “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, [and] called:” (perfect, passive, participle) sanctified by God the Father and preserved in Christ and called
Revelation 22:11 – “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” (aorist, passive, imperative)
Sanctification Occurs In The Same Manner As Salvation
So, we see that faith, the Word of God, and the sacrifice on the cross are all elements of sanctification.
Doesn’t that echo in your heart? Doesn’t that remind you of Ephesians 2:8-10? “8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
No one with even the slightest understanding of salvation tries to claim self-effort in attaining to salvation. Why is sanctification treated differently?
Examine Colossians 2:6,7 – “6 As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: 7 Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.”
Now contrary to modern evangelistic training, asking to receive Jesus into our hearts does not accomplish salvation. It happens by grace through faith. Our participation is plainly through faith. We do receive
So, Paul told the Colossians that, just as they “received” Christ, they are to walk in Him, i.e. conduct their daily lives. Most people today reading “received” would think that means to receive Him into our hearts. Not so.
First of all, we aren’t saved by asking to receive Jesus into our hearts “as Lord and Savior.” That’s false. We are saved by grace through faith. We believe the Gospel.
“Received” here means to take or join to one’s self an associate or a companion, to accept or acknowledge one to be such as he professes to be, and/or to receive, accept, and acknowledge something transmitted in a message. In the case of salvation, we actually do all three. It doesn’t mean receiving “Christ in our hearts” at all. Christ does, in fact, live in us. But that is not what is at issue here.
While sanctification itself isn’t mentioned specifically in this passage, it is obvious that that is the subject. Living a holy life, worthy of the calling with which we are called, is the issue. Acquiring the holy nature of God is the issue. That’s what Colossians 1:22 is writing about – “22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy (hagios – sanctified) and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.” And again in 3:12 – “12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy (hagios – sanctified) and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.”
Contrary to Ben Franklin’s proverb that “God helps those who help themselves”, God helps those who cannot help themselves. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, just as in salvation. We could not manufacture righteousness at all to satisfy His holiness. We can’t manufacture sanctification either.
Paul in Romans 6-8 depicts the tragedy and triumph of sanctification in the life of the believer. At the end of chapter 7 Paul laments his attempts to debug his life of sin. He details his problem with covetousness. And he found he could not change the desires of his natural man, the flesh. He was powerless. He finally laments in 7:24 - “24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
Have you, dear saint, despaired of ever winning over sin? Have you ever cried out in the anguish of failure at trying to squeeze a chronic, contemptible sin out of your life? Well, there is victory! But it’s not found in more commitment, more dedication, in punishing the body as monks have done for centuries, or more effort of any sort. The victory you seek is found in depending upon God to do for you what you can’t do for yourself.
Read Paul’s discovery – “25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 7:25-8:4
Notice verse 8:3 and 4 say – what the Law couldn’t do, the righteousness would be fulfilled in those, “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Victory is not found in the Law. Look what the Jews did. They refined the Law to encompass every possible circumstance. By following the Law meticulously they thought they could guarantee righteousness.
But Jesus called them blind guides. Matthew 23:25-28 - “25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
Outwardly they were absolutely perfect! But Paul found out he still wasn’t clean on the inside. He wrote the Philippians in 3:4-6 - “4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” In Romans 7 he bares his soul to tell us that he just couldn’t get the victory over his covetousness. He absolutely couldn’t kill his longings, his desires for whatever was plaguing him. Even though he was righteous in the Law, even though he as blameless, irreproachable, he was still unclean in his heart and mind. And there was nothing he could do about it on his own.
There’s a powerful truth that few ever know that is found in Romans 8:5-8 - “5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
The more you fight to gain mastery over your flesh, the less victory you have because “to be carnally minded is death.” There’s actually no verb in that first part of the verse 6. Literally, the first section is translated “Because the mental inclination and purpose of the flesh deadly.” The absence of the verb serves to emphasize the impact of the words that are left. Thayer defines that word I’ve translated as mental inclination and purpose this way: what one has in the mind, the thoughts and purposes.
And verse 5 explains that “they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh.” The preposition “after” is probably better understood today as being against, as in being in contact with. So the idea here is that those that are pressing against the flesh direct their minds to the things of the flesh. But those who are pressing against the Spirit direct their minds to the things of the Spirit. Applying Strong’s definition to it, it would literally be that those who are pressing against the things of the flesh are mentally disposed, have set their affections on, and interested in with concern or obedience to the things of the flesh. But the ones who are pressing against the Spirit are mentally disposed, have set their affections on, and interested in with concern or obedience to the things of the Spirit.
The more you work at controlling the flesh, the more enslaved to it you become! The more you direct your attentions and affections toward the Spirit, the more victory you experience in the Spirit.
Let’s close this with verse 8. “8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” I bet you know the only thing that does please God, without which you can never please God. If you remembered Hebrews 11:6, you’re right on target. “6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
So, is the answer to devise ways to re-dedicate yourself to Christ, work up stronger commitment for Jesus, pray longer, read your Bible more, fast more often, confess your sins to someone more completely, abuse your body, etc., etc. ad nauseum? Or is it to turn your eyes upon Jesus?
When all else fails, read the instructions.
Hebrews 12:2,3 – “2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.”
Colossians 3:2 – “2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” The Greek word for “set your affection” is the exact same word that Paul used in Romans 8:5 where he writes “do mind.” He is telling the Colossians to mentally disposed, have set their affections on, and interested in with concern or obedience to the things above, not on the things on the earth, such as your sinning nature, your flesh.
The victory is found not in fighting the flesh, but leaning on Jesus to leave your sins in the dust. Press against the Holy Spirit, setting your affections on the things of Jesus. Then let Him take care of your sanctification. “13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Quit depending on your own strength of will and depend on His!
It’s faith, not your own efforts that pleases God. Five times the Word of God records the exact same words – “The just shall live by faith.” And then there is another one recorded that is only slightly different – “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
Habakkuk 2:4 – “4 Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” In Habakkuk, the emphasis is certainly about life or death in the face of judgment of sin. But it is living by faith in God while on the earth, not turning to faith when standing at the judgment bench.
Romans 1:17 – “17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” The life that incurs God’s wrath is one lived in iniquity and immoral behavior – daily living. Romans 1:19 - “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
Galatians 2:20 – “20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” The life of faith stands presented as “the life which I now live in the flesh.”
Galatians 3:11 – “11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” The life that pleases God is not one lived according to rules and principles, according to commitment and self-effort. Galatians 3:12 - “12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.”
Hebrews 10:38 – “38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” “Draw back” from what? Living by faith!
2 Corinthians 5:7 – “7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)” Definitively, we conduct our daily lives by faith, not by what can be seen.
Let’s take note of somethings about faith. Hebrews 11:6 says – “6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
Take careful note what this does NOT say.
“That He is a rewarder of them that work hard for Jesus.”
“That He is a rewarder of them that make Jesus Lord of their lives.”
“That He is a rewarder of them that dedicate their lives to Jesus.”
“That He is a rewarder of them that…. well, you fill in the blank.”
He is a rewarder of them that earnestly search Him out. Doesn’t this sound a great deal like what Paul wrote to being “spiritually minded” and minding the things of the Spirit? Of pressing against the Spirit? Remember that being spiritually minded in Romans 8:6 was set in direct opposition to 8:8 – “8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” We know by this that being in the flesh is the same as living by self-effort, not faith. Both “cannot please God.”
Sanctification, then, we have learned is something that God does for us, not something we do by our own efforts. All three Persons of the Godhead are involved in it. (God must be rather committed to the effort of our sanctification!) It is a part of salvation, not something that is separate to itself. And because it is part of salvation, it occurs in the same manner – by grace through faith. As Paul learned and shared with us in Romans, we are abject failures at trying to live by our own self efforts. “24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But thanks be to God, “1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”
“The just shall live by faith.” The just are the justified ones – those that are innocent and holy by God’s own decree. So, live by faith. That’s sanctification.
3. R.C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), p.331
4. Ibid., p.332.
5. "holy." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 02 Jun. 2011.
6. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI, Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co.) p. 532
7. A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology (London: Pickering & Inglis Ltd., 1970), p.569
8. W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Fleming H. Revel Co.)
9. F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950-1953), Vol.3, p.4.
11. http://www.antioch.com.sg/cgi-bin/bible/vines/find_term.pl, W.E.Vine, Vine's Expository Dictionary of New
Testament Words, quoting Hogg and Vine, Notes on Thessalonians, pp. 113,114.
Read more articles by Richard Trimble or search for articles on the same topic or others.