Part 6: Sanctification

by Pastor Cornelius R. Stam

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(The following is the sixth in a series of excerpts from Pastor Stam’s classic work on True Spirituality. Since this book never appeared as a series in the Searchlight, many of even our long-time readers may not be familiar with these selections.)

A PRECIOUS TRUTH TOO LITTLE APPRECIATED

It is regrettable that so many Bible commentaries take so shallow a view of the subject of sanctification.

Most Bible students know that in the Authorized Version of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures the words “holiness” and “sanctification,” with scarcely any exceptions have the same meaning. In the Old Testament both words come from the single Hebrew root qodesh, while in the New both come from the single Greek root hagiazo.

According to most commentaries qodesh and its Greek equivalent hagiazo, simply mean “to set apart” or “to separate.” Now it is true that this is the organic meaning in both cases, but very often the organic meaning of a word falls far short of expressing its true significance in actual usage. Such is the case with the Hebrew and Greek words for sanctification. Organically they mean a separating or setting apart, but as used in the Scriptures they mean much more than this.

CONSECRATION

In Bible usage, both in Old and New Testaments to make holy, or to sanctify, means “to set apart as sacred,” “to consecrate,” “to dedicate.” The following passages are but a few that bear out this fact:

Gen. 2:3: “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.”

Ex. 3:5: “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”

Matt. 6:9: “Hallowed be Thy name.”

II Cor. 11:2: “…I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

In the above passages the Hebrew and Greek words in question are variously rendered “sanctified,” “holy,” “hallowed” and “espoused,” but in each case the meaning is, “set apart as sacred,” “consecrated,” “dedicated.” Thus Jerusalem is called “the holy city” (Matt. 4:5) and the sanctuary of the tabernacle, “the holiest of all” (Heb. 9:3,8); the Bible is called “the holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2) and the Spirit of God, “the holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30).

THE BELIEVER’S SANCTIFICATION

How it would touch the hearts of many believers if they realized that both in our salvation and in our walk it has been God’s purpose, not merely to set us apart from the world, but to set us apart as sacred to Himself! Sanctification speaks of God’s love to us more than of ours to Him. This truth, to many, would cast an entirely new light on the doctrine of sanctification.

Sanctification is not a negative matter, but a positive one. God wants us for Himself. He considers us His hallowed possession much as a bridegroom considers his bride his very own, sacred to himself. This shows how precious the believer is to the heart of God and makes our separation from the world and sin the natural result of our consecration to Him. “Ye turned to God from idols,” says the apostle, not “from idols to God” (See I Thes. 1:9). True Scriptural sanctification, or holiness, then, does not consist in “dos” and “don’ts,” nor is it to be confused with sinless perfection. It is rather a consecration to God which results in a closer walk with Him.

POSITIONAL SANCTIFICATION

In a very real sense every true believer has already been sanctified, or consecrated, to God. Some view sanctification as a second work of grace, after salvation. Actually it is the very first work of grace. Sanctification begins with God as He chooses us and sets us apart for Himself through the work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of sin and leads us to faith in Christ. Thus we read:

“…God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thes. 2:13).

“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:2).

Nor is this phase of our sanctification affected by our conduct. In Ephesians 5:2,3 the apostle declares that believers should “walk…as becometh saints [sanctified ones]” but this in itself implies that some who are saints do not walk so.

Even the carnal Corinthians are addressed as “saints”—”sanctified in Christ Jesus” (I Cor. 1:2). Naming sins which some of them were even then committing, he goes on to say:

“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” (I Cor. 6:11).

Thus believers, whatever their state, are called:

“…them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; 26:18).

“…the elect of God, holy and beloved…” (Col. 3:12).

All this, of course, pertains to our position and standing before God. It was He who, in infinite love and grace, set us apart as His own, declaring us righteous before all. But how can a righteous God justify a sinner? How can a holy God embrace a fallen son of Adam? The answer is, through the glorious, all-sufficient work of Christ on the sinner’s behalf.

“We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10).

“For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).

Positionally, then, every believer has been sanctified, or set apart, by God for Himself through the operation of the Holy Spirit and on the basis of the shed blood of Christ. Little wonder the Spirit thunders forth the challenge:

“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?…” (Rom. 8:33,34).

How precious are these truths! Yet, the apostle never teaches positional truth without applying it in a practical way. If God in love set us apart as His own, should not our love respond to His? Should it not also be our heart’s desire to be His, wholly His, in experience and conduct? Should not our hearts be touched with gratitude and wonder at His condescending love and result in spontaneous and eager consecration to Him?

PRACTICAL SANCTIFICATION

It is this that the apostle has in mind as, by the Spirit, he writes that God—

“…hath chosen us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him,

“In love1 having predestinated us unto the adoption of children…” (Eph. 1:4,5).

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification…” (I Thes. 4:3).

But here a word of caution is needed, lest in seeking to be wholly sanctified to God, we leave ourselves open to discouragement and disillusionment.

Nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to sanctify the “flesh” to God. The Scriptures teach that the “flesh,” the old Adamic nature, is totally bad and experience bears witness that this is so. The “flesh” cannot be improved, or reformed, or converted, and “they that are in the flesh2 cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). It is for this reason that God sent His own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” to “condemn sin in the flesh” at Calvary (See Rom. 8:3).

We are not, then, to seek to improve the old nature or dedicate it to God, but to recognize it as condemned by God and crucified with Christ.

“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him…” (Rom. 6:6).

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11).

But while the believer’s “flesh” cannot be sanctified to God, his body can and should be. The Apostle Paul has much to say about this:

“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” (Rom. 12:1).

“What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and 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” (I Cor. 6:19,20).

Thus the apostle writes to the Thessalonians:

“That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” (I Thes. 4:4).

“For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (I Thes. 4:7).

And thus he concludes:

“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” (I Thes. 5:23).

In his very last epistle he declares that while “the Lord knoweth them that are His,” all who name the name of Christ should “depart from iniquity,” and goes on to explain that—

“…in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor.

“If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (II Tim. 2:20,21).

The Church is indeed “a great house,” and in it there are all sorts of vessels. Most of these, it is to be feared, are dishonoring to the Lord and unfit for the Master’s use. God grant that we may not belong to this number, but may rather be vessels which will bring honor to God, “sanctified, and meet [fit] for the Master’s use.”

THE “HOW” OF PRACTICAL SANCTIFICATION

As we consider how to be sanctified to God in walk and experience we must again place the emphasis where God has placed it: upon His blessed Word.

No one will deny that prayer is an important element in practical sanctification, yet the Word places the supreme emphasis upon itself in this matter. Our Lord prayed for His disciples:

“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy Word is truth” (John 17:17).

The Apostle Paul declares that our Lord “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it,

“That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word” (Eph. 5:25,26).

Many dear Christians have said to the writer: “If only I could remember these Bible truths better, but I have a mind like a sieve.” But pour water through a sieve and it will at least have a cleansing effect. And so does the blessed Word of God have a cleansing effect upon those who prayerfully read it and meditate upon it. It is the Word which its Author, the Holy Spirit, uses to cleanse and sanctify us more and more to God, and those who are not deeply and sincerely interested in the study of the Word will never enjoy true, practical sanctification no matter how much they pray.

Notes:

  1. While there is no punctuation in the original, it appears from the context that the words “in love” belong with Verse 5.
  2. I.e., who have not been begotten again by the Spirit.