Sanctification

John David Clark, Sr. - September, 1995

". . . to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus . . . ."

God is the source of all that becomes holy. He alone is holy (Rev.15:4), and it is only by His grace that anyone ever partakes of His holiness. Sanctification is the word used to describe the process of something or someone becoming holy. On various occasions and for His own purposes, God sanctified many different things and people in the Bible. This is a look at some of them.

Times

Under the Old Covenant, God sanctified certain times; and then He commanded Israel to honor those special times, explaining to them how to behave so that they might obey His commandment. Concerning the Old Covenant sabbath days, for example, Israel was taught in some detail how to "keep the sabbath day holy". Men then did not know, and we do not know now, how to honor what God has sanctified unless God gives us clear direction; so, we are thankful for God's help in that regard. God not only sanctified certain days, however; He also sanctified certain weeks and years (such as the famed Year of Jubilee), and He gave commandments to His people so that they might know how to reverence those times which He sanctified.

Places and Things

Beyond the sanctification of certain times, God's presence sanctified certain places, such as Mount Sinai and Solomon's temple. God sanctified the entire promised land of Canaan, in preparation for giving it to His people. Indeed, God sanctified heaven itself, so that it would be worthy of the honor of His presence.

It proved fatal for an unsanctified person to enter a sanctified place (for example, Korah and his fellow rebels in Num.16). What happened in such cases was that there was a transfer of sanctification onto that unwise trespasser. When that happened, the trespasser became what is called "devoted"; that is, he took on the quality of sanctification, but it was not with God's approval! Consequently, the foolish, irreverent trespasser upon whom sanctification was transferred from the holy place was executed, sometimes by God and sometimes by Israel's judges, for not reverencing the sanctified place and for bearing the transferred sanctification unworthily.

The reality of this transfer of sanctification is confirmed by Jesus, when he said that the temple sanctified the gold that touched it, and the altar sanctified all the offerings which were laid upon it (Mt.23:17,19). So, any unsanctified thing that touched a sanctified object in the Old Testament became sanctified by means of transfer. This is a basic truth of Scripture, confirmed by many examples.

There is danger of becoming cursed by God not only for trespassing onto holy premises, but also for having in one's possession, or sometimes even touching, anything that is sanctified to the Lord. For one example, when the walls of Jericho fell, Joshua and the Israelites destroyed everything in that cursed city and burned it to the ground. The only exceptions were (1) the woman Rahab (and her family) who had helped the two Israelite spies, and (2) all the silver, gold, brass, and other precious things from the city. These things were sanctified to, or devoted to, the Lord. When an Israelite soldier named Achan found some gold, silver, and a beautiful Babylonian garment in the ruins, he fell to the temptation to take those devoted things for himself, and hid them in his tent. What he didn't know was that by taking what belonged to God, the sanctification which was on those spoils of war were making his tent and everyone who touched it "devoted"! The sanctification which God had placed upon those objects was being transferred to him and all he had, including his wives and children! His sin was exposed by God, and he and his tent, his wives and children, and all his substance, including his herds, were stoned to death and burned by the other Israelites. All things which belonged to Achan became sanctified by unordained contact with God's sanctified things.

God sanctified the priests, not Achan and his family or anyone else, to take those devoted goods from jericho; the priests could touch the devoted things and live, but no one else could do so. The people of Israel as a whole were sanctified by God so that they could live in the Holy Land and be allowed to come to His temple and worship Him, and to bring sacrifices to the priests. But only the priests were sanctified to approach God's holy altar with those sacrifices.

God sanctified the tithes and offerings which the people rendered to the Levites so that those gifts would be clean enough for the (sanctified) Levites to receive. Then, He sanctified the tithes from the Levites to make their tithes clean enough for the (sanctified) priests to receive. Because the tithes themselves were sanctified; to fail to bring them to the Lord made (and makes) any believer who refuses to bring them worthy of death, just as Achan was made worthy of death for taking the rich spoils which had been sanctified to the Lord. As Jesus warned, "Render unto God the things that are God's."

The Israelites, Prophets, Priests, and Levites

Besides sanctifying to Himself the whole nation of Israel, God sanctified the prophets to preach to them - in some cases sanctifying them for His service before they were even born! He then warned all men to beware of harming those specially chosen men and women. Moreover, God sanctified the priests of Israel to minister in His holy temple, and to approach Him with the sacrifices which were brought to the Lord by His people. The Old Testament priests were sanctified so that they could minister in the sanctuary without themselves being slain because of unordained transfer of sanctification from the holy place.

Any ordinary Israelite, sanctified though the whole nation might have been, was forbidden to approach the high priest or the altar of the Lord; the priest's sanctification was far greater than the ordinary man's, and God demanded that Israel acknowledge that fact and leave a respectful distance between themselves and His priests. The priests needed help to accomplish their ritual undertakings, but not just anybody was allowed the privilege to be close enough to God's ministers to help them. God sanctified the men of the tribe of Levi to draw near to the priests and to be their servants. Then, as now, God was not a beggar, taking anyone's service He could get. It was an honor for the Levites to be able to stand close enough to the priests to serve them. How much greater an honor was it to be sanctified as one of the Lord's priests, and to be allowed to minister in the temple of the Lord without becoming accursed by the power of that holy place!

The Heathen

One may ask, if it is true that an unsanctified person cannot safely touch a sanctified thing, how were the unsanctified heathen able to conquer God's chosen people? By touching the Israelites (to take them captive and to kill them), would not the heathen have become "devoted" by transfer of Israel's sanctification and therefore become accursed by the Lord? The answer to that question is found in the prophets: God sanctified certain heathen kingdoms to come to Israel and to inflict His awful punishments upon the sanctified people (Jer.22:7). No kingdom on earth could have destroyed Israel had not the God of Israel first sanctified them for that purpose. Indeed, God even sanctified vultures and other meat-eating creatures to come to devour the decaying flesh of the Israelites who were slain by those heathen nations (Zeph.1:7). On the other hand, God sternly warned all those whom He had not ordained to afflict His people, "Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm!"

The New Testament

One element of sanctification found in the Old Testament that is missing in the New is the act of sanctifying oneself. Because ceremonial correctness was involved in the Old Covenant, the priests, the Levites, and all Israel, could "sanctify themselves" (Ex.19:22; Lev.11.44; 2Chron.29:15). In the New Testament this cannot be done. In the Old Testament sanctification by men was accomplished using earthly materials, such as blood, oil, water, or other specified things. The New Covenant is better.

Both God and Moses, at different times and in different ways, sanctified the tabernacle in the wilderness (Ex.29:43; Ex.30:26-30). Both God and Moses sanctified the people of Israel (Ex.19:14-15; Ex.31:30). Both God and Moses sanctified Aaron and his sons as priests (Ex.29:21,44). Both God and Israel's high priest sanctified the brass altar (Ex.29:44; Lev.16:19). There are other examples, but the point is made: by following God's ritualistic commandments in the Old Testament, men could sanctify other people and earthly things. But there is not one example in the New Testament of anyone sanctifying anything by the use of earthly matter. This is because sanctification in Christ is a matter of spiritual holiness, and no man can touch another person's spirit. Man is flesh, and he cannot reach another person's spirit. Only God can do that. Sanctification is now accomplished only by the touch of God's holy Spirit, access to which Spirit Jesus purchased by his sacrificial death. Jesus is the last person who is said in the Bible to have sanctified himself (Jn.17:19). Everyone else now is sanctified by the Spirit of God. And how much holier it must be in this New Covenant to be sanctified by the touch of God's own Spirit than to have been sanctified by the sprinkling of animal blood, ashes of a red heifer, or olive oil! Carnal men could not appreciate what God was doing with those Old Covenant ceremonies; how much less are carnal men now able to understand this wonderful, sanctifying holy Ghost!

Some groups argue that New Covenant sanctification is an instantaneous experience, while others argue that the sanctification of our souls is a process. As is true in most such doctrinal controversies, there is truth in both positions, and both doctrines err in denying the truth of the other. When a person is baptized with the holy Ghost, he is at that moment sanctified by the holy Ghost; the holiness of God is instantaneously transferred to him. He becomes God's property, set aside for His purposes. Contrary to the bizarre doctrines of some Pentecostal groups, a person is not sanctified before receiving the holy Ghost baptism. It is the holy Ghost which sanctifies. Some of these groups teach that before receiving the Spirit we must sanctify ourselves by conforming to a certain style of dress, but conforming to a specified norm was an Old Testament method of sanctification; in the New, sanctification is accomplished only by the Spirit. It is an instantaneous experience wrought by God, transferring His holiness to us by touching our souls. At the same time, there is growth in sanctification. Entire sanctification is a process. It is actually a growing in the knowledge of what our sanctification entails. When we are first sanctified, we are "as babes in Christ", and our minds are "yet carnal". It takes time for us to break old habits and to realize what kind of creature God has made us in Christ. This is called growing in Christ, or "coming to the knowledge of God", or "attaining perfection" in him. Paul exhorts us to pursue this entire sanctification, to learn to live as those who have been made holy should live. And he describes for us the life which is fully grown in the sanctification of the Lord, so that we might perceive that standard when we see it (1 Thessalonians 5):

12 And we beseech you brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in

the Lord, and admonish you,

13 And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among

yourselves.

14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded,

support the weak, be patient toward all men.

15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man, but ever follow that which is good,

both among yourselves, and to all men.

16 Rejoice evermore.

17 Pray without ceasing.

18 In every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Quench not the Spirit.

20 Despise not prophesyings.

21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

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.

24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.


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