Perhaps no truth of Scripture has been more distorted and misunderstood than the doctrine of "Sanctification." The Scriptures are sublime in their simplicity, but often the simplest statements have been beclouded by those who have sought to find in them support for their particular opinions. Some of the misunderstandings regarding sanctification have perhaps risen through giving the word a wrong meaning. It comes from two Latin words sanctus (sacred) and facere (to make), i.e., to set apart to sacred use. Its earliest mention is in Genesis 2: 3, in connection with the Sabbath day.
In Exodus 13. the firstborn of beast as well as of man was sanctified. In Leviticus 17: 14, a man sanctified his house or his field (v. 17). The tabernacle and its vessels, the temple and its furniture, were all sanctified; so that it is evident sanctification had to do with things as well as persons. Certain misleading terms are frequently used now by some persons as "getting sanctified," "fully sanctified," "losing sanctification," etc. The users of these terms generally teach the doctrine of holiness by our own efforts; they insist upon a moment of definite surrender as the time when the "second blessing" is obtained. That every Christian should desire practical holiness is perfectly right; it is indeed the aspiration of the new nature, and Scripture ever exhorts to holiness of life; but this is not attained by human resolutions. Sooner or later the lesson must be learned which the apostle Paul experienced, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7: 18).
"How are we sanctified?" is a question answered by Scripture in Heb. 10:10 - by the will of God and the offering of the body of Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 6: 11 speaks of it as a definite act, "Ye are washed, ye are sanctified." Hebrews 2: 11 also, "They who are sanctified." Again in Hebrews 10: 14, "Them that are sanctified." All this is positional sanctification, the result of God's act in grace, and true of every believer on the Lord Jesus Christ the moment faith receives Him as a personal Saviour. Set apart to God by the work of the Lord Jesus and the sovereign power of the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1: 2), the believer's standing before God is unassailable. As born again by the Holy Spirit and the word of God (see John 3: 5), and sealed by the Holy Spirit upon receiving the gospel, who in imparting this new nature separates us from the world to God (Eph. 1: 13), the believer's sanctification, positionally, could not be more perfect than it is. It is of this aspect of sanctification that Scripture most frequently speaks.
To confound our "standing" before God with our "state," is frequently productive of much soul-misery. The believer can never be more meet for heaven than when he is first brought to Christ as Saviour. "Giving thanks unto the Father, who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1: 12). Our meetness, then, is not the result of any effort on our part. The thief on the cross was made meet for Paradise by sovereign grace based on the sacrifice of Christ, else he could not have gone there. To make positional sanctification subsequent to justification is a great error, and destructive of the appreciation of the work of redemption; it casts the soul upon itself and its experiences, only to result in self-occupation, and leads to self- complacency or despair. The prodigal in Luke's Gospel gives an illustration of this common error when in the far off country he soliloquized, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of Thy hired servants." His thought evidently was to crave an opportunity to improve his state, and enable him to prove himself worthy of a better place. How little he knew the Father's heart! How different the father's thought! The kiss of forgiveness settled the past and secured the future, so that the prodigal was unable to propose what he had purposed. Fellow-believer, you have been received, not as a servant but as a son!
That the believer's condition, or state of soul, should ever be a cause for exercise before God, however, it is important to recognise; and the more we understand the wondrous position God has given us in the riches of His grace, the deeper will be our desire to answer in a practical way to this grace. Here comes in such scriptures as John 17: 17, "Sanctify them to the truth; thy word is truth." 1 Thess. 4: 3-4 "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification." 2 Tim. 2: 21-22, "A vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts," etc. We cannot detach practical sanctification from the new nature received at new birth, and it is important to see that we are dependent upon the word of God and the Holy Spirit for this. Man is mentioned in 1 Thess. 5: 23 as "spirit, soul and body." By departure from God, he became enslaved to his natural lusts. Now grace has wrought, but this does not render one independent but rather brings into gladly recognised dependence upon God. Christ, who loves us is by the Holy Spirit set before our hearts as the object of our affections; and the Father's word to us is, "Be ye holy for I am holy." Being born of God, the new nature in the believer has holy tastes and desires; but because the flesh, the old Adam nature, is also in us, power for holiness lies in walking with God in conscious dependence. Judicially, our old man has been crucified with Christ . . . "that we should no longer serve sin" (Rom. 6) and we are to arm ourselves with this truth, to "reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord," whose death entitles us to deliverance from sin and from the law.
But how many there are who, conscious that they had no righteousness to present to God, came to Him for forgiveness and rest; but while receiving these blessings apart from works, now seek to gain sanctification by works. Practical, progressive sanctification is not by effort of the flesh therefore (for a legal basis is an impossible foundation for holiness), but as the soul realizes its standing before God and the wonderful truth that by faith in Christ (Acts 26: 18) the believer is sanctified, the desire is inwrought by the Spirit that everything incompatible with this should be denied. The conduct is brought into conformity with the truth: " Ye are sanctified." The standard of holiness is not lowered thereby, but the reverse; for self is treated as worthless and corrupt, the true standard being normal conformity to Christ, and the Holy Spirit the only power for its accomplishment. "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Heb. 13: 20, 21).