A Series on What is Sanctification
When in contact with a sinful world, the Old Testament has shown that God sanctifies everything with His glory before He comes in
contact with it (Ex 3:5; 19:23;
40:32-38). Everything must be morally pure, set apart and devoted to Him before God,
as a theosophany, would dwell among His people (Ex 29:43-46). Failure to be
sanctified properly meant instant death for anyone who came into the presence of the holy God
Because the nation of Israel committed themselves to be God's people and His own possession, they were to sanctify
themselves; this was only possible because God was the Lord who makes them holy
The Law of Moses was intended to teach the nation of Israel of what it meant to "be set apart" and the procedures of how to be set
apart. God repeatedly encourages the Israelites to "be holy, because He is holy" (Lev 11:44-45;
21:8). But Israel failed to understand the righteousness intended behind the
legislation (Deut 31:14-22; 32:1-47).
When Jesus begins His public ministry and reveals that the Law and Scriptures point to Him and Himself as their fulfillment, He
elaborates on the Law and the meaning of holiness (Matt 5:17-48). He presents
contrasts, "you have heard…, but I tell you...," as a means to teach the ethics of being set apart. He contrasts anger with
reconciliation (Matt 5:21-26), adultery and purity
(Matt 5:27-30), divorce and remarriage
(Matt 5:31-32), promises and truthfulness
(Matt 5:33-37), personal injury and self sacrifice
(Matt 5:38-42) and hatred and love
The contrasts show that the Jews' approach to the Law lost its demand for holiness; understood properly, the Law
reflected the holy perfection of God.
For disciples, set apart for God, Jesus demands that they "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect"
(Matt 5:48) in moral purity in thought and action. The apostle Peter would remind
Believers, saved through the gospel call of Jesus, to be obedient to God of the Scriptures in a similar manner, "be holy, because God
is holy" (1 Pet 1:13-16; Lev 11:44-45;
Just as the nation of Israel was set apart as God's people, Jesus indicates that the Messianic community carries on this same
distinction. Then as now, God works to sanctify His people.
From a legal perspective, God sanctifies man with two provisions:
The Law of Moses taught what sin was (Rom 3:19-20;
7:7-8) and revealed God's code of moral and spiritual behavior; Jesus considered
this eternal and immutable (Matt 5:18). As a covenant by which man atones for his
sins to keep God's favor, Paul tells us that this function has ended (Gal 3:19).
The New Covenant provided absolute and complete forgiveness of sin, sanctification without human merit or works,
and was internal ("I will put My law within them an on their heart" – Jer 31:33)
and not subject to human interpretation.
The New Covenant was made, because the nation of Israel broke the Law of Moses and failed to set themselves apart
as God's own people (Jer 31:32).
Both provisions share the same purpose: sanctifying people so that the Holy God can dwell among them
(Ex 29:44-46; Lev 26:11-12).
Thus, as God works to sanctify non-Believers, "that you may believe in Him whom He has sent"
(John 6:29; 9:3),
these provisions demonstrate a love that is rich, costly and extended even to enemies and without distinction other than being His
good creation (Gen 1:26-31). This is the ultimate characteristic that Jesus exhorts
His disciples to emulate, "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48).
Through the New Covenant, God has the legal means to continue His work of sanctification through a Believer's life. Because the
New Covenant provides regeneration, regeneration itself validates adoption and establishes the legal rights and means to be children
of God (John 1:9-13; Tit 3:4-7).
Thus when Jesus contrasts hatred and love (Matt 5:43-47)
and provides God's example of causing the "sun to rise on evil and good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous," He uses
the example as an incentive to be "sons of the Father in heaven."
To be a "son of the Father" requires a certain sonship where the Believer pursues a life lived in a way, separate
and superior to the lifestyles around them, that is patterned on the character of God
(Eph 5:1-10; 4:23-24;
Sanctification is becoming something that the disciples are not yet – a son of God.
Because of regeneration, the apostle Paul sees Believers as God's children, and progression is towards children without fault
(Philip 2:12-16). Because God wrote the Law upon the Believer's heart, the Believer
knows what sin is and can work towards a life without sin cognizant of the implications of sin's presence before the holy God
God works to sanctify Believers by providing Himself as an example, motivates Believers to be His children without
fault and be pleasing to His sight (1 Thess 4:1;
God also works through His word, the Bible, so that Believers will be imitators of Him
(1 Thess 2:13-14).
Because of regeneration, God accepts and treats Believers as His children (Heb 12:5-11).
Discipline includes the idea of rebuke and education (Heb 12:5-6).
God chastises to produce in Believers a character like His own; thus, the certainty of suffering is meant to be an
encouragement (Heb 12:7, 10; James 1:2-4).
In God's eyes, illegitimate children are not heirs or members of His family; their freedom from discipline is
because they are not privileged (Heb 12:8).
While a Believer strives against sin, God somehow has a hand in it and helps the Believer share in holiness and
produce a "harvest of righteousness and peace" (Heb 12:10-11;
1 Cor 11:31-32).
As God sanctifies Believers, they reflect His moral character to the world and serve as His invitation of love to others to be His
people (John 17:16-19).
||God the Father
|How does He work on Non-Believers?
||Provides the possibility and means for sanctification
Demonstrates the historical reality that Jesus is the Son
|How does He work on Believers?
Teaches what sin is
Provides an example of what it means to be
Works through His word the Bible
Motives Believers to be children without fault and pleasing to His
Disciplines by rebuking and educating the Believer what holy behavior is
1. Brown C ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 2, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House (1979).
2. Brand C, Draper C and England A, eds., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, (1998).
3. Youngblood RF, Bruce FF and Harrison, RK, eds., Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers (1996).
4. Gaebelein FE, ed., The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vols. 8, 10, 11, 12, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, (1976).