As the Christian individual allows the Spirit of Christ to fill and control his behavior, the divine character of holiness will be evidenced in such behavior. The presence and expression of God’s holy character, whereby man functions as God created man to function, is described by the Biblical term, “sanctification.”

Misconceptions abound in the minds of regenerate people as to what sanctification implies. Some picture a “sanctified saint” as a zombie-like creature walking around with a pious expression on his face – either a pasted on “evangelical smile” as if someone had just let the cat out of the bag, or a somber stare as if their best friend had just died. Others view sanctification as an ecstatic experience wherein God’s blessings are dumped on an individual. A person is “zapped” by the power of God, and henceforth is as electrified and “turned on” as if they had just stuck their finger in an electric socket. Many have tended to identify sanctification with being “sanctimonious,” which is laden with contemporary connotations of hypocrisy, conveying the idea of a Pharisaical piety complete with a “holier-than-thou” attitude.

The biblical meaning of sanctification needs to be understood. Paul explained to the Thessalonian Christians:

1Th 4:3 MKJV  For this is the will of God, your sanctification, for you to abstain from fornication,

Sanctification is essential if man is to be man as God intended man to be.

Sanctification finds its meaning in the holy character of God. In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament the root word qds meant “to cut off” or “to separate.” Throughout the Old Testament qados is translated “holy” and qodes is translated as “holiness.” In the Greek language hagos referred to “an object of awe” and hages to “that which is clean or pure.”

Within the New Testament hagios is an adjective that is translated as “holy,” hagiotes and hagiosune are translated “holiness,” and hagiasmos is translated as “sanctification.”

Two concepts are inherent in these words. First, the idea of that which is holy, clean and pure. The second is the idea of that which is “separate” or “set apart.” The action of “setting apart” is determined by the holy character of God. Not vice versa! Holy character is never determined by the action of “setting apart.”

In the old covenant objects and activities were referred to as “holy” because they were “set apart” to function as the holy God intended for His purposes. They did not possess intrinsic holiness, but were used for divine purposes. There were holy vessels in the holy place of the holy temple. There were holy days and holy festivals which included the holy Sabbath. Holy tithes were mandated. The holy scriptures were studied. People are only rarely referred to as holy in the Old Testament. In the new covenant literature of the New Testament, on the other hand, the holiness of sanctification is almost exclusively applied to people. L. S. Chafer notes that “there is a far deeper reality indicated by (the words for holiness) in the New Testament than is indicated by their employment in the Old. After all, the Old Testament is but a ‘shadow of good things to come.'”1 Likewise, R.A. Muller explains that “no Old Testament term is identical in significance to the Greek New Testament word hagiasmos.”

God is Holy

The entirety of the meaning of holiness and sanctity must be determined and defined by who God is.

Lev 19:2 KJV  …. Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.

Hos 11:9 KJV  ….. for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee:

By His holy character He is set apart from all created humanity. He does what He does because He is who He is. His activity is always consistent with His character. The psalmist declares:

God acts in a holy manner out of His holy Being.

God is holy. This is perhaps the most comprehensive and all-encompassing word used to describe the character of God. R.A. Muller notes that “if a single attribute most fully describes God in His fulness (sic), that attribute is holiness.”3 To assert that “God is holy” is to explain that He is the essence of all that is perfect.

Mat 5:48 KJV  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

1Jn 3:3 KJV  And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

It is not that His holiness constitutes a perfect and pure standard, but that holiness is the ontological reality of the essence of His character. In His very Being, God is inherently holy. He is essentially, exclusively, singularly, uniquely, absolutely, perfectly, sovereignly, and inviolably holy! What God is, only God is. His attributes are non-transferable. To attribute an attribute of God to any created thing is to subtly deify such. God alone is inherently and essentially holy.

God’s holy character sets Him apart from everything else. The Creator is distinguished from, separated from, distinct from all that is created. He is set apart from all that is not consistent with His character. God is set apart from all character that is impure, defiled, sinful and evil. There is a distance, a separation, from everything profane. Isaiah recognized this when he heard the seraphim declare:

Isa 6:3-5 KJV  And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.  ….  (5)  Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

To note that God’s holy character sets Him apart from all the created order and the sinfulness of the fallen order of mankind, does not imply a Deistic disengagement from his creation as the “wholly holy Other.”

Joh 17:11 KJV  And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

God, the “Holy Father took the initiative to send the promised “Holy One” (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:27) “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), in order to restore man to God’s intent by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Karl Barth explains that “He sanctifies the unholy by His action with and towards them, i.e., gives them a derivative and limited, but supremely real, share in His own holiness.”  “Be Holy as God is Holy” Having noted that God alone is essentially and inherently holy, and that man cannot be holy in the same sense that God is holy, what is the meaning of the divine admonition to “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; 19:2; I Peter 1:16)?

Man is always dependent, contingent and derivative. He never has inherent or intrinsic holy character. It can never be said that “man is holy” in the same sense that we say “God is holy.” The presence of holy character in man’s spiritual condition and behavioral expression is always derivative. R.A. Muller states that “created things can be holy only in a derivative sense.”5 Man can never manufacture or generate holy behavior in and of himself. Devoid of the Holy Spirit by his fall into sin, man was utterly incapable of evidencing holy behavior. The old covenant admonition to “be holy, as He is holy” (Lev. 11:44; 19:2) could only serve to show that man was incapable of such.

Only when God’s Holy One (John 6:69; Acts 13:35), Jesus Christ, became man and served as “a high priest, holy and undefiled” (Heb. 7:26), while also serving as the sacrificial lamb on which the death consequences of God’s judgment on sin and unholiness were enacted, could the holy character of God be restored to man. This is the objective sanctification of man, whereby outside of us and within history, God acted in his Son, Jesus Christ, to sanctify mankind. Sanctification was enacted objectively and historically in the crucifixion, resurrection and Pentecostal outpouring. When Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30), He was declaring the “finished work” of God whereby everything in the restored spiritual kingdom became objective reality. “Jesus gave Himself up…that He might sanctify” (Eph. 5:25,26) the new humanity of the Church. We are “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus” (Heb. 10:10). By “one offering” (Heb. 10:14), “through His blood” (Heb. 13:12), “the blood of the covenant, we are sanctified” (Heb. 10:29).

God’s action in Jesus Christ to objectively sanctify mankind and restore His holy character to mankind, allows the divine admonition to “be holy as I am holy” (I Peter 1:16) to be invested with the divine dynamic of the activity of His holy character in man.

Holy Ones

Thus it is that the subjective sanctification within Christians can be realized by those who receive the Spirit of the Holy One, Jesus Christ, within their spirit. By the receipt of the holy presence of the Spirit of Christ, they are regarded as “Christians” and as “saints” (II Thess. 1:10) or “holy ones.” This has nothing to do with the ecclesiastical canonization into sainthood within various segments of the church. Christians are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling” (I Cor. 1:2). By regeneration we are sanctified (I Cor. 6:11; Heb. 10:10,14), because “Christ is our sanctification” (I Cor. 1:30). Indwelt by the Holy Spirit (II Tim. 1:14), we have the “Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4). “Partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4), we are “partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:10), and are “complete in Christ” (Col. 2:10) without deficiency in terms of our spiritual condition. By the imputed holiness of the presence of the Holy One, Jesus Christ, we are a “new man…created in holiness” (Eph. 4:24), regarded as “holy and blameless” before God (Eph. 1:4; Col. 1:22). Collectively Christians are part of the “holy priesthood” (I Peter 2:5) and the “holy nation” (I Peter 2:9) of God. This spiritual condition of Christian “holy ones” is sometimes referred to as “positional sanctification” in order to distinguish it from the “experiential sanctification” of God’s holy character being manifested in behavioral expression.

Perfecting Holiness

How can holiness be perfected? Holiness is the perfection of God character, and as such is imperfectible. But the manifestation of God’s holy character in Christian behavior can be progressively more representative. Thus it is that Paul encourages Christians to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Cor. 7:1). Though made holy in subjective spiritual condition by the presence of the indwelling Holy One, Jesus Christ, Christians are still called to “be holy, as He is holy” (I Peter 1:16) in the subjective “experiential sanctification” of soul and body as well as spirit (I Thess. 5:23).

The Reformers in their reaction to the Catholic doctrine of an infusion of inherent holiness which divinized the Christian, did a real disservice to biblical theology by separating justification and sanctification in a psychologistic ordo salutis. Emphasizing the legal/penal model of atonement and justification, the practical impact was to diminish emphasis on holy living and the outworking of God’s holy and righteous character. God “called us with a holy calling” (II Tim. 1:9); He “called us for sanctification” (I Thess. 4:7) that we might be a people engaged in “holy conduct and godliness” (II Peter 3:11). God “disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Heb. 12:10).

Christians are to “pursue sanctification” (Heb. 12:14),

“possess their own vessel in sanctification” (I Thess. 4:4),

“present their bodies as a holy sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1), and

“present their members as slaves of righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Rom. 6:19).

Such holy behavior is not just an ethical aspiration or a moral ideal. We are not sanctified by the human performance of working harder, positive thinking, dedication or commitment. The expression of holiness in man’s behavior is always derived from the character and dynamic of God. If behavior is not derived from God, ek theos, it is not holy behavior. This is why Turner explains that “hagiasmos connotes the state of grace or sanctity not inherent in its subject, but the result of outside action.”6 Paul urged Christians to allow “the God of peace to sanctify you. . .He will bring it to pass” (I Thess. 5:23,24). The Christian never has inherent or self-generated holiness. The holiness of spiritual condition and behavioral expression is always derived from the holy character of God. The imputed holiness received at regeneration is imparted in our behavior by the dynamic of God in Christ. The responsibility of the Christian is the dependency of faith, being our receptivity of God’s activity. The risen Lord Jesus explained that people are “sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). It is a “sanctification by the Spirit and faith” (II Thess.. 2:13), wherein we have a “cleansing of our hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9) and participate in a “righteousness from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17). Christian freedom is evidenced in that we are free to exercise such faith and thus be functional humanity as God intended man to be.

Sanctification is a process. Explaining the Greek word hagiasmos, William Barclay notes that “all Greek nouns which end in -asmos describe, not a completed state, but a process. Sanctification is not a completed state; it is the road to holiness.” There is a subjective crisis in regeneration whereby we are made holy in spiritual condition, but henceforth we engage in the process of manifesting God’s holy character in the behavior of Christian living. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul refers to “salvation through sanctification” (II Thess. 2:13). Salvation is the process of being made safe from the dysfunction of satanic misuse and abuse, in order to function as God intended by being a vessel of His holy character. We are “being saved” (I Cor. 1:18; II Cor. 2:15) through the sanctification process.

As the sanctification process transpires in Christian behavior the Christian is “transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (II Cor. 3:18). The “image of God,” the visibility of God’s character, is expressed as God intended (Gen. 1:26,27). The “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22,23), the “fruit of righteousness” (Phil. 1:11), reveals the character of Christ. In that process God’s holy character overcomes the expression of satanic character. We are “set apart” from immorality, impurity and sin. This explains why sanctification is often contrapositioned with “defilement of flesh” (II Cor. 7:1), “sexual immorality” (I Thess. 4:3), “lustful passion” (I Thess. 4:5), “impurity” (I Thess. 4:7), and other sinful behaviors. The holy character of God supersedes diabolic character expression, and sets us apart from sin.

To what extent does such a process take place in the Christian life? Can it ever be said that a Christian is entirely sanctified? Perfectionist theology has often interpreted Paul’s statement to the Thessalonians to mean that we can be “sanctified entirely. . .without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 5:23). This is usually posited as a crisis experience in a “second work of grace,” denying that sanctification is a process. Elsewhere Paul explains, “Not that I have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12).

The teleological implications of sanctification are referred to throughout the New Testament scriptures. The objective of God is that His holy character might be expressed in the behavior of men unto His own glory until Christ returns and unto eternity. Christians are to allow the divine dynamic of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to “establish their hearts unblameable in holiness…at the coming of our Lord Jesus” (I Thess. 3:13; 5:23). God will “perfect us until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6), that we might “stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy” (Jude 1:24). The ultimate completion of the sanctification process will come in the glorified state wherein we participate in the complete and eternal appreciation of God’s holiness.

“God has called us to sanctification. He who rejects this…rejects God who gives His Holy Spirit to us” (I Thess. 4:7,8). To be engaged in the sanctification process is essential and imperative. It is “the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). To manifest the holy character of God in our behavior unto His glory is the purpose for which we exist on earth.

Religion always has the tendency to attempt to determine holiness by emphasizing the human moral performance of being “set apart.” This is the wrong starting point. The religious Pharisees were “separated ones” who attempted to set themselves apart by legalistic performance of the Law in order to be holy. The early Christian ascetics attempted to set themselves apart in monastic enclaves in order to avoid impurity and to be holy. Throughout the history of the Christian religion there has been a mis-emphasis on being “set apart” by morality codes, belief-systems, experiences, and spiritual giftedness. Setting oneself apart in separatism, isolationism, exclusivism or elitism does not establish holiness. Such activity is merely the “works” of religion.

Christian teaching must commence with the reality of “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27). Sanctification is the holy character of God inherent in the Holy One, Jesus Christ, via the Holy Spirit, coming to dwell in the spirit of a believer who will allow such holy character to be evidenced in Christian behavior, setting him apart from impurity and sin, and setting him apart to function as God intended. God must do the “setting apart,” and He does so on the basis of His holy character, and by the dynamic of His grace.

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