Some words in the Bible seem to have a somewhat uncertain or even spooky meaning for some people. Those words just are not clearly understood in a way that makes practical sense to them. Two similar words that fit into this category are the words “sanctify” and “sanctification”.
“Sanctify” simply means to “set apart”. This word, and the word “holy”, have the same root word in the Hebrew, and the two words also have the same root word in the Greek.
Sanctification in the Tabernacle
The idea behind the word sanctification means that once something has been sanctified to the Lord, then it is to be for the Lord’s use or purposes only. The Tabernacle, for instance, was sanctified by a special ceremony by the sprinkling of the anointing oil and of blood on it, according to Leviticus 8:11: “And Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was therein, and sanctified them.”
The priests were also “sanctified” by a similar process. First, they were washed with water (Exodus 29:4). Then a sacrifice of a ram was made, called a “ram of consecration” (Lev. 8:22,23). Once killed: “Moses took of the blood of it, and put it upon the tip of Aaron’s right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot.” In this ceremony, Aaron and his sons were shown to what degree they were to be sanctified:
• Right ear – Set apart to hear God and stay in tune with Him and His Word.
• Right hand – All they did was to done as unto the Lord.
• Right foot – Everywhere they went was to be for the Lord.
Then, they were anointed with oil and blood, according to Leviticus 8:30: “And Moses took of the anointing oil, and of the blood which was upon the altar, and sprinkled it upon Aaron, and upon his garments, and upon his sons, and upon his sons’ garments with him; and sanctified Aaron, and his garments, and his sons, and his sons’ garments with him.”
The Lord’s Sanctification
This was not the end of the sanctifying process. There was also a sanctification that was performed by the Lord Himself. This is seen clearly in Exodus 29:43,44: “And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory. And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar: I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons, to minister to me in the priest’s office.” Note that the word “sanctified”, or a similar word, is used three times in this passage. This is most important, for without it, their service would not be accepted!
At this point, someone may be wondering what all of this has to do with New Testament believers. Why is it important to know?
New Testament Sanctification for Believers
As Christians, we must remember that all of the Old Testament is written for our learning (Romans 15:4), and that all of the ceremonial law is symbolic of the real thing. We have the real thing – “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). As in the Tabernacle, the presence of Christ sanctified it – and His presence also sanctifies us for service to the Lord.
We also are priests unto God. Note there are no rules for priests in the New Testament – which means we must refer back to the Old to learn of God’s expectations for us and for our service. No, we do not offer animal sacrifices or keep other ceremonial laws – but we are to be holy, or “sanctified” – just like the priests were, and like Christ was. This means there are things we should not be involved with so that we might please Him, and as His priests there are also things we should be doing for Him.
Sin Defiles Our Bodies and Our Service
In I Thessalonians 4:3,4, we see a plain statement of part of the will of God for us: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.” Because we belong to Him, God wants us to keep our bodies pure for Him.
We must remember that sin contaminates or defiles us; and therefore our service. It does not take much of it, either, to have this defiling action. Like leaven, just a little bit hurts us, as Paul said to the proud Corinthians: “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?“ (I Corinthians 5:6).
In the description above where God does the sanctifying of the priests and Tabernacle, this was most important. If the priests only did their own sanctifying, then their work would not be accepted. It is like salvation. People try to clean themselves up in order to earn salvation. Unless God is in it, however, it is in vain. It is merely the cleaning up of the outside of a sepulcher – clean outside, but full of dead men’s bones inside.
True Sanctification Is God Setting Us Apart for His Service – Then Filling Us
We see this same principle in the New Testament. If we as believers will steer clear of sin so that we may draw closer to God and serve Him, then God can sanctify us also. It is clearly seen in I Thessalonians 5:23, which says: “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.” Notice Who does the sanctifying.
Sanctification Is More Than Putting Away of Some Sins
Sometimes Christians seek to avoid a particular sin they are struggling with, not realizing that there may be many other sins that can prevent a close walk with a holy God. God is not merely willing for His children to forsake especially heinous sins – but all of them! This is very evident in 2Timothy 2:19 “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
Just two verses later, we see that Paul tells us that when a Christian departs from iniquity and
does it to please Christ alone, then God can use that individual as He pleases. They need to set themselves apart just for His purposes and glory: “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2Timothy 2:21).
Some people reading this may wonder if I am talking about sinless perfection. No, I am not. We cannot be perfect this side of Heaven. We are, however, in the power of His Spirit to seek to please Him always. When we fail, which we will at times, we quickly confess it (I John 1:9) and move on.
The Tool for Our Sanctification
How does the believer become more and more freed from sin in his or her life? The Bible makes this very plain in three verses. They are simple, but many people overlook them:
• “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9).
• “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11).
• “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
Our hearts and minds are sanctified by spending much time with God in the Word on a daily basis. Like Moses on the mount, God’s presence transformed him. Spending much time with God in the Word and prayer will transform you, too. When we set out to please God with a clean life for Him according to His Word, then He is gracious and will also work in us to enable us to serve Him as we ought. Once sin is renounced, and there is a dying to self, then God will fill that child of His with His Spirit and He can use that person to tell and win others to Him.
Learn more about the Bible.