Sanctification – How Does This Fit In?
During the course of writing this book, I was conversing with a very close brother in Christ about this topic. As we discussed sinlessness and perfection, he requested more information about the component of sanctification and how it fits into everything. Below you will read our discussion.
“About the sin doctrine you present… I understand we are sinless in Christ, and that we need never sin again—that is, to be like Christ now, before eternity. That is an awesome, faith-filled way to live. I’m torn because there are scriptures that talk about becoming sanctified, and many that state we are already made new in Christ, and our old self is dead. I’m curious how you conclude that you are now without sin, and need never sin again in regards to sanctification as I see it presented in scripture. Please convince me!”
I believe your question strikes the foundation of Christianity, and it especially strikes at the foundation of how the modern church has come to interpret God’s word as they read those seemingly contradicting scriptures that you are referring to. As for myself, I believe that this question marks just the beginning of our future as we grow in understanding God’s grace that He has given us. As I prayed about how to answer your dilemma, the Lord brought me to Hebrews 5:12–6:3. These verses impacted me greatly as I was growing in my understanding about sin because God revealed to me that the “elementary principles of Christ” referred to in these verses includes the modern church doctrine of sin. Hebrews 6:1 reveals it the most, where I underlined the key part I am referring to:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judg-ment. And this we will do if God permits. (Hebrews 5:12–6:3)
You see, in Hebrews 6:1, Paul is urging the Hebrews to not lay again the foundation of repentance from dead works. To put it plainly, Paul is not only telling us to put sin behind us once and for all, but on an even deeper level, he doesn’t even want us to reapproach the notion of sinning and repenting over and over again because that issue truly reveals a lack of faith in the individual. He urges the church to go onto something that is largely considered to be taboo in modern churches today: perfection (Greek word telios, which means “fully mature,” “full age,” “completed/finished work,” and literally “perfect”). Paul includes the words “faith toward God” in the end of Hebrews 6:1 because that is the biggest reason that we fall into the sin cycle over and over again: we have little faith that God has actually enabled us to turn from sin once and for all. Paul encourages us to have our faith fully established so that we can move beyond the elementary principle of sin.
Please understand that I am not suggesting that you are weak in the faith, and I am not criticizing your dilemma either. However, I would place some blame on the pastors and teachers who are teaching bad doctrine. Unfortunately, the current seminary-taught interpretation of scripture has formed a doctrine of sin that has become a stumbling block to followers of Jesus, and this bad doctrine is preventing us from growing in the Lord as He wishes we would. So back to what I was saying before: your dilemma strikes the foundation of Christianity, but I believe that when God answers your concern in a personal way for you you will see this is just the beginning of the journey toward perfection and complete maturity, just as Paul is saying in Hebrews 5:12–6:3. There is more than milk available to believers! Let’s grow into eating the solid food!
The reason I brought up repentance, sin, and perfection is because those things are largely linked to our modern cultural understanding of sanctification. So then, onto your dilemma: are we fully sanctified, or are we becoming sanctified in Christ?
Surprisingly, being fully sanctified is not the same as being perfect, but even though they are different, they both work together powerfully in the life of the believer. Basically, the difference is this: we can instantly be made pure and holy (i.e., sanctified) without having the maturity and understanding (i.e., perfection) to continually keep ourselves in purity by correctly discerning good and evil. One of the problems we face when trying to understand sanctification is that we try to make sanctified a synonym of perfection. So our misinterpretation of “fully sanctified” is to incorrectly translate it as “perfect, mature, or a finished work,” and likewise, the misinterpretation of “becoming sanctified” is to incorrectly translate it as “a work in progress in becoming holy.” What this has come to mean to us (in our incomplete understanding of sanctification) is that being fully sanctified must mean that we are completed and totally perfect (a concept most believers are unwilling to consider) and that being in the process of sanctification means that we are still working toward perfection, which seems to fit the sin doctrines taught in churches today.
So essentially, the concept that we are still becoming sanctified confirms to the believer that they are still imperfect, which means that they will always continue to have sin in their life and that, unfortunately, this will not change until they reach the goal of perfection, which only occurs in heaven. The true shame is that this seems to be what most of today’s Christians want to believe. By believing that we are not fully sanctified in this life we can effectively dismiss a certain level of our responsibility with our sin, and then we permit ourselves to freely accept imperfection because we are stuck in an endless pursuit of becoming sanctified. That means, when we mess up and sin, we can write it off with the “nobody is perfect” attitude, thank Jesus for washing away our sins, convince ourselves that we’ll try a little harder next time, and then simply continue on with our lives, only to repeat the same mistake again in the near future. This is how so many believers get stuck drinking milk and are not growing up and eating solid food. Of course there is a place in every believer’s life to grow closer to God and become more mature through a process, but growing to spiritual maturity is directly linked to faith, which comes by a more complete understanding of our full sanctification.
The reality is that sanctification and perfection are different, but understanding both is essential to our godly growth. Sanctification began in the very beginning with Adam and Eve being dressed in animal skins by God. God performed this sacrificial action to cleanse them from their sin because He wanted them sanctified when they departed from the garden. This model for sanctification eventually progressed to sacrifices of bulls and goats so that the Hebrews could remain holy before God as His people even though they regularly struggled with sin. However, the blood of bulls and goats was insufficient to make anyone perfect and it only served as a continual reminder of sin that needed to be cleaned year after year. Therefore, the sacrificial ritual was undesirable to God, and He sent His Son to make a final sacrifice that would sanctify His people forever (Hebrews 10:1-10).
Perfection, on the other hand, was unobtainable through the law (i.e. the law was powerless to make someone perfect—the law can only curse/condemn), and perfection was also unobtainable through ritual sacrificial sanctification as described in the Old Testament. The amazing hope that we are given in the New Testament is the hope that we can be fully clean [i.e. sanctified] from sin once and for all and finally become perfect in honor of our King. This is the grace of God that was never offered prior to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and the Holy Spirit being sent to His disciples. Perfection is our sustained spiritual maturity to continually bear good fruit for the kingdom while maintaining the wisdom, understanding, and the discernment to keep ourselves clean after Christ has washed us completely clean, which we are only capable of doing through the indwelling and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s get back to the idea of becoming sanctified—the truth of the matter is that it is impossible to be in a transition of sanctification. There is no such thing as becoming sanctified. Either you are sanctified or you are not. Period. For the Hebrews, the blood of their sacrifice was spilled for them, and then they were instantly purified… that is, until they inevitably sinned again… and at that moment they knew they were unclean and would have to go make another sacrifice. There never was a transitory period of time; the Hebrews were either pure or impure; clean or unclean. We see in Exodus 19:10 that Moses was instructed by God to go and “sanctify the people“, and in verse 14 Moses did as he was told. No transition period; the sanctification was simply performed as instructed. We also see that Aaron and his sons, and even all of their garments were sanctified before they entered the tabernacle (Leviticus 8:30). If garments can be fully sanctified then aren’t the people wearing the garments able to be fully sanctified also? So we see that sanctification is an event that instantly takes place, not a transitory spiritual state. The same is true with Jesus Christ. He makes you pure and holy only by believing in His sacrifice through faith. Where there is faith, there is justification for sin, but where there is no faith, there is only iniquity and judgment. Thus we become sanctified through our faith in Christ. We are not in the process of being sanctified by Christ, we are sanctified by Christ.
Sanctification requires a blood sacrifice, which was why the Hebrews had to maintain the sacrificial ritual so fervently. The life of the flesh is in the blood, and sin requires a life for a life in order for us to be washed clean (Leviticus 17:11) because the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23). Since blood cleanses us from sin and makes us holy before God, then it shouldn’t be a surprise that the original Greek word for sanctification (i.e. hagiazo) comes from the Greek word hagios, which means “holy.” The translated words sanctify, sanctified, and sanctification appear approximately twenty-seven times in the KJV of the New Testament, and we can see that in these verses, it is used to described several different things: offerings are sanctified (Matt. 23:17, 19), food is sanctified (1 Tim. 4:4–5), men are sanctified (2 Tim. 2:21), spouses are sanctified (1 Cor. 7:14), believers are sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11), and even Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, was sanctified (John 10:36, John 17:19). So all these things are made holy according to scripture. But here is something that most Christians do not know: the Greek word hagios (which is the root word of the word for sanctified, or holy) is the same, exact word used to describe the Holy Spirit, the Holy One of God (Jesus), the Holy Father, and even the Holy of Holies where God’s throne dwells.
Want to know where else we see the Greek word hagios? It is also the same, exact word that is used to describe the word saint all over the New Testament! So every time you see the word saint in the New Testament (it occurs approximately sixty times, and the word is regularly used to identify a believer in Jesus Christ), you are seeing the very same word as God’s name itself! The magnitude of this fact shows God’s unfathomable love for us in such a powerful way that it is impossible to describe! This brings 1 Peter 1:15–16 into a whole new light and should create a somewhat fearful expectation in us: “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’”
Just to further prove to you that being sanctified and being holy are the same thing, check out 1 Corinthians 1:2 where it says, “To the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified [hagiazo] in Christ Jesus, called saints [hagios], with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” It cannot get clearer than this. Those who are sanctified are saints, and those who are saints are all believers everywhere. And we all share the same name as our Father in heaven, which is literally “Holy”—I say amen to that!
This is what it means to be sanctified. It means to be made holy just as God is holy. This is His expectation for us, and it is made clear in His word. The beginning of 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says this: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” Hebrews 9:13–15 says, “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” You see that 1 Thessalonians 4:3 openly tells us the will of God—our sanctification [i.e., our holiness], and Hebrews 9:13–15 says that our sanctification is the reason Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant [i.e. the New Testament]. In other words, the reason Jesus died was to fully sanctify us. If the blood of bulls and goats was able to sanctify the people before God in the olden days, how much more do you think the blood of Christ sanctifies us? We can only conclude that His blood sanctifies us wholly and completely, which aligns perfectly with 1 Thessalonians 5:23, which says, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Another strong verse that points toward our complete and total sanctification by Christ is 1 Timothy 4:4–5, which talks about food. It says, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified [hagiazo] by the word of God and prayer.” My question to you is this: if the food that we eat is able to be completely sanctified, then how much more are those who eat the food sanctified by the Word of God and prayer? Which is more valuable to God: food, or the people made in the image of God who eat the food?
“Okay… But I’m reading in the Bible that I am being sanctified, what do I do with this??”
Let’s examine the verses that claim we are becoming sanctified further. If you look into the “becoming sanctified” verses that you were talking about, you’ll discover that there are really only two verses that cause people to believe that we are becoming sanctified rather than believing we are fully sanctified in Christ when we accept His sacrifice for our lives—these are Hebrews 2:11 and Hebrews 10:14.
- NKJV, Hebrews 2:11— “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
- NKJV, Hebrews 10:14— “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”
Now at first glance, those verses seem to refute what I have been saying. Apparently, there is a place for followers of Christ to become sanctified as well as be fully sanctified…? However, if you go to the original Greek in these verses and search for the word sanctified, you’ll notice that the same Greek word (hagiazo) that is used for the translations of “fully sanctified” in other places in scripture is the same, exact word used in the translations in the verses above (Hebrews 2:11 & 10:14) that were translated “being sanctified.” This is incredibly important because verses such as Hebrews 10:10 (“By that will we have been sanctified [hagiazo] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”), where it plainly and irrefutably claims that we are sanctified once and for all, or 1 Corinthians 6:11 (“And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified [hagiazo], but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God”), where the verse explicitly says we were washed, sanctified, and justified by God altogether and all in the past tense, show us that the translation should be rendered exactly the same in Hebrews 2:11 and Hebrews 10:14, because the same, exact tense of the Greek word for sanctify was used in these two verses: hagiazo. To put it plainly, the two verses that cause us error should not have been translated to say “being sanctified”; they should say “are sanctified.”
Just to be sure that I was on the right track with this, I looked up Hebrews 2:11 and Hebrews 10:14 in a few different Bible translations just to see what they said. Here they are:
- King James Version, Hebrews 2:11— “For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
- King James Version, Hebrews 10:14— “For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”
- New American Standard Bible, Hebrews 2:11— “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
- New American Standard Bible, Hebrews 10:14— “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
- Amplified Bible, Hebrews 2:11— “For both He Who sanctifies [making men holy] and those who are sanctified all have one [Father]. For this reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
- Amplified Bible, Hebrews 10:14— “For by a single offering He has forever completely cleansed and perfected those who are consecrated and made holy [i.e., sanctified].”
- Young’s Literal Translation, Hebrews 2:11— “For both he who is sanctifying and those sanctified [are] all of one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
- Young’s Literal Translation, Hebrews 10:14— “For by one offering he hath perfected to the end those sanctified.”
- Geneva Bible— “For he that sanctifieth, and they which are sanctified, are all of one: wherefore he is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
- Geneva Bible— “For with one offering hath he consecrated for euer them that are sanctified.”
It is amazing to me how such small translation differences in God’s word can have such large impacts on the beliefs of the church! All in all, the truth boils down to this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If we can keep our minds focused on verses like these (verses that speak hope, faith, renewed, and empowered identity into our lives), we will go a long way in our faith. Anytime someone tries to convince me that I’m less than what God said I am, I have to commit myself to remembering that He has made me completely new, completely whole and that He has given me all things that I need for full righteousness and godliness. This can become difficult when our own brothers and sisters in Christ try to teach us that we are less than what God said we are, but I never forget that I follow Jesus, who is the head of the church. I don’t follow the rest of the body, or my friends, or my family, and I especially do not follow some of the false teachings that are crippling the church. I follow Jesus alone.
“So where do we go from here? We are fully sanctified, yet I still find that I sin! Why is this??? Help!!”
Let us never forget that our freedom lies in our faith. This is why Jesus spoke so thoroughly about belief and faith, because it is incredibly important. We call ourselves believers in the church, but we don’t even know what that means. We are like Peter, who professed that he would never betray Jesus and then verbally disowned Him three times before morning!
If we want to experience a sinless life in Christ, the very first step we have to take is to repent from our old mindsets and believe that He made anything possible for us. Over and over again, Jesus told those who were healed by Him, “Your faith has made you well.” God is promising us that if we start with faith, THEN we will be healed, saved, set free, protected, preserved, and kept safe and sound. The old adage goes, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but with God, we should understand that He declares the opposite: “You’ll see it when you believe it.”
Do you want to be sinless? Do you want to be fully sanctified? Do you want to be healed? The first step has always been simple: believe.
My friend, I hope that my words help encourage you in your faith as you continue on your journey with God.
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