What Is Sanctification?

What does sanctification mean? Someone once gave my wife and I a set of 2 mugs that have images and representations of the Eastern European city where we lived and ministered for 3 years.

On one hand, these are simply ceramic coffee mugs, but on the other hand, they represent our friends and those with whom we served and loved for 3 years in a foreign place. Without these people in our lives, it would have been a desperate and lonely time.

Because these mugs were given to us by a dear, close friend, they reside in my office for now, where I can frequently look at them, reminiscing about the good times and the challenging ones in that city and where I am reminded to lift up our friends, our church family, and that city in prayer.

These mugs, by all rights have been set apart for a purpose, which is to remind me of where we served and to pray for those we love in that country.

Have you ever had something you treasured, maybe a gift or something that represented a special memory? Did you, in some way set that apart?

Set Apart

In the article 3 Ways to Having More Faith, one of the points I mentioned was to be sanctified.

Sanctified. That’s not a word we use too much these days. Simply put, to be sanctified means to be set apart, particularly for a special purpose.

The word is closely related to “saint” and the original word in the New Testament is hagiazo (hag-ee-ad’-zo) and it represents things or people consecrated or dedicated to God. It also means to purify both internally by renewing the soul, and to have been freed from the guilt of sin.

One very clear example of this is in John 17:16–19 when Jesus says this as He prays for His people, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself,that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

Jesus, having Himself been set apart for a special purpose, prays for His followers not only in that time, but for all times (John 17:20) to be sanctified in the truth of God’s Word.

According to that verse, if you’ve placed your trust in Christ Jesus, you have been sanctified.

Sanctified, Yet Sinful

Have you ever done or said something that just didn’t look very “sanctified?” I have, and I do just about every day. Sometimes I’ll have a thought, a word, or an action of my own and I wonder how I could have done that.

Sound familiar? How then, does this “once and for all” sanctification work with that?

It starts with this truth: you and I have not yet been perfected and we won’t be until the day we pass into eternity.

You and I, as followers of Christ have received a positional holiness. In other words, we have been sanctified, or set apart according to 1 Corinthians 1:30 and, according to Hebrews 10:10, this initial sanctification is done once and is not repeated. This is the justification we have in Christ (Romans 3:28), but understanding the difference between justification and sanctification is desperately important.

And, because Jesus said that we would remain in the world, we still have to contend with the sin nature we inherited. This means we’ve been “freed from sin” (Acts 13:39) through Christ, and yet we still sin according to our nature (1 John 1:10).

The Journey of Sanctification

If you’ve been following Christ for weeks, days, hours or decades the situation and the process is the same. Sanctification is the journey of a lifetime and here is how Paul explained that:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12–14)

It’s worth repeating. Sanctification is a journey. When you placed your trust in Christ you began that journey and, being renewed by the Holy Spirit, you gradually become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:16–18). That is one of the results of sanctification and 2 Corinthians 3:16–18 tells us so:

“But when oneturns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

The Bottom Line

If you have placed your trust in Christ Jesus, then you have been sanctified, set apart for His glory. And having been justified, we remain “in the world but not of it,” and therefore we must contend with the sinful nature of our flesh, but being renewed, the Holy Spirit will guide and lead us along the journey of sanctification.

And it really is the journey of a lifetime.

If you have questions about the Christian life, let’s connect and talk about it.


Originally published at genewhitehead.com on March 3, 2016.