As a teenager and young adult, I had a secret fear that I wasn’t good enough. And I know it’s not just me. Many people carry and nurse a secret fear: am I good enough? Am I a good enough man? Am I a good enough woman? Am I a good enough mother? Am I a good enough student? Am I good enough for God?
Today, we are going to review a concept that, when understood, allows us to read and understand from scripture God’s answer to this question.
What is Sanctification?
Sanctification is a really big word. I’d like to ask you, “What does it mean?”
The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith describes sanctification as follows.
“1. They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. ( Acts 20:32; Romans 6:5, 6; John 17:17; Ephesians 3:16-19; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-23; Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:24; Colossians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:14 )
“2. This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Romans 7:18, 23; Galatians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:11 )
“3. In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, pressing after an heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ as Head and King, in His Word hath prescribed them. ( Romans 7:23; Romans 6:14; Ephesians 4:15, 16; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 7:1 )”
(1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 13).
The process that the Baptist Confession of Faith is describing is perhaps best described in scripture by 2 Peter 1:3–11.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:3–11).
Now this is a great illustration of the process, the concept being described in the Baptist Confession of Faith. So, the concept being described is in some sense, definitely a Biblical concept.
But guess what? There’s something very interesting about this passage. This passage does not use the word sanctify, or holy, or sanctification. Not once does this passage use these terms. More than that, if you read all the references listed in the Baptist Confession, you’ll find that very few of them reference these terms either. It is really curious that the scriptural passages used to illustrate a concept don’t use this term.
And the reason for this is surprising—it is because when the Bible uses the word sanctify, sanctification, or holy, it typically does not mean what the Baptist Confession of Faith says it means.
Now, this is not a misunderstanding unique to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Over the last 2,000 years, Christian theology has developed a language and meaning for the word sanctification that is largely divorced from the Biblical meaning.
Worse still, if you have in your mind the theological meaning of sanctification, you will misunderstand what the Bible is telling you. And if you misunderstand, you will deepen your fear of not being good enough for God. But if you understand what scripture means by sanctify, sanctification, and holy, then you will learn what God wants you to know about your relationship with Him.
Recovering the meaning of Holy
I want to ask you a question: “Are homosexual temple prostitutes holy?”
If you answer, “No!” I have to ask you—“Why do you say that? Don’t you know that scripture names homosexual temple prostitutes as holy?” Please turn to:
“And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah” (2 Kings 23:7, ESV).
“And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the grove” (2 Kings 23:7, KJV).
The Hebrew word being used for “sodomite” is qadesh, which is derived from the word qadash (holy). This term came to be used for temple prostitutes because the temple prostitutes were consecrated to their god. It turns out that being holy is not so much that you are good, but that you are dedicated, consecrated to your god. The term holy—at least originally—did not have a moral imperative, but referred to your status with a god.
How does something or someone become holy? Things or people become holy in an instant:
“Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy” (Exodus 29:37).
“You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will be holy” (Exodus 30:29).
“And when they go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off the garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers. And they shall put on other garments, lest they communicate holiness to the people with their garments” (Ezekiel 44:19).
So, to be holy means to be set apart, dedicated, consecrated to your god. Consecration may take place through a ceremony—but when it is done, that person or thing is holy.
Sanctification works like a mathematical function:
sanctify ( unclean ) → holy
sanctify ( sinner ) → saint
Sanctification occurred in the past
For a Christian, sanctification is a past event:
“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
This past event occurred through the blood of Jesus Christ:
“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood” (Hebrews 13:12).
When Jesus came to do God’s will, God’s will was to sanctify those who believe in the Name of His Son:
“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all... For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified ... How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:10, 14, 29).
That is why the Corinthians, despite their many moral failings, are called saints:
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
This is also true of the Romans:
“To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called saints” (Romans 1:7).
Do you believe in God’s Son? Then you are a saint—dedicated and consecrated to God.
Now we can understand scripture
Sanctification is a status we enter into when we come to God. Sanctification means to be consecrated or dedicated to God. We are set apart for Him, as a holy possession. It’s not something we strive for, it is something God did on the cross for all people who respond in faith to the gospel of the kingdom.
With this in mind, we can finally understand a host of biblical passages that we would otherwise either misunderstand, or find otherwise unfathomable.
I’ll give you an example, if you read through 1 Corinthians 7, you will discover that you can now make sense of Paul’s comment to a believing wife. This comment may challenge your theology on salvation, but at least you can now understand it. (Before, when you were thinking of the theological definition of sanctification, this passage would have been unfathomable, nonsensical.)
Be as God is
With this definition firmly in our mind, we must acknowledge that New Testament writers did make the argument that people who are consecrated to God should exhibit God’s own character.
“But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:15, 16).
The temple sodomites were consecrated to their god, and exhibited the moral characteristics of that deity. We are consecrated to the Living God, and should exhibit the moral characteristics of the LORD in our lives. This is an argument that because you are a saint, then you should be holy in all your conduct. It is not your conduct that makes you holy, but that your conduct should be fitting for that of a saint. For you are God’s saint, and should therefore reflect His character.
So, why am I good enough?
The Bible acknowledges that you, I, all of us, are sinners. None of us, by ourselves, are good enough for God.
But God sent His Son, so that by Jesus’ blood, all those who believe God were consecrated at the cross. When you first believed, you entered into this consecration, and became a saint of the Living God.
This means you are dedicated, consecrated, set apart for God. You are special to God.
Your specialness to God did not depend on what you did, but on what He did.
“Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord… who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:8–10).
Let us therefore be confident. We are God’s holy ones (saints!). Let us therefore live life secure in the knowledge that He loves us. Let us therefore reflect that love to those around us, and by so doing return that love to God Himself.