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What is Sanctification?

God’s full salvation of fallen mankind involves a process by which His chosen and redeemed people are made holy. The word sanctification is derived from the same Greek root as for holy and saint. In its basic meaning, to be holy is to be separated, set apart to God, and saints are those who are separated or set apart. It is helpful to realize that sanctification, as with many truths related to our Christian life, has both an objective and a subjective aspect.

In the objective aspect of sanctification, nothing of our effort is involved. We believers “have been sanctified” as Paul wrote to the Corinthians believers (1 Cor. 1:2). When we believed into Christ, our position before God was permanently changed because Jesus suffered for the very purpose “that He might sanctify the people through His own blood” (Heb 13:12). Based upon this perfect and complete work of Christ, Paul could write an encouraging salutation to the fleshly and immature Corinthian believers and say that they were “called saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). It may seem to us that they were not at all separated to God. Paul was speaking, however, of their changed position before God, the result of their faith in Christ Jesus. Objectively speaking, sanctification is a completed matter.

We experience sanctification in its subjective aspect until every part of our being is saturated with the divine nature.

However, Hebrews 12:14 exhorts us to “pursue peace with all men and sanctification, without which no one will see the Lord.” Here we see sanctification in its subjective aspect is a matter needing our pursuit. This is because sanctification involves not only an objective positional change before God, our being separated to Him, but also a subjective dispositional change, our being made holy. This dispositional change takes place in us as we submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s discipline: “He [disciplines], for what is profitable that we might partake of His holiness” (Heb. 12:10). Our being subjectively sanctified is by the Holy Spirit imparting into us the very holy nature of God. Peter also declared the wonderful fact that we have “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:3-4). By partaking of His holy, divine nature, we are sanctified dispositionally.

At the time of our salvation, we are both positionally and dispositionally sanctified by being washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11). As we continue to grow in the divine life, the Spirit’s sanctifying work continues (Rom 6:19, 22). By the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying us, we are being transformed in our soul into the same image as our Lord Jesus (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). As God’s holy nature is wrought into us through this lifelong process, we experience sanctification in its subjective aspect until every part of our being is saturated with the divine nature. This is very different from any futile attempt we might make to live a sinless life. We must realize that our sanctification is in the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:16) and not in our effort. As we partake of His holy nature and cooperate with the sanctifying Spirit, He will carry out in us the answer to the prayer Paul uttered in his Epistle to the Thessalonians: “And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly” (1 Thes. 5:23).

For further reading on this subject, please see Life-study of Romans, messages 17 and 55; Life-study of 1 Corinthians, message 2; and Life-study of 1 Thessalonians, message 5 by Witness Lee, published by Living Stream Ministry.

From Issue No. 63, July 2003

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