Based on the way I heard it used, I came to believe that sanctification meant something like this: “A change in behavior that occurs over time where the Christian sins less and less.” It was often referred to as “the process of sanctification.” Basically, it seemed to mean that you were growing in your ability to avoid sin, both externally and internally.
Like many other things in the Christian walk, I have found that my initial view of sanctification was not totally correct. The difference is subtle, but it is very powerful. I found a wonderful treasure when I decided to spend time digging into the subject to find out what it really means.
Sanctified = Holy = Special & Separate
The word translated “sanctify” is the Greek word “hagiazo.” Its basic meaning is “to set someone or something apart as special.”
Here are a few quick bullet points about this word:
- In the Bible, hagiazo is translated as either “sanctify” or “make holy” or “consecrate” or “set apart as special.” So, “holy” and “sanctified” are interchangeable synonyms.
- Hagiazo is a verb. It is an action word.
- The hagaizo action is performed by someone, and the action is performed on someone or something.
There is a person that is doing the action, and there is a person or a thing that is the object or recipient of the action. So, if hagiazo/sanctification is happening, then someone is acting as the “sanctifier,” and someone or something is receiving the sanctification.
Again, when you “hagiazo” something, you are basically setting it apart as special. You are taking something that is regular or common, and giving it a special place or special treatment.
So now with that in mind, let us take a look at some things in the Bible that could be sanctified, or made holy. These are things that could be considered holy or sanctified.
- Food – 1 Timothy 4:4-5
- Gold – Matthew 23:17
- Places – Hebrews 9:12
- Scriptures – Romans 1:2
- People – 1 Peter 3:5
- Nations – 1 Peter 2:9
From the diverse members of this list, there is something very important that we can learn. The idea of sanctification could be applied not only to people, but also to inanimate objects. And since it could be applied to inanimate objects, we know that sanctification is not a synonym for Godly living, or Christian maturity. It is not “a change in behavior that occurs over time where the Christian sins less and less.” It is not a process where you grow in your ability to avoid sin. That definition makes no sense at all when you consider that gold and food could be sanctified.
Here are some non-religious examples that will aid in understanding what this word means.
- In America, this is something that many married couples do with their wedding china. As part of their wedding gifts, they may receive a set of expensive dishes, and they will set these apart for special occasions. In doing this, they are sanctifying their china and making it holy to themselves.
- If you have a favorite keepsake, or a photograph of a loved one, you may give this item a special place in your home. You may choose to display it in a place of honor, or you may take special care in protecting it by putting it in a safe or something like that. In doing this, you would be sanctifying your keepsake, or making it holy in your sight.
In both examples above, you, as the owner of the item in question, would be the one that is doing the sanctifying. You would be taking something that had value to you, and treating it in a special way, or setting it apart for a special purpose. This is the essence of the meaning of the word “sanctify” or “make holy.”
If an inanimate object has been sanctified, then we know that a person has assumed the role of sanctifier, and sanctified the object by setting it apart as special.
Likewise, if a person has been sanctified, then we know that someone has assumed the role of sanctifier, and has set that person apart as special.
In the Kingdom of God, our Father in Heaven has chosen to set his children apart as special, and therefore He assumed the role of sanctifier
Hebrews 10:10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Colossians 1:21-22 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight
1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
Jude 1:1 Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ:
Notice two important facts about our sanctification.
- The act of sanctification is described in the past tense. This means that as far as God’s view of the believer is concerned, sanctification is a fact of history, rather than a process.
- God has sanctified us. He has set us apart as special, for a special purpose. This is something He chose to do for believers.
So, we are like God’s wedding china, or His special keepsake. We are special to Him. He has set us apart. He did it. He is the “sanctifier,” as far as His viewpoint is concerned.
Now that we have been sanctified, we are encouraged in the Bible to let our conduct reflect our new state of being…our new identity (Ephesians 4:24). Since God has set us apart as special, we should no longer attempt to fit in with the world around us and imitate the behavior and culture of lost men and women that don’t know God (1 Corinthians 6:11). In this way, behavior change is a result of sanctification, not a means to obtain sanctification.
We should be different. Through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we should rise above and be good examples. We should love one another even as God has loved us. We should show mercy and grace, speak truth and life, and demonstrate the Kingdom of our God. We are the salt and light, and we have no need to return to mere human systems of thinking and behavior.
In this way, we should “sanctify ourselves” by letting our sanctification become apparent on the outside through the way we conduct ourselves. Let the fruit of the spirit that is inside you become visible and tangible to those around you. We are different, and people should see something different about us, something special. Since we are sanctified and holy, then let us cooperate with the Holy Spirit and show it.