What does it mean to be sanctified? Sanctification is one of those big words mostly used in Christian circles. What exactly does it mean? Is it something we are given? Something we have to do? Do we obtain it when we receive salvation or is it a process? This is a discussion that I have heard recently with conflicting answers so I thought I would look into it. In the old testament, it is used to mean “to make holy or set apart.” It usually was something God decided to do for His people, an individual or His temple. It was something He declared. So what does it mean for believers?
I looked up the Greek term using e-sword (www.e-sword.net) to learn what the Greek terms are and what they mean. From what I gathered, there are a couple different words and different uses (I found a few in particular: hagaismos, hagios, and hagiazo). I am no scholar or anything near to that, but they seem to be derivatives of the same word. They basically mean “sanctification, consecration, purification.” To purify, make holy, set apart (for God’s glory or to do His work). It is the process of making or becoming holy. Clear as mud, right? Let’s look at the New Testament scriptures to see how the word is used.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification [hagiasmos]: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification [hagiasmos] and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness [hagiasmos]. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
Sanctification here seems to be synonymous to holiness or purity. God gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to become holy and pure. We are declared righteous as believers and we grow throughout our life to become holy and pure. It is something that we each should strive to attain.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification [hagiasmos] by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.
1 Peter 1:1-5
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit [hagiasmos], for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Corinthians 1:30-31
But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification [hagiasmos] and redemption— that, as it is written, “HE WHO GLORIES, LET HIM GLORY IN THE LORD.”
These scriptures use the same word as the ones above, hagiasmos, but by reading the context, they seem to be connected with salvation. We are sanctified through the Spirit because of the blood of Christ, His sacrifice.
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify [hagiazo] them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify [hagiazo] Myself, that they also may be sanctified [hagiazo] by the truth. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word
1 Thessalonians 5:23
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify [hagiazo] you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify [hagiazo] and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy [hagios] and without blemish.
In these three scriptures, a different Greek term is used, hagiazo, which by its context is referring to purifying or making one holy. In the contexts above, it is what God does in the believer to help them grow and mature spiritually. Also, the verses mention that we are sanctified by the truth. By reading God’s word and following what it says, we are being sanctified.
1 Peter 1:13-16
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy [hagios] in all your conduct, because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
Peter uses the word hagios here as Paul uses in the previous scripture in Ephesians, which has been translated “holy.” We are commanded to be holy. Of course, as noted above that is only through the Holy Spirit. We must allow the Holy Spirit to work in us so that we conduct ourselves in a manner that honors God. Throughout the New Testament, the writers teach us to “walk in the Spirit.” Paul talks about running the race. By walking in the Spirit, we are sanctified. We become holy. It is a process that goes on throughout our lives until we get to heaven.
2 Timothy 2:19-26
Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified [hagiazo] and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.
Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
This scripture uses the term, hagiazo, but this one talks about purifying a believer so that they can be used by God for good works. It seems that sanctification is not only something given to you by the Spirit at salvation, but is a process throughout your life as you grow in the Spirit. It is what every believer strives to do to be purified, to become holy. By following the instructions given by Peter and Paul, and following Jesus’ example, we can grow and be sanctified through the Spirit. As Paul says, in Philippians 1:6, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”