Sanctification is both a passive act done by God and an active endeavor done by us, in concert with God’s assistance. The passive act of sanctification is done by God at the moment of salvation. This is the Greek term HAGIOI which means “saints” or “holy ones.” When we are saved, God sanctifies us and makes us holy so we can be called “saints” the way many of Paul’s epistles’ salutations were written, such as, Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:1; and many others. So, if you’re saved, you are a sanctified person able to call yourself a saint.
Now, during that passive act of sanctification which God did within you and for which you were unable to do yourself or even assist Him in making you holy at that moment, you were sanctified by God through salvation for His use. Also, sanctified means to be separated. Not separated like a child is lost when separated from their parents. No, we are separated unto God, after sanctification took place at the moment of salvation. Paul knew this in Romans 1:1, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, SEPARATED unto the gospel of God.” Paul realized he was purchased by God and now was set apart to do God’s bidding in the way of taking the gospel to the lost.
Other verses to teach us that we were sanctified by God at the time of salvation and set apart for His use are these: “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate” (Hebrews 13:12). Paul reminds us in Romans 15:16 that we are sanctified by the Holy Ghost which we receive at the moment of salvation, “That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.” Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17:17-19 because He recognized that through their faith in Him and who He was, they were sanctified and Jesus was ready to send them out to spread the Good News, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.”
Okay, so that’s a very cursory look at the passive act of sanctification that God does at the moment of salvation. He makes us holy and sets us apart for His use. Now then, we also play an active role in a portion of the sanctification process. Sanctification is not only being made holy. It not only refers to being set apart for God’s use. Sanctification also means the lifelong process of developing holiness. That’s where we come in. There are four aspects to the role we play in the process of sanctification.
First, sanctification is the Will of God for the believer. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” (First Thessalonians 4:3). This is God’s will for the believer, for us to willingly set ourselves apart for God’s use. Again, at the moment of salvation, God knew He wanted us for His service, and this is known as positional sanctification. When we choose to willingly set ourselves apart for His use, it is known as practical sanctification. To abstain from sin is an active effort on your part to separate yourself from sin. This will allow God to use you because you choose to live your life and present yourself to others as a clean vessel of honor…which brings us to our second point about practical sanctification…
The second point is that practical sanctification is learned. “That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” (First Thessalonians 4:4). Positional sanctification at the time of salvation is a passive and complete act, but this process of practical sanctification is something that we are to do, but aren’t given the knowledge necessary to pull it off. This is where studying God’s Word comes into play. This is why the work of discipleship in your churches is so important. This is why sitting under good, godly, convicting, and down right uncomfortable preaching is so important. Those are the ways we learn practical sanctification.
Thirdly, Paul tells the church at Thessalonica that this matter of practical sanctification is to move us toward holiness, “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (First Thessalonians 4:7). God has called us not only to be separate (vs. 3) and not only does He expect us to learn to do it (vs. 4) but now He explains that it’s to bring us to a level of holiness that He will be able to utilize for His service. “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy, for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 20:7). Did you catch the first part of that verse where it says to sanctify yourselves? That’s the active role we play in this matter of practical sanctification. Striving for the goal of increased holiness to be meet for the Master’s service.
The fourth and final aspect of sanctification is that it is something we must pursue. “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (Second Timothy 2:21-22). Everyday is a day filled with choices to set ourselves apart for God’s service or to conform to the lustful desires of the flesh. But Paul tells Timothy to seek after righteous things and deal properly with both the saved and unsaved, exercise his faith, demonstrate love, and offer peace to those who call upon God out of a pure heart. We should avoid those who we should separate from and seek after those who will edify us and build us up and help us to grow.
It’s this point of purity that I want to focus on. The whole goal of practical sanctification is holiness by achieving greater and greater purity in our walk with God. But we all have our weaknesses. We all have things in our lives that have defeated us in the past and stand to defeat us yet again, and prevent us from living more pure lives thereby fostering a lesser level of holiness. But those areas of weakness and those sins that continuously trip us up need not have dominance over us. Sanctification is a process throughout life that comes as God gives us victory over these troubling sins. Remember…greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world (First John 4:4).
Now, Israel was chosen of God and sanctified as His chosen peoples. God was trying to bring them to a place. This place was the Promised Land. Here’s the account in Deuteronomy 7:1-6: “When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy on them: Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly. But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the earth. The Lord did not set this love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people…”
Let me just remind you that I just laid a case for the fact that we are sanctified positionally by God at the moment of salvation. God was reminding Israel before inhabiting the Promised Land that they were an holy people unto the Lord thy God. Just as God chose Israel to be a special people unto Himself, so too are we, who are saved, special people separated unto God (First Peter 2:9). I think it’s interesting to note that the Bible says that God did not choose Israel because they were the most numerous, because in fact, they were the fewest of all the people. Though many people claim to be Christian today, true Christians in the Bible sense of the word are probably still today the fewest of all people. So we can see that Christians today, and Israel share similar characteristics. So with that being the case, let’s look carefully at the beginning of the passage and see what God demanded from Israel.
First of all, among the land God promised Israel dwelt seven of their adversaries. These nations had defeated Israel in the past and had the potential to oppress them if not properly dealt with. Well, God promised the victory to Israel in verse 2. This was the positional aspect of their being set apart. Much the same way we gained ultimate victory over death at the moment of salvation. But for Israel, and ourselves likewise, the potential is there for further ongoing battles to take place in our lives despite us being the ultimate victors. So what God demanded from Israel is what we need to take to heart and apply in our lives.
Of these seven nations that had either oppressed Israel, or stood ready to oppress Israel, when God delivered these nations to her, she was to utterly destroy them…nor show mercy unto them. Why? Well, let’s insert any sin that continuously has dominion over us in place of any of the “ites” in Deuteronomy 7:1. Let’s consider drugs, alcohol, gambling, immorality, lying, stealing, etc, to be “ites” in our lives. We are ultimately victorious, as we will one day be in Heaven despite our struggles with these things, but we may lose many battles along the way…unless we do what God told the Israelites to do…utterly destroy them. What does that mean? It means this. Don’t give that “ite” any chance of coming up against you. Here’s one example…
Many years ago when I worked with people struggling with substance abuse (alcohol and drugs), I often counseled them that they not only needed to stay away from the drugs or alcohol, but they needed to get rid of all things associated with the former life they were trying to flee. I would tell them that they can’t hang out by the bus station anymore if that’s where all the people they did drugs with still hung out. I told them to throw out their cell phones and get rid of all the phone numbers of their suppliers. It’s about creating a “no fail” zone in your life. It’s about not allowing the devil one little avenue to get back into your life. It’s about utterly destroying any and all things related to that “ite.”
You’ve got to look at your life and evaluate whether or not you are where you feel God would be pleased when it comes to your level of holiness and purity and practical sanctification. For example, music has always been a large source of pleasure for me. I enjoy all kinds of music. The problem is that I haven’t always had God-honoring music as the only kind of music in my collection. I would find my CD collection containing hard rock albums with the most vile lyrics sitting on the shelf next to music from the Crown College Choir. So I have, from time to time, purged my CD collection, but I have always held on to some genres of music that I did not feel had offensive and vile lyrics. The problem was that I would inevitably have my convictions watered down by listening to those few albums I kept and eventually I would find myself, years later, purging albums that I had purged the previous time.
Israel did not do as God had commanded and eventually those nations rose up again and reeked havoc on the Nation of Israel. Israel did not utterly destroy them, and those nations won victories when they shouldn’t have. Much the same way my music collection grows with ungodly music until I find myself listening to that more than wholesome godly music. I allowed my “ite” (worldly music) to live to fight another day. God knows how one little bit of something can grow to become a great big something in our lives (Galatians 5:9).
So what are your “ites?” Remember that we have ultimate victory over these things (positionally in Christ), but we must have no mercy upon our enemies, and ask God to help us utterly destroy them before they destroy us as we strive toward practical sanctification. Beware the “ites” of March!