by Bradford A. Mullen

The generic meaning of sanctification is "the state of proper functioning." To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. A pen is "sanctified" when used to write. Eyeglasses are "sanctified" when used to improve sight. In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God's design and purpose.

The Greek word translated "sanctification" (hagiasmos [aJgiasmov"]) means "holiness." To sanctify, therefore, means "to make holy." In one sense only God is holy ( Isaiah 6:3 ). God is separate, distinct, other. No human being or thing shares the holiness of God's essential nature. There is one God. Yet Scripture speaks about holy things. Moreover, God calls human beings to be holyas holy as he is holy ( Leviticus 11:44 ; Matthew 5:48 ; 1 Peter 1:15-16 ). Another word for a holy person is "saint" (hagios[a&gio"]), meaning a sanctified one. The opposite of sanctified is "profane" ( Leviticus 10:10 ).

From time to time human beings are commanded to sanctify themselves. For example, God commanded the nation of Israel, "consecrate to me every firstborn male" ( Exodus 13:2 ). God said through Peter, "in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord" ( 1 Peter 3:15 ). One sanctifies Christ by responding to unbelievers meaningfully, out of a good conscience and faithful life. God calls his own to set themselves apart for that which he has set them apart. Sanctify, therefore, becomes a synonym for "trust and obey" ( Isaiah 29:23 ). Another name for this action is "consecration." To fail to sanctify God has serious consequences ( Numbers 20:12 ).

Human beings ultimately cannot sanctify themselves. The Triune God sanctifies. The Father sanctifies ( 1 Corinthians 1:30 ) by the Spirit ( 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ; 1 Peter 1:2 ) and in the name of Christ ( 1 Corinthians 6:11 ). Yet Christian faith is not merely passive. Paul calls for active trust and obedience when he says, "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" ( 2 Corinthians 7:1 ). No one may presume on God's grace in sanctification. Peter reminds believers to be diligent in making their calling and election sure ( 2 Peter 1:10 ).

A person or thing can be sanctified in two waysaccording to God's creative purpose or according to God's redemptive design. All sanctified in the first sense are used by God in the second sense. Not all God uses in the second sense are sanctified in the first sense.

Key Concepts. God's usual modus operandi is to sanctify common things for his redemptive purposes, rather than to employ perfect heavenly things ( 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ). He sanctified common coats of skin to cover Adam and Eve's nakedness ( Genesis 3:21 ). He sanctified a common man, Abram of Ur, in order to make a great nation ( Genesis 12:1-7 ). He sanctified a common bush in the Sinai desert from which to commission a man to lead Israel out of bondage. Moses stood on "holy ground" ( Exodus 3:5 ), on a "holy mountain" ( Ezekiel 28:14 ). God made Jerusalem a "holy city" ( Nehemiah 11:1 ; Isaiah 48:2 ). In dramatic fashion, God sanctified the common womb of a common virgin girl by which to incarnate his Son. God's presence was with her ( Luke 1:28 ). Jesus sanctified the world by his presence, "tabernacling" with us ( John 1:14 ). God's method is grace. He alone is to be credited.