There are a lot of big words that you can come across while reading the Bible. In the Old Testament, it is usually proper nouns. If you are like me you stumble a bit anytime you come across a name of a person or a long place name that you are not sure how to pronounce. I come to those words and I put my head down and muscle through hoping for the best result. In the New Testament, you do not come across big words that you don't know how to pronounce as often. Most of the time the big words that you come across might be words that are easier to pronounce but you are not sure what they mean. You have heard the word before but you don't feel confident in exactly what it means. Yet, it is in those types of words where we find so much of the important doctrine of the Christian faith. One example that I have had people ask me about on many occasions is the word sanctification.
In preparing to write this article I went to my trusty copy of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. When I found the word situated between Sanballat and sanctuary, I found this sentence in the first sentence of the paragraph long definition: The process or result of being made holy. That is an excellent summary of what the word means. Sanctification is at the same time a process and a result of being made holy. Sanctification is something that is currently happening to you and something that has happened to you.
That idea definitely requires some more explanation. When we talk about being made holy, if you are in Christ, you are in fact holy right now. As mentioned in the previous Bible Vocab article on justification, when we are in Christ we have been declared righteous. We are holy because of the work of Jesus Christ for us. The Apostle Paul expresses this idea of an immediate sanctification in 1 Corinthians 6:11 when he is encouraging the church in Corinth to put away sinful things. After a pretty exhaustive list of sins in verse 10, Paul says "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." Notice that this is a statement of fact. Being holy is not something that you are doing here. It is something that is done and it wasn't done by you in the first place. So, we see that in one sense the idea of sanctification is something that we already are because of the work of Christ for us.
At the same time, the process of being sanctified or being made holy is not yet completed in you. When you agree with God about your need for a savior and receive the gift of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, you are not immediately freed from all sin. There will always be something that you will be battling in this flesh on this side of glory. The process of sanctification is more and more putting to death the old self and putting on the new self in Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
This putting on of Christ is the key element of growing in holiness. Many people have the idea that if they could stop doing one sin or another then they would be truly sanctified. This is something that we end up believing because deep down we think that sanctification is up to us as individuals. We approach our sanctification much in the same way we hope that a self-help book can help us out. If I can find a step by step process holiness will become easy. My friends, holiness is never easy. As we read in 1 Peter 2:11 the passions of the flesh are at war against your soul. That is strong language and so we should not expect that growing in holiness should be easy. You will not become more sanctified by following steps 1 through 5. What it all comes down to is that if you are resting on yourself for your sanctification, you are going to end up as frustrated as you were by the productivity or diet book you have sitting on your shelf. There is no easy shortcut to losing weight, accomplishing more at work, or becoming a better athlete. Unfortunately, there is also no easy shortcut to sanctification.
What I have said may come across as contradictory. I said that it wasn't something that you could do, but I also said that it isn't easy. We put our trust in Jesus Christ for our sanctification but that doesn't mean that we sit back and do nothing and POOF, we become more holy. We trust that through the Holy Spirit we will grow in holiness and faith by the use of the means that God ordains. What that means is that we trust that through the Word and the Sacraments God will work in us as he has promised to do. God works through means and those means are accessible to everyone. Faith comes by hearing and ordinary words come to us and by that word, the Spirit creates faith in us. We read God's Word and see the salvation that God has won for us in the Gospel and we believe by faith. We receive the ordinary elements made from the fruit of the vine and the bounty of the field and in the eating and drinking of them we are sustained to life everlasting. Baptism, while not something we receive more than once, is also a way in which our faith is built up. As we witness the baptism of someone else we are reminded of God's covenant faithfulness not only to that person, but also the covenant faithfulness that God has shown to us. We see a visible reminder that through Christ's blood we have been made clean. Through prayer, we grow in holiness as we daily learn to humbly pray "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". In prayer, we also acknowledge our sin and pray for God to strengthen us. We pray trusting that God will work all things together for his good pleasure.
In the same way that we trust in Christ alone for our salvation, we d also trust in Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, for our sanctification. Trust that God will continue to work through the means that he has ordained. That is why it is so important that we hear the Word, we receive the sacraments, and with a humble heart go to our God in prayer. It all points to the saving work of Jesus for us and our inability to achieve holiness and sanctification on our own.
For a deeper look at sanctification I recommend that you pick up J.V. Fesko's short book "A Christian's Pocket Guide to Sanctification".
Holiness is a word that I did not initially have on my list of words to feature as "Bible Vocab". I thought that it was a word that was pretty easy to understand. While I think most of us have a concept of what the word holiness means, do we really grasp it? Do we really understand the scope of it? These thoughts came to mind as I was preparing the sermon for February 19, 2017 and read Leviticus 19:2 where it says "Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy". Preparing a sermon on this really caused me to ponder what exactly the word holiness means.
As part of the sermon preparation process I looked up the word holy in English dictionaries and Bible dictionaries. The idea of purity and righteousness was in those definitions but what I found to be most important in the definitions was the idea of being set apart. When we think about the idea of God's holiness and righteousness it is so much deeper than our human understanding of holiness. If we were to see someone as holy we would think that they had kept certain rules or that they were more "spiritual" than other people. While that may be accurate it only begins to scratch the surface of what holiness is.
The concept of God can be difficult for us. We cannot even begin to fathom his vastness and his majesty. We have a hard enough time fathoming back to the founding of our country much less understanding a God who is eternal and without beginning or end. Grasping the distance from sea to shining sea in the United States is difficult to get our minds around. How much more difficult it is to even begin to understand the distance to the stars in the night sky. Just like our limited understanding of time or distance we also have a truly limited understanding of God's holiness. We can fathom someone who is morally strong but the idea of perfect holiness is truly out of our grasp. God is perfect in every way. He does not lie. He speaks and it is truth. That is just the beginning of it though. Humans can surely keep the commands of God but often we succumb to tempation. Even if we don't act out some of the sins we are tempted with we often succumb to the temptations in our minds. That is not the case with God. He is pure, holy, and just all the time. He is completely other and set apart from creation by his holiness.
This is both good and bad for us. It is good because that is the kind of God that we want to serve. We do not want a god who is like the tempermental and flawed gods of mythology. A God who is without blemish is how God should be, but that is also a bad thing for us. He is holy and I am not. I am a sinner. I don't deserve to be in the presence of God because my sin is an affront to his perfect holiness. If I were to be in the presence of God as a sinner I would be undone just like Isaiah was. In Isaiah chapter 6 we read about Isaiah being taken into the presence of God. He responds by saying "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Isaiah understood that God was holy and he was not. He was shaken by the complete holiness of God. In order for Isaiah to be in the presence of God, he needed to be made clean by God. A coal from the fire comes and touches his lips and makes his unclean lips clean.
God and his holiness is what drives us to Jesus Christ. Just like Isaiah we are a people that is unclean and we cannot be in the presence of God without being undone. Jesus took on our flesh and he lived the holy life that we could not live because we were born dead in trespasses and sin. He bore the wrath of God for our sin and we receive perfect righteousness by faith. Because of the work of Jesus for us we are not just forgiven and given a clean slate as though we have never sinned. Instead it is as if we have never sinned AND as if we had perfectly kept the law of God. That is the great exchange and that is why we can say that we are holy as Christians. It isn't a cause to brag because it isn't our righteousness at all. It is Christ's.
This is not a reason for us to go off and do whatever we want. Instead it drives us to be holy ourselves because of what God has done for us in Jesus. We strive to keep God's commands because he has saved me and declared me righteous. That is the proper way to understand our drive for personal holiness. It is living our life in light of God's gifts instead of hoping our good works will earn God's gifts. It isn't a magic formula. Holiness is hard work but you can work on your holiness and personal sanctification knowing that you have received God's gifts in Christ. Your salvation is secure and isn't dependent on you. That is the freedom we have in Christ. The freedom to live a life of holiness knowing we have been declared righteous on account of the work of Jesus for us. That holiness drives us to holy lives.
There are a lot of big words in the Bible. Some of them are names of cities or people groups that we are not familiar with. Others are more theological in nature and hold very significant meaning for us as Christians. Of all the big words found in the Bible perhaps the most significant one is justification.
Justification is a word that most of us have heard. Usually when we hear this word the definition is related to giving a reason for doing something. For example someone might ask you to give a justification for why you decided to not invite them to your party. Many times this is even seen as something akin to an excuse. That is not the definition that we use when we talk about the Christian doctrine of justification.
In the New Testament the Greek work for justify is δικαιόω. Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words defines the word to mean "to declare righteous". Notice that the definition does not say that it means to "make righteous" but instead that it is declared to be so. This is an important part of the Protestant understanding of justification. We are not made righteous by anything that we do but instead we are declared to be righteous on account of the work of Jesus Christ.
The natural assumption of humans is that we earn our salvation by doing good works. This is essentially the default religion of the human heart. It can express itself in many ways but in our day I believe the most common way we see this expressed is the thought that good people go to heaven. How we define a "good person" is a sliding scale but usually means that the person is generally nice to people and doesn't cheat on their taxes. There is a sense where it is true that a "good person" would go to heaven but our human sliding scale is not what determines whether someone is good. The Bible is clear that there are none who are righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:20; Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20) In other words, there is no one who has met God's righteous standard. Each and every one of us is a sinner and have fallen short of God's glory. (Romans 3:23) This is why we need something else other than our righteousness because ours is not going to cut it. Period.
That's why this idea of justification is so important. In the midst of our sin and misery God comes to us and because of what Jesus Christ has done for us we are declared righteous. We are not given a clean slate. We are not improved and now we can hope to do better. We are declared righteous. Why? Because our righteousness is now coming from somewhere outside of us. Christ's righteousness is now our righteousness.
Paul talks about this amazing good news in Romans 3:21-26. He says that a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known. It is a righteousness from God and it comes through faith to those who believe. We are justified (declared righteous) by the grace of God. This word "justification" is vital in understanding the Christian faith. Jesus did not come only to be a moral example for us. He came to live for us in his perfect life. He came to die for us in his death on the cross. He rose again that we too may be raised on the last day. He ascended into heaven to intercede for us at the right hand of the Father. He did it all that we might be justified by having faith in what he has done for us. Instead of working to save ourselves by being a "good person" we instead give up our hopes of being seen as righteous on our own and fall at the feet of Christ. We trust in him, knowing that He alone has the power to save us.