In my previous post “Justification and the Church Meeting,” I discussed how the doctrine of justification should intersect our ecclesiology (the study of the church) and even influence how we act when the church gathers together. Today, I want to think about a similar doctrine: sanctification.
There are two ways to understand sanctification which are somewhat related. “Sanctification” refers to the idea that some things have been set apart for God. “Sanctify” is the verbal form of the nouns “holy” and “saints.” Thus, in a very real way, we are sanctified (i.e. set apart) when we are justified.
This is not a unique concept for Christianity. Almost all religions include the concept of some things being “set apart” for their god or gods.
Most of the New Testament passages that include the language of “sanctification” refer to it in this sense – that is, as something that has already been set apart:
You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred [i.e., sanctified]? (Matthew 23:17 ESV)
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32 ESV)
But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:15-16 ESV)
Both the one who makes men holy [i.e., sanctifies] and those who are made holy [i.e., sanctified] are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:11 ESV)
In these instances, the term “sanctification” is very similar to the term “justification.”
However, the term “sanctification” is typically used today to refer to the process of discipleship, growth, or maturity. In this sense, the term refers less to our identity, that to the process of living according to that identity. There are a few places in Scripture that use the term in this sense:
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy [i.e., sanctified], useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:21 ESV)
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV)
Since I have already discussed the relationship of justification to the church meeting, in this post I want to consider the relationship of the process of sanctification (discipleship, growth, or maturity) to the church meeting.
First, as I said in the previous post, a certain level of sanctification is not necessary for someone to take part in the church meeting. The person who is justified is also indwelled and gifted by the Spirit and thus has everything necessary to take part in a church meeting.
Second, we should recognize that sanctification is the goal of the church meeting. We meet together in order to help one another grow in maturity in Christ Jesus. This is a community activity (many believers speaking and serving together) with community growth as the goal (many believers being “sanctified” in the sense of being discipled).
Obviously, we can grow in maturity on our own when we are not meeting with the church. Thus, we can be sanctified in this sense without anyone else around. But, when the church gathers together, we are no longer only concerned about our own personal growth; we are concerned about the growth (sanctification) of the entire church. We recognize that we grow in maturity as the church grows in maturity.
This type of community sanctification is what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)
In Hebrews, the concept of “encouragement” is very similar to (if not synonymous with) “sanctification.” For the author of Hebrews, “encouragement” includes moving away from undesirable actions and thoughts (see Hebrew 3:13 for an example) and moving toward desirable actions and thoughts (such as “love and good works” in Hebrews 10:24). Thus, the act of “encouragement” leads to our sanctification, that is, our mutual growth in maturity towards Christ as our goal.
Thus, when we meet together, we don’t rely solely on the “most sanctified” or “most discipled”. Instead, any who are justified can help the church. However, our goal is mutual sanctification… seeing the church as a whole growing toward living the life that Christ modeled for us.