Sanctification, Positional & Practical


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What is sanctification? By examining the Scriptures, this tract guides the reader to an understanding of practical and positional sanctification.

It is a source of pleasure to meet with anyone who is really concerned about God's truth. Regarding this there is but one standard—the Bible—which is the Word of God. Therefore, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20). And the Spirit of God—the Author—is the only One who can interpret the Word of God. In the understanding, then, of the Word, two things are necessary:

1. A man must be born of the Spirit of God.

2. A man must be subject to the teachings of the Spirit of God.

Inasmuch as the Spirit of God always speaks according to the Word, it is thence we must get our doctrine as well as the law of our new life.

In examining the subject of Sanctification it is well to clear the ground by looking into the root meaning of the word. It is uniform in both Old and New Testaments; namely, "to separate" or "to set apart." Usually this is for some purpose in connection with the service of God. There is one instance, however, in Isaiah 66:17, in which it is not so, but the opposite, even a setting of themselves apart to do evil: "They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, said the Lord."

Now such a use by the Spirit of the term "sanctify" shows us that the idea of being "made holy, or sinless," is not necessarily connected with sanctification. The reference already given from Isaiah 66 evidently means that they separated themselves from the Temple of Jehovah and His altar, to do evil, and hence they were to be dealt with in judgment.

Then, may say we have the word used in connection with inanimate things, such as:

  • The seventh day—Genesis 2:3
  • Mount Sinai—Exodus 19:23
  • Altar of burnt offering—Exodus 29:36,37
  • The tabernacle—Exodus 29:43,44
  • The laver—Exodus 40:11
  • The temple—2 Chronicles 7:16-20
  • Our daily food—1 Timothy 4:5
  • A dwelling house—Leviticus 27:14,15
  • A field—Leviticus 27:17-22

Now, in none of these things can the thought of essential holiness enter, for there is nothing essentially holy about one day more than another, or one mountain than another, or in one piece of gold, silver, brass or wood more than another. The simple explanation is that God set those apart for Himself and hence they were said to be "sanctified." The same can be said of the food we eat. It is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer and thus is set apart for our temporal refreshment and blessing and "not to be refused."

Again, it may still further help in understanding the word "sanctify" to note how the Lord Jesus applies it to Himself: "Say ye of Him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world" (John 10:36). And "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth" (John 17:19).

Here we have the Lord Jesus, the spotless, holy One of God, "sanctified by the Father," and again sanctifying Himself! What does it mean? Clearly that God sets Him apart for the same purpose—to do the will of God in order that we might be sanctified through the truth. He could not be made more holy, for He was absolutely such from the beginning.

But I have simply quoted these Scriptures to show the use of the word. And this is its use applied to the believer, whether in relation to his standing or his walk. When we speak of his "standing" we mean what the believer is in Christ. When we speak of his "walk" we mean the measure in which he manifests, in his daily life, what he is in Christ. The confounding of these two aspects of the truth is where much of the confusion comes in. To avoid this confusion we will look at the subject of sanctification, or, what we are being made.

POSITIONAL SANCTIFICATION or All Believers are Sanctified

You will possibly have noticed that the epistles are generally addressed to Christians who are usually called "saints." The term simply means "sanctified ones." It was not a select few among the many of God's people who are thus addressed. They are all so denominated—not because of a "second blessing" they have attained unto since they were justified, but because they were "in Christ."

The believers at Corinth are so addressed: "To the church of God is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus and called saints" (1 Cor. 1:2). And yet, the whole epistle is largely taken up with correcting wrong things both in practice and doctrine. In 1 Corinthians 6:9,10, we read of what they were before God saved them; but, verse 11 tells us they were now "washed," "sanctified" and "justified" in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God! Note the order—and it is perfect—washed, sanctified, justified. This reverses the theory held by many that a man is first justified through faith in Jesus and later on must pass through a second experience in order to be sanctified.

The fact is they all go together and the moment a poor, guilty sinner believes on the Lord Jesus Christ to the salvation of his soul, he is washed, sanctified and justified in His Name. Christ is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). I am, and have, all in Christ risen. It is not a question of attainment on the part of some. This is the portion and position of the feeblest babe in Christ. We are said to be Sanctified:

  • By God the Father—Jude 1:1
  • By the Lord Jesus—Heb. 2:11
  • Through the Holy Spirit—1 Pet. 1:2
  • By the will of God—Heb. 10:10
  • By the blood of Christ—Heb. 13:12
  • By faith in Him—Acts 26:18

And the perfected forever through the one offering of Jesus Christ—Heb. 10:14

Such is absolutely true of all who are "in Christ," and nothing less than this would give them a place in the presence of a holy God. But, remember, it is only "in Christ" that all this is true of any and is the result solely of His finished work on the cross and not in any sense because of any good found in them.


It is equally true, however, that the believer is being sanctified. This goes on daily, if there be the daily going on with God and His Word. In that wonderful prayer of our Lord Jesus in John 17 we find Him praying for His own: "Sanctify them through Thy truth, Thy Word is truth" (v. 17). And again, He "gave Himself for the church, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word" (Eph. 5:26, 27). Also read Titus 2:14.

Thus do we see His desire expressed to have us manifest practically what His grace has made us absolutely in Christ. In other words, He wants us to reflect Him in this dark, unholy world of which Satan is its ruler and prince, being set apart from that which is of the world, to seek those things that are of God!

In 1 Peter 2:5-9 we are called an "holy nation, a peculiar people," and hence God tells us we are to be holy, because He is holy. We are exhorted to "reckon" ourselves dead unto sin and alive unto God, because we have already died with Christ (Romans 6:1-11). For the same reason we are exhorted to "mortify" or make dead, our members which are upon the earth (Col. 3:5), and, yet again, to "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:14).

All this, and much more to the same effect, we are exhorted to do, and we would not have the standard lowered one bit. God has put no lower standard before us than His own Son when He says, "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked" (1 John 2:6).

Many there are, however, who make high pretension of "living without sin," but they can only honestly speak thus because of a human estimate of what sin is, and a human standard of holiness. Sinlessness, while we are in the body, is unknown to Scripture, though often loudly professed by some who would know better if they read their Bibles. Alas! some get so far with this fallacy as to boast that they don't need the Bible now! They prove this by ignoring its most positive commands.


"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us" (John 1:8, 10).

Now, you will please notice again that the Apostle is writing to believers (1 John 2:12) and he includes himself with them. He is not, therefore, speaking of unsaved or unsanctified ones, as we have heard it ignorantly objected. He is speaking of saints whose sins were forgiven never to be remembered (Heb. 10:17), but who had sin in them and were deceived if they said they had not. In 1 John 1:9 we have one side of the provision God has made for restoration of communion broken by sin being allowed to act and bring forth its fruit, namely confession. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." In 1 John 2:1,2 we have the other side of the provision: "If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous." God is still our Father though sin has marred our fellowship with Him. God is not the Father, nor is the Lord Jesus the Advocate of the unregenerate. From the above it is evident the Apostle John who leaned on Jesus' bosom when He was here did not profess to have reached sinless perfection in his life and walk!

From the Word of God, then, we learn:

1. That the believer is sanctified in Jesus Christ. This is positional. This is perfect and absolute. It is the effect of the threefold work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It cannot be added to or made more complete, for we are "complete in Him" (Col. 2:10).

2. That the believer is being sanctified day by day, as he is submitting himself to the cleansing power of the Word of God which negatively shows him what he should not be and do and positively shows him what he is to be and do. This is practical. Thus God gives no license for self-will in anything—it is God's will in everything as it is revealed in the Word of God. Paul took the first step in practical sanctification when he asked, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). His own will was set aside and God's will became the only rule of conduct or service.


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