RPM, Volume 13, Number 21, May 22 to May 28, 2011

Election is Sanctification

By John Reisinger

William Sasser has given an excellent survey of the meaning of the word sanctification, and Kevin Hartley has shown the three distinct aspects of sanctification. It is unfortunate that when the words holy or sanctify occur we automatically think of 'moral purity.' We forget that the basic meaning of the word sanctify means to set apart and does not necessarily involve moral purity. Under the Old Covenant everything that God associates himself with or is dedicated to his use automatically becomes holy. There were holy places, holy days, holy garments, holy rituals, etc. Leviticus 27:14—17 shows how this applies to a field of a house.

(14) And when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy unto the LORD, then the priest shall estimate it, whether it be good or bad: as the priest shall estimate it, so shall it stand. (15) And if he that sanctified it will redeem his house, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of thy estimation unto it, and it shall be his. 16 And if a man shall sanctify unto the LORD some part of a field of his possession, then thy estimation shall be according to the seed thereof: an homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. (17) If he sanctify his field from the year of jubilee, according to thy estimation it shall stand.

Now it is obvious that neither a house nor a field can be made either morally pure or impure. However, both can be dedicated to God for his exclusive use. The building where a Christian congregation meets should never be called "the church." One of the most pagan ideas that is blatantly contrary to Scripture is calling one room in the building the "sanctuary." The church—saved people—are the sanctuary where God dwells. The church is people—not bricks and mortar. The church, or sanctuary, walks out of the building when the congregation of Christians leave the building after the worship service. However, this does not mean that we cannot dedicate a building for the specific and unique purpose of a place of assembly to worship God. A building thus dedicated becomes 'holy' in that it is set apart to a holy purpose.

Likewise a field may be dedicated to God and everything grown in the field be given to him. The field is not morally pure but it is indeed "holy to the Lord" in that it is set apart, sanctified, for God alone. This use of the word is not confined to the Old Testament Scriptures. 1 Timothy 4:5 speaks of meats being "sanctified by the Word of God and prayer." In 1 Corinthians 7:14 Paul declares that an unbelieving wife or husband is sanctified because of being married to a believer. This certainly cannot mean that the lost mate is made morally pure because of union to a believer.

In John 10:36 our Lord stated that he had "been sanctified by the Father and sent into the world." This has nothing to do with moral purity but being set apart for the work of redemption. Again our Lord said that he sanctified himself, "And for their sakes I sanctify myself." That cannot mean that he made himself morally pure. This must be understood as "setting apart."

Actually the words holy and sanctify are not the most difficult words to define. They mean 'sacred' as opposed to 'secular.' Today we hear people say, "Nothing is sacred anymore." They mean nothing belongs to God anymore. He is not acknowledged. Man is the center of everything. The word holy then is the exact opposite of profane. Look at how the dictionary defines the word sacred and the word profane and you can see the meaning by way of contrasts.

sacred adjective

Dedicated to or set apart for the worship of a deity.

Worthy of religious veneration: the sacred teachings of the Buddha.

Made or declared holy: sacred bread and wine.

Dedicated or devoted exclusively to a single use, purpose, or person: sacred to the memory of her sister; a private office sacred to the President.

Worthy of respect; venerable.

Of or relating to religious objects, rites, or practices.

profane adjective

Marked by contempt or irreverence for what is sacred: profane words.

Nonreligious in subject matter, form, or use; secular: sacred and profane music.

Not admitted into a body of secret knowledge or ritual; uninitiated.

Vulgar; coarse.

The word holy can easily be understood as either referring to a thing or a person. It can mean either moral purity or setting apart for religious purposes. Here is the dictionary definition.

holy adjective

Belonging to, derived from, or associated with a divine power; sacred.

Regarded with or worthy of worship or veneration; revered: a holy book.

Living according to a strict or highly moral religious or spiritual system; saintly: a holy person.

Specified or set apart for a religious purpose: a holy place.

Solemnly undertaken; sacrosanct: a holy pledge.

Regarded or deserving special respect or reverence: The pursuit of peace is our holiest quest.

Informal. Used as an intensive: raised holy hell over the mischief their children did.

Sometimes the word is translated 'hallowed.' Our Lord taught us to pray, "Hallowed be Thy name." That surely cannot mean "make God morally pure." It is thinking about and using God's name differently than we would any other name.

Most standard theology books show that sanctification has three aspects. (1) We are sanctified in regeneration and conversion in that we are called out from the world and separated unto Jesus Christ as his particular possession. (2) We are in the process of becoming more holy in our life as we "grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (3) We shall be totally sanctified at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and every vestige of sin will be removed. These facts can be summarized as being (1) saved form the penalty of sin, (2) saved from the power of sin, and (3) saved from the presence of sin.

Dr. S. Lewis Johnson insists that we should begin any discussion of sanctification with the truth of God's eternal election. The elect of God were sanctified in Christ in eternity past by virtue of their being chosen unto salvation in him. Several texts will help us to understand this fact. First of all, look at 1 Corinthians 1:2

Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

When was the church collectively "sanctified in Christ Jesus?" Individually we were set apart at conversion but collectively the church was set apart in electing grace in eternity past. We were given to Christ as his property before he came into the world. He came as the Great Shepherd of a known flock that had been entrusted to him by the Father. We are not sanctified because we were called to be saints, but we were called to be saints because we had been sanctified in Christ Jesus in eternity past.

We must always remember that election does not save the elect but it does makes certain that all of the elect will be saved. Being chosen as a sheep does not put you into the sheep fold but it guarantees the Shepherd will find you and bring you safely into the sheep fold. Look at another passage with me:

(14) For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (15) Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, (16) This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; (17) And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (18) Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Hebrews 10:14—18

The elect were 'sanctified' in eternity in the sovereign purpose of God when they were placed into the covenant and given to the Shepherd. They were then 'sanctified' by being legally purchased and paid for in the blood shedding work of the Shepherd. They were then individually 'sanctified' when they were found and brought safely into the fold. They were each given the Holy Spirit and as the Vicar of Christ he began to 'sanctify' each sheep day by day. The Great Shepherd will one day come again and totally finish his 'sanctifying' work as described in Ephesians 5:25—27. All of this began in a sanctification that took place before we were born.

One last word. We all rejoice in that great five-link chain of sovereign grace in Romans 8:28—30. (1) All of the foreknown (fore-loved) ones, all of them and only them, are also (2) predestinated, therefore certain, to be conformed into the image of Christ. All of those thus predestinated, all of them and only them, are certain of being effectually called by the gospel and the Holy Spirit. Every person without exception, and only them, that is called will also be justified, and lastly, all of those, and only those, who are justified will also be glorified.

What is the missing link in this chain that stretches from eternity to eternity? Isn't it strange that the Apostle leaves out the word sanctification? Has Paul forgotten the whole idea of sanctification and perseverance? I think Paul deliberately left out sanctification for at least two reasons. First of all, in this argument, ultimate and total sanctification equals glorification and it is a 'done deal' in the mind and purpose of God. And secondly, all five links in the chain grow out of and are connected to the first link. The elect are "predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ" only because they have been foreknown or "set apart" in electing love. Election is sanctification!

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

Subscribe to RPM

RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. To subscribe to RPM, please select this link.