If you have already read my first post on sanctification, you’ll know that I think the term has been unfortunately misdefined as a process in which we become more like Jesus. It’s not that I don’t think we should become more like Jesus; far from it. It’s just that we are missing out on so much more.
Sanctification is a status, not a process. It’s the declaration of God that we, his children, have been set apart for his purposes. This definition makes so much more sense of the New Testament than describing it as a process, and even more so when the Old Testament is considered. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to find any Bible verse where thinking of sanctification as a process makes sense.
In my last post, I went over every place in the New Testament where the Greek word translated sanctification occurs. Now let’s look at the Old Testament. The first time this word appears in the Septuagint (the Greek OT, abbreviated LXX) is very early on:
God blessed the seventh day, and he made it sacred, because in it he ceased from all his works that God began to do.Genesis 2.3
God sets the seventh day apart as a special day. That day has a new status; it is sacred. And because it’s sacred, we act differently on that day.
We don’t see that word used again until the book of Leviticus, and there it’s all over the place. For example, the LXX of Leviticus 21.8, speaking of a priest, says, “And he will keep himself holy; this person offers the gifts of the Lord your God; he will be holy because I, the Lord, the one who sanctifies them, am holy.” See how the author interweaves God sanctifying the priest, the priest sanctifying himself, and the cause for all of this, the holiness (sanctification) of God himself. There’s no room here for a process; it’s a status conferred on the priest by God, similar to God’s own status.
And this goes back to the original purpose for God creating humanity: to be his imagers on the earth. We are here to reflect who God is to all creation. So why must I set myself apart? Because God himself is set apart. Why must I act differently? Because God himself acts differently. This is what it means to be holy: not just to avoid sin (although of course that is a significant aspect of holiness), but to reflect and represent the Creator.
In saying all that, I’m not denying the reality that we grow into this role. Over time, we become more and more like our Creator, and this is a very real part of the Christian life. It’s just that the Bible doesn’t call this sanctification. Instead, it uses terms like this:
- 2 Corinthians 3.18 – And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
- Galatians 4.19 – My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
- Philippians 3.10-12 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
These passages all speak to the process of becoming more like Jesus; Paul describes it in Philippians as becoming perfect. The Greek word he uses is from the root word teleioō, and according to the Lexham Bible Dictionary it “describes something that is complete, whole, or without blemish. It can also refer to someone who is blameless and has integrity.” The root shows up a couple sentences later (verse 15), where Paul says, “Let those of us who are mature [teleios] think this way.” Jesus said it like this in Matthew 5.48: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And Yes, the word for perfect has the same root as Paul uses in Philippians!
So it seems a more Biblical word to use to describe the process of becoming more like Jesus is this: perfection. Since we are already sanctified, let’s press on to becoming perfect. Or, since we are already set apart for God’s purposes, let’s press on to maturity.