What is sanctification, and how is it related to our union with Christ?

Sanctification is often defined as “being set apart for God’s purposes and made holy.” Holiness is not just related to law keeping and performance, but rather to laying hold of Christ. We are to be set apart by God as special and unique, His treasure, so that we might be a vessel to contain and express Christ Himself. Sanctification involves filling the vessel with Christ, not just “cleaning” it. Christ performs sanctification in the believer by filling them with Himself. There is no such thing as holiness or sanctification apart from Christ and His actual presence. God’s intention is not just to “clean us up,” but to fill us with Christ, and this is how He “cleans us up!”

Sanctification: the process of being set apart for God’s purposes and made holy?

This is the common definition, but what does it mean to be holy? What is God’s purpose? Without understanding the true scriptural definitions of these words, we default to our own views. We assume that “holy” means “sinless” and that God’s purpose is “that we would not sin.” The destruction of sin is a byproduct of the manifestation of Christ (1 John 3:5). When we believe in Jesus, we receive His Spirit as a fountain of living water to spring up within us and satisfy our thirst, and also to wash us (John 4:14; Ephesians 5:26-27). The ashes of the burnt offering were taken outside the camp, and the burnt offering was accompanied by a grain offering and a drink offering of water (Numbers 19:1-10). The water and ashes were used in the cleansing of a person who had become unclean through contact with a corpse, which was a picture of spiritual death and uncleanness (Hebrews 9:13-14). In fact, the more we “gather,” the more we will find that we are accumulating a greater amount of sin (Romans 7:18-19). Holiness and sanctification are not possible apart from Christ (John 15:5).

Let’s use the analogy of fire, since we know that God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). If I want to get rid of sticks, leaves, and yard waste and I live in a farm setting, I would start a fire (that’s how my grandparents did it). In the suburbs, that’s not legal, so kids, don’t try this at home! The fire is the means for destroying the yard waste. It consumes and burns it up. However, no matter how much time I spend gathering leaves and sticks, if I don’t know how to start a fire, they will never be consumed.

Christ is God’s fire, and we can’t “start” that fire. God did it on the cross, where Christ condemned sin in His own flesh and was lifted up as the bronze serpent for us (Romans 8:3; John 3:14-15). He became sin for us, He became the curse for us. He died the death to sin, once for all (Galatians 3:13; Romans 6:10). And now, Christ is supplied to us. If there is sin in our lives, will gathering it and “working” to clean it up ever get rid of it? No. In fact, the more we “gather,” the more we will find that we are accumulating a greater amount of sin (Romans 7:7-8). We need the manifestation of Christ.

But we are working with a definition that says “Sanctification is the process of being set apart for God’s purposes and made holy.” What is God’s purpose? God’s purpose is actually that Christ would be manifested in us. Holiness is not the means for this to occur, but the result (1 Peter 1:15-16). Christ was manifested in the flesh, and He condemned sin in His flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3). But then He rose from the dead, and according to 1 Cor 15:45, the “Last Adam” became the ‘”life giving Spirit.” Now, when we believe the Gospel, we receive Him (John 1:12; Galatians 3:14). We receive the Spirit of the Son (Galatians 4:6). He lives in us, not to be a consuming fire, but a “fountain of living water” (John 4:14; 7:38-39).

Remembering the Principle of our Union with Christ

In this series of writings on Christ as sanctification, we will come again and again to the principle of sanctification, which is our union with Christ, and this is based on the burnt offering. The burnt offering was the foundational offering, representing Christ’s absolute devotion and obedience to the Father, His sacrifice of love to the Father, and His dedication to His will. This aspect of Christ made all the other aspects (such as His death for our sins and sin represented by the trespass and burnt offerings) acceptable. The blood of the animal sacrificed for the burnt offering was sprinkled on the altar seven times, and the altar was made most holy. Then, whatever touched the altar became “most holy” and acceptable to God, regardless of its constitution, material, or worth. A bull or a turtledove would have the same value to God, and from this altar, upon which the burnt offering was presented to God and burned, there was a sweet fragrance that went up to God that caused Him to draw near. The principle of sanctification is our union with Christ, typified by the offerings on the altar that is

sanctified by the blood of the burnt offering and emits its pleasant fragrance to God for His satisfaction.

The burnt offering not only signifies Christ’s absolute devotion and obedience to the Father but also His sacrifice of love and dedication to His will. The ashes and water, which speak of death and cleansing, respectively, also have significance in the burnt offering. The blood of the animal sacrificed for the burnt offering was sprinkled on the altar seven times, and the altar was made most holy. Then, whatever touched the altar became “most holy” and acceptable to God, regardless of its constitution, material, or worth. The ashes of the burnt offering were taken outside the camp, and the burnt offering was accompanied by a grain offering and a drink offering of water (Numbers 19:1-10). The water and ashes were used in the cleansing of a person who had become unclean through contact with a corpse, which was a picture of spiritual death and uncleanness (Hebrews 9:13-14).

The Spirit of Christ

When we believe in Jesus, we receive His Spirit as a fountain of living water to spring up within us and satisfy our thirst, and also to wash us. The offering has already been burned and the ashes have been removed from the camp. There is a twofold washing represented by the ashes and the water. The ashes signify Christ’s power to remove and purge things that hinder us (Malachi 3:2-3). But the water signifies His inward washing of renewal to satisfy, quench our thirst and fill us with the knowledge of Himself (John 4:14; 7:38-39). The fountain of living water in us is the Spirit of the Son and is Christ Himself! He is our inheritance and portion forever (Galatians 3:14). There is a washing of “renewing” that we will enjoy forever as we drink of the river of the water of life that has been given to us as our blessing and inheritance (Revelation 22:1-2). The “burning” has already been accomplished, and what remains is the filling, the washing, the satisfaction, and the renewing.

Holiness is not related to law keeping and performance (Romans 3:20); rather, it is related to laying hold of Christ (Exodus 19:6). We are to be set apart by God as special and unique, His treasure (Deuteronomy 7:6), so that we might be a vessel to contain and express Christ Himself (2 Corinthians 4:7). Sanctification involves filling the vessel with Christ, not just “cleaning” (Ephesians 5:26-27), which means that Christ performs sanctification in the believer by filling them with Himself (Colossians 1:27). There is no such thing as holiness or sanctification apart from Christ and His actual presence (John 15:5).

God’s intention is not just to “clean us up,” but to fill us with Christ, and this is how He “cleans us up!” (Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 3:10).

Working Definitions

So what is holiness, and what is God’s purpose? We have said that “sanctification is related to being set apart for the purpose of God and to be holy”. God’s purpose is that we would be a vessel for Christ, putting Him on display as He manifests Himself to us and in us. The way He does this is to renew us in the knowledge of Himself, which becomes a washing (Titus 3:5). It really does purge things out of our life that are just “ashes” but even more importantly, the living water brings us into fellowship with God Himself in the spirit of Sonship and in the atmosphere of Love (1 John 1:7). God’s purpose is fulfilled as we grow in the knowledge of Him and Christ is manifested in us. This changes the atmosphere of our heart and

the expression of our life, but it is not of our efforts (2 Corinthians 3:18). Holiness is not so much about the absence of sin, as it is about the presence of Christ.

Incidentally, it is not possible to be sanctified and miserable, because sanctification is Christ Himself. We may weep with those who weep, we may groan in futility longing to be clothed with life, but to be miserable, full of unbelief, perceiving Christ as a hard taskmaster, and to feel burdened and weighed down is not at all compatible with anything having to do with sanctification!

Conclusion

Holiness is not related to law keeping and performance (Romans 3:20); rather, it is related to laying hold of Christ (Exodus 19:6). God’s purpose is that we would be a vessel for Christ, putting Him on display as He manifests Himself to us and in us. The way He does this is to renew us in the knowledge of Himself, which becomes a washing (Titus 3:5). It really does purge things out of our life that are just “ashes” but even more importantly, the living water brings us into fellowship with God Himself in the spirit of Sonship and in the atmosphere of Love (1 John 1:7). God’s purpose is fulfilled as we grow in the knowledge of Him and Christ is manifested in us. This changes the atmosphere of our heart and the expression of our life, but it is not of our efforts (2 Corinthians 3:18).

I. Sanctification and Holiness

A. Sanctification is being set apart for God’s purposes and made holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

B. Holiness is not just related to law keeping and performance, but rather to laying hold of Christ (Exodus 19:6)

C. We are set apart by God as special and unique, His treasure, to contain and express Christ Himself (Deuteronomy 7:6; 2 Corinthians 4:7)

II . The “Process” of Sanctification

A. Sanctification involves filling the vessel with Christ, not just “cleaning” it (Ephesians 3:14-16)

B. Christ performs sanctification in the believer by filling them with Himself (Colossians 1:27)

C. There is no such thing as holiness or sanctification apart from Christ and His actual presence (John 15:5)

III. The Burnt Offering and Sanctification

A. The burnt offering is the foundational offering that represents Christ’s absolute devotion and obedience to the Father (Leviticus 1:1-17)

B. The burnt offering signifies Christ’s sacrifice of love and dedication to His will (Ephesians 5:2)

C. The ashes and water from the burnt offering have significance in the cleansing of a person who had become unclean through contact with a corpse (Numbers 19:1-10)

D. The principle of sanctification is our union with Christ, typified by the offerings on the altar that is sanctified by the blood of the burnt offering and emits its pleasant fragrance to God for His satisfaction (Hebrews 10:10; John 15:5)

IV. God’s Intention in Sanctification

A. God’s intention is not just to “clean us up,” but to fill us with Christ (Ephesians 3:19)

B. This is how He “cleans us up!”

V. Conclusion

A. Holiness and sanctification do not exist apart from Christ Himself (John 15:5)

Topics for Further PursuitTest Your Understanding
HolinessWhat is the significance of being set apart for God’s purposes?
SanctificationHow is sanctification related to the indwelling of Christ in believers?
Union with ChristWhat are the benefits of being united with Christ in sanctification?
Misconceptions about HolinessWhat are some misconceptions about holiness that people commonly hold?
The Purpose of SanctificationHow does sanctification help believers to fulfill God’s purposes?
The Burnt Offering and SanctificationWhat does the burnt offering signify in relation to sanctification?

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