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Sanctified to God by Christ


For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

—John 17: 19

There are two uses of the word “sanctify” in Scripture, described in theological terms as positional sanctification (“the separation or sanctification of the person to God by Christ”) and progressive sanctification (by the Spirit, “by which we are inwardly made holy”). Smeaton defines both, and explains which is meant in this text.


With respect to the word sanctify as applied to the disciples of Christ, it is necessary to keep before our minds a distinction which is not always observed, and which, in popular theological language, is too much disregarded. There is a sanctification of the Spirit by which we are inwardly made holy; and there is, as contradistinguished from the former, the separation or sanctification of the person to God by Christ. It is in the latter sense that the word “sanctify” occurs here; and this unquestionably lays the foundation for the other, which is more subjective, and follows in the order of nature after it. The question to be clearly settled in connection with this passage is, Whether are we to regard the sanctification here mentioned as the moral and spiritual renovation effected in us by the Spirit, and therefore the same with what is elsewhere called “the sanctification of the Spirit” (2 Thess. ii. 13), or, to interpret it as a direct fruit of the atonement? Is it objective or subjective? Is it a part of the Spirit’s work, or an immediate fruit of Christ’s sacrifice? It must be specially observed, that in this clause the Lord does not allude to the sanctification of Christians in the moral sense, or in the sense of inward renovation, but according to the acceptation of the word in the old Mosaic worship, and according to its import in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. xiii. 12, ix. 13). It would be a wide departure, indeed, from the true meaning of our Lord’s words, if we should interpret this clause of the inward renewing by the Spirit. The word sanctify, as it occurs in the Old Testament ritual, has primary reference to those appointed rites used for consecrating the whole people, or any individual, to belong to the theocracy in due form. This was a standing won and retained chiefly by sacrifice. And the apostle to the Hebrews explains that, in like manner, the sanctification of Christians, or the dedication of them to belong to the true people of God, and to share in their services and worship, was effected by the sacrifice of Christ. To apprehend the precise meaning of the word “sanctify,” it will be necessary to trace its usage in the ancient ritual of Israel.

The two words frequently occurring in the old worship, sanctify and purify, are so closely allied in sense, that some regard them as synonymous. But a slight shade of distinction between the two may be discerned as follows. It is assumed that ever-recurring defilements, of a ceremonial kind, called for sacrifices of expiation; and the word “purify” referred to those rites and sacrifices which removed the stains which excluded the worshipper from the privilege of approach to the sanctuary of God, and from fellowship with His people. The defilement which he contracted excluded him from access. But when this same Israelite was purified by sacrifice, he was readmitted to the full participation of the privilege. He was then sanctified or holy. Thus the latter is the consequence of the former. We may affirm, then, that the two words, “purify” and “sanctify,” in this reference to the old worship, are very closely allied; so much so, that the one involves the other. This will throw light upon the use of these two expressions in the New Testament (Eph. v. 25, 26; Heb. ii. 11; Tit. ii. 14). All these passages represent a man defiled by sin and excluded from God, but readmitted to access and fellowship, and so pronounced holy, as soon as the blood of sacrifice is applied to him. That is the meaning of the word “sanctify” in this verse.

—George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 250–252.

Posted 2018·05·28 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Atonement · Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement · George Smeaton · Sanctification

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