by Jeremiah Bolich
At least in Nazarene circles, there seems to be much debate these days over this one word. Am I sanctified? If I am, what does that mean? Can I “lose it,” become un-sanctified. Are there outward signs of a person who is sanctified? If I’m a girl, do I have to grow my hair long and then put it in a bun? If I’m a guy, do I throw out all my shorts and tank tops? These are the kinds of comments I hear when the word sanctified comes up for discussion.
If you were to search the word “Sanctify” in a NIV translation of the Bible, you would find it used twice in John 17:17-19, once in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, and once in Hebrews 9:13. If you were to dig a little deeper, you would find that all four uses of this word are translated from the same Greek word, hagiazo, and that it means to consecrate, set apart (for sacred use), or to make holy.
Most times, the dispute surrounding this word arises when a person or group seeks to define what being consecrated, set apart, or to be made holy actually looks like in day to day living. Of course, I believe there are physical displays of sanctification, but who can actually nail them down and who would be the person or group to do that.
As is the case with every question I have, I return to the Bible to find my answer. I found it intriguing that Jesus used the word twice in John 17 in his lengthy discourse to his disciples and yet did not use the word in any of his teachings up to that point. It’s not found in any of his teachings during his multiple visits to the temple. It’s not found in his monumental conversation with Nicodemus. It’s not even found in his thorough explanation of being a disciple to the crowd of 5,000 in John chapter 6.
This might seem to lessen the weight of Jesus’ sanctification teaching in chapter 17, but if you have followed closely Jesus’ message as a whole over the prior 16 chapters, you would see that the word “sanctification” culminates in this chapter and does not make its first appearance. In other words, though the word has not been used up to this point, the concept has been clearly defined.
Sanctified or Sinful
The last 12 verses of this chapter contain the decisive moment where many who have followed Jesus as disciples turn back and no longer follow Him. Jesus’ response in verse 61 is very important, for it reveals the spiritual condition of sin (in the context of our discussion; not being sanctified) that has captured the 5,000 crowd.
Jesus is aware of the crowd’s spiritual condition. The word aware is the Greek word oida and conveys a knowledge that comes from facts or information. In Matthew 6:8, Jesus teaches that in prayer, the Father already knows what we need before we ask. This is our word. Just as the Father already has the information that we bring to Him in our prayers, so Jesus already knew of the 5,000 crowds spiritual condition before they began to argue among themselves.
There is much we could say about this spiritual condition and how Jesus knew about it, but it is enough to say, considering the conversation from verses 25-59, that the spiritual condition of a person bears fruit that is easily seen by a disciple. Jesus’ awareness in this passage is not a supernatural phenomenon as much as it is a common supernatural result of one who is sourced by the Spirit.
Jesus compares the 5,000′s spiritual condition to that of their forefather’s by referring to both groups as grumblers. As their forefathers grumbled and did not trust, so they also are grumbling and not trusting. The Greek word translated “grumbling” describes an inward condition that breaks forth out of the mouth. In this crowd’s case, it is a deep discontent with Jesus and His teaching about the disciple lifestyle.
Jesus uses phrases like “the work of God is this: to trust in the One He has sent” (v29), “…I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of Him who sent me” (v38), and “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (v53), to convey to this crowd what the lifestyle of a true disciple looks like. As Jesus lived trusting the Father, His disciples will live trusting in Him.
There are two extremely important aspects to Jesus’ statement, “Does this offend you.” The first is the word Jesus uses that we translate “offend” and the second is that it is a question.
The word translated “offend” literally means to cause to sin. The spiritual condition of the 5,000 crowd is sinful. This is important and alarming, for the result of resisting the lifestyle Jesus called and demonstrated to us, is rebellion against God.
And the way in which Jesus states this is also important. It is a question that reveals an awareness of the Truth. In our cultural language today, we would say, “Really?” Jesus is saying in shock and horror, “this is what is causing you to sin?” or “You are resisting me because you are not willing to be impartial to my heart and will?” The question of their sin reveals Jesus stunned response to the basics of discipleship.
An Inward Work of the Holy Spirit
To be sanctified is to be set-apart by the Holy Spirit to Jesus. It is to be enabled by the Holy Spirit to trust Jesus unequivocally. To be sanctified is to belong to Jesus so completely, that our mind, our heart, and even our will is so intimately sewn together with His, that it is impossible to tell where Jesus ends and the disciple begins. This is not super or next-level Christianity, but ordinary, average, everyday, don’t-get-into-heaven-without-it Christianity. What we learn from Jesus is that sanctification is the natural progression of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a disciple.
In regard to the physical displays of sanctification, it is not surprising that Jesus does not bring up anywhere in John’s Gospel outward aspects of the disciple (sanctified one). He does not give details concerning clothing, hair, makeup, or jewelry. In fact, you are under the conclusion after readying John’s Gospel, that these issues are non-issues for those who are disciples.
My aim and hope for you is the same for myself. I pray that Jesus would so capture us that the outward displays of our life would testify to His inward work. I pray that as we live in continual trust in Jesus, our outward physical life would bend and flex to the demands of a heart and will that is saturated with the Person of Jesus. I pray that it may it be so in our lives.