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Grace Notes

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“I SANCTIFY MYSELF”
by Philip Owen

            I’m a little embarrassed to admit that as often as I have read the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel, and studied or meditated on various portions of it, somehow the first clause of the nineteenth verse escaped my attention. Addressing His Heavenly Father, Christ prays: “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” What struck me for the first time were the Lord’s words: “I sanctify Myself.”

            The doctrine of sanctification seems to be little spoken about and seldom emphasized in the modern church, yet forms of the word occur more than thirty times in the New Testament. Sanctification remains an integral part of salvation and a critical theme throughout the Bible. Those who are familiar with the doctrine recognize that the verb conveys the idea “to set apart” with the consistent implication that it is for the purpose of God’s use or service. Many also understand that sanctification involves two elements. There is positional sanctification, which describes the work of God at the time of salvation as He sets apart to Himself once and forever those whom He has elected and redeemed. Those blessed individuals are holy in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ that has been credited to them. That is God’s work exclusively—perfect, final, and eternal. Then there is practical sanctification, that continual process of being set apart from self, sin, and the world that begins at the new birth and doesn’t end until the believer is glorified. It is a process empowered by the indwelling Spirit of God but requiring the will and energy of the believer as well.

            Because the terms sanctification and holiness derive from the same Greek root and because practical sanctification does entail being set apart from sin to an ever-increasing experiential holiness, many believers view practical sanctification almost exclusively in relationship to sin. But our text—“I sanctify Myself”—encourages us to take a broader view of practical sanctification than simply its relationship to sin. After all, Christ had no sin from which He had to separate, nothing of the old man with which He had to wrestle and reject.

            However, He did have to dedicate Himself to the will of the Father, an effort requiring self-denial and submission of His will to the will of the Father. Yet this aspect of sanctification involves more than the negative rejection of sin. It comprises the positive embracing of God’s will and the determination that the life that Christ died to redeem will be lived for God’s honor and glory. Yes, in order to do that, we must eschew sin, but it goes beyond the life that says, “God said don’t do that, so I won’t do it” and “God says do this, so I’ll do it.”

            The sanctification Christ exemplified derived from a heart filled with love for the Father. Similarly, the sanctification that believers are to exercise (under the direction and in the power of the Holy Spirit, of course) derives from hearts filled with thankfulness and love for the salvation purchased by Christ according to the will of the Father.

            This aspect of sanctification is conscious; it is deliberate. It says in so many words, “I give myself to be what Christ has saved me to be. I give myself to do what God wants me to do. I am not my own; I’ve been bought with a price. I will live to please the One who bought me.” Too many of us live lives of “I need . . . I want . . . I’d like.” And certainly it is true that God has invited us to bring Him all our requests. But His saving grace is most clearly seen and most highly honored when in some form or fashion our will is to echo Christ’s words: “I sanctify Myself.” Is your life dedicated to the Lord? In some areas that is a once and forever transaction; in most cases it involves a daily, even moment-by-moment submission to God’s Word and the promptings of His indwelling Spirit. Does your life truly belong to the Lord? Is He free to make you what He wants you to be, send you where He wants you to go, and trust you to do what He wants you to do? Christ, our example, expects nothing less. (God surely blesses those who yield to Him.)

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