“This is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Sanctification! Now there’s a 50 cent word which will generate lots of “Amens” in church. Seems that everybody’s for it but not many know what it is. Only a few practice it; and for those who do, there’s always a preacher around who will condemn them for being Pharisees because they have standards. Sanctify means to consecrate; to dedicate; to keep holy; to set apart. Inherent in the idea is that of a difference.
It would be really difficult to read the Bible with any sense of objectivity and fail to see that God expects a practical, everyday difference between His people and world’s people who are lost. That difference is never to be ugly, mean, haughty, judgmental or prideful; but it is to be clearly observable, saturated with humility, love, selflessness, goodness and compassion. The thinking of God about His people is well seen in this statement about His priests. “And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23). An identifiable difference for the better because of a higher standard is the intent of God for His people, regardless of the age in which they live. To His New Testament people (including us) He said, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light . . . Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:9, 11-12).
In any age it is never difficult to grasp the reality of a world whose ideas and practices are far from God. Place the world’s views and God’s views side by side; the differences form a chasm. Compare the two views point by point: God, origins, biological classifications, economic systems, the purpose of life, the sanctity of life, morality, greatness, values, worship, sexuality, marriage, child-rearing and the list goes on. The world’s positions constantly shift ever farther from God who never changes. In hopes of reaching the world’s people, many who claim to represent God move to the turf where the world just was; they don’t want to seem too pious, stiff and untouchable to the world. They thus try to be as much like the world as possible so no one will be offended and turn away. Together the lost world and those hoping to convert them unknowingly drift farther and farther from the holiness of God as revealed in His Word. However for those who face reality (on either side) it is never difficult to see the difference between the holy and the profane, the clean and the unclean, the sanctified and the worldly. Simply look around, and then compare what you observe to the standards of the Bible (not the church). The differences will be obvious. Through the centuries the chasm between the world and Christendom stays essentially the same as the two waltz ever farther to the left because both are moving in the same direction; but the chasm between the world and biblical Christianity grows ever wider and deeper.
Today and through the centuries, lack of sanctification (separation) has been one of the greatest hindrances to the cause of our great God. In church we sing with such enthusiasm and passion, “What a wonderful change in my heart has been wrought, since Jesus came into my heart.” We speak unequivocally of the transforming power of the blood of Christ and entice sinners with the claim that meeting Christ will change them for the better forever. Oh, could that really be true? Could He really change me? Show me, Christian friend, show me a changed person. And the look begins. They look for the difference in the moral lives and sexual habits of Christians and those who are not. They compare spending habits, language in the workplace, responses to adversity, fundamental honesty, moderation, dispositions, attitudes, values, where Christians are investing their lives and other everyday practices. With few exceptions the differences are almost non-existent: in divorce rates, credit scores, dress codes, humor, entertainment, temper control, response to evil treatment, consistency, child-rearing, work ethic, relationships with others or elsewhere.
How can it be that we talk so loud about a life-changing meeting with Jesus Christ while bystanders compare us to lost people and see almost no difference? How empty rings our claim that our life was changed when we got saved while those who knew us before can see almost no difference now! Oh, it’s easy to hide behind the positional sanctification we received by faith when we were forever set aside into the family of God. Every honest Christian knows that’s a defenseless defense. The truth is that rather than our position in Christ being a license to live unholy, profane lives with little or no difference from the world, our new position should commit us to a day-to-day life of holiness and service to God. As saved people, we are living letters “known and read of all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). We are literally God’s “ambassadors” with the specific assignment of representing our King in this profane and godless world (2 Corinthians 5:20).
God expects His people to interface with the world and win lost sinners. In order to win the world, He does not allow His children to blend in and embrace the world’s standards of language, economics, dress, humor, response or other common (profane) ways of living. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:11-14). It’s hard to imagine language calling for holiness and sanctification being any more straightforward and clear.