1 Thessalonians 5:23 “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The best way to understand what the Bible means is to study what the Bible says. I’m not against commentaries and study helps, but if you want to know what God thinks, the best thing to do is look at what He said about it in His Word. The same word Paul used in our key text is used ninety-six times in Scripture to refer to the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit. The word “holy” is the word “sanctified”. More than sixty times in the New Testament this same word is used in reference to believers. The Bible calls every child of God a saint. Of course, false religions call certain people saints and hold them up as examples, but in Bible terms the word saint simply means one who has been sanctified or made holy. 1 Peter 1:16 says, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.”
The only way for a human being to be holy is to be made holy by a holy God. This is not something that lies within our strength or power—it must be God who does this. Paul did not pray that God would help us sanctify ourselves; he prayed that God would do the job of making us wholly holy. So what does the Bible mean by sanctification? The simple meaning of the word is “to consecrate” or “to set apart”. Let me illustrate it this way. When I was growing up, I had three kinds of clothes. I had play clothes. In the summertime, that meant shorts and t-shirt and red Converse all-star tennis shoes. I had school clothes. At our school, we had to wear slacks and collared shirts. I also had church clothes. I had button down dress shirts and a necktie and black dress shoes.
Each of those three kinds of clothing was sanctified—it was set apart for a specific purpose. I didn’t wear my school clothes out to play, at least not without getting in trouble when my mother found out. I didn’t wear my play clothes to church. (It wouldn’t be a bad idea for that to still be the norm today!) The church clothes were not more “holy” than the play clothes; they were simply set apart for a different purpose. I wore the clothing that was designed and designated for what I was going to be doing. When I was young, President John F. Kennedy came and visited our town. We had the opportunity to go and see him. I had clothes for play and for school and for church. Which do you think I wore to meet the president? It wasn’t the shorts and t-shirts, even though the red Converse all stars were styling. It was the church clothes. We wanted to look our best for the special occasion.
Remember that when we got saved, God set us apart. He does not want to us to be the same people we were before. His plan is for us to become like His Son (Romans 8:29), and in order for that to happen, we have to experience 3-D sanctification—spirit, soul, and body. Nothing less will accomplish the purpose God has in mind.
The first time we see the idea of sanctification is found in the creation story. God made everything in six literal, twenty-four hour days. The earth is not billions and billions of years old. God spoke and everything we see around us came into existence from nothing. In six days, God finished His creation work, and then on the seventh day He rested. Now that does not mean that God was tired and needed to recover; instead it means that He ceased from His work. Genesis 2:3 says, “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” God set the seventh day apart from the other six days and made it different. That is sanctification.
We have had Tupperware around the house for years. They make a durable product. It lasts for a long time. Over the years different pieces of Tupperware have ended up in the sand box out the back yard. They work great for digging up dirt and filling up moats. When that happened, we didn’t worry about it too much—it’s just Tupperware. But we also have a nice set of china in the house. We use it for special meals on special occasions. There are not enough words in the English language to describe the wrath and fury that would descend on the unfortunate child who took a piece of china out to the sand box to dig with it. It’s sanctified!
Before salvation we were like Tupperware. But when we got saved, we got regenerated—given a new nature. When we become Christians we are not the same people we had been before. God turns us into fine china. That means that we need to stay out of the dirt! God has special plans and special purposes for our lives, and through sanctification we are cleaned to be useful to Him. The way my wife loves our china pales in comparison next to the way God loves you. That’s why He wants you to be wholly sanctified in spirit, soul, and body.