“Belonging to another isn’t something that can be compartmentalised for certain times or certain people. Holiness is a radical, all-in call to submit our lives daily to God. It’s the call to live for our Possessor’s glory, not our own. To be holy means to surrender our lives to God and grant him free access into every corner.”
We get the word sanctify by glueing two little Latin words together: sanctus (which means holy) and fiacre (which means to make). Therefore, to be sanctified is to be made holy and sanctification is the gradual ‘holy-fying’ that takes place in a believer’s life from the very first moments of regeneration. The Westminster Shorter Catechism calls it ‘the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness’. You and I might call it ‘holistic upcycling’, as dark habits are broken, sinful patterns are corrected, and lives are remade to the image of Christ by the power of God’s Spirit.
However, sanctification is much bigger than simply becoming more like Jesus. As glorious as that is, sanctification is God’s planned cosmic restoration happening before our very eyes. Ever since Adam rebelled, the world and its people were plunged into ruin. Throughout the Bible story, our God promises a renewed earth, decisively rid of grief and death. This hope is made certain through Christ’s death and resurrection and will be seen when Christ returns to reign. In the meantime, however, we glimpse his new creation in the church. Have you known a brother live more peaceably or behave more gently or kindly? Behold what God is doing! He’s making all things new (Rev. 21:5).
Belonging, not just behaving
But if sanctification is about becoming holier, what does ‘holy’ mean?
We might be surprised by the answer. Our instinct says that holiness has to do with purity and morality; holiness is about right behaviour. But that’s only half the story. Holiness is about behaviour, but it’s firstly about belonging.
In his first letter, Peter uses the word ‘holy’ a lot. It’s a dominant theme throughout the book, as he seeks to comfort a suffering church and call them to live distinctly amid an unbelieving world. In chapter 1 verse 15 he bids them, ‘Be holy, as he who called [them] is holy,’ then, to drive his request home he quotes from Leviticus, another book in which the theme of holiness runs throughout.
The term ‘holy’ is used in a surprising way in Leviticus. Almost everything is holy in Leviticus: people, tables, tents, breads… Bread!? That should set off alarm bells if we think holiness is simply a matter of right behaviour. How can a piece of bread behave properly?
In the Hebrew language, ‘holy’ literally means ‘set apart’; that is, to exist for God’s use alone. Our instinct is wrong. Holiness is more than behaving: it’s belonging to God. To be holy is to realise that we are a people for God’s own possession (1 Pet. 2:9). We no longer belong to ourselves. We are his.