In this series, we’ve been looking at Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and whether certain parts of it were answered because it doesn’t really seem like they were, or at least not in the ways we imagine they ought to be. Isn’t that always the case?
In this post I want to look at verses 17-19: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”
I once heard a pastor tell a story that went something like this, “Every morning I get up and shower and shave, then I have a cup of Sanka coffee, and my wife toasts some cinnamon raisin bread. I don’t care much for raisins, so I spend a few moments poking them out of my toast before slathering on some butter and eating my breakfast. I guess you could say that I’m shaved, sankafied, and filled with the holy toast.”
Humor aside, a lot of times the word “sanctification” is used to describe the process by which we are continually conformed into the image of Christ. We sin less and less until we die, and then when we see Him face-to-face, we become fully sanctified and don’t sin anymore. If this is what sanctification is, why does Jesus say, “for their sakes I sanctify Myself”?
Why would Jesus, the One who never sinned, need to be sanctified if sanctification is a process of perfecting the saints? Wouldn’t He already have been sanctified? Also why would He pray that the Father sanctify us in the Truth of His word as we’re sent into the world if our finished sanctification only comes at death?
A little digging shows that the word sanctification is never used in this context, at least not that I can find. In fact the word is really just the verb form of holy, which means “to be set apart for God’s work.” In that context, Jesus’ sanctification of Himself through obedience even to death on the cross makes perfect sense. Our complete sanctification as saints through belief in Christ makes complete sense; we are set apart for God’s work:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-15)
When we sin as believers, we are not showing that our sanctification is incomplete; boo hoo for us; rather we are quite literally dragging the holiness of God through the mud. His Truth has set us free, His Truth has sanctified us, and His Son Sanctified Himself and us through the cross. Sin is not a bad habit that sneaks up on us; it’s a slap in the face to God Himself.
Why do you think Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Jesus’ prayer was answered just as He prayed, not as a process. Sin ought to be viewed more seriously than a process of sanctification allows for. If we are sanctified, our response to sin can’t be, “oh well someday I’ll stop even if it’s in eternity.” We must strive to protect the holiness of God within us that Christ’s sanctification made possible. Flee from sin, and repent with tears when it catches you unawares, but don’t be flippant about God’s holiness.
Next in the series: Joy