“Sanctify them in the Truth; Your Word is Truth.”
What a powerful statement! Jesus lays out two great truths for us in this little statement…first, that it is by the means of the Truth that we should be sanctified and that the Word of God (Scripture) is Truth. Yet, we need to lay out some definitions here to make sure we understand the depth of this statement.
The first question we really need to ask is what does the word “sanctify” mean. In Greek, the term sanctify is the word, aJgia/zw (hagiazw), which is related to the term a¢gioß (hagios), meaning “holy” or “set apart for sacred use.” The Hebrew equivalent to this term is vwødDq (qadosh); God regularly sets apart his people (Leviticus 19:2, 20:26), his priests (Leviticus 21:8), and implements or items of worship (Leviticus 27:30,32) as hÎwhyÅl v®døq (qodesh layahweh)—“Holy to the Lord.” Thus, getting back to aJgia/zw (hagiazw), sanctification is the process by which God makes us holy as He is holy. It is a process by which he refines us as by fire (1 Peter 1:6-7), scraping off the dross and refining us for his work here in this world and to be ultimately purified as we are prepared to enter into his eternal presence in glory.
Thus, if we are sanctified in Truth and the scriptures are the revelation of God’s word, then how are we sanctified in the Bible? To begin with, let us state up front that the efforts of man in this area avail him nothing if not indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is not talking here about those who do not have new life, but he is talking about the born-again believer in Jesus Christ. Also, it should be noted that Jesus did speak many other words and do many other things than are recorded in the Bible (John 21:25), so some would argue that the Bible is not synonymous with God’s Word. While there is some truth to that claim, it is clear that the Bible is the only revelation of God that has been written down and preserved for us through the ages (through the superintending of the Holy Spirit). Certainly, there are many texts that claim divine or apostolic authorship as well as prophetic authorship, but these texts have clearly been shown to be much later additions, written under pseudonyms, and are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. It has become popular in this age to drag out these texts and create false theologies based on them, but such is the work of false teachers whose condemnation was designated and written about long ago (Jude 4). Look to the fruit of such teachers (Matthew 7:15-20) and who pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny Jesus Christ (Jude 4 again). The second century church fathers refuted them when they were writing, we should heed their warnings and not stumble into the errors of these charlatans.
As we move, then, back to the Bible—God’s revealed word and the source of all Truth, then how is it that the Bible is a tool in our sanctification? John Calvin made the argument that there are three purposes to the moral law as it is contained in scripture—the first was simply to set before us a moral code so that we can live together in society without killing one another. Simply spoken, how different our world would be if every human being on our planet lived by those ten basic commandments! Secondly, the Ten Commandments are designed to teach us our inability to live a holy life before the Lord. The simple fact is that try as we may, we cannot keep the commandments of God and thus as we survey the world around us, it is filled with idolatry, crime, adultery, greed, lust, etc… Thus, the law teaches us we need a savior to redeem us from our wicked state. Then finally comes the third use of the Law, which is as a tool of sanctification (what Jesus is talking about here) not for all mankind, but for the believer. As we seek to live according to the Moral Law of God out of a desire to honor our Redeemer and God, we grow more and more like the one who fulfilled that law for us, Jesus Christ.
Jesus said that if we love him, we will demonstrate that love in obedience to his commands (John 14:15). In addition, in the great commission, Jesus commands the Apostles to go out and make disciples. What are the marks of a true disciple? First, they have been baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But, secondly, they have been taught to obey “all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Thus, we can infer that it is not just the Moral Law that believers are to seek to obey, but all of God’s word as he lays it out before us. This is not to suggest that we are to obey all of the sacramental laws of the Old Testament, Jesus has fulfilled them for us once and for all time (Hebrews 10:10) nor is it to mean that the civil laws of the Old Testament are to be applied as they were applied in the Old Testament—Jesus himself forgave sins punishable by death (John 8:11)—such laws were given for a people who were structured into a Theocratic kingdom, now we are a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9) and thus have a priestly function while living within the nations of others (just as the Levites did in Israel and just as Abraham did while living as an alien in Canaan). We can certainly glean some moral principles from these case laws in the Old Testament, but their application is a moral guide and not civil law.
The heart at what Jesus is getting at, though, is that we must be taking God’s word and applying it to every area of our lives if we are to grow like him. How do we do this, though, if we are not immersing ourselves in our Bibles and studying it—recognizing it as Truth? What does it say about our hearts if we go to the Bible, yet it does not change us? In Christ we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), being changed—transformed even—into the image of Christ through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2)—and how is that renewal to take place? It takes place through the application of God’s word to every area of our lives—indeed, as our Lord prayed, we are sanctified according to his Word. Christian, pursue that end.