The act or process of making holy, separating, or setting apart for the service or use of Jehovah God; the state of being holy, sanctified, or purified. “Sanctification” draws attention to the action whereby holiness is produced, made manifest, or maintained. (See HOLINESS.) Words drawn from the Hebrew verb qa·dhashʹ and words related to the Greek adjective haʹgi·os are rendered “holy,” “sanctified,” “made sacred,” and “set apart.”
A better understanding of the subject can be gained by a consideration of the usage of the words in the original languages. They are applied in the Scriptures to (1) Jehovah God, (2) Jesus Christ, (3) angels, (4) men and animals, (5) things, (6) periods of time or occasions, and (7) land possessions. Sometimes the Hebrew word for “sanctify” was used in the sense of preparing or making oneself ready or in fit condition. Jehovah commanded Moses to say to the complaining Israelites: “Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, as you will certainly eat meat.” (Nu 11:18) Before Israel crossed the Jordan River, Joshua ordered: “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow Jehovah will do wonderful things in your midst.” (Jos 3:5) In all cases the term has a religious, spiritual, and moral sense. It can denote the getting away from anything that displeases Jehovah or appears bad in his eyes, including physical uncleanness. God said to Moses: “Go to the people, and you must sanctify them today and tomorrow, and they must wash their mantles. . . . because on the third day Jehovah will come down before the eyes of all the people upon Mount Sinai.” (Ex 19:10, 11) The word is used to mean purifying or cleansing, as at 2 Samuel 11:4, which reads: “She was sanctifying herself from her uncleanness.”
Jehovah told Israel that they should be separate from the nations of the world and clean from their practices; he gave Israel laws to keep them set apart, including the laws defining what was clean and what was unclean for eating. Then he gave them the reason: “For I am Jehovah your God; and you must sanctify yourselves and you must prove yourselves holy, because I am holy.”
Jehovah God. Jehovah God is holy and absolutely clean. As the Creator and Universal Sovereign, he has the right to the exclusive worship of all of his creatures. Therefore he says that he will demonstrate his holiness, acting to sanctify himself and his name before the eyes of all creation: “I shall certainly magnify myself and sanctify myself and make myself known before the eyes of many nations; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah.” (Eze 38:23) Those who desire his favor, and life, must “sanctify” him and his name, that is, they must hold that name in its proper place as separate from and higher than all others. (Le 22:32; Isa 8:13; 29:23) Jesus taught his followers to pray as the foremost thing: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified [or, “be held sacred; be treated as holy”].”
Jesus Christ. Jehovah God selected his only-begotten Son and sent him to earth to do a special work in behalf of God’s name and to give his life as a ransom for humankind. But he was not received and respected by the Jewish nation as that sent one; rather, they denied his sonship and his position with his Father. He replied to them: “Do you say to me whom the Father sanctified and dispatched into the world, ‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, I am God’s Son?”
The apostle Peter writes to Christians, telling them to “sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts.” He shows that one who does this will stay away from what is bad and will do good. The people of the nations hold in their hearts an awe and a fear of men and of other things. But the Christian should set Christ in the right place in his affections and motivations. This would mean recognizing Christ’s position as God’s Chief Agent of life, the Messianic King, God’s High Priest, and the one who gave his life as a ransom. He should also keep Christ’s example of good conduct before him and hold a good conscience in connection with his own conduct as a Christian. If a person, even a ruler, should harshly demand a reason for his hope, the Christian who thus sanctifies Christ in his heart will make a good defense, yet with a mild temper and deep respect.
Angels. The angels of God are called by Jesus “holy” angels, sanctified, set apart for Jehovah’s holy use. (Mr 8:38; Lu 9:26; compare Ps 103:20.) They appear in the sacred presence of Jehovah, beholding his face.
Men and Animals. In times past God has chosen certain persons whom he desired to use for his exclusive service, and he sanctified them. When he determined to use the males of the tribe of Levi to take care of the sacred tabernacle and its services, he said to Moses: “As for me, look! I do take the Levites from among the sons of Israel in place of all the firstborn opening the womb of the sons of Israel; and the Levites must become mine. For every firstborn is mine. In the day that I struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified to myself every firstborn in Israel from man to beast. They should become mine. I am Jehovah.” In order to release the firstborn of the other 11 tribes, the Israelites were required to give in exchange all the males of the tribe of Levi. Then they had to give five shekels ($11) to the sanctuary for every male firstborn above the total number of male Levites. This released the firstborn ones from being set apart for Jehovah’s exclusive service.
After this, all male firstborn ones opening the womb were considered to be sanctified but were presented at the temple and redeemed by a payment of five shekels ($11). (Ex 13:2; Le 12:1-4; Nu 18:15, 16) Those under Nazirite vows were sanctified for the period of their vow. (Nu 6:1-8) The firstborn of domestic animals were also sanctified, to be sacrificed or, in some cases, to be redeemed.
The priesthood. Jehovah also purposed to set aside an exclusive family within the tribe of Levi to serve as his priests of sacrifice, namely, Aaron and his sons and their male descendants. (Ex 28:1-3, 41) They were then sanctified with fitting sacrifices in a symbolic series of acts described in Exodus chapter 29. Jehovah’s everlasting High Priest, Jesus Christ, and his fellow priests, or underpriests, namely those who follow Christ’s footsteps and whom God anoints to be members of Christ’s body, are also sanctified.
The Process of Sanctification. There is a certain process or procedure that the one to be sanctified as a footstep follower of Christ must undergo. Using the word sanctify in the sense of purify or cleanse from sin in God’s sight, the apostle Paul wrote: “For if the blood of goats and of bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctifies to the extent of cleanness of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Christ, who through an everlasting spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works that we may render sacred service to the living God?”
“The blood of the Christ” signifies the value of his perfect human life; and it is this that washes away the guilt of sin of the person believing in him. Hence it really (not just typically [compare Heb 10:1-4]) sanctifies to the purifying of the believer’s flesh, from God’s standpoint, so that the believer has a clean conscience. Also, God declares such believer righteous and makes him suitable to be one of the underpriests of Jesus Christ. (Ro 8:1, 30) Such ones are called haʹgi·oi, “holy ones,” “saints” (KJ), or persons sanctified to God.
So the procedure for those who are to become joint heirs with Christ is, first, that they are drawn by Jehovah God to Jesus Christ by faith in the truth of God’s Word. (Joh 6:44; 17:17; 2Th 2:13) Accepted by Jehovah, they are “washed clean, . . . sanctified, . . . declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.” (1Co 6:11) Christ thus becomes to them ‘wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification and release by ransom.’ (1Co 1:30) Of these, the apostle Paul said: “For both he [Christ] who is sanctifying and those who are being sanctified all stem from one, and for this cause he is not ashamed to call them ‘brothers.’” (Heb 2:11) They become ‘sons of God’ and “brothers” of God’s Chief Son by spirit begetting.
Must be maintained. The process of sanctification is not all on one side. Sanctification must be maintained, and in this the believer has a part. He can lose his sanctification or he can hold on to it.
Christ Jesus has set the pattern for those who are sanctified. (Joh 13:15) He said in prayer to God: “I am sanctifying myself in their behalf, that they also may be sanctified by means of truth.” (Joh 17:19) Jesus kept himself blameless and maintained his status of being set apart for the purpose of sanctifying his followers. They must maintain their sanctification down to the end of their earthly course. To do this, they must keep clear of dishonorable things and of persons who practice dishonorable things, so as to be “a vessel for an honorable purpose, sanctified, useful to his owner, prepared for every good work.” (2Ti 2:20, 21) They must realize that it is with Christ’s own blood that they are bought, and that it is by God’s will that they “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.” (Heb 10:10) They are counseled to “pursue . . . the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord.”
Though they are still in the imperfect flesh, which tends toward sin, the sanctified ones can be successful. In warning of the danger of losing one’s sanctification, Paul reminds the sanctified ones that it was “the blood of the [new] covenant by which [they were] sanctified.” (Heb 10:29; Lu 22:20) As Mediator of the new covenant, Christ assists them to carry out the terms of the covenant by obedience and clean behavior so that they keep their sanctification. “It is by one sacrificial offering that he has made those who are being sanctified perfect perpetually.” (Heb 10:14) As Mediator and High Priest, Christ “is able also to save completely those who are approaching God through him.” (Heb 7:25) But if they return to a practice of sin, there is not a second sacrifice, only the expectation of judgment and destruction.
Accordingly, the sanctified ones are not called so they can continue as they did before being sanctified, or so they can go back to such a course. The apostle exhorts: “For this is what God wills, the sanctifying of you, that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you should know how to get possession of his own vessel in sanctification and honor.” “For God called us, not with allowance for uncleanness, but in connection with sanctification.”
God’s Word and spirit. God’s Word plays a great part in sanctification, and it must be followed closely for sanctification to be maintained. (Ac 20:32) To the believer and sanctified one, God also sends his holy spirit, which is a strong force working in him for cleanness. It helps the sanctified one to be obedient, keeping him in a clean way of life. (1Pe 1:2) Guidance by God’s spirit makes it possible for the offering of such ones to be sanctified, clean, acceptable to God. (Ro 15:16) Any uncleanness is a disregarding of God’s spirit and tends to ‘grieve’ it. (Eph 4:30; 1Th 4:8; 5:19) It can go so far as to lead to blasphemy against the holy spirit, which will not be forgiven.
Sanctification of Places. The place where Jehovah dwells or any place where he dwells representatively is a sanctified or holy place, a sanctuary. The tabernacle in the wilderness and the temples later built by Solomon and Zerubbabel (and rebuilt and enlarged by Herod the Great) were designated as miq·dashʹ or qoʹdhesh, ‘set apart’ or ‘holy’ places. Being located in the midst of a sinful people, these places had to be purified (in a typical, or pictorial, way) of defilement periodically by sprinkling with the blood of sacrificial animals.
Jerusalem. Likewise Jerusalem, the city of the grand King (Ps 48:1, 2; 135:21), and the site on which it stood were considered sanctified. (Isa 48:1, 2; 52:1; Ne 11:1; Da 9:24) Correspondingly, New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, is a sanctuary into which only sanctified persons, and none who practice any form of uncleanness (such as spiritism, fornication, murder, idolatry, and lying) are allowed to enter.
The garden of Eden, a sanctuary. Jehovah appeared, representatively, in the garden of Eden to converse with and instruct Adam and Eve; it was a clean, sinless, perfect place, where man was at peace with God. (Ge 1:28; 2:8, 9; 3:8, 9; De 32:4) Therefore Adam and Eve were driven out of it when they rebelled. This paradise was a place set apart or sanctified by God for clean, righteous persons to occupy. Now that Adam and Eve were sinners, they were driven out so that they could not partake of the tree of life and thus, despite being sinners, live forever.
The burning bush and Mount Sinai. When Jehovah commissioned Moses to go back down into Egypt to deliver His people from slavery, sending Moses in His own memorial name Jehovah (Ex 3:15, 16), God dispatched his angel, who appeared to Moses in a burning bush. When Moses approached, the angel, appearing representatively for Jehovah, commanded Moses to remove his sandals because, he said, “the place where you are standing is holy [qoʹdhesh] ground.”
Later, when the people were gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, at the time the Law covenant was given, Jehovah gave Moses the command: “Set bounds for the mountain and make it sacred,” because Jehovah was there, representatively by his angels. (Ex 19:23; Ga 3:19) Anyone who went beyond the boundaries would be put to death, for no unauthorized persons can approach Jehovah’s presence. (Ex 19:12, 13) However, Moses as God’s appointed mediator could draw nearer. In this, Moses prophetically foreshadowed Jesus Christ, the great Mediator for anointed Christians, as they approach heavenly Mount Zion.
Cities of refuge and army camps. Certain cities in Israel were set aside for the special purpose of providing a place of refuge for the unintentional manslayer. They were sanctified, or given “sacred status.”
Sanctification of Things. Since the tabernacle and the temple were sanctified buildings, the things in them likewise had to be holy, sanctified. The ark of the covenant, the altar of incense, the table of showbread, the lampstand, the altar of burnt offering, the basin, all the utensils, the incense and the anointing oil, even the priests’ garments, were sanctified items. They were to be handled and transported only by sanctified persons
Sacrifices and food. The sacrifices and offerings were sanctified by reason of being offered upon the sanctified altar in the manner prescribed. (Mt 23:19) The portion that the priests received was holy and could not be eaten by those outside the priestly households, and even the priests could not eat such things while in an “unclean” state. (Le 2:3; 7:6, 32-34; 22:1-13) The showbread was likewise holy, sanctified.
Just as the food provided by Jehovah for his priesthood was sanctified, so the food provided by him for his Christian servants is likewise sanctified, as all things partaken of or engaged in by his sanctified servants should be. The apostle Paul warns against conscienceless men who put on a display of sanctification that is false, “forbidding to marry, commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be partaken of with thanksgiving by those who have faith and accurately know the truth. The reason for this is that every creation of God is fine, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through God’s word and prayer over it.” (1Ti 4:1-5) If God’s Word declares a thing clean, it is clean, and the Christian, by giving thanks for it in prayer, accepts it as sanctified, and God counts him clean in eating.
Tithes. The tithe of the grain, fruit, and flocks that the Israelites set aside was considered sanctified and could be used for no other purpose. (Le 27:30, 32) Accordingly no one can misuse a sanctified thing or harm or speak evil against any of God’s sanctified persons, including the anointed brothers of Christ, and be guiltless before God. Jesus showed the Jews this when they accused him of blasphemy. (Joh 10:36) The apostle Peter warned of destruction that is to come upon wicked men whom he describes as “daring, self-willed, [who] do not tremble at glorious ones [whom Jehovah has sanctified] but speak abusively.”
Periods of Time or Occasions. The Bible record tells us what God did when he completed his creative work toward the earth: “By the seventh day God came to the completion of his work . . . , and he proceeded to rest . . . And God proceeded to bless the seventh day and make it sacred.” (Ge 2:2, 3) This “day” was therefore to be employed by men as a “day” of sacred service and obedience to Jehovah. It was not to be defiled by self-works on the part of man. Adam and Eve therefore violated that “day” when they set out on a program of self-determination, to do as they pleased in the earth, independent of their Sovereign, Jehovah. God’s ‘rest day’ still continues, according to the record at Hebrews 3:11, 13; 4:1-11. Since God sanctified the “day,” setting it aside to his purpose, this “day” will see that purpose toward the earth fully accomplished in righteousness.
Sanctifying of Land. In Israel, a man might sanctify a part of his inheritance to God. He would do this by setting it aside so that the produce of the land would go to the sanctuary, or he could pay over to the sanctuary the value of the land (that is, its crops) according to the estimation of the priest. If he decided to buy it back, he was required to add one fifth to the valuation of the field (governed by the number of crops until the Jubilee year) as estimated by the priest. Of course, the field would be returned to its owner at the Jubilee.
The next verses apparently speak of the owner who does not repurchase the field but sells it to another man, and the law is that the field then becomes the permanent possession of the sanctuary at the time of the Jubilee. Concerning this law, at Leviticus 27:20, 21, Cook’s Commentary says: “[The words] may refer to a case in which a man might have fraudulently sold his interest in a field and appropriated the price after having vowed it to the Sanctuary.” Or they may refer to a case in which a man retained the use of the field and fulfilled his vow for a while by paying as a yearly rent a due proportion of the redemption money but then later parted with his interest to another for the sake of acquiring some ready money. Such a field was considered “devoted,” because he treated that which was sanctified to the sanctuary as his own, disrespecting its sanctity by making merchandise of it.
The principle may have been similar to the law at Deuteronomy 22:9: “You must not sow your vineyard with two sorts of seed, for fear that the full produce of the seed that you might sow and the product of the vineyard may be forfeited to the sanctuary.” Such forfeit would result from the violation of the law stated earlier at Leviticus 19:19.
The distinction between things “sanctified” and things “devoted” was that the “devoted” thing could not be redeemed. (See BAN.) Houses were handled in the same manner. (Le 27:14, 15) However, if a man sanctified a field that he had bought from someone else’s hereditary possession, the field returned at Jubilee to the original owner.
In Marriage. The apostle Paul tells the married Christian: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified in relation to his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in relation to the brother; otherwise, your children would really be unclean, but now they are holy.” Through Jehovah’s regard for the Christian, his (or her) marriage relationship with his unbelieving mate is not considered to be defiling. The cleanness of the sanctified one does not sanctify the mate as one of God’s holy ones, but the relationship is clean, honorable. The unbelieving mate has a fine opportunity to receive benefits from observing the Christian course of the believer and may himself be saved. (1Co 7:14-17) Because of the ‘merit’ of the believer, the young children of the union are considered holy, under divine care and protection