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Sanctification and Perfection

Written by Gary North on July 9, 2016

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctity and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Paul’s language leaves no doubt concerning Christ’s intention to cleanse His church. It also leaves no doubt that Paul was writing for the so-called “Church Age.” No dispensational group, even including the groups classified as “ultradispensationalists” (followers of C. H. Stam and the zero-baptism, zero-Lord’s Supper spin-off groups), has classified Ephesians as anything except a “Church Age” document.

Christ intends to sanctify the church. He intends to make it holy. These two words mean the same thing: to set apart. Christ sets apart His people from the world–not in history, but ethically. He does this through the power of His word. Christ’s remarkable public prayer in John 17 spells this out clearly:

I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth (John 17:15-19).

Both in English and in Hebrew, the word for “sanctity” has the same root as the word for “sanctuary.” To clean something morally (kaw-dash) means to sanctify it, to make it holy. The sanctuary (Exodus 36:1, 3-4, 6) is the ko-desh, a holy place. The sanctuary of God is a place that is set aside for worshiping Him. The sanctified person is the one who has been set aside by God to worship Him. The English word saint means the one who has access to the sanctuary. The same is true in New Testament Greek. The Greek word for saint is hagios. The Greek word hagiadzo means to purify, consecrate, set apart, make holy, and sanctify.

So much for word studies. These questions remain. First, how is something or someone sanctified? Second, is it an instantaneous condition, or it is something developed over time?

Christ’s Perfection in History

Jesus Christ was born the Son of God. He did not earn this office; He was born to it. He was not a perfect man who somehow became God; He was a perfect man who was also the incarnate God, one person (for God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) with two natures: human and divine. This has been the testimony of the orthodox faith since at least the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. There is no need here to defend this theology.

But if Christ was born a perfect human being, why did He have to suffer and die? Because He was our office-bearer. He suffered the punishment that sinful men deserve, so that they can escape it.

He lived a perfect life. While He began perfect, unstained by Adam’s original sin, He nevertheless had to work out his perfection in fear and trembling: praying, shedding tears, and doing His Father’s will in history. His perfection was a demonstrated perfection in history. It was not a perfection beyond history; it was perfection within the confines of history. It was perfection that left evidence behind.

And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name (John 20:30-31).

So, Jesus began perfect, and He matured this perfection. He was no more perfect ethically at His death than at His birth, yet He was required by God to walk the highways of Palestine, performing miracles, confronting His opponents, training His disciples, and then dying on the cross. We dare not say that He was more perfect ethically at His death than at His birth, for perfection is perfection; it cannot be added to. Yet we also dare not deny that His perfection matured in history, giving evidence of what a righteous walk before God should be. Thus, Paul wrote: “Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). Christ, as revealed in the Bible, is the only appropriate model for men to imitate.

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2).

So, Jesus went from perfection to perfection.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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