Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
– John 17:17-19, ESV
Growing up I always thought of “spiritual” things as inherently individual activities. Prayer and study of the Scripture were laid out as the main means of growing closer to the Lord and were best done alone. The holier a person got the more detached from the world they became. After all, the Greek word for holy means “set apart.” Of course people would become more apart from the earth and the people on it as they were sanctified and grew in holiness. Then, in our solo holiness we would somehow glorify the God who made us.
We were made, creatures fashioned to glorify our creator. Ephesians 1 makes it abundantly clear – as does the rest of Scripture – everything is for the glory of God. He’s the one at the center of the story. And that’s the problem with a sanctification that separates us from the world. Jesus’ ultimate holiness as the Son of God did nothing to prevent him from coming close to the world in all its sinfulness. Quite the contrary. In John 17 as Jesus prepares to leave his disciples and move toward his crucifixion he makes a statement that is often overlooked. “For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (v.19)
For Jesus his sanctification through total submission to his Father’s will, the essence of holiness, was done not simply for his own sake. He didn’t go to the cross, consecrating himself as a sacrifice simply so that he could regain access into heaven. It was “for their sake” that he was set apart. For the sake of the disciples then and disciples now. Jesus, through his consecration, bought men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation on the earth to be priests to God.
And here I was, thinking that my sanctification was all about me getting closer to God. That’s not what it’s about. Friends, it was Jesus’ sanctification as the sacrifice for sin that brought us close to God. We can’t get any closer to him that “seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Our sanctification isn’t about us, ultimately. Like Jesus, our sanctification is “for their sake…that they also may be sanctified in truth.” Our growth in holiness, our prayer and private worship, our study of scripture isn’t an end goal in and of itself. It’s for the sake of disciple-making, because making disciples who submit themselves to the Father’s will like Jesus did is what brings the greatest glory to the Father. The way that we most glorify God is through making disciples of Christ. Sanctification is for the sake of disciple-making.
Our sanctification is for other believers.
In John 17 Jesus makes it clear that his consecration is for the sake of his disciples. Similarly, in Ephesians 4 Paul points out the array of gifts that God has given his body, all given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (v.12). In 1 Thessalonians the Apostle points out that it was the Thessalonian’s sanctification and obedience that made them “an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”
God gives us the gift of spiritual growth so that the other believers around us will be drawn closer to him. Jesus called the twelve out from the crowds no just so that they could get to know him well, but so that they could take their knowledge of him and the gospel and use it to train up the others who had believed but hadn’t been as close to the master. Their sanctification was given to them for the sake of building up other believers.
Our sanctification is for non-believers.
Like Israel the body of Christ is to be holy, a distinctive culture in the midst of a world consumed by sin. 1 Thessalonians 4 begins by describing what it looks like to be sanctified, exhorting believers to “control his own body in holiness and honor,” which leads to, “so that you may walk properly before outsiders” (v.4, 12). The sanctification of Christ’s followers is so that they will be a witness to the world by their very lives that the resurrected Christ still has power to change men and women. Through the spiritual fruit of love, joy, patience, kindness, etc, we become glorious proofs of the gospel we proclaim.
When I thought of sanctification as a solo activity that would slowly move me closer to the Lord it was a weight on my shoulders that I was never quite able to bear. But that’s never what it was meant to be. Christ is our salvation and our sanctification. No manner of spiritual activity will gain us deeper access into the Father’s presence. We already have “every spiritual blessing” and can come “boldly before the throne of grace.” Sanctification is for the sake of the people around us, that they might see and desire greater things. God is answering Jesus’ prayer. We are sanctified in truth. As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus has sent us, consecrating us to himself for the sake of discipling those around us because only the disciple is the one who gives the Father the glory he is worthy of.