I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
~ John 17:15-17
What does sanctify mean? We hear it a lot, but most of the time when someone is talking about it, it seems jumbled up in so much theological jargon that it is hard to understand what it actually means.
The word was used frequently by the Hebrews and you will find it hundreds of times in the Old Testament; but in the New Testament, it isn't even mentioned in the first three gospels, and John only mentions it a few times. But first, the basic definition — and then we will see why Jesus talks about it so infrequently.
The original meaning is simply to set something aside and designate it entirely for God. The Hebrews did a lot of sanctification. They had vestments, altars, lampstands, etc., to be used only in sacred rituals.
There is a lot of theological speculation about sanctification in regards to a human being, and a lot of disagreement. But here we have Jesus speaking, so we know it is correct; and He says, “we” — and in my mind, the we He is talking about refers to those people who have been reborn in Christ, those who love Him — are like Him. Clearly we are still in the world, since we get hungry and eat, just as He was in the world. So what does He mean that we are not “of the world”? He means our souls, which is the part of us that is going to survive the death of our body.
Our bodies and souls are connected while we are alive; our life on earth is real and it is important. So when Jesus asks the Father to sanctify us by His truth, and then defines truth as His word, we should pay careful attention.
“Word” in the New Testament means both the Bible and Jesus Himself. It is Christ who is the Word and the truth that will sanctify our soul; it is the Bible that will leads us towards sanctification and holiness while we are on earth. How could we know what to do, to find salvation, without the Bible? So, in the end, all of this comes down to a plea to read and understand your Bible. If you are active in this part of your life, your spiritual strength is going to grow and about; and with it, all the gifts of the Spirit that Christ promised to us. If you ignore it, you will suffer unnecessarily: it's that simple.
Holy Lord, lead me to the truth of your Word, in this life and the next. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer