I recall as a kid attending a prayer meetings in which one of the ladies stood up to give testimony to the fact that she had not sinned in thought, word, or deed for ten years. Substantial evidence testified to the contrary.
I at one time toyed with the idea of writing an autobiography entitled, Complete Sanctification: How I Achieved It, but when my wife volunteered to write the foreword I changed my mind.
That said, however, in John 17:17 we find Jesus praying, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” Initially we might understand this verse to be saying that God uses Scripture in the process of our sanctification—to help us become more godly.
That certainly comprises a function of Scripture. It is an instrument of sanctification. It constitutes the pruning device Jesus mentions in John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” It is the sword of the Spirit protecting us from the assaults of Satan as the apostle Paul notes in Ephesians 6:17.
However, in His prayer for our sanctification, the imperative “sanctify,” is in the aorist tense, which suggests that Jesus did not have in mind a process of our growth in godliness (a present tense type of idea), but an act viewed as a completed whole. “He is mowing the grass,” an activity in process, is a present tense idea, whereas “He mowed the grass,” an action viewed as a completed whole, reflects the aorist tense.
What, then, did Jesus have in mind when He prayed for this completed sanctification through the Word? Apparently it was not of the type to which the lady in prayer meeting gave testimony or my proposed autobiography before my wife inserted herself uninvited. If Jesus were praying for that, His prayer was not answered.
To discover His meaning we must reflect on the meaning of the word sanctify, which refers to being holy. Holiness means to being set apart. Therefore, it does not refer to being righteous, per se. Often it has the connotation of righteousness because it is applied to being set apart from the corruption of this world, which results in godliness. However, holiness can refer to being set apart in other ways. The Holy Place in the Tabernacle was set apart to serve a special function.
In the previous verse Jesus states: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” The Word sanctifies us (sets us apart) by placing us in a different world, in the Kingdom of God. That is the realm in which Jesus lived even while He maintain a physical presence on earth. He physically took up residence on earth, but spiritually He continued as a resident of the spiritual realm. In Scripture, especially the Gospel of John, the present world order is referred to as the Cosmos. Jesus did not join that order but maintained His citizenship in the Kingdom of God, living according to all of its realities and values. In so doing He sanctified Himself.
It is the truth inherent in Scripture that the ministry of the Holy Spirit enables us also to see, enter into, and live in that spiritual realm.
This is why Bible reading and meditation have great significance beyond learning the truth. These exercises maintain our existence in the spiritual realm. Scripture informs us of the reality of the spiritual Kingdom, informs us of the principles of that Kingdom, informs us of the power and other resources of that Kingdom, informs us of the control of that Kingdom over the flow of history and the events of this life, informs us of the ultimate triumph of that Kingdom, informs us that that Kingdom is our ultimate and eternal residence, and enables us to live in the context of these truths, thus sanctifying us.
Our residence in this spiritual kingdom is more than just a mental exercise. Paul tells us that at least in one sense we have already taken up residence in that heavenly kingdom:
(E)ven when we were dead in trespasses, (He) made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus….” (Ephesians 2:5-6 NKJV)
Therefore, being set apart in that spiritual realm through the truth of Scripture merely enables us to view reality and then function from the perspective of our actual spiritual location.
As the cosmos becomes darker and more evil, how good it is to live in the Kingdom of God through the Word of God—a kingdom with no death or taxes, and not even any politicians.