In this series of articles I’m going to mess with you holiness or sanctification theology – you’ve been warned!
Can unbelievers be sanctified?
Let’s start with a bang. Did you know that it is possible for an unbeliever to be sanctified? Yes you heard me right! Here is the verse:
“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”
What is going on here? How can an unbeliever be sanctified? I believe the explanation is that because one member of the family is saved the rest are treated by God as if they were already.
This doesn’t mean they are automatically saved however, only that they are now on a ‘fast track’ to salvation; the spotlight is on them! It’s like when Paul says to the jailor: “believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved and your whole house”. This doesn’t mean that every member of the household is automatically enrolled into the book of life; just that the opportunity of salvation has increased because they are probably going to hear the Gospel and see its transforming power first-hand.
In addition, this helps explain an apparently ‘difficult’ scripture:
“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” Hebrews 10:29
Consequently, now it’s clear that sanctification can apply to an unbeliever, this scripture becomes much clearer. The writer of the Hebrews is speaking to Jews (not Gentiles) who are meeting with Jewish believers. They are not saved and in fact are in danger of turning their back on Christianity and returning to Judaism. Therefore, they are described as sanctified for the same reasons as the previous example.
Both these examples then illustrate an important point: sanctification does not mean sinlessness!
Ok then, so what does it mean? Simply put, sanctification means to be made holy, separated, different, special. Holiness therefore has nothing to do with sinlessness even though it does have to do with purity and cleansing.
Leviticus 10:10 “And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;”
Therefore, when God is described as holy its not referring to his sinlessness its referring to his uniqueness! God is separate, different, perfect and incomparable! That is why when man tries to replicate God in the form of an animal or human he is making God common and that’s called idolatry.
Romans 1:21 “And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”
In Exodus, Moses encounters this Holy God in the burning bush and he is told to take off his shoes because the ground is holy. Was the ground sinless? No, of course not, it was the presence of God who is unique, special that made it holy.
What does the Bible say is Holy?
Wrapping up, and just to further emphasise that holiness and sanctification do not mean sinlessness, it’s clear that many other things declared by the Bible as holy are not capable of sinning because they are inanimate:
1. The Holy scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:5 “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
2. Your food! 1 Timothy 4:5 “For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”
3. The Sabbath: Exodus 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
4. The Law: Romans 7:12 “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”
5. Every Jewish first born male child : Luke 2:23 “As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;”
What then, if holiness is not sinlessness does it matter how we live? Surely we should be becoming more holy? That is what we will discuss in the next article!
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