SANCTIFICATION: Spirit, Mind & Body
The word ‘sanctification’ is one of those big theological words whose definition eludes the average believer. The verb form is ‘sanctify.’ Both words are derived from the Greek hagios (HAG-ee-os), which means “holy,” “set apart” or, more specifically, “different from the world due to purification.” Observe how the apostle Paul uses the verb form:
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NASB)
This verse is a microcosm of God’s will for every human being—his plan of complete salvation that occurs in three phases, corresponding to the sanctification of each part of our being—spirit, mind & body, which can be explained as follows:
- Sanctification of Spirit: Justification, aka spiritual regeneration
- Sanctification of Mind: The process of renewing (purifying) the mind
- Sanctification of Body: The purification of our mortal bodies and eventual glorification, aka the bodily resurrection where believers receive imperishable glorified bodies
Since Paul used the word ‘sanctify’ in reference to all three of these life-changing transformations ‘sanctification’ technically refers to all of them. It refers to the purification of (1.) spirit, (2.) mind and (3.) body. However, when ministers use the word ‘sanctification’ they’re usually referring to the second one, the process of purification of the mind. Let’s go over all three:
SANCTIFICATION OF SPIRIT: Justification, aka Spiritual Regeneration
The Bible says that Christ “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). ‘Justification’ here means divine approval via Christ’s full payment of our debt for sin, which liberates the believer from all divine condemnation. The Greek word for ‘justification’ is derived from the verb dikaioó (dik-ah-YOH-oh), which means to “make righteous” and therefore “acquit”—that is, release from the just charges and corresponding guilt. It’s translated as “justify” three times in this passage:
know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
As you can see, justification comes through faith in Jesus Christ and, more specifically, his paying the penalty for sin in our place and being raised to life for our justification, i.e. our acquittal through being “made righteous” (Romans 10:9-10). This happens instantaneously the moment a person has faith for salvation. You could say that justification means “just-as-if-I-never-sinned”!
How exactly are we “made righteous” in this manner? It’s not just a declaration from God, but a reality through being spiritually regenerated via the seed of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5 puts it like this: “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” This is talking about spiritual rebirth where the believer is born of the “seed” of Christ. ‘Seed’ is the Greek word for sperm, by the way (1 John 3:9 & 1 Peter 1:23). Spiritually speaking, believers are born of the sperm of Christ! Why is this important? Because the Messiah said that we need to be born-again to see the kingdom of God and explained what he meant by this rebirth, saying “flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
In other words, your parents gave birth to you, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to a reborn spirit inside the believer when he or she has faith for justification. This reborn spirit is called the “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and a “treasure” in the jar of clay of your body (2 Corinthians 4:7). It’s the “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
That needs to be empasized: If you’re a believer your spirit was “created to be like God in true righteousness”! When you were justified through faith you were spiritually born-anew of the sperm of Christ by the Holy Spirit and created to be like God in true righteousness in your spirit! It’s imperative that you grasp this because it’s vital for the next phase of sanctification—the purification of your mind.
I was justified, incidentally, in late March of 1984 as I was cleaning a women’s shower room well after midnight as a janitor at a fitness club. I was working and reflecting on things when—suddenly—everything clicked, obviously due to the sudden potent enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. One moment I was in darkness and the next moment I was in the light, spiritually speaking. One moment I was in one kingdom and the next moment I was in another. I instantaneously crossed from death to life (John 5:24 & 1 John 3:14). And it’s been a fascinating journey ever since. Speaking of which…
SANCTIFICATION OF MIND: Renewing (Purifying) the Mind
Purification of the mind is the next phase in the believer’s journey after justification. This is a process that takes place the rest of your life on this earth. It means “being made new in the attitude of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23) simply by purging erroneous concepts from your psyche with the truth—reality. The ministry of the Holy Spirit will aid you in this, which includes conviction and the believer’s corresponding repentance. Thus Romans 12:2 encourages us to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
But how exactly are we transformed in this manner? The following instruction is key:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
‘Attitude’ in verse 23 is the Greek word for spirit, pneuma (NOO-mah), but it doesn’t refer to the human spirit in this context. The “new self” in verse 24 refers to the believer’s regenerated spirit, but verse 23 uses spirit (pneuma) in connection with the mind, as in “spirit of the mind,” which means the character or perspective of your mind, which is why the New International Version translates pneuma as “attitude” above. The International Standard Version translates “attitude of your minds” as “mental attitude.” Once being justified through spiritual rebirth believers are to be made new in their mental attitudes—meaning the character, perspective and even desires of the mind.
You see, your mind is caught in a battle between two natures—flesh and spirit — the “old self” and the “new self” — which refer to your lower and higher natures respectively. They are the two conflicting proclivities that shoot thoughts/impulses/desires into your mind on a regular basis (Galatians 5:17). Your mind, by contrast, is the center of your being; it’s the part of you that possesses volition (will), intellect (reason) and emotion (feeling). Because your mind possesses volition—i.e. will—you have the power of decision and therefore the ability to DECIDE which nature you’re going to receive from and follow—your sinful nature (flesh) or your godly nature (spirit).
Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit gave birth to your new regenerated spirit (John 3:6), which was “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Moreover, you are a Temple of the Holy Spirit—a Temple of God—because the Spirit of God resides in you. Exactly what part of your being does the Holy Spirit inhabit? Your spirit, of course, since your spirit was made holy through regeneration (Ephesians 3:16). In fact, it’s only because your spirit has been reborn holy that the Holy Spirit is able to indwell you! With this understanding, your spirit—your “new self”—is indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit. So when you follow the impulses of your regenerated human spirit you are simultaneously following the leading of the Holy Spirit. Reflect on this and the Lord will give insight.
Managing the Soil of Your Heart
According to the Bible, what is the “heart” and how does it fit into the biblical model of human nature? The Greek word for “heart” is kardia (kar-DEE-ah), which is where we get the English ‘cardiac.’ Like the English word “heart,” kardia literally refers to the blood-pumping organ but figuratively to the core thoughts or feelings of a person’s being or mind (Strong 39). Greek scholar E.W. Bullinger describes the heart as “the seat and center of man’s personal life in which the distinctive character of the human manifests itself” (362). The heart could therefore be best described as the core of the mind. It is part of the mind, but specifically refers to the deepest, most central part, i.e. the core.
What’s in your heart is determined by whether you, in your mind, have decided to live by the flesh or by the spirit (Romans 8:5-6). Jesus said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45). If you, in your mind, decide to dwell on carnal thoughts, then carnal, negative, destructive things will naturally store up in your heart. If, on the other hand, you choose to focus on spiritual thoughts, then good, positive, productive things will store up in your heart. Whatever’s in your heart then determines your actions and therefore the course of your very life. The Bible puts it like this: “Be careful what you think for your thoughts run your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NCV). Take heed—truer words have never been spoken!
Consider the fact that the Bible likens your heart to soil (Luke 8:15). Soil in the natural is neutral and therefore grows whatever seed is planted in it. This is the way it is with the soil of your heart, except that it grows non-physical “seeds,” whether spiritual or unspiritual.
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The Bible instructs us to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Christ is the living Word of God who is the truth (John 1:1 & 14:6). So we are to “take captive” thoughts and make sure that they comply with the truth. ‘Truth’ is alétheia (ah-LAY-thee-ah) in the Greek, which means “reality” or “the way it really is.” So we are to take “thoughts” and make sure they conform to reality. If they don’t comply with the truth then they are ‘weeds’ of unreality and must be purged from the soil of our hearts.
The word ‘thought’ in this passage is noéma (NOH-ay-mah) in the Greek. While noéma can refer to thoughts/impulses, good or bad, it can also refer to a perspective—a mindset or attitude—that’s the result of indoctrination, good or bad. Such a mindset typically formulates over the course of many years. The Greek for ‘take captive’ in the phrase “take captive every thought” literally means to “take captive as a prisoner and interrogate.” The Bible is saying that we should take any perspective we have and honestly & thoroughly examine it, making sure it conforms to reality (the way it really is) rather than unreality (the way it really isn’t). If we discover that the mindset doesn’t comply with reality then we need to throw it out.
This can apply to any doctrine—teaching—you were taught during your formative years as a believer. Just because you were indoctrinated by a particular teaching doesn’t make the doctrine true. So you need to “interrogate” it in light of reality. Does it comply with the rightly-divided Word of truth and the Spirit of truth (John 17:17 & 16:13)? If not, it needs to be thrown out in favor of whatever the truth is, which is reality.
Another example would be secular indoctrination. Take homosexuality, for example. While homosexuality was still a crime in the USA as of the new millennium (2003), that’s all changed. Now homosexuality is taught to be innate and healthy in our secular culture and people are encouraged to experiment with it and embrace it as a legitimate alternative lifestyle. Significant people who publicly “come out”—like professional athletes—might even receive a call of commendation from the President. Those who refuse to approve of homosexuality, by contrast, are considered evil bigots and punished severely, socially speaking. The truth about homosexuality, however, is that it’s a damning sin and those who unrepentantly practice it will not inherit the kingdom of God, period. “Do not be deceived,” the Bible warns (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
A believer struggling with this kind of worldly indoctrination or same-sex attraction can take these noémas (mindsets/thoughts) captive and interrogate them in light of the truth of Scripture and the leading or conviction of the Spirit of truth. Since these noémas don’t comply with the truth they need to be thrown out in favor of reality.
As you do this with every thought/impulse/attitude/mindset you purge your heart of falsity and unreality. This is “being made new in the attitude of your mind.”
SANCTIFICATION OF BODY: Purification of the Mortal Body and Ultimate Glorification
Like justification, glorification takes place instantaneously when Christ returns for his called-out ones—the church—wherein believers will receive new imperishable, glorified, powerful, spiritual bodies (1 Cor- inthians 15:42-44, 50-55). This is mind-blowing and I encourage you to study it in more detail in this article Eternal Life—What will it be Like?
The truth of eventual glorification does not discount the importance of sanctifying our present mortal bodies. Notice what the New Testament says on this:
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
2 Corinthians 7:1
The word for “body” in this verse is sarx, which is most frequently used in the Bible in reference to the literal body of a person (e.g. John 3:6), but is often figuratively used in reference to the sinful nature, aka “the flesh.” In case of the latter, the New International Version understandably translates sarx as “sinful nature” (e.g. Romans 7:18 & Galatians 5:19-21). In the context of the above passage—2 Corinthians 7:1—sarx obviously refers to your body and not the sinful nature.
Likewise “spirit” in this context is not referring to the human spirit, but rather to a person’s character, which is the result of what an individual allows to be rooted in the soil of his/her heart, as explained in the previous sections. A good example of “spirit” used in this manner is the reference to Caleb having a “different spirit” than the ten unbelieving Hebrews who spied out the promised land (Numbers 14:24,30). Keep in mind that a lot of illnesses are psychosomatic in nature; meaning, they start in the psyche—which is the result of what a person allows to be lodged in his/her heart—and this eventually has physical ramifications, such as work stress creating an ulcer or high blood pressure.
Let’s focus on purifying ourselves from everything that pollutes the body. I’ll leave it to you and the Holy Spirit to discern how this applies to you, but there are some obvious contaminants, like smoking, alcohol abuse, overeating and drugs, the latter of which includes overindulgence in “meds.” As far as “meds” go, keep in mind that the word for “witchcraft” or “sorcery” in the list of fleshly activities noted in Galatians 5:19-21 is pharmakeia (FAR-mah-KIH-ah), which is where we get the English ‘pharmacy.’ It means “the [wrongful] administration or use of medicine, drugs or spells.”
May you be sanctified through and through; may your whole spirit, mind & body be purified. Amen.
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