Sanctify them through your truth; your word is truth (John 17:17)?

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John 17:16-17 “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

What is Sanctification?

Sanctification is God’s will for each of us. We read in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;”. The word sanctification has to do with holiness and to sanctify something is to set it apart for special use. To sanctify someone, is to make them ‘holy’.

As we read above in John 17:16-17, and throughout the scriptures, Christ had a lot to say about sanctification. There are three different ways the Bible uses the word sanctification:

  1. Positional Sanctification
  2. Progressive Sanctification
  3. Complete Sanctification

Firstly, the positional sanctification is  a state of separation to God, and all those who are born of God are in this state. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” This sanctification is a once and for all separation from sin to God. It is not by anything we have done, but it is purely a work of God and an intricate part of our salvation. Hebrews 10: 10 says “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” This is also known as justification.

Secondly, there is a progressive sanctification that the Bible talks about. 1 John 1:10 says “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” This means that we still sin and we know it. This is why the Bible refers to sanctification as a practical experience of our separation to God. Progressive sanctification will be the focus of our study today as this is the effect of obedience to the Word of God in one’s life. As children of God we must be constantly growing in Him. 2 Peter 3:18 says “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” We must grow spiritually mature and it is the power of God that has started the work of making us more like Christ every single day. Philippians 1:6 says “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” We as believers in Christ must pursue this kind of sanctification earnestly. 1 Peter 1:15 tells us but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,”, and again in Hebrews 12:14 saying “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” It is important that we are transformed daily into His likeness, and that we strive for the holiness and daily sanctification being pleasing to God in all things. This is effected by the application of the word in our lives as it says in  John 17:17 “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

Notice that believers in this world are set apart for the purposes of God, and we are called according to His purposes and plans for our lives. In order to fulfill this calling we must be constantly sanctified. In fact Jesus says in John 17:18-19 “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.” Jesus set himself apart and sanctified Himself for the purpose and calling of His Father in Heaven and this is the basis and condition of our being set apart as we are now being sent into the world by Jesus Christ. It is the same pattern and power that is related to our own sanctification. Before salvation we were separate from God, but now we have been separated from the world to God. When we were of this world our behavior bore witness to our separation from God and to our standing of this world. Now that we are in Christ our behavior must bare witness to our standing before God, being separate from sin. Hebrews 10:14 says “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” This shows that we are in the process of being sanctified, little by little, every day, becoming more and more like Christ.

The third way in which the Bible uses the word sanctification is a complete sanctification. Paul prays in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When we are completely sanctified, we enter into the glorified state. This glorified state is our ultimate separation from sin, a total and complete sanctification in every regard. 1 John 3:2 tells us “Beloved, we are Gods children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

So sanctification is a separation from sin to holiness, being set apart to God. The moment we accepted Jesus Christ into our hearts as our personal savior and God, we received a positional sanctification. This also means that we are justified, a once and for all positional holiness in Christ. Now that we are a child of God, we grow spiritually and God guides us to maturity. It is a day to day progressive holiness. And finally God will give us glorification, which is a permanent and complete holiness when we leave this earth, and this body of sin.

The three phases we see here are:

  1. A separation of the believer from the penalty of sin (justification),
  2. a separating from the power of sin (maturity) and
  3. a complete separation from the presence of sin (glorification).

The focus of our thought today will be on the progressive sanctification by the Word as we read in John 17:16-17.

Sanctification through the truth (the Word)

When we read in the Old Testament, we see that sanctification was a ritual process effected by ceremonial observance. This was only a outward cleansing. Exodus 29:1 says “Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests . Take one bull of the herd and two rams without blemish,”, The sanctification in the New Testament is different, it is a spiritual process passing over our hearts, our conscience and our will and it is solely the work of God.

Firstly, in John 17:17, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify us by the truth, and then explains that the truth is the “word”. Let us take a moment to think about why God’s word is truth? The reason God’s word is ultimate truth is because God is the ultimate reality. For something to be true it has to be real. God alone is ultimately real, He is the ultimate reality. Everything else we see around us as real is created by Him and according to His purpose. When God speaks, it is the ultimate truth. Now let us look at what the word says about truth?

a. Jesus is truth and speaks (word) truth.

We must understand that Jesus Christ is “Truth”, and everything he says is “True”. His word is truth. Truth came into this world represented as the man, Jesus Christ and every word that comes out of His mouth is truth. John 1:14 says “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Praise God. Let us look at what Jesus said about truth:

  1. Jesus came to bear witness to the truth: John 18:37 says “…”You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.””
  2. The testimony of Jesus was true.John 8:14 says “…my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know…”
  3. The judgment of Jesus Christ is true, John 8:16 says “Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.”

In John 14:6, Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus could say this because He is God, and it is only God who is the ultimate truth. John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus Christ Himself is the eternal Word, and every word that he speaks is truth.

We must also note that it was not only the words and actions of Jesus that is truth, but Jesus authenticated the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament as truth. In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Also in John 10:35 Jesus says “If he called them gods to whom the word of God came-and scripture cannot be broken-” Here we see Jesus clearly saying that the Old Testament is the word of God.

Now what did Jesus say about the New Testament, noting that the New Testament had not been written yet? Jesus promises His apostles in John 16:13 saying “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” So, through this the apostles have become the authoritative spokesmen for the Spirit of God and to provide the church its foundation in the New Testament as it says in Ephesians 2:20 “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,”. Also we read in 1 Corinthians 2:13 saying “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

So in this we see that Jesus has shown us that, He Himself, His words, the Old Testament and the New Testament are all the sum of God’s word and it is truth. Psalm 119:160 says “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endure forever.”

When we look at the scripture we are looking into today, John 17:17, it is the “word” that sanctifies us. In this verse the word is the instrument by which God sanctifies us. Note, that this is one among many instruments that the Lord uses.

The word of God has power to sanctify us because it has a discovering and enlightening power. It is a mirror in which you may see reflected all of your failures and sins. It is like a searchlight discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is this light of the “word” which cleanses us. The word of God is also a nourishing and strengthening power. Acts 20:32 says “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

The word of God also has an overcoming and conquering power. The secret of our victory is to have God’s word in our hearts. We overcome sin and Satan by the power of the word that dwells in us. 1 John 2:14 says “I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

Finally, the word of God has a Christ revealing and Christ communicating power. There is a vital link between the written Word and the living Word. When the word of God dwells in us, then Christ is also dwelling within us. Colossians 3:16 says “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

We need the indwelling Word of God to sanctify us from the inside out.

b. The work of sanctification

Why is sanctification necessary?

Sanctification is necessary because it forms part of salvation, meaning that it is not only a deliverance from sin and its punishment, but it is also a deliverance from the power of sin and it’s dominion, and for us to imitate more of the Divine nature of Christ. It means we must also  reflect the Divine character of Christ. Our God is a God of holiness and sin is abominable to Him. We must allow the truth to sanctify us because it is the evidence of our faith and relationship with Christ as well as for the advancement of God’s glory and for the extension of Christ’ kingdom. It also qualifies us for the heavenly kingdom as we must become more like Him to enjoy eternity with Him.

Sanctification must be real

In order for sanctification to be real it must extend to our whole being. It must extend to our thoughts, our words, actions, to the affections and desires of our heart, and to our outward conduct. It is not a partial sanctification, but it is a renewing of every part of our being. We cannot confine the work of the sanctification to a part of our life, but we must allow Him full reign of our whole being. Often times we have areas in our lives, that we struggle to let go. It could be addictions, temptations, or anything else that takes more priority in your life than Jesus Christ. Our whole being must be in subjection to Christ.

Also for sanctification to be real, it must be progressive. It is a progression from a small beginning to a great increase. Just like the parable of the mustard seed. It is the smallest of all seeds, but once it falls to the ground and dies, then out of it new life begins, becoming and growing until it is a tree. Matthew 13:38 says”The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom, the weeds are sons of the evil one,”. Now if we read the parable of the the sower in the same chapter in Matthew 13:1-9, we also read and understand in this context the seeds are the word of God. The word “seed” has been used differently in both of these occasions.

To begin with, what is a seed? If we take the example of an apple. An apple tree produces apple, and inside the apple are small seeds. What do the seeds do? The seeds is the means by which the apple tree reproduces itself and by it the tree expands its domain. This is the analogy we need to look at.

In the parables in Matthew 13, first Jesus compares the seeds to the “word”, then later on in the chapter He compares it to “the sons of the kingdom”. The overall meaning in both are the same. The seed is the product of the plant, and the seed is also the means by which the plant is re-produced. Now with this in mind, the meaning of the seed fits both the word of God (which is the truth by which we are sanctified), and also the sons of God, where in this new birth, which is brought about by our death in Christ and new life blooming out through the Word, the fruits which is born out of the word, out of the Holy Spirit who now dwells in us. This is why it tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 “But we ought to always give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

Starting with the seed, which is the word, transforming our heart and mind and then transforming the whole of our outward self, to produce the fruits of being sanctified.

Sanctification is God’s work

Let us remember that we cannot bring something clean, out of something that is unclean. It is the work of God in our lives and not only in the moment of our salvation, but continuing that very processes  until the very end, through all the intermediary steps until we arrive at the fullness and perfect state  in Christ Jesus. That is the day we are translated from this world into the world of purity where there is no sin to be found. This is shown by God’s word and our experience. We know that in our own efforts we cannot achieve anything, it is only if God is found in us and through His work, that anything can be achieved.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 says “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

Reading through the whole text of 1 Thessalonians 5, we learn 3 things through which we recognize that it is God’s commitment and work to sanctify us.

Firstly it is through the commandments that God sanctifies us. When we read 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22, Paul is just finishing giving a string of commandments and it comes to an end in verse 22 saying “Abstain from every form of evil.” Lets read this passage:

1 Thessalonians 5:14-22 “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

From these verses we can understand that the way God sanctifies us is not by just saying, that He will “sanctify us” and that’s it. We must realize the way that God sanctifies us is by using the commandments and incentives. God deals with our minds and motives and this is the first thing we have to notice. We must allow ourselves to be slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. Romans 6:19 says “I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”

Secondly, He sanctifies us through prayer. When we read 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul in the previous verses exhorts us commands us to be holy, but now in v23 Paul asks God to make us holy, saying “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Not only does God use the commandments and instructions given to us in His word, but he also uses  the prayers of people. The Lords work is amazing, He not only deals with our minds and motives to make us holy, but He also uses the minds and motives of others  that they may pray for you. Praise God.

Thirdly God uses His promises to sanctify us. No only through His commandments and prayer, but most importantly through the promise of God. So, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22, we are commanded to pursue holy living, then in v23, Paul prays that God would sanctify us and finally in v24 it says “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

Looking at the above, we must not jump to conclusions that it is merely by our effort of keeping the commandments, or by the prayers of others that we are sanctified. When we read v24 it says that it is God’s faithfulness combined with God’s call that He will do it. So when we gave our heart to the Lord and accepted Him as our personal savior, from that moment on we not only trust Jesus Christ for His grace to forgive our sins, but also His grace in overcoming sins. It is He who begins, and continues the transforming work in our lives as we continue to love Him.


In conclusion, we must recognize the necessity of sanctification as a child of God. We can often fall into the trap of presenting the gospel message as an addition to the life of an individual just for the purpose of receiving eternal life with Christ, but little in way of the transformation of an individual from being a slave to sin to a slave to righteousness. We can compare this to someone who is taking an insurance policy, just as an add on to his existing life, a safeguard and nothing else.

In contrast, the message of the gospel is a message of radical transformation of our life and it is a call of repentance, to CHANGE. When we accept God’s provision of righteousness in Christ, then we must allow the outworking of righteousness in our lives by the putting away of sin. This is true repentance, where sanctification is a work of God, through His word (as we discussed today), and also through the Holy Spirit and the Father and whatever avenue God uses. It is not a change we initiate, but it is a change with which we must co-operate.

The consistent challenge given to us in the New Testament is that our practice (progressive sanctification) must conform to our justified position (positional sanctification) in Christ. Not only have we been justified in Christ, through His death on the cross for our sins, but as we continue to live our life as a Christian in this world, the process of sanctification must continue to the glory of God our Father in heaven.



The Biblical Illustrator, Pulpit Commentary, Forerunner Commentary



Richard T. Ritenbaugh (Parables of Matthew 13)

Rev. E. W. Moore (James Nisbet’s Church Pulpit  Commentary)

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