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Sanctification, Torah and the Believer

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Blessed are You, YHWH our G-d, King of the universe Who has sanctified us by His commandments...

In traditional Judaism, going back to the days before Yahushua our Mashiyakh walked the earth, this was a standard formula for blessing. When a Jew would give His life in the service of God, he would ‘Sanctify the Name’, often with the She’ma on his lips. What does it mean to be ‘sanctified’ and how is it achieved. Is it even necessary? And how can we be ‘sanctified by His commandments’? These are important questions because they are at the very heart of God’s plan for us as individuals and as the community of faith.

Unfortunately, sanctification has often been viewed as ‘optional’, or perhaps something only for the more mature Talmid (disciple) or for those in leadership. ‘Grace’ has often been used as an excuse for sin, for a lack of growth in spiritual maturity, or in a worst case scenario, to give the false hope of salvation to those who really have no reason to be secure in that belief. Sanctification is not optional. It is not a spiritual elective. It is mandatory. It is a mitvot (commandment) of God to His people that is found throughout the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation.

That sanctification is important to God should go without saying but this overlooked doctrine needs to be explored so it’s importance for our lives can be cemented in our spirits. Sanctification’s importance grows out of the very nature of God Himself and is inextricably bound up with Yahushua’s sacrifice on our behalf. Holiness is part of the very nature of God Himself, it is one of His defining attributes, one of those things that makes Him Who He is. God is the personification of purity, His being is completely devoid of sin. When sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, intimate fellowship between God and humanity was made impossible because sin can be nowhere near the presence of God. Communion was broken and could only be restored through a suitable sacrifice, namely the perfect sacrifice of Yahushua who provided atonement for sin and restored that fellowship for all who would apply that sacrifice to their lives by faith. At that point, the individual has fellowship restored and, in theological terms, becomes positionally sanctified (Heb 13:12). That means the sacrifice of Yahushua has covered the sins of the person of faith and God no longer sees their sin and He can fellowship with the believer again. That is the Good News, that through Yahushua our relationship with God can be restored.

Most of what has just been stated is familiar to most of you. Now it is time to move from the theological to the practical, which is the primary focus of this article. Sanctification is a mitzva; “ holy for I am holy” (Lev 11:45, 19:2, 20:7) and “But just as He Who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for as it is written ‘be holy for I am holy’” (I Pet 1:15, 16). Rabbi Sha’ul also stated “let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates the body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (II Cor 7:1). Just these few examples should make it obvious that sanctification, practical, rubber meets the road sanctification is commanded by God for every individual who seeks to be called by His name.

This practical sanctification is not an abstract ideal, it is not pie-in-the-sky trying to be good according to generalizations like ‘Love the Lord your God’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mk 12:30, 31, Deut 6:4, 5, Lev 19:18). God knows us better than we know ourselves. Those commands sum up the Torah but God knew we needed more specific directives to guide our behavior and our relationship with him. God has specific ways He wants to be approached and related to and knows that human beings need more specific guidelines in our relationships with each other that the ambiguous ‘love’ command. We can all think of things done in the name of love, for God and for another person, that were in no way right or good.

At this time some definition is in order. Sanctification (agiaz,w) is to render or declare something sacred or holy. The process of practical sanctification, therefore, is the process in which we become more holy, more like God. What then is holiness? Holy (agioj, vwdq) is pure, sinless, upright and clean. According to these definitions then, we can say that sanctification is the process by which we become more pure and less sinful. It is the process by which we become conformed to the image of Yahushua haMashiyakh (Rom 8:29), who was completely holy, that is completely without sin. Now that we understand the command “be Holy” and what that command entails, sinning less and becoming more pure, we need to explore how to accomplish this in a practical manner.

The first thing we need to do is define and understand sin. Scripture has several definitions of sin. Wickedness (kakia, [r) is evil, willful transgression. This is a mindset completely at odds with God and His Divine Order, a totally depraved spirit. The example of this is Gen 6:5 where God describes the pre-flood world. The willful sin which these words describe has no atonement provisions in the Torah. These are sins for which there were no sacrifices that would cover the sin and bring a person back into fellowship with God. And really, by definition, this individual would not even seek forgiveness because they don’t even care about what God thinks, if they even believe in Him at all.

The second type is iniquity (adikoj, !wa). These words describe an individual similar to a wicked person, someone who is perverse and opposed to God’s Torah. The example of this is found in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:15). The difference being that for this type of sin, as well as the next two, there is forgiveness through repentance (Ex 34:7). Even Sodom was given the opportunity to repent when the angels of God visited to see their wickedness and confirm they were worthy of the judgement about to befall them.

The third category is transgression (anomia, [vp). This describes a person, like David for example, who knew God’s Torah but rebelled against it. This is someone who knows and respects the commands of God but goes contrary to them, violating their clear directives. Finally there is sin (amaranwà ajx) which is to miss the mark, to fall short of all God commanded. Included in here would be unintentional sin (Lev 4:2, Num 15:22), when an individual simply didn’t remember at the time one of the commandments of God but when he realized it, he repented. God understood that people were going to fall short of His expectations, that is the reason for the sacrificial system in the Torah, to provide atonement for these mistakes. And there was even a specific day of atonement, Yom Kippor, when sacrifices were made for the people’s sin (Lev 16).

One final point about sin. The above words describe the attitudes of the person who transgresses the commands of God. The same wrong action may be prompted by different attitudes and therefore fall under different categories of sin. But the objective standard by which sin is defined regardless of the attitude is the Torah, the Pentateuch, the five books of Moshe, Genesis through Deuteronomy. It is disobedience to these commands that defines an act as sin. And that includes them all, not just the Ten Commandments. Adultery and murder are sins just like idolatry and blasphemy. But so is the failure to wear Tzitzit, having sex with your wife during her menstrual period, not afflicting your soul on Yom Kippor and working on Shabbat, to name a few of the other six hundred and thirteen commandments in the Torah which not only prohibit certain activities but command us to do others. Obviously there are ‘weightier matters’ in the Torah (Luke 11:42) but no command should be neglected. For “Anyone who breaks the least of these commands and teaches other to do so will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven but whoever practices and teaches Torah will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 5:19).

It is our attitude towards the ‘least’ of the commandments that will set us apart in this world and make us the holy people of God he desires us to be. There are a lot of people, those who profess to follow God as well as those who don’t, who live basically moral lives. They obey the obvious prohibitions, the ones their conscience convicts them of. If that is all we do, there is nothing that sets us apart as the Holy Nation of God. It is our adherence to the lifestyle God has outlined in the Torah that sets us apart and makes the light within us obvious. When there are Tzitzit on your clothing, when you tell your employer that you cannot work on Saturdays, when you tell the relatives there will be no exchange of gifts on Christmas, you are set apart from the culture of the world for the true and acceptable service of God. And the opportunities for testifying to the Truth will be endless, people will seek you out! And that is what God desires, for us to so stand out, not only in the joy and love we express as a result of our salvation but in the way we look, what we eat and how we celebrate.

God commanded us to be holy for He is holy and we are to reflect His image in this world. The way to achieve that is to sin less and less every day of our lives. And the way that is accomplished is to be more and more Torah-obedient for the fewer commandments we break, the less we will sin and the more holy we will be. That is how we are sanctified by His commandments. He gave them to us so we could be holy. And it is when we are holy that we can be used of God in a mighty way; clean and pure vessels fit for use by the King of kings.

Rav Mikha'el