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“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)

With the arrival of Pentecost, there comes the proclamation of a wonderful scriptural term: sanctification. Sanctification is one of those big, Bible words that we don’t use in daily conversation. For this reason, it is easy to forget what it means. In our confirmation instruction, we may have been given this definition for sanctify : “to make holy.” But now we need to remember what holy means. Let’s see; holy means “free from sin,” right? Yes, that is the meaning in many passages, but not all. That would not be a working definition for “the holy garments of Aaron,” nor for “the holy city,” nor “the holy temple,” nor “the Holy Scriptures.”

Holy means “separate,” “set apart.” The Holy Scriptures are scriptures or writings which are set apart from all other writings; they are unique—one of a kind. The holy city is set apart from all other cities. The holy temple is a building set apart from all other buildings. The holy garments are set apart from all other garments. In each instance, it is God Who set these things apart from all other things of the same kind. They were set apart for God’s own sacred use.

How does this apply to you and me? This is where it gets very interesting, very personal, and very exciting. THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS SANCTIFIED US! He has set us apart from all other human beings. Isn’t this amazing? After all, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) From sea to shining sea, from this land to the ends of the earth, all (including us) have been lumped together in the congregation of the damned.

And yet, our condemned ears hear an unbelievable announcement: “God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13) WHAT?! Can it be? God has chosen us for salvation? God has carried this out through sanctification by the Spirit? Truly, He set us apart—separated us from the congregation of the damned. The Holy Spirit has taken us out of that old, wretched body of lost human beings and placed us in the new, glorious family of God.

How can this be? How can God tolerate sinners within His family? He can because of Jesus. God sent His Son to achieve the glory of righteousness, which shines forth from those who possess it. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the one human being, the only one, Who achieved the glory of righteousness and He did it as our substitute. “He was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)

This is the glorious Gospel, by which the Holy Spirit called us to faith. Through this “belief of the truth,” we have “become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus achieved the glory and the Spirit has bestowed it upon us.

So it is that we have been sanctified: we have been separated from our sins, unbelief, and condemnation; we have been separated unto righteousness, faith, and salvation. Behold, the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! Praise be to God that we sinners have obtained that glory through sanctification by the Spirit. Behold the wonder of sanctification!

John Pfeiffer is retired from the pastoral and teaching ministry. He is a former president of Immanuel Lutheran College.