Life-Study of Hebrewsby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message we come to the matter of sanctification. No book talks as much about sanctification as does the book of Hebrews. It is absolutely essential that we have holiness, for without it we cannot live in the presence of God. In 12:14 we are told that without holiness no man can see the Lord. However, sanctification is very difficult to define. In order to understand what sanctification is, we need to see a little of the background of the various schools of Christian teaching on the subject of sanctification or holiness. Sanctification is fully revealed in the Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testament. Although it is revealed in the Scriptures, it was nearly lost. At the time of the Reformation, God began a recovery of all His truths. The first truth that God recovered was justification by faith. If you read the church history of the last five hundred years, you will find that after God recovered justification, the next thing to be recovered was sanctification. But sanctification was not recovered in as clear a way as justification was. Even justification, although it was recovered clearly, was not recovered fully. It was recovered objectively but not subjectively. We saw this in the Life-study of Romans. Nevertheless, after the recovery of justification by faith, the recovery of sanctification followed, but it followed in a way that was not fully accurate.
We cannot say who was the first person used by God to recover sanctification. But we do know that, according to the history of the recovery, in the eighteenth century God used a group of university students at Oxford—John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield. These young men began to have a meeting. John Wesley was raised up by God through the help of the Moravian brothers under the leadership of Zinzendorf. The Moravian brothers helped John Wesley to be clear about salvation. Wesley had been invited to speak in the United States. Even then, he was not clear about his salvation. It was on the boat on the way to the United States that he received help regarding this from the Moravian brothers. After spending some time in the United States, Wesley returned to Europe and visited Bohemia, the place where Zinzendorf and others had begun to practice the church life. John Wesley received the greatest help from them while he was there. In one of his writings he says that if he had not had the burden for England, he would have remained in Bohemia for the rest of his life. As far as he was concerned, that was the place where God dwelled. Wesley, however, was burdened to return to England. We know from history that the revival under John Wesley saved England from revolution. I mention this to point out to you the extent of the influence of John Wesley’s preaching.
The group of students at Oxford that included John Wesley and George Whitefield adopted certain regulations, called methods, that they used to control, correct, and behave themselves. They were very strict to control themselves by these methods. John Wesley and the others kept these methods in order to have a proper living. They came to consider that kind of living holy. This is the holiness practiced by the Methodists as sinless perfection, a perfection without sin. The Church of the Nazarene, the Church of God, and the Assembly of God today practice a kind of holiness that is of the same school as the holiness of the Methodists.
Then in the early part of the nineteenth century, the Brethren under the leadership of John Nelson Darby were raised up. The Brethren showed from the Bible that holiness is not sinless perfection. Using Matthew 23:17, they showed how the temple sanctified the gold. It was the temple that made the gold holy. These Brethren teachers pointed out that the gold in the market place, although there was nothing sinful about it, was not holy until it had been offered to God and put into His holy temple. Only then was the gold sanctified. Their argument was very strong, and no one could defeat them. Furthermore, using Matthew 23:20, the Brethren teachers showed that, according to the words of the Lord Jesus, the altar sanctifies the sacrifice. They argued that an ox or a lamb, when in the fold, might have been sinless and perfectly all right. Nevertheless, it was common. It was not holy until it was offered to God on the altar, at which time it was sanctified. Doctrinally speaking, the Brethren defeated the teaching that holiness is a matter of sinless perfection, proving that it had no ground in the Scriptures and that it is a human concept of holiness. The Brethren, famous for their doctrinal debates, also appealed to 1 Timothy 4:4-5, which says that food is sanctified by the saints’ prayer. When that food is in the market place, it is common. There may be nothing wrong with it and it may have no sin, but it is common. However, when that same food is placed on the saints’ dining table and is prayed over by the saints, it is sanctified by the saints’ prayer. Using all of these verses, the Brethren teachers showed that sanctification means a change of position. They said that sanctification is altogether a positional matter. Gold, for example, is common when it is still in the store, but when it is put into the temple it is holy. Its position has been changed. Likewise, when a lamb is still in the fold, it is common, but when it is placed on the altar it is holy. The food in the market place is also common, but it is sanctified by the prayers of the saints. So, in the light of all these verses, the Brethren taught that holiness means a change of position. Originally, our position was worldly and not at all for God. When we are separated unto God, our position is changed and, as a result, we become holy.
This teaching of the Brethren is altogether correct. When we studied the various schools of sanctification many years ago, we agreed with the teaching of the Brethren. We saw that sinless perfection was not genuine holiness. However, although holiness is a positional matter, as we studied the New Testament we discovered that holiness, sanctification, is not merely a positional matter but also a dispositional matter. Sanctification is not only a matter of changing our position but also of changing our disposition. Yes, according to the verses that speak of the gold sanctified by the temple, the sacrifice sanctified by the altar, and the food sanctified by the saints’ prayer, there is undoubtedly a positional aspect to sanctification. But we also need to consider Romans 6 where, according to the Greek, the word sanctification is used twice (vv. 19, 22). In these two verses the King James Version uses the word holiness instead of sanctification. There is a difference between these words, for holiness does not include experience, but sanctification does indicate or imply some amount of experience. If you read Romans 6, you will see that it is not concerned with the matter of position but of disposition. It not only touches our position; it goes deeper to touch our disposition.
In Hebrews 2 as in Romans 6 holiness refers mainly to God’s divine nature. Sanctification is to work God’s holiness into us by having God’s divine nature imparted into our being. This is not the positional sanctification; it is the dispositional sanctification. In this sanctification, Christ, as the life-giving Spirit, is saturating all the inward parts of our being with God’s divine nature. This is to work God’s holiness into our whole being. We may call this dispositional sanctification.
Now we come to Hebrews 2:11 which says, “For both He Who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one.” Does the phrase all of one refer to position or to disposition? Undoubtedly, “He Who sanctifies” is Christ, and “those who are being sanctified” are we. So Christ and we are all of one. The Greek word translated of actually means “out of.” This means that Christ and we, the Sanctifier and the sanctified, are all out of one source, one Father. The source surely does not refer to position but to nature, to disposition. The Sanctifier and the sanctified are all out of one source, one Father. The Father is the source of the Sanctifier and He is the source of all the sanctified. This is not a matter of position but of disposition.
The remainder of verse 11 reads, “for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brothers.” What is the cause referred to by the words for which cause? For the cause that He and we are all out of the same Father, the same source. Because of this, He is not ashamed to call us brothers.
Many people in this country are fond of dogs. Are you willing to call a dog your brother? Would you say to a dog, “Dear brother, I love you”? Certainly not. None of us would call a dog our brother. We would be ashamed of doing this. We do not have four legs and a tail. We are men. We will not call someone our brother unless we are both out of the same source. Only then are we not ashamed to call someone our brother. Likewise, Christ is not ashamed to call us brothers because both He and we are out of the Father. Both He and we are out of the same source. As a result, He and we have the same life, nature, and disposition. By this one verse, we can see that sanctification here is neither sinless perfection nor merely a positional change. It is deeper and higher than that. It is a dispositional change.
As we have seen, among Christians there are three schools concerning holiness or sanctification. The first school teaches that holiness is a matter of sinless perfection. This is absolutely not scriptural. There is no ground in the Scriptures for this teaching. The second claims that holiness is positional. There is a strong basis for this in the Scriptures, but it does not include everything regarding holiness, sanctification, that is mentioned in the Scriptures. The holiness, the sanctification, mentioned in the Bible includes dispositional transformation along with positional change. Hebrews 2 is on the dispositional side, not on the positional side. Sanctification in 2:11 does not concern position but disposition, the nature and the source.
He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all out of one. Because of this, He is not ashamed to call us brothers. Rather, it is glorious for Him to call us brothers because He and we are of the same source. He has come from the Father, and we also have come out of the Father. We may say to the Lord, “O Lord Jesus, You have the Father’s life, and we have it too. You have the Father’s divine nature, and we have it too. We are Your brothers. Lord, we are of the same source as You are.”
This is the basic concept of dispositional sanctification, the sanctification found in Romans 6 and Hebrews 2.
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