Sanctified comes from the Latin word sanctus. Sanctus basically means holy or set apart. So when Christians use the word sanctified they are basically talking about being set apart for God and his purposes. In the Old Testament, being ‘set apart’ was extremely difficult for the average Israelite, let alone anyone else. There were 613 (by most counts) commands in the Old Testament Law that you had to get right in order to even be qualified as set apart or “holy.” You had to eat the right foods, wear the right clothes, make the right sacrifices, and on top of that you had to be free from sin. This is a tall order but God wanted to show just how different he is from humanity. God is holier than we could ever imagine. So God chose to sanctify or set apart the nation of Israel from all the other nations. God wanted to show humanity just what kind of God they were encountering.
Here’s the problem, the people of Israel fell short of God’s requirements for holiness over and over again. They revealed that our human condition is pretty much the opposite of holiness. They failed in every way imaginable. They rejected God and worshipped statues shaped like calves, and fish, and all kinds of other animals. On top of that they cheated and oppressed each other because they lost connection with the one true God. It became so bad that God allowed their nation to be conquered and scattered all over the earth. So how could God have a people on earth who would be sanctified or set apart for him?
Some years later Jesus comes on the scene, and physically he pretty much blends in with the rest of the population. He is a poor, working-class carpenter born in a town off the beaten path. Here’s the thing, Jesus is so radical that he doesn’t just integrate into society, he transforms it. He heals lepers. He opens the eyes of the blind. He loves and embraces everyone around him. He confronts the religious establishment. In other words, Jesus is different. Set apart. Sanctified. Not only that, but on the night before he died, he prayed in the garden that his disciples would be sanctified, or set apart, by the truth (John 17:17). He declared that they were not of the world (v.16) but that he sent them into the world (v.18).
And so here we are, more than 2,000 years later, as followers of Christ, sanctified and set apart. It’s not by the clothes we wear or the food we eat. It’s not even by whether we smoke or drink or cuss. Some have tried to be set apart by their political affiliation. Others have tried to be set apart by their doctrine or theology. The truth is that followers of Christ are set apart because of their relationship with Jesus, the set apart one. This doesn’t mean that Christians are identifiable at first glance. There is no badge to identify them except by the love of Jesus overflowing in their hearts and into the lives of those around them. The love that they offer is what sets them apart. It fulfills all the commands of the Old Testament Law (Romans 13:8-10). That’s what it means to be sanctified.