Sactification: Its Positional Aspect

Exodus 13:1‑22  •  24 min. read  •  grade level: 6
(Ex. 13:1-22.)
The lessons from this chapter are exceedingly simple, but most important. They are these. The moment God has a redeemed people, He would have that people understand that redemption puts them on a totally new footing before Himself; and secondly, that their walk and conversation is to be very different to what it was before they were His. The second verse gives you the keynote of the chapter, " And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto me all the first-born, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine " (vers. 1, 2). The first point is that the believer is sanctified to God. Then you get, thereafter, practical instructions as to the walk. In plain language, if you are a young convert, there is a new walk, a new path altogether, opened up to you. God has saved you for heaven, but you are not there yet, although you can say, " I know perfectly well I am going there." You have a title to be there, it is the blood that secures and shelters you, only do not stop, but go steadily on the road. Because you know you are forgiven, you may think that means everything. It is not everything. It is only the beginning. You have to go on. And you have possibly to go a rough road before you get into that of which Canaan is a type. You have a journey before you, and you will very surely have difficulties in it.
But the point is this, What is the character of the pathway to be, and how am I to get on in it? You separate them to me, says God (ver. 2). I shall then expect them to eat unleavened bread, i.e., to keep " a feast to the Lord " (ver. 6). That is the walk of holiness. They will then judge what will not do for God (ver. 13). The next thing was this: " God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea " (vers. 17, 18). The Lord was their leader. And then the next thing, They took the bones of Joseph with them (ver. 19). They took the bones of their savior with them (see Gen. 41-50). It has a meaning, and you and I, as we are passing on through this scene, are never to forget the fact that we are delivered by the death of the Savior. That is where the Lord's Supper comes in. So they carried with them all through their wilderness journey the bones of Joseph, who had saved them in the day of famine.
At the close of the chapter we find, " The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way: and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light: to go by day and night " (ver. 21). They had always the blessed sense of the presence of God. It is a figure, I admit. The glory of the Lord, the pillar of fire gave them light by night, and then, when everybody else was in the heat, they had the pillar of a cloud like a huge umbrella over them. Light by night, shade by day, and God for their guide. They were very well off. It is a picture of the way God leads out His people.
But I am going now- to speak a little more on the important subject of sanctification. What is sanctification? Holiness. The primary presentation of it is in the scripture before us. It has two sides -the absolute side, and the progressive side. There is the positional side, and the practical side. On the positional side you have the truth of the soul being set apart for God. And then there is the practical change, and holy progress in the walk of the saint. He first learns that he is set apart for God, and then learns to shape his ways accordingly. Where would you begin if you were thinking of the subject of sanctification? I know where I began. I began with myself. I thought, Dear me, what an immense amount of change and progress ought to go on inside me. But if I am going to talk of sanctification according to Scripture, I must begin with the positional aspect first, and hence I must begin with Christ. Oh, you say, do you think that the Lord Jesus can ever be altered? No, God forbid. Turn to Scripture and let us hear what it says.
When here upon earth the Lord said to the Jews, "Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God" (John 10:36). What a remarkable thing that the Father had sanctified Him. Could He ever be more holy than He was? God forbid the thought. It means simply this, the Father had set apart His blessed and only Son, and sent
Him into this world in order to bring God to man, to reveal God, and to make God known here. It was a totally new position for the Son of God to occupy. As become a man He is seen in this world. You find another aspect of sanctification in relation to Christ in John 17.
There the Lord says: " As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth " (vers. 18, 19). Where does He sanctify Himself. Where He now is. He has set Himself apart in heavenly glory, and, as Man, taken an entirely new position, that He might unite us to Himself there. Where is Christ? In glory. He is out of the world. And what, beloved friends, will take the heart out of the world? Only the knowledge of a heavenly Christ. Oh, yes. That will take your heart out of this world. It will make you a pilgrim.
If you have seen Christ, a victorious, ascended Christ, outside this scene altogether, everything is spoiled for you in this world. He sets Himself apart in heavenly glory that His people might be sanctified through the truth. The Christian is a person who has his heart in another sphere altogether, while his feet are traveling through this world. He is clean outside this world, although, as a saint, he will fulfill the duties of life infinitely better than before. The primary thought of sanctification then is separation, and a new place occupied. In John 10 I see the Lord Jesus taking a new place, as Man here, and in the seventeenth chapter I see Him again taking a new place as Man at the right hand of God, for Manhood has been carried into the very glory of God in the person of Christ. The result is you have a new place, and a new life, because He is there. You belong to a new company.
Now let us come to the development of this subject in the New Testament. In Saul of Tarsus I find the Lord picking up a very wonderful vessel for the unfolding -of His truth, and in the very hour of his conversion he gets his commission to the Gentiles-viz., " To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18). That is what the gospel does. You cannot convert people, but God can do it by the gospel. The apostle Paul got his commission, and the character of his service to the Lord here, and if you are just starting in the Christian life, I would like you, and urge you, to be out and out for Christ. Then He will use you in His service, and it is happy work indeed to be an instrument in His hands of turning sinners " from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God," and leading them to " receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified."
But who are the sanctified? All who have received light from God. It will come if you are set for it, and all who get a glimmer of the light never rest till they know they are among the sanctified. The moment Israel got under the shelter of the blood they belonged to God. They were not then quite clear of Pharaoh's land, and before God saved them they were sanctified. Every Christian is sanctified before he is saved. You have thought that sanctification came at the end of the road.
Quite a mistake, it is at the commencement. The twelfth chapter of Exodus is shelter, the thirteenth sanctification, the fourteenth salvation, and the fifteenth satisfaction. Shelter comes the moment you trust Jesus. Sanctification is the next thing you learn, and the soul must learn the truth according to the steps in which God puts it. That is a step, I am trying, if I can, to help you to take just now. When you believe in Jesus, and have faith in His blood, you receive forgiveness of sins. That act of God is good forever. You never can lose it, and you never can forfeit it. It is the joy of God's heart to forgive you.
Long ago I thought that if lily sins were forgiven I should be the happiest person under the sun, and that that was everything, but there is deeper blessing still in possessing " an inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." But you say, How can I be sanctified? That is the whole question, and the answer simple. The fact is that the two things go together, forgiveness and sanctification. The man that is forgiven is a sanctified man. He does not perhaps know it. But when he knows it, it will give his soul the most wonderful joy and peace before God. Oh, you say, I find my heart so bad, I am sometimes afraid I am not forgiven. Well, my dear friend, when the Lord forgave you, He knew how bad you were, and He forgave you all when He knew all about you. The knowledge of this last truth will save you from a great deal of distress.
There is no such thought in Scripture as "sanctification by faith," as some speak of, i.e., an act of faith by which the saved soul suddenly becomes sanctified. The sanctification spoken of here the soul receives
the moment it has faith in Jesus. Faith in Him places you among the saints. Are you a saint? Oh, I should not like to take that place. Why? Well, of course, saints are very holy persons. That is indeed what they should be, but they are saints first. Who are the saints? All those who are sanctified by the effectual work of the Spirit of God in them, and the work of Christ for them. " Them which are sanctified," include all the Lord's people. Do not let Satan trouble you about your experiences, and raise the question as to when you are sanctified. If you trust the Lord Jesus, and are under the shelter of His blood, you are separated to God, and that means a great deal, for He regards you as His from that moment.
It is a wonderful thing to be separated to God, because, do you not see, when Pharaoh a little later comes out saying, that he is going to overtake those people, God replies that the people are His, and means to deliver them. " Sanctify unto me all the first-born, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast: it is mine," are His words. So, by-and-by, when " the enemy " said, " I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my Sword, my hand shall destroy them " (Ex. 15:9), God replied, " They are my people," and smiting His enemy and theirs at once, "the sea covered them, they sank as lead in the mighty waters." Thank God, with all my feebleness and badness, I belong to Him.
If you learn that you have been thus set apart for God, it will have a great effect upon your soul.
In thus speaking, I am thinking of the lambs of Christ's flock,-those who have just started. I wish the older ones would think a little about them. Suppose we were to try to help them-we old ones, I mean now. Go and give them what will help their souls. Not dry stuff,—advanced theological or ecclesiastical dogma—that they cannot swallow. Feed them on the milk of the Word. " Feed my lambs " is a sweet word of the Chief Shepherd, and to do so is lovely work. I want to get all you dear young people to see that you belong to the Lord, absolutely and irrevocably. You receive the forgiveness of your sins, and sanctification at the same tune. In plain language, beloved young convert, you are among the saints-you are one of them. Do not go about talking of what you feel. Faith, not feelings, regulates your position. Having faith, you are in the family of God, and have not only your sins forgiven, but you have an " inheritance among them that are sanctified." Wonderful words. How are we sanctified? By faith that is in Jesus.
The first thing for you to learn is, that you are set apart to God in all the value of the work of Christ, and on this ground He addresses you in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. That letter is addressed to you as well as to the Corinthians. It is " Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (1 Cor. 1:2). You have been set apart for God in Christ Jesus. Mark, it is not called to be saints, but " called saints," i.e., saints by calling. Oh, you say, then I shall have to walk very carefully. Yes, that will come presently. You will observe that all believers are looked upon as a sanctified company.
We belong to God in virtue of that which the Lord Jesus has done for us. " For of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption " (1 Cor. 1:30). He has set Himself apart before God now, and we are in Him. Who is my wisdom? Christ. Who my righteousness before God? Christ. Who is my sanctification? Christ, and He is my redemption also. If you have not a sanctification up to Christ's, you are not fit to belong to the family of God, but since He is your sanctification you possess what you need. You will have to learn this, that what you are is utterly valueless. You died with Christ, and all that you are, as a man in the flesh, disappears from God's eye. We are in Him. Will that do? I could not have anything better, and God will not let me have anything less, " That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord " (1 Cor. 1:31). Now you can boast in the Lord.
In the sixth chapter of 1st Corinthians you get the kind of people God sanctifies: " Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind. Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God " (1 Cor. 6:9-11). " And such were some of you." It does not say that they had all been this. But some of us are convicted. " And such were some of you: but ye are washed." Is not that nice, after getting/all this terrible list of sins? " But ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." You see, beloved friends, there are two sides to this positional aspect of the truth of sanctification. There is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ for us in death, and there is likewise the work of the Holy Ghost in our souls, and the order is striking here, viz., that sanctification precedes justification in the soul's history.
Now if you come to the epistle to the Colossians, you will not exactly find the word " sanctification," but you will find the thing expounded in the way the Spirit of God presents the actual state of the believing soul. " Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins " (Col. 1:12-14). So what is the truth? You and I can give thanks to God that we are fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. You will never be more fit for the inheritance of the saints in-light than you are at this moment. Your fitness is what the Lord Jesus is. He is your sanctification, and " giving thanks to the Father " is the outcome. Are you doing it? Does your soul go out in thanks to the Father for making you fit to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light? Fit for God. God is light. And you are fit for God. Not in yourself, of course, but through that which Christ is, and Christ has accomplished.
How is this brought about? We will look at the work of the Lord first of all. Turn to Heb. 2. You get the truth presented in rather a different way there. Yet it is very important. " But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee" (Heb. 2:9-12). God is bringing many sons to glory, and in order to it makes the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. That is Christ. " He that sanctifieth " is Jesus, and "they who are sanctified," all that are Christ's, and they are " all of one." He does not say what. No one word could describe it. But they are all of the same order -of one Father, one character, one family. What a wonderful thing for the soul to get hold of. Of every believer in Jesus, is it true that they are " all of one."
Amazing grace! Get hold firmly of this, that you, as a believer in Jesus, form one of this sanctified company. Glorious truth, they " are all of one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." I hope you would be ashamed to call him "Brother," even " Elder Brother." He is not ashamed to call us His brethren, but remember, He is our Lord. That is the point for us to take in. In chapter twentieth of John He said to Mary, " Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God " (ver. 17). She went and told them, and they all came together. Then came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, " Peace be unto you." Thomas was not there on the first Lord's Day, but when the brethren told him about the meeting afterward, he took good care to be there the next time, and when the Lord came in Thomas knew that it was Jesus, and he said, not " My Brother," but " My Lord and my God." That is it. Young convert, never forget that He is your Lord. He calls us His brethren by infinite grace, saying, " I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise unto thee " (Psa. 22:22). He gives us His own place before God, and then leads the praises of the sanctified company.
You will find the basis and groundwork of all this in Heb. 10, where the atoning work of Christ is unfolded: " By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all " (ver. 10). What is it that sanctifies us? It is the death of the Lord. On the altar has been offered this blessed, holy, spotless Victim. All the credit, the value, and the blessedness of that which Christ was in His perfectly acceptable and infinite holiness Godward, that is all yours and mine. He took our place in death, and bore our judgment, thus we get His place in life and glory. Oh, what rest for the soul to see this. I have not to look at, or expect anything from myself any longer. " For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." So here I find that I am not only a sanctified person, but I am perfected. It is perfection as to the conscience before God. The conscience of the worshipper is to be the reflection of the value of the offering. If the offering be not perfect, the conscience of the worshipper will not be easy, and vice versa. The offering was not perfect in the Old Testament, God was not pleased, and the worshipper's conscience was not purged. What is meant by " perfect as pertaining to the conscience," is that the full light of God is on me, and it cannot find a spot. The offering has been so perfect that it has put every sin forever away from God's sight. This could not be till Jesus came, " For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins," but one great truth of the gospel now is, that the condition of the conscience of the worshipper is the reflection of the infinite value of the sacrifice.
The blood of Jesus has infinitely glorified God about sin, hence your conscience is to be absolutely purged by that blood. By His offering you are sanctified, and more than that, you are perfect as pertaining to the conscience. You will find three beautiful things in this tenth of Hebrew's: The will of God, the work of Christ, and the witness of the Holy Ghost. You have the Trinity active in our blessing. The will of God was to have us fit for his presence; Christ wrought the work of atonement for us on the cross, by which we are made fit; and the Holy Ghost came down to give us the witness that we are fit, saying, " And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more" (ver. 17). It is not only, beloved friend, that your sins are forgiven, but God says, My memory has been so affected by the blood of atonement, shed on Calvary's cross, that I have not only forgiven your sins, but I have forgotten them. If I offended you, you might forgive me, but you will never forget it. That is what man is. He does not forget. But look at this, when God wants to give your soul deep solid eternal peace, He says, " Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." Ah, what solid rest does that give.
Then there is the other side of positional sanctification, which I shall just touch on for a moment. That is the work of the Spirit of God. Paul says, " But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel " (2 Thess. 2:13). It is not sanctification by the blood, but sanctification of the Spirit. Now there we get the Spirit's work, the separation to God which the Spirit produces in the soul, and there is no doubt that the sanctification of the Spirit is a most important truth. In 1 Peter 1:2 you get a somewhat similar expression. There believers are declared to be " elect- according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." You have there the effective work of the Spirit of God, the deep, real, inward work of the Spirit. If it had not been for the touch of the Spirit of God, we could never have been blessed. What was the first effect when you were touched by-the Spirit? Was it happiness? No, the very reverse. See that man, convicted by the Spirit of his sins, he is very miserable. Never you mind, that man is sanctified, and next he will believe the truth. He goes to some preaching place, where he hears of the love of Jesus, and the death of Jesus, and that the blood of Jesus was shed for him, He exclaims, " Christ died for a poor wicked sinner like me." He believes the truth, and gets peace, and the knowledge of salvation. That is it, do you not see? He will very likely tell you that he was converted that night. But no, there had been a work of God going on in him for some time previously. That then is the work of the Spirit of God in us. We are brought to see ourselves. Then come the- exercises and agonies of the new birth. And now that soul begins to learn. He finds himself accepted in the Beloved, and he gets peace.
This may suffice on what I call the positional side of sanctification. God be praised for the grace that gives us this side of the truth, because it puts the soul clear in its relationship to God. Another night we will look at the practical side of the subject.
Eternal ages shall declare
The riches of Thy grace
To those who with Thy Son shall share
A son's eternal place.
Absent as yet, we rest in hope,
Treading the desert path,
Waiting for Him who takes us up
Beyond the power of death.
We joy in Thee, Thy holy love
Our endless portion is,
Like Thine own Son, with Him above,
In brightest heavenly bliss.
O Holy Father, keep us here
In that blest name of love,
Walking before Thee without fear
Till all be joy above.