To be sanctified is to be given entirely over to God; which is really to return to the One from whom your whole being and life derive. To be holy is to belong entirely to Him, to be a child of the Holy Father, who is holy in Himself with the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Not just a part of you. Not only a portion of your life. Not a piece of your time, nor a mere percentage of your stuff. But to be sanctified is to be given up to Him altogether, body, soul and spirit, heart and mind. So that everything you are, all that you have, and all that you think and say and do, is offered as a sacrifice of praise to the glory of His Name, and belongs completely to Him.
Even in general, that is a daunting and scary prospect to your old Adam, to your fallen flesh. For you do not trust God to take care of you. You do not believe that He will provide all that you need, and you are even less confident that He will give you everything you want. You prefer to hedge your bets and cover all the bases, to diversify your assets, and to invest significantly in yourself.
To make a place for God in “your life” seems reasonable and wise, even pious and holy, but it is nothing but self-idolatry. You shall not make a place for God, but if you would have a life at all, you must find your place in Him.
But if that is scary in general, it is far more challenging and difficult when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details of your day-to-day life. For to be sanctified — to be given entirely over to God — means that you will trust Him, love Him and serve Him, precisely in the particular place where He has put you, and right there you will gladly carry out and fulfill your vocations and stations in life according to His Word. That means receiving and loving the family and the neighbors that He has actually given to you (with all their flaws and weaknesses, their neediness and idiosyncracies), and being content and satisfied with whatever else the Lord your God has given you, instead of bitterly resenting what you have and jealously desiring what you don’t.
To be holy is to be perfectly at peace with God, and faithful in loving your neighbor, regardless of the ups and downs of your life in the world: in the knowledge that you and your life are not your own, but God’s, and that He will accomplish His purposes for you. To be holy is to be pleased when good things happen to your neighbor, even while bad things are befalling you, in the sure confidence and contentment that your Holy Father has both you and your neighbor in His keeping.
Now, that does not mean — and do not suppose — that you sanctify yourself by your behavior, or by your good attitude and effort. Holiness is not achieved or accomplished by your works. Nor does holiness consist of your good works.
No, you are sanctified by God, the Holy One, and your holiness is your fellowship with Him, that is, with the Father in Christ Jesus. It is in Christ that you are brought to God the Father and given to Him. It is in Christ that you belong to Him and abide with Him. That is your sanctification, which is your rescue and salvation from sin and death. And that is your holiness, which is your eternal life and everlasting joy. It is not something you get for yourself. It is given to you by God.
But those who are sanctified by the grace of God in Christ, who are holy children of the Holy Father, do lead holy lives and do good works according to His Word. And so are you called to lead a holy life within your own place in the world, and in all of your relationships; which is to extend your fellowship with God in godly friendship with your neighbors.
There is no sanctification, and no genuine holiness in you, except, by faith, in fellowship with God. But then, where there is that true holiness of faith in the fellowship of God, there is also the holiness of love in fellowship with one another. For you cannot abide with the God who is Love, without abiding in love with your neighbor.
That is the fellowship of the Church, first of all, of brothers and sisters in Christ, of pastors and people, of fellow Christians. Such as we hear described in the Acts of the Apostles: The disciples of the Lord Jesus, baptized and catechized in His Name, are gathered together in His Name, in the fellowship of His Word and prayer. They are gathered by and for the preaching of His Word, to hear and receive the Ministry of His Gospel, and to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth; that is, to receive His gifts in faith and with thanksgiving, and to call upon the Name of the Lord.
That Christian fellowship of the Church in the Apostolic preaching of Christ, in the Breaking of the Bread, and in prayer, extends from the Altar, and from the Divine Service, in a fellowship of care and concern, compassion and charity for your neighbor. What begins with the Body of Christ, within the household and family of God, moves into the community in which the Church and each of her members live. For in the holiness of faith, in the fellowship of God, you are perfectly free, alive and able, to exercise the holiness of love; to be for your neighbor as Christ Jesus is for you.
That is the holiness of life that proceeds from the Father and the Son, in the Holy Spirit, to you and to your neighbor.
The foundation for all of this, the structure that upholds it, and the content that fills it with faith and love, with joy and peace, with righteousness and holiness — that is Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. As St. Paul also writes, in his Epistle to the Church at Corinth, that Christ Jesus has become your sanctification. He is your holiness, by which you are holy.
To begin with, of course the Son of God is holy in Himself, as the Father and the Spirit are holy, indeed, from all eternity. The fellowship of the three divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is Holiness itself. The Holy Triune God does not become holy, but is holy. The living God is not sanctified, but is the Sanctification of His creation; for all things are made by Him, and there is no life apart from Him.
But now the one true God has become true Man in the Person of the Son; and He, Christ Jesus, has been sanctified in human flesh and blood, so that man is sanctified in Him. That is what He has accomplished “for us men and our salvation,” first of all by His Incarnation (His becoming flesh), and by His truly human life, and then by His Cross, His Resurrection and Ascension.
He who is forever and always in fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, has entered into full and perfect fellowship with all the children of men, by becoming Man Himself. And He has gathered humanity into the eternal fellowship of the Holy Triune God — permanently so, in Himself — so that all people everywhere are invited and welcomed into that fellowship, to see God, to abide forever in His holiness, and to live in Him.
He comes into the world in order to bring God to man in Himself. And He comes to the Father in the flesh, in order to bring man to God — in His Body — in righteousness and holiness forever.
What was the Son of God’s from all eternity, by nature, He has thus received from His Father in human flesh on your behalf: from His conception and holy Nativity by the Blessed Virgin Mary, from His Baptism by St. John in the Jordan River, from His Cross and Passion under Pontius Pilate, unto His Resurrection and Ascension, when He was taken up in glory.
In all of this, as true Man, He lives by faith in His God and Father,
and He receives the promised Spirit from His Father in His Body of flesh and blood.
The Church looks forward to and celebrates the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, because the Father has, in fact, poured out the Spirit upon the Body of Christ Jesus — as at His Baptism, so also in His Resurrection from the dead. So has He been sanctified in human flesh and blood, and so are you sanctified in Him by the preaching of His Word in the world.
The holiness of His fellowship with the Father (in the Holy Spirit) is manifested in the holiness of His love for you and all the world in His sacrifice upon the Cross. In offering up Himself, His Body and Life, unto God, He has laid down His life for you, to atone for all your sins, and to redeem you from sin and death. Therefore, in His rising, you are raised and justified; and in His Ascension, you are sanctified by His Spirit and seated with Him at the right hand of His Father.
That is where you now live with Him, because He Himself lives with you here in peace and joy. You live with Him in holiness, because in Him you have fellowship with God, now and forever.
Has He not given you His Name — has He not named you with His Name — in Holy Baptism? Therefore, you belong entirely to God, who is your true Father in Christ Jesus. What is more, with His Name He has given you His Spirit and His Life, whereby you are sanctified and live.
Do not suppose that in His going to the Father He has gone away from you and left you all alone.
He has not!
As He kept the Apostles in His Name, and guarded them while He was with them, so does He guard and keep you in His Name, in His Word and Truth. Not less so, but all the more so, as He has gone by way of the Cross to the Father on your behalf, as your merciful and great High Priest. With His Word and Spirit, with His Ministry of the Gospel, He is with you forever and always, as surely as He is with the Father in heaven; so that your life, also, is hidden with Christ in God, and you are seated with Him in the heavenly places.
On the one hand, He ever lives to pray and intercede for you — as He does in this Holy Gospel — not only with His Word of Truth, with the Testimony of His Righteousness credited to you, but with His own Life, His Body and His Blood. As He rises and ascends in human flesh, He Himself is your Prayer in the ears of your Father. So are you heard and received in peace.
At the same time, even as Christ ascends to the Father on your behalf, He also remains with you, and He is near you, closer than a brother, in the speaking of His Word, in the Holy Ministry of those whom He sends into the world in His Name. This Ministry of the Gospel is holy, because it participates in the fellowship of God, and because it sanctifies you with that fellowship. It is holy, therefore, because Christ is not absent from it, but He Himself is actively present in it; He is deeply and intimately present. As surely as He has given you His Name in Holy Baptism, so surely does He sanctify you in the Truth with His Holy Absolution; and with His Word, He guards and keeps you with His Word-made-Flesh in the Holy Communion.
Even that name, the “Holy Communion,” identifies the holiness of your fellowship with God in Christ, which you receive as your own in this Sacrament. And because it is given to you, to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins, you are fully reconciled to God and received by your Father in peace. Not “up in the sky,” but here at this Altar.
Your fellowship with the Holy Triune God, and therefore your holiness, life and salvation, are as solid and sure as the Body and Blood of Christ, which He puts into your mouth and into your body here in the world.
He does not take you out of the world. Not yet. For as the Father has sent Him into the world, to live by faith, to live in love — and as He has sent His Apostles into the world to preach and teach in His Name, to write the Holy Scriptures, to baptize and absolve, and to commune His disciples — so does He send His Church into the world, to live by faith, and to live in love.
And so does He call you to live in the world by faith in His Name, and in love for your neighbor.
Why? So that your neighbor, also, might know and receive the fellowship of God through the fellowship of your love, and so be sanctified in the Truth of His Gospel.
Do you not perceive that your life thus has divine significance? Because your fellowship, even here and now in the world, is with the Father in His Son; not by your own effort, but by His Spirit.
The Holy Triune God is surely with you in all of your vocations, in all of your relationships, and in all of your dealings. Not only to accomplish His purposes in you for others, but at the same time to preserve you in and with His holiness, to guard your life — even through death, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting — and to keep you safe from the evil one.
To be sure, the devil hates you and is constantly seeking to devour and destroy you. And the world hates you, too, as it hates the Lord Jesus. The dangers to your mortal body and life are many and great, though even these are not as perilous as the temptations to sin, the lust of the eyes and of the flesh, the love of money, and then the wicked accusations of Satan who would drive you to despair through guilt and shame and the fear of death. But fear not him who hates you. Fear God, who loves you; repent of your sins; and trust Christ, your Savior, in whom you are not guilty but holy.
Fear, love and trust in this one true God, and do not be afraid to live and serve wherever in the world He has called you, wherever you are sent. Whether you go to death upon a cross, or you live to a ripe old age caring for your neighbor, abide in the fellowship of Christ. Remain in the Temple of His Church, calling upon His Name. Be gathered together with His disciples in the Upper Room, where He still washes your feet with Holy Absolution and feeds you at His Table with His Holy Communion. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not abandon Him, but find your place in Him, your true home in the fellowship of His Body and His Blood.
As you receive from Him, so give. You will not be left with nothing. As you hear, speak. For as you have the testimony of God in the testimony of men — in the Scriptures of the Apostles, and in the preaching of your pastors — so do you have this testimony in yourself. The Word is near you, in your ears, in your heart, and on your lips. Confess it to your neighbor, in the confidence that you thus speak the Word of God: that you speak Christ. Confess His holy Name, which you now also bear as a child of His own God and Father. And call upon His Name in prayer, knowing that your Father in heaven hears and answers in love. Truly, your lips speak Christ, not only to your neighbor, but to your Father, who hears His Son Jesus in your prayer.
This is your confidence, your certainty, even when your heart quails in fear and your conscience condemns you. For God is greater than your heart, and His Word is Truth. He cleanses your conscience with His Gospel. He grants you true peace by His forgiveness of all your sins. And Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father, has so bound Himself to you in love, in and with His own flesh and blood — so that you are one with Him, and one with the Father and the Spirit in Him — that you are sanctified with His own holiness. You are holy in Christ, as the Lord your God is holy. Therefore, you are also raised from death to life, and anointed by His Spirit in body and soul, to abide in the fellowship of the Father here in time and hereafter in eternity.
A sword in the hat is better than a foot in your mouth. All the better if it is that double-bladed sword that slices and dices between bone and marrow. But I have always liked to sort things out by thinking out loud with friends and colleagues. And since my opportunities to do so are limited, I figure I can multiply my thinking and sorting here.
Married 28 years, my wife and I have had ten children born to us (six boys, four girls); we have another son and daughter by marriage, a son who went ahead of us to heaven from the womb, four grandchildren and counting. I was ordained in 1996, and have been the pastor of Emmaus since then. I have a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003), and an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana