FOR THEIR SAKES I SANCTIFY MYSELF
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-5-84 10:50 a.m.
And welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor delivering the sermon of the morning. The message is an interlude, it is an intermission. Next Sunday morning we shall begin the final sections of the long, three-year-long series on the “Great Doctrines of the Bible.” Next Sunday we shall begin the messages concerning the consummation of history, the denouement of the age, the end time of the world, and the coming of Christ. The sermon next Sunday morning is entitled The Intermediate State. Where do we go when we die? Where do the lost go? Where do the saved go? There is most evident a time period between the day that we die and the day that we are resurrected from the dead. What is that intermission, that time period, that interlude? That will be the sermon next Sunday morning. Then we follow after for about—oh, I would say four or five months—each of the sermons on the “Coming of Christ,” the end of history. The interlude today, the interruption today, the sermon today arises out of about three weeks in which I have been confined at home, trying to get on my feet, and in those days, praying, reading the Word of God, thinking about us. And the message is entitled, For Their Sakes I Consecrate, I Sanctify Myself.
The message is taken out of the high priestly prayer of our blessed Lord Jesus in John chapter 17, verse 19; John 17, verse 19. In His prayer, our Lord said to the heavenly Father, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified” [John 17:19]. “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself.” Our usual understanding of the doctrine of sanctification is this: it concerns our progressively getting rid of the sin in our lives, and as we continue getting rid of the weakness of the flesh and the transgressions of our days, why, we become more sanctified, more sanctified, more sanctified as we continually rid ourselves of sin until finally being wholly sanctified, we are wholly rid of our sins. That is the usual understanding of sanctification. We are completely sanctified, we are delivered from sin. Now there is nothing wrong with that doctrine. It is just a human doctrine. It is not a God-made doctrine. It is something that we have thought of. And as I say, there is nothing wrong with it. As we progress in holiness, we progress in the likeness of our Savior, and we rid ourselves of sin until we are sanctified. But that is not in the Bible.
The Bible doctrine of sanctification is in an altogether different category. How could you say that Jesus progressively rid Himself of sin? Yet the Lord says, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19]. Evidently, sanctification refers to another category in human life. It is this: there are many words that are used in the English language to translate one word in Hebrew and in Greek. In Hebrew and in Greek the words are congruous, they are exactly the same. The Hebrew word and the Greek word are perfect translations. Sometimes the English will translate it “sanctification.” Sometimes the English will translate it “dedication.” Sometimes the English will translate it “consecration.” Sometimes the English will translate it “holiness.” Sometimes the English will translate it “hallowedness.” There is a whole family of words in the English language that translate one word in Hebrew and the identical meaning of it in Greek.
Now the Greek word used here by our Lord, “For their sakes I hagiazō, hagiazō, I sanctify Myself, I consecrate Myself, I hallow Myself” [John 17:19]. It means “to set apart for the purposes of God.” The Hebrew word is qadosh, qadosh. And the qadosh in Hebrew, and the hagiazō in Greek are identical. They refer to God, the adjectival form in Hebrew is qadosh. The adjectival form in Greek is hagios. And it refers to God and everything that is in the service of God, that pertains to God, that belongs to God. God is qadosh. God is hagios. In Isaiah 6:3, the seraphim cried before the Lord, “Qadosh, qadosh, qadosh, is the Lord God of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory!” In the Revelation, in the Apocalypse, in the fourth chapter and the eighth verse, the zoa, the living ones—I call them the cherubim—they cry in the presence of the throne of the Almighty, “Hagios, hagios, hagios is the Lord God of hosts, sanctified, sanctified, sanctified, is the Lord God Almighty” [Revelation 4:8]. We are to be sanctified as He is sanctified. In 1 Peter chapter 1, the apostle writes, “Be ye hagios as He, the Lord, is hagios” [1 Peter 1:15-16]. He is quoting the eleventh chapter of the Book of Leviticus, where God says, “Be ye qadosh as I am qadosh” [Leviticus 11:44-45]. Everything that belongs to God is qadosh and hagios; it is to be dedicated to the purposes of the Lord. The temple of God is called ton hagion, that is, it is the celebrated sanctuary of the Lord. It is sacred for the purposes of God, and everything in the temple that was dedicated to God is hagios. The altar, the tongs, the laver, the pots and the pans, the utensils—everything is hagios. It is dedicated, consecrated, sanctified to the Lord.
In the remarkable and unusual vision of Zechariah that closes his glorious prophecy, he says there is coming a day that “there shall be upon the bells of the horses,” and always in the Old Testament, a horse was a sign of war. They never thought of a horse in any other way except in the day of battle. There shall be, even upon the images and instruments of warfare, “There will be Holiness unto the Lord”—holiness, qodesh le Yahweh, “to Jehovah” [Zechariah 14:20], sanctified to the Lord. “And the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls that catch the sacred blood carried into the Holy of Holies. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and Judea shall be—qodesh le Yahweh—holiness unto the Lord” [Zechariah 14:20-21]. The day is coming when everything that we have, everything that we are will be dedicated—that is, sanctified, consecrated to God. This is especially true in referring to God’s people. God’s people are hoi hagioi, translated, “the saints” [1 Corinthians 1:2]. Not because we are sinless or perfect, but because we belong to God; we are His, and we are to be dedicated, sanctified, consecrated to the purposes of the Lord. The Lord God says to His saints, “Be ye qadosh, for I am qadosh. Be ye hagios, for I am hagios” [1 Peter 1:16].
We are to be dedicated and consecrated to the purposes of God. You find that especially and poignantly in the Book of Exodus chapter 13: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto Me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel: it is Mine” [Exodus 13:1-2]. When the death angel, when the avenging angel passed over Egypt to destroy the firstborn in every home, the firstborn was redeemed in the home of an Israelite by the blood; the Passover blood, sprinkled in the form of a cross on the lintel above and the door posts on the side [Exodus 12:7, 12-13, 22-23]. And thereafter, the memory of the Exodus, of the deliverance from Egypt, was to be kept fresh in the minds of the people of God in the sanctity of the firstborn in every household. It belonged to God. The eldest belonged to God. It was sanctified to the Lord. “Whatsoever openeth the womb: it is Mine” [Exodus 13:1-2]. In the third chapter of the Book of Numbers, the tribe of Levi was substituted for the firstborn in Israel [Numbers 3:44-45]. And thereafter, the tribe of Levi served God. They had no inheritance in the land of Israel; the Lord was their inheritance! They were sanctified to God for the purposes of serving the Lord [Numbers 18:20-23]. Then, in the twenty-[eighth] chapter of the Book of Exodus, God said to Moses, “Sanctify, out of the tribe of Levi, Aaron and his sons to be ministers unto Me, to be priests unto Me in Mine house” [Exodus 28:41]. So Aaron and his sons were sanctified, they were consecrated to the service of the Lord [Exodus 29:44].
And the ceremony of that sanctification was impressive indeed. They took blood of sacrifice and placed it on the right ear and the right hand and the right foot of the priest, thereby, consecrating, sanctifying all of his powers and abilities to the Lord [Exodus 29:20]. The priest belonged to God. He was to serve the Lord. And as such, he was sanctified with the blood on the ear, on the hand, and on the foot.
When we think of our Lord’s prayer, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself,” I devote Myself, I consecrate Myself to the great purposes of God for which I was “sent into the world” [John 17:19]. He said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10]. He said, “I am come to give My life as a ransom for sin” [Matthew 20:28], and in dark Gethsemane He prayed, “Lord God, Thy will be done” [Matthew 26:39], and He drank the bitter cup for our salvation—our deliverance from the wrath to come [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. The terrible trial that He endured [John 18:19-40], and the cruel cross that He suffered [John 10:16-34], was for our sakes, “For [their] sakes I consecrate, I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19]. And there is no heart made out of flesh but is moved by the consecration and dedication and sanctification of somebody who suffers for us, who lays down His life for us. You couldn’t help but be moved.
In 1941, a cruel providence plunged America into the awful Second World War. One of the handsomest, finest young men in our church at that time came to me, and he said, “Pastor, I have volunteered to go. But before I leave, would you pray for me?” And I knelt by his side and prayed God to bless the young man as he went away in the defense of our country. Then he said to me—and could I ever forget it—he said to me, he said, “Pastor, if I can lay down my life for you, that you have the freedom to preach the gospel of Christ, I gladly give my life”… “For their sakes I consecrate Myself” [John 17:19]:
A picket frozen on duty,–
A mother starved for her brood,–
Socrates drinking the hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And many who, humble and nameless,
The straight, hard pathway plod,–
Some call it Consecration,
Bur some of us call it God.
[from “Each in His Own Tongue,” William Herbert Carruth]
It is the same word, God is qadosh, hagios. His people are qadosh, hagios. We are to sanctify and to consecrate our lives to the Lord [John 17:19].
This leads to another invitation that shall be extended and pressed upon the hearts of our people at every service from now on; at 8:15 o’clock, the first service, at 10:50 o’clock, this service, and at 7:00 o’clock, the evening hour, every Lord’s Day. In addition to our appeal for the lost and our appeal for families to join the church, there shall be also this other and added appeal. There will be an appeal for the consecration of our lives to our Lord, and it will follow in a very different and planned pattern. Starting with our staff, then through our deacons, then through all of our Sunday school teachers, then through all the members of our church, we shall be invited to come forward, and to rededicate, to reconsecrate, to regive, to sanctify our lives for the Lord. We shall be invited to come two couples at a time, four at a service, or one couple and two singles, or four singles. Every service they will be invited to come forward and to sanctify themselves to the Lord. This will be done under the tutelage and the direction of Dr. Melzoni and the staff, choosing them Sunday by Sunday, services by services, to come before the Lord and to reconsecrate, to sanctify themselves in the work of the Lord.
Immediately, there are things that come to our mind concerning it. First, why do you have just a few to come forward? Why don’t you invite all of them to come forward at one time? The first one that I spoke to about this said to me, “Pastor, it seems to me the whole staff ought to come forward; why do you choose just a few?” Because of this: for fifty-five years I have stood at the front of the church, and I have shaken hands with people in every revival meeting who came down to reconsecrate their lives to the Lord. Just like a thundering herd following a lead steer, the whole bunch comes down and shakes my hand, consecrating themselves to the Lord; mostly meaningless, a gesture that has no significance. There will be a pew of people back there, every one of which will come out to reconsecrate himself to the Lord. And there won’t be one standing there alone—he is self-conscious, so he comes with the herd. It has no meaning at all! I have watched it for fifty-five years: every revival meeting, shaking hands with all of that multitude who come down here, ostensibly reconsecrating their lives to the Lord. I say it is meaningless; it is a gesture. It’s a herd instinct, “They’re all going, so that means I go too.” I want it to be that we have plannedly, and purposely, and prayerfully, and statedly prepared for that consecration, that sanctification. It is to be a new day, a new commitment in our lives to the blessed Lord.
A second question, “Pastor, why public? Cannot I consecrate my life to God in my own heart? Cannot I do it with a door shut in my house or in my closet where nobody can see? Why would I be invited openly and publicly to rededicate and reconsecrate, to sanctify my life for the Lord?” For the same reason that we invite a lost man openly and publicly to commit his life to Christ; he asked that same question, “May I not? Can I not accept the Lord as my Savior and do it in my heart and nobody know of it? Why should I stand before men and angels to confess my faith in the Lord Jesus? Why can I not do it privately, personally, clandestinely, furtively, secretly? Why this public avowal?” First answer: God asks us to do that. God does. In Matthew 10:32, the Lord said, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven.” In Romans 10, the apostle Paul wrote:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord,
and believe in thine heart…thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart we believe unto a God-kind of righteousness;
and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
God asks to do it. Moses stood at the gate of the camp and cried, saying, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32:26]. God asks us openly, publicly, unashamedly to profess our faith and the commitment of our lives to the blessed Lord Jesus.
Now for the years I have thought, “Why does God ask that? Why does God ask me to come down publicly and to profess my faith in the Lord? Why can I not do it privately? Nobody will know about it.” I have two answers that come to my life out of the years and years that I have been an undershepherd. The first answer is this: when I publicly, and openly, and statedly, and avowedly, and purposely commit my life to Christ, it does something to me, me personally. When I stand there confessing my faith in the Lord, something happens on the inside of my heart.
I one time heard of a professor in a great university, and a friend, seeking to win him to the Lord, found in the professor an infidel spirit that refused to respond. Finally the friend said, “Just come forward, stand there before the people, and tell them what you do believe about Jesus.” And the infidel professor said, “It would be an insult to the congregation if I were to stand there and tell them what I think about Him.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said the friend, “You come forward and you tell the people what you think about the Lord Jesus.” Because of friendship, the professor acquiesced, and at the stated service, among others, down the aisle he came. And the pastor introduced him and said, “The professor is going to tell you what he thinks about Jesus.” So the professor said, “I don’t believe in the Lord Jesus, I just don’t. But I do believe that He was a good man.” Then suddenly, the professor paused, and he said, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute, I believe more than that. I believe He was the best man who ever lived.” Then he paused, and he said, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute, I believe that He came into the world to show us the way to heaven and to God! Wait a minute,” he said, “wait a minute, I believe He died for my sins! Wait a minute,” he said, “Wait a minute, I accept Him today as my Lord and Savior.” It does something to a man, no matter who he is, it does something to a man to stand up and to confess whatever it is he believes about the Lord Jesus, and how much more to us who have found in Him a personal friend and Savior.
A second reason that I can think, in my human understanding, why God asks us publicly, to commit our lives to the Lord, to sanctify our lives for Him. It does something to the lost. When you come down here to the front, the lost look upon it and it does something to them, to their hearts. I stood one time by an unbeliever in a service in a church that was greatly blessed of God. And after the people were introduced, they stood, as we do down here, they stood down here at the front. And the people came down to rejoice. It was a smaller church, and the people knew each other intimately. And as I stood by that blatant unbeliever, the families of these that were saved came down, and they hugged one another and wept with one another. It was beautiful to look upon. And that unbeliever turned to me—finally became a missionary—that unbeliever turned to me and said to me, “Criswell, there is something about religion that rises up and smites you in the face, no matter what infidelity you may profess.” It does something to them when we profess our faith, when we sanctify ourselves for the Lord Jesus. It does something to people who look at it, even to the unbeliever, and how much more is it meaningful unto us who have found refuge in our wonderful Lord. My brothers and sisters, this happened about seventy years ago. Seventy years ago in the little church in which I grew up: my father came down the aisle and he sat right there, and he took out a white handkerchief and put it over his face and wept like a little child. There was a kind, gracious providence that had come into his life, and he was there, thanking God. That is as vivid in my mind today as it was seventy years ago. God does something to others when I consecrate and sanctify my life for the Lord— a reason why God does it.
Now you might ask, “Pastor, is not that a mechanical thing to do?” You’re going to sit down with Dr. Melzoni and the staff, and you are going to work this out. And these are coming: the staff, and the deacons and their families, and the people in the Sunday school, and the members of the church. “Isn’t that a rather mechanical thing to do? Aren’t you reading God’s Spirit out of it?” Not if I can understand the Word of the Lord. There were stated times—planned times, purposive times, prayerful times—when God asked His people to come before Him.
I cannot imagine a more beautiful thing than the story of Hannah and Elkanah, once a year they went up to Shiloh to appear before the Lord [1 Samuel 1:21]. And Hannah made a little coat for Samuel and gave it to him once a year as they went up to worship God in Shiloh, where the tabernacle of the Lord was kept [1 Samuel 2:19]. It was a stated thing, a planned thing, but so preciously meaningful. Not only that, there’s no one of us, being acquainted with the Jewish community in our own city of Dallas, but is familiar with Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur in the Bible is called the Day of Atonement. And the people were gathered together, and they reconsecrated and recommitted and sanctified themselves to the Lord on Yom Kippur, the high Day of Atonement; a planned response, a stated response [Leviticus 16:1-34, 23:27]. And I can see why God would do that. I can pray about it. I can plan it. I can talk to God about it. I can make it the most meaningful moment in my life! “For their sakes I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19]. And I need to do it. I need it!
You’ve heard me say many, many times when people have come forward reconsecrating their lives to the Lord, you’ve heard me say, “Our Christian lives are like great power lines. No matter how taut you stretch them, by and by, they will fall and lie in the dust of the ground.” Here, and then here, and then here, there are great standards that lift them up. And if you have seen the power lines that cross our country, they go like this, and then down, and then up again like this, and down and up again like that. Those great standards lift them up from the ground, the dust of the earth. Our lives are like that! We have a tendency to be dragged down into the worldliness of this life, we just do. Our inclinations are always fleshly and material and worldly. We need to be lifted up. We need to reconsecrate ourselves. We need to regive ourselves to the Lord: those standards, those times when we are brought closer to God, and when we sanctify ourselves for the work of the Lord. Don’t I need to do that?
My brothers, I gave my life to Christ sixty-four years ago, sixty-four years ago. I was a boy, ten years old, and I came forward and gave the preacher my hand and told the people that today, “I confess my faith in the Lord Jesus.” Shall I never do that again? All of those people who saw me and heard me do that are in heaven; they’re dead. Shall I not do that again and again and again? Shall I not do it for you? “I confess my faith in the Lord Jesus. I have given my life to Him openly and publicly and unashamedly before all of the hosts of heaven and before the eyes of men in this earth. I do give myself in confession to the Lord Jesus.” I need to do it.
Last, could you think of anything more ennobling in heart and in soul, more Christ-like than to follow and to answer the prayer of our blessed Lord? “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified” [John 17:19]. I could not imagine in life, anything I could do that would be more ennobling to my soul and my heart and my life than to sanctify, than to consecrate myself for somebody else: for child, my child, for my boy, for my girl, for my family, for my home, for my church, for the kingdom work of my Savior, for the lost that they might be saved, For their sakes I sanctify myself [John 17:19], I consecrate myself to the purpose of God. What could be more beautiful or precious than that I do that?
Selfishness whispered to Moses, “Moses, you stand aside and let the wrath of God burst like fire and fury upon this people, that they be destroyed!” And God said, “Out of your loins, I will raise up a nation who will do My will” [Exodus 32:10]. Think of it: Moses—not Abraham, not, not Isaac, not Jacob—Moses, the father and founder of the chosen people of the Lord. Selfishness whispered to Moses, “Stand aside and let God’s wrath devour the people.” But Consecration said, “O Lord God, if Thou will forgive their sin—”; then there is a long black dash. Moses never finished it: “O Lord God, if Thou will forgive their sin, and if not, blot my name out of the book which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32].. If they die, I want to die. If they can’t live, I don’t want to live. If they perish, let me perish. For their sakes, I sanctify, I consecrate myself” [John 17:19].
Selfishness whispered to Ruth, “You go back to Moab, to your home, to your people, to your house where you’re known, where you were born, where you will live, not in a strange land on the other side of the Jordan River.” Selfishness whispered, “You go back.” But Consecration said:
Entreat me not to leave thee, nor to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: And where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried: God do so, and more unto me, if aught but death separate between me and thee
Selfishness whispered to Paul, “Your upbringing, your family, and your training in the Greek university of Tarsus at the feet of Gamaliel, the great rabbi, you yourself can be the greatest rabbi in Israel,” selfishness! Consecration answered, “What things were gain for me, these I counted loss for Christ. Yea, and I count all things loss, and look upon them as refuse, that I may serve Him” [Philippians 3:7-8].
Selfishness whispered to Jesus, “Bow down, all You need to do is bow down. Just bow down, and Satan offers You the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. No cross. No suffering. No tears. No death. Just bow down” [Matthew 4:8-9]. But Consecration answered, “The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many” [Mark 10:45]. And Consecration answered, “Lord, if this cup may not pass from Me, lest I drink it: not My will, but Thine be done” [Matthew 26:39]. And our Lord died for our sakes [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He sanctified Himself for our sakes. He suffered and died for our sakes: consecration, sanctification, holiness, hallowedness—and didn’t He asked it for us? “For their sakes I consecrate Myself, I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified” [John 17:19]. He, our Lord, is not alone in His sufferings and His sacrifice; I also am called to lay down my life with His for my family, for my church, for my house and home, for the lost, for the kingdom of Christ. I am called of God to do it. Are not we all? You, and you, and you. So to the appeal: for the lost and for church membership at every service will be that appeal. “This day,” statedly, purposely, prayerfully, “I come before the Lord to sanctify myself for Him.” And God bless the commitment, and use it in His love and grace to reach others for Christ, and to bless His dear and sainted people.
So that’s our invitation. To receive the Lord as your Savior, come. Thousand times welcome, come. A family you to put your life with us in the church, come, come. To answer any call of God in your heart, come. And some of us this morning will also come, sanctifying our lives for Him, consecrating our lives for somebody else. And may the Lord God in heaven bless the sanctification, the consecration. And bless you who come accepting Him as your Savior, and bless you who come putting your lives with us in this dear church.
Now let’s stand together. And while we stand, and while we pray, and while we wait, “We’re on the way.” In the balcony round, down a stairway; in the throng on this lower floor, down the aisle, “Here I am, pastor.” God bless you as you come.