Perfection and Sanctification
Hebrews 10:14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (NIV)
Heb. 10:14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (NRSV)
Christ's sacrifice meant a radical redemption of humanity which would allow for the restoration of the image of God in humankind. This was the perfection, or the completion of humanity -- this restoration. Now, humanity could fulfill the purpose for which they had been created -- they could be a reflection of their holy God. In living out the reflection, their faces turned toward their holy God, humanity would be sanctified daily by the on-going and continuous holy presence of God.
Perfection and sanctification are two words that may, at times throw us for a loop and yet, we find them both in this one single verse of Scripture. Many people hate that word "perfection" because it carries with it so many negative connotations. The idea of being a perfect human being who never makes a mistake and never errs in anything they do can drive us all crazy because we know that we can never reach that level of perfection. And that is certainly not what is meant in this passage. The trouble with most of us English speakers is that we don't always understand the world of the original Greek writers and their usage of a word such as teteleioœken. Whenever we see that word "perfect" in the Bible, we must most certainly imagine that we will find the Greek word with a root in it of "telos," just as this word does. This means to reach the goal, or come to completion. So, in this Scripture we have to see that Christ, by his one sacrifice has brought to completion those who are holy, or who are being sanctified.
Interestingly John Wesley in his "Notes" only comments on the "perfection" part of this verse and not the "sanctification" portion. He states, "That is, has done all that was needful in order to their full reconciliation with God." In other words, this verse is about all that Christ has done to bring about the goal, which is full and complete reconciliation of humanity with God. Let's get back to the "reflecting the image" stuff. A mirror can only reflect that which it is facing. If humanity in the fall turns their back on God, they can no longer be a reflection of the image of God. However, the capacity to reflect the image is not lost, but the image is lost. Now, when Christ makes the final sacrifice he makes it possible for all of humanity to turn around and again face God so that the image is restored. The human is not a "perfect" human in the way we think -- but the human is made perfect because they now reflect the image of God, who is perfect. This was God's original goal for humankind and that goal is now restored through the work of Christ. This is the perfection -- the goal of the restored image is possible for everyone.
This idea of a sanctified Christian is not a new one. For the early church every follower of Jesus Christ was being sanctified. Paul in his letters would refer to the "saints" in the different cities. These were the people of God in whom the image had been restored and now they were God's holy people. These are the sanctified. These are the saints. The perfection is the work of Christ, so that the possibility of restoration exists. Once the person's orientation is again toward God, the person is and will be sanctified because of the reflection of God's holy nature -- love, in their lives.
Perfection and sanctification fit together and cannot be separated. They are also not optional for a follower of Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus Christ has done the work once and for all which makes possible our perfection. The word "sanctified" in the NRSV is translated "being made holy" in the NIV. Why is that? Because the form of the word really means a continuous active process. Jesus' work of perfection was once and for all -- the act of sanctification is on-going because it is dependent upon our continuous and active role in the process. We must remain, on a daily basis, in a right relationship with God -- facing him. If not, we will no longer be a reflection of him and his holiness. Also, back to the mirror language, the closer a mirror is to the original object, the larger the original object will be in the mirror. For us to be filled up with God, we have to get closer to God. The closer we are to God, the greater his reflection will be in us. We should never ever stop or slow the journey of drawing closer to God - and this is our continuous on-going sanctification. Every follower of Jesus Christ is called to a deeper walk with him -- to be made holy. That is God's intent for all of humanity - perfection and sanctification. Neither are an option.
Lord, may this be a day in which I draw closer to you. Amen.