For Their Sakes I Sanctify Myself by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000
And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth (John 17:19).
We have been dealing with the reasons which our Lord adduces for praying for the sanctification of his followers. One is that this is God’s way of dealing with his people, and the second reason, which we considered in our last study, is the vital importance of this from the standpoint of evangelism. We went further and saw that this is in reality the end and object, the ultimate, in the whole matter of salvation. We saw therefore that to consider salvation apart from sanctification is false.
But now we come to another aspect of this subject, which is the basis of sanctification; indeed to the only way in which our sanctification is at all possible, to the very foundation of it. We find it here, in one of the most glorious statements which can be found anywhere in the Scriptures: ‘… for their sakes I sanctify myself.’ I know that I often say about various phrases like this in Scripture, that it is incomparable and that there is nothing like it; and of course every time one says that, it is perfectly true, because so many of these statements, containing as they do the very essence of the gospel, are indeed incomparable. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit applies these statements to us from time to time so that, as any particular one is applied to us, it does seem to us at that moment to be all we need, and then at another time the same is true of another statement. So there is no contradiction in saying that both of them, and all of them, are equally incomparable. Here, then, is surely one of the greatest and most glorious statements in the whole range of Scripture. It is like a gem with many facets; it does not matter from which angle you look at it, it shines still more brightly and wonderfully. It is at the same time, surely, one of the most vital statements that we can ever consider together. So let me hold this glittering jewel before you, praying that nothing in our study will in any way detract from its brightness and glory. The whole of the Christian gospel is in this one phrase: `For their sakes I sanctify myself.’
Now the first thing that must engage our attention is obviously the meaning of Christ’s sanctification of himself. Clearly, as we pointed out earlier when we began to consider this doctrine, he cannot mean that he will do anything to increase his own holiness. That is impossible. He was perfect from the beginning, without blemish, without sin and without fault, so that when he says that he is going to sanctify himself he cannot mean that he is going to make himself more holy than he was before. What it means, obviously, is that he is using the term in the primary sense of sanctification, namely dedication, consecration, a setting apart for the special work of God, and for God’s purpose in him and through him. It means an entire offering of oneself to God for his glory and for his purpose.
Then, in order to grasp the full meaning of this statement, the next word we must look at is ‘myself’—‘I sanctify myself,’ our Lord says. And by that he clearly means himself as he is in his total personality, everything that he is, as God and man, all his powers, all his knowledge, all his perfection, all his ability, everything. There is no word more inclusive than this word `myself’. It means my total self, all that I am, in and of myself, all my relationships, all my privileges, all my abilities and all my possessions. I sanctify myself in the full totality of my being and my personality. So what our Lord is really saying at this point is that all that he is and has, he is now giving entirely and utterly to God `for their sakes’—they being the Christians then in existence; and for our sakes, too, those who are going to come into existence; all those people he has been talking so much about in this prayer, the people who had been given to him by God, and for whom he has come into the world, and for whom he is now doing everything: `for their sakes I am giving my total self to you’.
This is, ultimately, the very acme of Christian doctrine and it is astonishing to notice how we tend to forget it. I suppose it is one of those truths we forget because we think we know it, and we tend to take it for granted. We are inclined to stop at certain particulars in the work and actions of our Lord, not realising that the greatest thing of all, the staggering fact, is that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has devoted himself entirely to our redemption. He has given himself up in the totality of his personality to this one specific object. Now that, it seems to me, was the thing that was done in the Eternal Council between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, before the world was ever created. All the history of mankind was known, everything was clear and open, the whole course of man, his life and his history. Before the foundation of the world, the Fall, the sin and shame were all foreseen, and what our Lord is really doing here is repeating, reminding God, as it were, that in the Eternal Council he had turned to the Father and said, `Here am I, send me.’ I put myself entirely in your hands, at your disposal, you can use me as you like for the redemption of this people. He sanctified himself, he devoted himself, to this task. He leaves everything else and he excludes everything else.
We are familiar with that idea on a lower and lesser level. We know, for instance, that when a man joins the army to fight for his country he has to give up certain other things. He gives up his business, or profession, for the time being. He has to give up his home and family life. The man is now devoting and consecrating himself to the service of his country, in order to defend it. He is a man who is giving himself exclusively to this one task and it means giving up something else. And the Scripture teaches that that is precisely what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us and for our redemption. When he says here, `I sanctify myself,’ he is going to do something, and it is very important that we should be quite clear what he means.
There is a sense in which he has already done this; as we have seen, a great promise was made before the foundation of the world in the Eternal Council. But then it was put into practice at the Incarnation; the very birth of our Lord into this world was a part of the sanctifying of himself to this one task of man’s salvation. Even at that particular point it involved his laying aside the signs and marks of his eternal glory and Godhead. He did not lay aside his Godhead, that was something he could not do. (That was the false doctrine about ‘self-emptying’ which came in about sixty or seventy years ago.) No, he did not empty himself of his Godhead, but he certainly did empty himself of some of the prerogatives of his Godhead.
That is the great statement made by Paul in Philippians 2:5-8: `Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God’, which means that he did not regard his equality with God as a prize to be held on to, or to be clutched at. He is devoting himself to this peculiar task, so for the purpose of this task he lays aside the marks and the signs of his glory; as the hymn puts it, `Mild he lays his glory by’. Now that is a part of this sanctification of himself. He laid aside the signs of his glory and he submitted to being born as a babe in weakness and in utter helplessness.
So, then, he had offered himself to the Father and he said, I am going to make myself responsible for the salvation of these people and I care not what it may cost. I give myself entirely to this task. He left the courts of heaven, and took upon himself human nature, which meant that he became man as well as God. He was fashioned in the likeness of man and came into the world as a man among men—that, too, is a part of the sanctification of himself, of setting himself apart for this task. He then lived that extraordinary life for thirty years, apparently nothing but man, working as a carpenter, sharing the life of ordinary people. He so humbled himself that he became liable to temptation by Satan. God cannot be tempted, we read, but here is God in the flesh being tempted by the devil; and all this is part of his setting himself apart. Before he could save mankind, he had to endure this, and so he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.
It was also a part of his preparation for his high priesthood. You remember that argument in Hebrews 4:15, `For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.’ Because of what he endured and suffered, he was being made perfect as `the Captain of their salvation’ (Hebrew 2:10)—because he endured temptation by the devil and the contradiction of sinners against himself, and lived an ordinary life in this world.
But now he turns to the Father and he says that he is going to do something even further and deeper than that. What I have been describing is tremendous and staggering, but now there is something glorious! He is now giving himself to God to be made the actual sin-bearer, the offering for sin. He has come down from heaven, he has identified himself with us. He submitted himself to baptism though he never committed a sin, identifying himself with us sinners. He has endured all that I have described, yes, but if man is to be sanctified, if man is to be made so that he can dwell with God and dwell with him to all eternity, something further has to be done. So he gives himself to that something further. He hands himself passively to the Father and he says, I am ready now to be made sin for them. I am here offering myself for their sins; lay their sins upon me, make me their sin-offering. He handed himself over—that is what is meant by sanctification. He made a further devotion of himself, the last act of consecration.
Let me put it in the language of Scripture. He has submitted himself to be made a curse for us: `Cursed is everyone that hangeth upon a tree’ (Galatians 2:3, quoting Deuteronomy 21:23). To be crucified was to be cursed, it was a fearful disgrace, and here he says to his Father, in effect, `As this is the only way whereby they can be sanctified, I give myself and I make myself a curse. Let their sin really come upon me that they may be sanctified. I hand myself over to this.’ It is simply saying what he said in another way, in the Garden of Gethsemane, `Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not my will but thine be done’; if there is no other way, I will take the cup and drink it to the dregs. He is setting himself apart into the hands of God for this end and object.
He is now submitting himself, therefore, to the most terrible thing that he ever contemplated, namely that he should be separated from his Father. He had come out of the eternal bosom. He was in God from the beginning, he is co-equal, and co-eternal with God; but here he realises, and he faces it, that in order to save and to sanctify these people he has to undergo this separation from God and to be made a curse. It means the breaking of the contact, and he submits himself even to that. He is prepared to endure even the loss of the face of God on the cross that we might be sanctified. He separates himself to this.
For that is what he endured on the cross; our Lord died of a broken heart. Christ’s heart was literally broken, which is why they found blood and water when they thrust the spear into his side. He did not die merely as a result of physical crucifixion, that was not the thing that killed him. His heart was broken. The authorities, you remember, were somewhat surprised when they found him dead already. Usually crucifixion is such a slow death that men had to be killed when they were crucified: the thieves had their legs broken (John 19:32-33). But he died quickly, because he bore the punishment of our sin. He endured your hell and mine. This was no mere appearance, but something that was done. He endured our suffering, he consecrated himself to that. He says, Here I am, pour out the vials of your wrath because of the sin of these people upon me. I hand myself over that you may do it. `For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.’
And then he sets himself apart for death, for burial, for entering into Hades. He descends into Hades (however we may interpret that) in its fullness and entirety. But it does not even stop at that. I think that Scripture teaching shows very clearly that our Lord’s setting himself apart for this great end and object goes even beyond death and the grave; it is a part of his resurrection. For when the Lord Jesus Christ rose again from the dead, he rose not merely in and of himself, but also as the representative of his people. Even now his life in heaven is not a life he lives for himself—I say it with reverence—-it is primarily a life that he is living for us, his people. He is our Advocate, our High Priest, our representative in the presence of the Father. The Lord Jesus Christ at this moment is peculiarly engaged in the work of the kingdom of which you and I are citizens. He shall reign `till his enemies be made his footstool’ (Hebrew 10:13).
Oh what high doctrine we are handling here! The Lord Jesus Christ in heaven at this moment, is not the same as he was when he left heaven, to come to earth. When he did that he left it as God, God the Son, but when he returned to heaven he was God and Man. He has taken human nature with him. He is God and Man for ever and for ever; the head of the church, the representative of his people. And the astounding teaching seems to be that he has set himself apart even in the Godhead to this particular work for his people and for his church; that is the thing to which he devotes himself entirely.
So the doctrine can be put like this: he who was co-equal and co-eternal with the Father has come within the bounds of time and has lived a human life here on earth. He has set himself exclusively to this one task: `From the highest throne of Heaven to the Cross of deepest woe, all to ransom guilty captives …’ That is it; it is all there in these wonderful and magnificent words of our passage. I wonder whether we grasp this, whether we realise what it truly means that this second blessed person in the holy eternal Trinity, brought himself out, as it were, and exclusively gave himself to this one, peculiar task. All that has happened to him, and all that he has done and all that he is doing is designed to this end and object. `For their sakes I sanctify myself’ That is what it meant to him, and that is what it involved for him.
From all this I deduce, therefore, that clearly it was all absolutely necessary before you and I could be sanctified. Every part and every step of it was essential. You and I can only be sanctified because the incarnation is a fact; we can only be sanctified because the suffering and death, the resurrection and the risen life of our Lord were all facts. We must not leave out any one step; we are not only sanctified by the risen Lord, his death was equally essential, and so too was the Incarnation. One of the most subtle errors at the present time is to say that our sanctification is only in the risen, living, Christ, without the death being mentioned at all. It is a denial of vital, essential, New Testament teaching—every step, every movement, every action was a part of this sanctification of himself, and without this we cannot be sanctified.
That, then, leads us to the practical application: how does all this lead to our sanctification? `For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.’ How does it work? Well, as I understand this New Testament doctrine, we can put it like this. Everything is in the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything that we enjoy, everything that we ever shall be, is because of our relationship to him. We are in him, and he is in us. We are parts of him, and we are sharers, therefore, of all that he is. All that he has done, he has done for us as our representative. Therefore all that belongs to him belongs also to us, and by his sanctification of himself he has made our sanctification possible.
It works out in this way. Before you and I could ever be sanctified, the barrier of sin between us and God had of necessity to be removed. Sanctification ultimately means being like God, sharing the life of God, being in the right relationship with God and having perfect communion with him. Sanctification does not just mean being rid of certain sins. No, sanctification is positive. God says, ‘Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy’ (Leviticus 11:45). But before that is possible it is quite clear that the barrier and obstacle between us and God must be removed. That is why the cross of Calvary is absolutely essential to sanctification, and people who say that we can be sanctified by knowing the living Christ, without talking about the Atonement, have clearly not understood the problem of sin. Sin must be taken out of the way. The first question is the guilt of our sin, and it is only by the death of our Lord upon the cross, by his making himself our sin-bearer, and becoming the sin-offering, that the guilt of sin can thus be taken out of the world. So he tells us here that he is offering himself in order that that may be done. It is the very foundation of sanctification. Justification is the basis of sanctification in this second sense of the word. . . . for without justification there can be no sanctification. Sin must be removed, and our Lord has removed it.
Then the next thing that happens is that in him we are reconciled to God. Sin has been taken out of the way, the guilt has been removed, and now God, in a marvellous manner, puts us into Christ; he incorporates and engrafts us into him. As you read the New Testament, keep your eye on that phrase `in Christ’. Paul talks about certain men and says that they were `in Christ before me’ (Romans 16:7). He had been put into Christ, like a branch being grafted into a tree. We are members of the body of Christ, adopted as God’s children, taken into God’s family—that is the New Testament language—and if Christ had not set himself apart for us, that would never have been done. He is `the first born among many brethren’, the beginning of a new humanity. He is starting a new race of man, and we who are put into him become the beneficiaries of everything that is true of him. We are received by him, and thus we receive new life from him. We receive a new nature, we become partakers of the divine nature, and we become such that the very Holy Spirit that was given to him without measure can be given to us also. We can be enabled to live life in this world in the way that he lived it. That is what we are taught. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit himself. He enters into us and dwells in us, and he begins to form Christ in us. We are made according to the image and pattern of Christ—we are created anew in Christ Jesus.
Now all that could never have been if our Lord had not set himself apart for the birth, the death, the entering into Hades, the resurrection, the seating of himself at the right hand of God, and the sending forth of the Holy Spirit. He has done all this in order that that might happen to us, and thus it is that the Holy Spirit works within us, both to will and to do according to God’s good pleasure. Let me remind you of Paul’s argument in Philippians 2:12-13, `Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you’—he does it through the Spirit—`both to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ The moment the Holy Spirit enters into us, then he begins to work in us. Sometimes when we are quite unconscious of it, he creates desires in us and works upon the will—`to will and to do’. He empowers us, and he does so because Christ has sent him for that purpose. Thus he links us more and more to Christ, forming Christ in us all the time. Ever increasingly we are enabled to receive of his fullness and `grace for grace’; power, life—every need can be satisfied. The fullness of the Godhead is included, for all the treasures of wisdom and grace are in Christ and if I am put into Christ then I can receive all that; his life will flow into mine, as the branch takes from the vine. The New Testament is full of this teaching but all I am emphasising here is that if he had not sanctified himself, none of this would be possible, and that is why he had to do it. This is our sanctification, and what he says here again is that he has done it all in order that we might be sanctified in truth.
I cannot leave this wonderful statement without just saying a final, brief word about the amazing thing that led him to do all this. It is all here! `For their sakes I sanctify myself.’ If only we could see this. This is the thing that leads to sanctification. We shall be considering this further, but this is the truth that we need to know; we need to realise something of what this means. `For their sakes,’ he says, he is going to do all that I have been describing to you. Who then are they? Who are these people for whom he does it? Enemies of God and therefore enemies of Christ, self-willed creatures, people who listen to Satan rather than to God, people who deliberately believe the lies against God, people who have set themselves up, and put their own wills and desires against the will of God, people who delight in evil, who are full of malice, envy, lust and passion; you and I as we were in sin and in evil, as the result of the Fall.
For their sakes! Recognise it, guilty sinners as we are! It is for us that he has done all this—for them, yes, I sanctify myself, says the eternal Son of God, the holy and pure one, the blameless and spotless, the one whose supreme joy was to do the will of his Father. Can you imagine a greater contrast than that: the contrast between `them’ and `I’? And yet he says, `I sanctify myself,’ which not only means, as I have described to you, the totality of his personality, but also that he did it voluntarily and willingly. There was nothing in us to recommend this; there was no motive that could arise from anything in us. Man in sin is so damned and hopeless that he does not want to be saved, or even ask to be. No request ever went out from man to God for salvation, it has come entirely from God. Here am I, says our Lord, Send me. There was no compulsion from the Father’s side, the Son desired to do this. He gave himself freely and willingly and voluntarily.
I do not suppose it is seen more clearly anywhere than it is there in the Garden of Gethsemane. `If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.’ But if it is not possible, if there is not another way, then I will do it. I will go through with it, though I know what it is going to mean.
The agony of it was so great in anticipation that it made him sweat drops of blood, but he willingly went to the shame and agony and all the suffering, the mocking, the spitting, the jeering and the laughter, the crown of thorns. Yes, he willingly went and endured it all for your sake, for my sake, not simply that we might have our sins forgiven, but that we might be sanctified. (379-390)