Foundations: Sanctification and The Ongoing Christian Life
"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,..."
Sanctification and the Ongoing Christian Life
Some followers of Jesus have a dramatic conversion testimony. They can recount the sin and destruction that Jesus saved them from in vivid detail. Others may consider their conversion uneventful or even "routine." They didn't chase the world and say yes to all their sinful desires. They didn't waste a period of their lives and return to the Father much like the prodigal son we read about in Scripture. Some simply grew up in church and have served Jesus from as far back as they can remember. Whatever the case may be, there is one thing that every person's testimony has in common--Jesus saved them from the consequences of their sin. No one saved themselves; no one measures up. Salvation is a gift and God does expect us to do something with it.
One and Done
Being reconciled back to God is more than an experience. To reduce God's redeeming and saving work to walking down an aisle to an altar or repeating a prayer is both unbiblical and spiritually damaging. Yet some think of salvation in this way. They acknowledge they were a sinner at one point, but had a "God moment." They point back to a singular experience and use it to define their salvation and relationship with Christ. They view receiving salvation as the ending point rather than what it is biblically--the start of our new life in Christ.
God calls his children to holiness and obedience. Not just once, but daily. Our salvation brings us back into a relationship with our Creator and changes the way we view and go forward with our lives. When the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us and causes us to be born-again, we should notice changes. Changes in the way we live, our attitudes, and our priorities. Our salvation is the start of the work God wants to do in and through us. We cannot reduce the offer of eternal life to a single event.
Called to Separate
Children of God are called upon to separate themselves from evil--from actions and attitudes that are displeasing to their Heavenly Father. The Bible refers to this as the process of sanctification. While we once were powerless to resist temptation and sin, we now have the help of the Holy Spirit. He is able to give wisdom, strength, and victory in our battle against sin--in our effort to separate ourselves from evil. As Christians, we will still be tempted, but we are not powerless.
The Results of Spiritual Growth
The glory of God. When believers take their salvation and sanctification seriously, God is glorified. He is made to look important, powerful, and like a treasure when his children choose obedience to him over the temptation to sin. When others see followers of Christ separating themselves from evil, it points to the reality and presence of absolute truth that has been revealed to humanity by God himself. Simply put, our spiritual growth, sanctification, and obedience will always glorify God.
Our good. The commands of God are designed to lead to human flourishing. God, as the Creator of everything, is the sole person who knows the perfect way to engage and live out all parts of life. When we listen to God's revealed truth, found in the Bible, we are led to joy, peace, and contentment. Furthermore, God designed us so that our deepest joys would be found in his presence and from receiving his love. Spiritual growth and sanctification results in experiencing more of God's presence and love--both which lead to our deepest joys.
The good of others. The Bible has much to say about how we treat other people. Growing in our love for God increases our love for people. Much of our sanctification will involve how we treat others. When we seek to separate ourselves from evil, other people will benefit from our decision. Not only in the way they get treated, but also in the sense that they are able to see an example of a faithful Christian life and are encouraged to be obedient to God themselves.
Making the Right Choice
While it is true that the Spirit of God makes our growth and sanctification possible, we are responsible for making decisions that are Spirit-led. We can make decisions that hinder our growth or contribute to our growth. Below are some of the most common practices we can commit to that will propel us towards spiritual growth and consistent sanctification.
Connecting with God. Connecting with God in both an informed and passionate way fuels sanctification. Some examples of how we connect, or grow in relationship with God, include prayer, repenting of sin, trusting Jesus and his Word, praising him in song, and living a humble life.
Submitting to authority. Submitting to godly authority, and ultimately to God's authority, leads to sanctification. God has placed many other people in our lives to help us spiritually grow and mature. When we refuse to listen to them and receive their instruction, we prohibit spiritual growth from happening. Sometimes submitting and receiving instruction from others can be difficult, especially to our often fragile egos, but is a necessary practice God expects from his children.
Serving. Growth happens when we serve. Seeking to advance the Kingdom of God and bring light into darkness deeply impacts our spiritual lives. Serving God and others has a profound affect on our souls. God has given each believer certain gifts that he expects them to use to serve his kingdom and other people.
Living in community. Especially in seasons where spiritual growth seems slow-moving and difficult, we will need encouragement from other believers to persevere. Regular fellowship with other Christians provides examples for us to follow and wisdom for us to glean. God never intended for us to live autonomous lives. If someone does choose to live that way their spiritual growth and sanctification will be virtually non-existent.
Suffering well. Difficult seasons of life can produce dramatic growth and sanctification in the life of a believer--God promises this to be true! No suffering is wasted in the life of a follower of Christ. God uses painful circumstances to shape us and bring out qualities in our character that will last for eternity. If the moment a difficult circumstance comes into your life you get angry at God and become disobedient, you are missing a great opportunity for spiritual growth and sanctification.
Some Things to Remember
Perfect but not yet perfect. Our salvation means that God sees us as perfect. We are credited with Jesus' perfect righteousness. Although this is true, it does not mean that we are perfectly sanctified. Every believer will still wrestle with sin and temptation. Some believe the doctrine that upon salvation we are made perfect and will never have to repent of sin the rest of our earthly lives. Simply looking at our daily actions and attitudes should prove this false. So, although we receive the benefit of Christ's righteousness in order to be saved from a past life of sin, we will need to repent and appeal to the blood of Christ for present and future sin as well. Our sanctification is a lifelong process.
Not everyone struggles the same way. Some believers may struggle with a sin that others seem to have victory over easily. Our sanctification will look a little different than other Christians. We should not expect other followers of Christ to grow and be sanctified at the same rate and in the same way that we are. The sins we committed prior to salvation, our family upbringing, and even our ages are some factors that contribute to what each individual believer's sanctification will look like.
It's not always easy. New believers often think that growing spiritually will be easy, and maybe for a time, it is. But eventually all Christians will face some difficulty in their sanctification. It is not always pleasant or easy to tell yourself "no." This is essentially what a believer is doing when they are seeking to separate themselves from evil. Our flesh, or sinful nature, is still present, and can at times, become very "loud." It is during these times we must lean into the gospel, the help of others, and the Word of God. The less we listen to and give in to our sinful nature and desires, the quieter they will become. Every believer should take caution about putting themselves in situations where they know they will be tempted and it will be difficult to resist that temptation.
The gospel is always needed. God does not love us more when we are successful at growing spiritually. He also does not love us less when we fail. God's love and acceptance of us is based on the person and work of Jesus that is revealed to us in the gospel. There is never a day where you don't need the gospel, should take the gospel for granted, or have moved past the gospel. Actually, your sanctification is quite dependent upon your growth in understanding and treasuring the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Don't Give Up
Sanctification can be messy because our lives are messy. We are complex creations and God knows it. Resist the temptation to give up and become frustrated with God and your spiritual life just because your growth and sanctification isn't happening the way you envisioned or planned on. Faithful obedience and steps towards growth will pay off--it doesn't matter how many times you have to repent or how long it takes. The New Testament often records the encouragement for followers of Christ to persevere and to not give up. God understands our human weaknesses and is willing to stand beside us as we struggle with them. Don't give up--one day our struggle will be over for good as we enjoy eternity in the presence of God.