Once a month, you’re going to hear from our authors, from our team, or from a guest on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask.
When I became a Christian at the ripe old age of twelve, I knew my eternity with God was certain. I also knew I had much to do: read my Bible, pray, consider fasting, memorize Scripture, and make wise choices. However, my understanding of the glorious realities of daily living in God’s presence and the work He would do in my heart to transform me toward righteousness was shaky, at best.
Sanctification is the process by which we are molded more and more into the image of Christ as we continue on in the Christian life. It doesn’t get as much attention as justification (the immediate declaration of righteousness before a holy God when someone surrenders his or her life to Him). Justification occurs in a moment and the working out of that salvation is a lifelong process. Justification secures our innocence before a holy God and is often our focus when we are telling others the good news of the gospel, but sanctification is good news too. Justification without sanctification is the call of “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20, NKJV). Our justification is promised to result in sanctification, or a transformed life. We are saved, and we are being saved every day.
God has so wonderfully saved us that He transforms our hearts so that we might walk well with Him, renewing us each morning and teaching us His ways. Our lives are the outworking of our salvation; we are being sanctified.
Sanctification is not a single-destination tour or a non-stop flight to a pure life; it is a journey of hills and valleys, lush forests, and dusty deserts. Although the trajectory of our sanctification is always growth toward holiness, the process is often non-linear, looking much like the wandering of Israel in the wilderness, looping back to truths it seems you already learned, taking a step backward to take two steps forward. So, since sanctification feels a bit more nebulous, here are four things to remember as you seek to walk with Christ and grow:
- Sanctification is a promise.
Paul said it this way: “… he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” (Phil 1:6, CSB). If you are in Christ, God will be at work in your life. Now, we can certainly make that learning faster or slower, easier or harder, with the way we live and our intention to see Him, but we cannot force our hearts to change through brute strength. He is the One who can transform your heart. He is the One who will do the work.
- Fix your eyes on Christ.
Later in Philippians, Paul encouraged the readers of his letter to “work out (their) own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12, CSB). He discussed this in relation to living a life with a pattern of obedience to Christ. The God of all things became flesh and lived among us so that we might know Him! When we seek to be continually awestruck by the work Jesus did on the cross to pay the penalty we deserved for sin and to secure our right relationship with God as those who are found in Him, we’ll find that our hearts and lives can’t help but be transformed by His goodness. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you more like Jesus and be anxious to respond to the opportunities He gives to die to yourself daily and to live for Christ.
- Live a life marked by daily repentance and surrender.
Sanctification is a daily work which will continue into eternity for those who love God and have repented of their sin, surrendering to Christ and His ways. Jesus’ call to those who would follow is to “take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, NIV). The way of the cross is a way of death. Selfishness, pride, and trust in lesser things has no place in the way of the cross. Dying to self means dying to our sinful desires, seeking to surrender to God’s intentions, and surrendering to His instruction. You, Christian, are free from sin and freed to righteousness. The power of sin over you is eclipsed by the power of God! Now, repent, believe, and obey in that power.
Each day, we, like the churches to whom the letters were written in Revelation 1, must be zealous and repent, responding to the Lord’s discipline. Confessing our sin to one another, repenting (turning away from sin and turning to God), and surrendering to another’s authority are not concepts that are comfortable in Western life. It seems as we’ve become more autonomous and individualistic, we’ve become more adept at ignoring our sin while magnifying the sin of others and pretending we are holy when we are far from it. The Christian life is a life of repentance, and I pray we will daily “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt 3:8, ESV). For God’s people to be in His presence and delighting most in Him, they must be holy, and the path to holiness is repentance and surrender.
- The goal of sanctification is the glory of God.
No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to muster up sanctification on your own. You might be able to fake spiritual fruit for a season, but eventually the truth will become clear. Sanctification is God’s work, and its good goal is His glory. We respond to His work with surrender and obedience, but ultimately, sanctification is not about us. God is purifying for Himself a people, set apart for His work and His glory. Our lives are about Him, and that is for our great good, because there is nothing better than the One we serve. However, sanctification can feel painful. There’s no pleasure to the metal being purified through fire, but there is unfathomable value. The strengthening of our faith may come through the suffering of our bodies or the struggling of our spirits, but the good goal is that God would be glorified and praised as the One He is: all-knowing, in control, kind, just, holy. May our lives and the purifying work He does in them be pictures of His glory.
God says in Isaiah 48:9-11, “I will delay my anger for the sake of my name, and I will restrain myself for your benefit and for my praise, so that you will not be destroyed. Look, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. I will act for my own sake, indeed, my own, for how can I be defiled? I will not give my glory to another” (CSB).
What a gift! God has offered us salvation through His Son for His name’s sake. Let us live as those who are redeemed and are being sanctified today.
Mary Wiley lives with her husband John and their two preschoolers, and they attend and serve at Fairview Church in Lebanon, TN. She works as the women’s book marketing strategist for B&H Publishing Group and loves all the stereotypical publishing things: words, books, paper, and coffee. She hosts the Questions Kids Ask podcast, helping parents understand how to answer their kids’ tough theological questions. She recently released a resource centered on understanding the essential truths of our faith and how they apply to our everyday lives. You can order her book, Everyday Theology, here. Connect with Mary at www.marycwiley.com or @marycwiley on social media.