Once upon a time I posted a blog online about sanctification. It spelled out my frustrations with people claiming that sanctification is just as much God's job as justification is. I was very aware that God does all the saving and I in no way helped save myself, but I made the point that our daily sanctification was something we were supposed to work at. I knew that if you were truly saved, the Lord would ultimately glorify Himself in you. Yet I could not wrap my head around how sanctification was a work of the Lord's just as much as justification is. I think this was out of fear that I would be putting blame on God for people's sins. A believer sins between the time of their justification and their glorification…a lot. I thought that if sanctification were a work of God then that would imply He was failing at His work.
Not only did I believe that we were in charge of our own sanctification, but I lived like it. After I was saved I became hungry to read and to learn. I wanted to know what was expected of me as a Christian. How did God want me to live? He saved someone as undeserving as me by His own volition, and I wanted to, in return, live to please Him. This was a natural and healthy response from a new believer. The problem came not from that response but from where (and mostly how) I ran to get those answers.
I ran to the law.
My natural tendency is to make a list simply so I can check it off! I do that with everything. It would have made sense for me to begin at the beginning of the Bible and make a list of every command given by God for mankind. Needless to say, that would have been a massive list and one I would be completely unable to comprehend, much less obey. In my process of trying to figure out what God expected of me I got discouraged and confused. I did not know how to reconcile the "mean God of the Old Testament" and the "loving God of the New Testament," yet I knew that they are one in the same and He did not change. I was discouraged because I knew that I would never be able to obey the laws spelled out in Genesis through Deuteronomy. Thus, I would never be able to please God…or so I thought.
I soon fell into the next logical response: If there was no way I would be able to obey God the way I was commanded, then what mattered most would be if I obeyed more than the people around me. As long as I was more "holy" than the person next to me I would be okay. I was a homeschooled pastor's daughter, so I had no problem patting myself on the back for being better than my friends. Of course, that led to pride, which had me looking to please myself more than my intent to please God.
I have since learned that I am not alone. Other people feel the same way and walk down this same road. Not only that, but even scripture talks about people who struggle with these same things. I urge you to read the book of Galatians from beginning to end, all in one sitting. This was a huge eye-opener for me. Try to set aside presuppositions and let Scripture speak for itself. Paul wrote this letter to Christians in Galatia who were saved and were running back to the law to try and please God.
Throughout the book of Galatians and in many other places in the New Testament, I have learned that when Jesus came to earth, everything changed. God did not change, but He instituted a New Covenant by the blood of His Son. You see, Jesus really paid it all. He didn’t just pay for the sins that I committed prior to being saved, but His blood sufficiently covered all my sins. Yesterday’s, today's, and tomorrow's. Not only did He expiate my sins, but also He imputed His righteousness to me. Prior to this year I had a hard time with the doctrine of double imputation (when Christ takes on our sin, and we take on His righteousness) because we will always sin.
The dots began to connect when I understood that not only was my disobedience a problem, but my failure to do what is good—that is sin too. I need Jesus. All of Him. I need Him not just to forgive my sins, but I need His righteousness as well. The law demands perfection and that perfection can only be found in Jesus. He never did what was wrong and always did what was right. He drank the full cup of God's wrath against sin and He satisfied all of the law's demands for us. It was not only to prove that He was the Son of God, which it did, but it was so that he could live perfectly for me and die the death that I deserved.
I still do not understand why Christians must sin, but it is painfully obvious that we do. I sin all of the time. It is almost unbearable to think about my sin and it grieves me that I would sin against a God who has been nothing but good to me. What I do know is that my sin points me to Jesus. It reminds me of my great need for Him and makes me long for the day that all will be made new. Maybe that is why believers sin. Maybe He leaves us in these nasty bodies so we will long to be made clean. I do not know, but I do know that God promises to sanctify us.
If you are saved in Jesus, you are given everything you need for life and godliness. You have the Holy Spirit. He is not an imaginary friend that pops in when you need a boost. He is God and He will sanctify you. The more you run to Jesus and study what He taught, the more you will grow in wisdom and in understanding, but also in love, in patience, and in self-control. Your heart’s desire will be to worship in everything you do. You can’t muster that up, just like you can’t be "good enough" to deserve salvation in the first place. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in you. Everything good in you is from Jesus.
I want to encourage you to study all of scripture in light of Jesus. Jesus fulfilled perfectly the laws demands, so look to Him. Do not settle for the shadow of what is to come, look to the Person. Look to Jesus and live. Believer, nothing you have done today has made you more holy than the day you were saved. In fact, you are no holier than any other believer around the world. Do not let your hearts grow weary, for God was pleased in Jesus and He overcame for you. You do not have to work to try and please God. In fact, all your efforts are in vain. Jesus worked for you and He pleased God for you. So let your hearts overflow with gratitude for all that Jesus has done for you. Rely fully on the Spirit to teach you to walk in His ways. He is a good, good God and worthy of all our efforts. But be assured, our only boast is in Jesus. Our greatest efforts are a result of the Holy Spirit, which is given freely to us through the blood of Jesus.