This summer, while packing for vacation, I became tickled about how much my life has changed over the years. It wasn’t just my belongings I was packing into my suitcase, but my kiddos’ as well. I laughed out loud picturing a younger version of myself sitting on this bag forcing it to zip as it bulged with everything I would “need” for seven days. Now I stood staring into the same bag with gear for three people fitting nicely inside with a bit of room to spare. In the way the Lord does, a silly, mundane moment became worship. I was reminded of the Lord’s kind work of sanctification in my life as I looked into a suitcase where there was literally less of me and more of something wonderful.
What is Sanctification?
Sanctification is the work of a believer becoming more like Jesus over the course of his or her life. It’s staring into your suitcase each year and seeing more of Christ’s character—something wonderful—and less of your sin. Wayne Grudem helpfully and concisely defines sanctification as, “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”
Who Sanctifies Us?
The question “Who sanctifies us?” sets sanctification apart from other aspects of salvation. In previous weeks we’ve learned that God justifies us and imputes His righteousness to us. God alone does the action of justifying and imputing, and they happen in one moment and they last for eternity. However, sanctification is a work of both God and man. Scripture is clear that God and the believer must both be at work for sanctification to take place.
It’s important to note that sanctification is not working for your salvation. Scripture is clear that we are saved, by faith in Christ, once and for eternity. Becoming more like Christ in sanctification does not contribute to a right standing with God. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the only act that can reconcile us to God. Our work to grow in Christ-likeness is an overflow from salvation and serves as fruit of salvation.
How Does Sanctification Happen?
In 1 Corinthians 6:11, we see sanctification begins at salvation. Paul states, “…you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…” Past tense. At salvation, we experience a change of spiritual taste buds. Grudem states, “ a change of one’s primary love and desires occurs at the beginning of sanctification.” At the moment of salvation, we begin to desire and reflect some of Christ’s character.
Sanctification also continues and increases throughout our lives. If a person has been saved, she will be more like Christ at the end of her earthly Christian life than the beginning. The New Testament is full of commands for the believer. We are commanded to be kind, sexually pure, and honest—to name a few. Working towards faithfulness and obedience to these commands is the work of God in sanctification.
There will come a day when our working is done. Sanctification has an end date. When the Christian dies, his or her soul rests with the Lord and the battle with sin is over. This truth should 1. Fuel our work to honor God and become more Christ-like, and 2. Give us hope in our efforts in pursuing holiness.
Why be sanctified?
God commands that we pursue holiness. The beautiful answer to this question is that the God of the universe has saved us and chosen us to bring Him glory in all things and be a witness for the Gospel—all the while blessing us with peace and joy. We get to work to grow in Christ-likeness. We get to become less selfish, less angry, less judgmental, and less envious as an act of worship to the One who has given us His righteousness and gives us, now, the joy of becoming like Him.
How do we work towards sanctification?
Many Christians find themselves asking, “What is God’s will for my life?” Addressing sexual immorality, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 states, “For this the will of God, your sanctification…” In its notes on this passage, The Gospel Transformation Study Bible says, “When we struggle to know the will of God in our lives, we can always rest assured in the glorious truth that his will is that we become increasingly holy—that we become like him” (emphasis mine). It is God’s will we become like Him.
So ask yourself, ‘Where am I pursuing sin and lacking holiness?’ Do you often hurt others with your words? Do you struggle with an addiction? Do you find you’re filling your days with pointless Netflix binging that will have no impact on eternity? Well friend, get to work. Don’t wallow or become discouraged by your sin. Be broken and repent before the Lord. Pray for wisdom and courage to fight. Rest in His power to keep you and equip you for the work ahead and get to work!
God orchestrates every moment of our lives to shape us into His likeness, but it takes effort, discipline, and intentionality on our part for optimal sanctification to take place. Margaret said it well in her article, Becoming More Like Jesus Doesn’t Happen Through Diaper Changing: “Sanctification is NEVER something that just happens to you. Difficult circumstances and hard work are not magic beans that yield the fruit of Christlikeness. In fact, it’s at busy and stressful times that it is easiest to neglect the Holy Spirit in your life and your spiritual disciplines, or worst yet, to resist sanctification. Sanctification is something the Holy Spirit does inside of us, but it requires our obedience and teachability.”
The beautiful work of sanctification ensures that as we pursue righteousness for the glory of God, we will actually become more holy and make much of Him. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 and be encouraged:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
He will keep you. He will sanctify you. He will equip you as you work. “He will surely do it.” Amen and amen.
Editor's Note: This originally published at Thinking & Theology.