Did you know that there are multiple dimensions that make up the word ‘salvation’? That salvation in God does not just mean eternal life in Heaven? There are three theological doctrines that are unilaterally recognized by all evangelical, Christian denominations: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. In brief overview, justification deals with our imputed right-standing before God, sanctification deals with our maturing process and becoming more like Christ, and glorification refers to how we will be made perfect and welcomed into eternal glory with God. Today we will look at what Sanctification is.
Sanctification is the progressive process that every Christian goes through in living out ‘the Christian life’ where they put to death sinful habits, grow in godliness, and ultimately imitate Christ in an increasing way. This definition can sound lofty but truly what it means is you are becoming a more wise person that acts out of maturity and not out of the whims of your desires. As David Powlison puts it in his book,
“Becoming more holy does not mean you become ethereal, ghostly, and detached from the storms of life. It means you are becoming a wiser human being. You are learning to deal well with your money, your sexuality, your job. You are becoming a better friend and family member. When you talk, your words communicate more good sense, more gravitas, more joy, more reality. You are learning to pray honestly, bringing who God really is to the reality of human need. And to grow in holiness does not mean you now talk in hushed tones and every third sentences quotes the Bible. It means you live in more clear-minded hope.”David Powlison, How Does Sanctification Work?
That sounds great at first glance but when we think about the many ways we fail everyday the goal of being this ‘wiser person’ can seem nearly impossible. Besides, no one is perfect right? While this is true, our growth is not measured by how sinless we are but that we are becoming more like Christ in letting go of our sinful ways. Paul refers to this process as ‘working out our salvation’ or ‘putting to death our sinful desires’ (Phil. 2:12; Col. 3:5). God breaks the chains of sin that were bound to us so that we can be free to shake off the chains of death. This is life-changing news because we at one point were bound to sin and headed for eternal damnation but because of Jesus we are set free from those binds and have the freedom to resist sin! Look at how Paul puts it in Romans 6,
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness,but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.Romans 6:1-14, (ESV).
As Paul explains, Christians who have come to faith in Jesus are no longer slaves to sin but free! This is not freedom to then sin more, but freedom to resist sin! Before salvation, we were all dead in our transgressions and prone to sinful ways, but when God saved us we were given freedom from our sinful ways and were empowered to live out what God called us to do! This is the gospel of Jesus Christ! This is the foundation of our faith but how do we actually grow?
We grow by immersing ourselves into the Word of God to constantly direct us. We are growing by God’s working in our lives and by the Holy Spirit’s movement. We grow by using our freedom from sin to resist the sinful habits that we were once indulged in. We grow by God’s grace and power given to us to live an obedient life, according to the scriptures. We work out of salvation with fear and trembling by progressively growing in our obedience to God (Phil. 2:12). We choose to emulate joy and hope with our words instead of contempt and complaints. We read what God calls us to do and to the best of our ability we live it out. We respond to the Great Commission to make disciples by investing into our neighbors. We cut out some of the entertainment we used to take in that we now see is causing us to sin. We truly pray for our church families when we “#prayingforyou”. We daily walk in prayer with God and listen to the Spirit’s directing in our everyday lives. God is at work in us as we learn and fail and grow (Phil. 2:13).
Sanctification is not a one-size fits all formula. What helped one person may not equally help the next. For example, some people benefit from waking up at 5am to feast on the Word as they start their day. However, some people need that extra hour of sleep so that they do not bite the heads off of their coworkers! This would obviously not be imitating Christ! As you learn what it means to grow in your walk, try not to assume what was successful for others will be successful for you. I’m not saying do not try! Pray and ask God what needs pruning and let him progressively clip the dead branches from your life and show you where you can grow. One step at a time. You will not finish your sanctification process on earth, so give yourself grace as you take time to seek the Lord each day. As you immerse yourself in the Word and seek the Lord, you will grow. By grace you have been saved and by grace you will grow.