No Other Foundation
Book 2
Needful Truths for Children of Light

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Chapter Five
Defining the Sanctifying Process


The Contents Of This Chapter


Defining the Sanctifying Process

Though born sinners, we don’t always sin. Though predisposed to self-centeredness, we aren’t always selfish. There are times when we love others as we want to be loved. There are times when we sacrifice our interests to please or serve another. There are times when we do what is right even though if means standing alone or being heckled.

However, spasmodic or intermittent goodness is neither noteworthy nor commendable. Everyone does it, including the worst of sinners.

A more difficult accomplishment is goodness in several specific areas so as to consistently do what is right in those areas (i.e., marital fidelity, responsible work ethic, keeping one’s word, honesty about oneself, being racially unbiased, even-tempered, considerate of others, never using profanity, never gossiping). Yet as difficult as this is, there are many who practice this level of goodness.

However, whether Christian or non-Christian, those who practice this level of goodness are little better than those who occasionally do what is right. And why is this the case? Because they are driven more by the fear of getting into trouble and the desire for approval and acceptance than by a loving concern for the good of everyone affected in some way by their choices and behavior. In other words, they are more concerned about their own interests than the interests of others. The truth of this is evidenced in two primary ways. First, they predominantly decide what to do on a "benefit vs. cost to self" basis. If the benefits outweigh the costs, they will most likely do it — be it something they know is right or something they know is wrong. Second, they follow their feelings more than God’s Word. The sins they abhor (i.e., rape, adultery, cursing, and for the sensitive — anger) they tenaciously avoid. The sins they adore (i.e., software piracy, cheating on taxes, workaholism to the neglect of the family, controlling others to their hurt and the hurt of the relationship, nagging) they avidly practice. In other words, they do what is right for the same reason they do what is wrong — it seems to serve their own interests. Therefore, though this level of goodness is harder to achieve than sporadic goodness, it is not much better.

Way out ahead of these two accomplishments is what to most of us seems like the impossible dream — consistently doing what we know is right in every area of life where we know the right thing to do, for the rest of our lives. This is whole-life, life-long goodness.

Consistent goodness over a sustained period of time in every area where we know what is right, is difficult. First, there is the challenge of being honest with ourselves about ourselves so that we willingly face the truth, in very specific ways, about the sin still needing to be put out of our life. Next, there is the battle to overcome our pride and be humble — humble enough to listen to criticism, admit our sin, make things right with those we’ve sinned against, and pursue change. Third, there is the agony of staggering and struggling until old habits and thought patterns are crushed and we have put new habits and thought patterns in their place. Then, there is the discouragement of two steps forward and three steps backward, or three steps forward and one step backward until our forward motion is so consistent that the slight backward step on rare occasions is hardly noticed. Fifth, there is the exhausting tug-of-war between wanting to do what is right and being sorely tempted to do what is wrong. In addition, there is the hard work of disciplining ourselves to get up each day and prepare so that we go into our day ready to do battle against temptation, wrong thinking, and the desire to give up — for whatever reason. Finally, after traveling this path for a while, the realization begins to creep into our minds that the aforementioned difficulties aren’t likely to end in this life. In fact, growth in righteousness becomes a light that exposes more darkness which requires staying on this path longer if change is to come in these newly exposed areas. Such are the things which make the pursuit of whole-life, life-long godliness a lot more difficult than most of us would have ever have imagined at the start of this path.

So, how do people do it? What makes the difference between occasional or selective goodness and whole-life, life-long godliness? To this question there is only one answer, and the answer is: God.

To pursue whole-life, life-long godliness we must have God’s help in all its varied forms. We must place ourselves in His hands and depend on Him to fulfill His intentions for us. And what are God’s intentions for us? He intends for us to be freed from the binding chains and influential power of sin. He intends for us to be fully equipped and empowered (with His provisions and power) so we can become all that He saved us to be. He intends for us to be separated from everything that is selfish and sinful, and devoted to everything that is loving and holy. He intends for us to come into His family as sons and daughters who are eager to share a relationship of mutual communion and companionship with Him. He intends for us to become spiritually mature and genuinely useful so He can work through us in accomplishing his purposes in our world. And without a doubt, He intends for us to be found blameless at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, He intends for us to be sanctified, and He intends to do this for us Himself. (Note: Titus 2:11-14, I Thessalonians 5:23-24)

Sanctification — a Basic Understanding

This word “sanctify” is made up of a root word which is found in several other words used throughout the Old and New Testament. These words are:

Holy Hallow Consecrate Sanctify
Holiness Hallowed Saint Sanctification

The original meaning of the word sanctify speaks of the act of setting something or someone apart from its/his normal use in order that it/he might belong to only one person and be for that person’s exclusive use. The Bible’s use of the word sanctify follows this theme. God sanctifies us by setting us apart from a life of self-centeredness and sin, reconciling us to Himself, and instructing us in the ways of holiness and love to the extent that we voluntarily and cheerfully give ourselves to doing His will.

In other words, God saves us from sin and then works with us and in us — taking us through a process of change until we become the loving and wise being He first created us and then saved us to be. Through this process we are consecrated to God, that is, set apart for fellowship with Him and use by Him. Through this process we become deeply involved in a relationship of intimate communion and companionship with our loving Father. Through this process, supreme love of God and love for others becomes our ruling principle and driving motive. Through this process, lasting relationships built on mutual love and trust become a highly valued treasure. Through this process we are prepared and empowered for useful service to God so He can fulfill His purposes in our world through us.

Therefore, sanctification is God’s process of taking us from a life of self-centeredness to a life of love, while we yet live on this earth. It is a process which prepares us for an eternity of relationships built on mutual love and trust with God and all who love as He loves. And it is a progressive process limited only by time, energy, and our willingness to cooperate with God.

Sanctification — What It Isn't and Doesn't Do

Sanctification is not synonymous with biblical or theological knowledge. Yet many church attenders think that if they can properly define sanctification, it is proof they are being sanctified. They assume that if they can intelligently discuss holiness, they must be well on the way to being holy. In other words, they consider themselves good Christians because they have an intellectual or scholarly grasp of Bible knowledge and theology. Such thinking is not only off the mark, it is deliberately self-serving.

We don’t exonerate criminal activity committed by criminals who can intelligently discuss the definitions and nuances of right and wrong related to their criminal activity. We don’t find happiness in a friend’s or spouse’s mistreatment of us just because they have a good grasp of how they ought to treat us. In fact we would say that the knowledgeable criminal, friend, or spouse are doubly wrong in that they did wrong knowing what was right. And there is more. Because they know what is right, we feel justified in judging them more harshly than we would judge someone who did wrong ignorantly.

Yet in Christianity, many accept this axiom (right knowledge is as good as right behavior) as if it were an eternal truth. And those who believe this are easily identified. They are well versed on such issues as the sovereignty of God, the free will of man, eternal security, salvation by grace, the return of Christ, and the filling or gifts of the Holy Spirit. Yet at the same time, they hardly discuss and rarely consider their own involvement in such issues as greed, hoarding, excessive consumerism, the abuse of power in the home or on the job, mediocre parenting, workaholism, unforgiveness, stirring up strife in the Church, gossip, bigotry, unjust business practices, and small indiscretions. Though they know the deeper biblical and theological truths, those closest to them (spouse, children, extended family members, co-workers) don’t see much of the Christ-like life.

This is not what God intends, nor is it what He condones. The purpose of sanctification is to change us, not inform us. God uses knowledge as part of the process, but His goal is to conform us to the likeness of Jesus.

Sanctification does not change our physical or mental make-up. Though we will receive glorified bodies when we pass from this world into God’s heavenly kingdom, we have the mind and body we were born with until then. Thankfully, the mind and body God gave us at birth comes equipped with everything necessary to love Him above all others, and to love others as ourselves. Therefore, God redeems our mind and body so they can be sanctified. Through the sanctification process, He works on our thoughts so we think on good things instead of self-centered and vile things. He works on our choices so we stop using our bodies and our time for selfish and senseless things, and start using them for doing good. He brings to the place where we use our minds and bodies to live as He says and to serve Him as He wills. Therefore, the process of sanctification brings about a dramatic change in the use but not the make-up of our mind and body.

Sanctification does not eliminate our personality or natural character traits. Instead, God wants to redeem them and purify them so that in every way we can grow to Christian maturity and become all that He saved us to be. Generally speaking, shy people find it difficult to talk to strangers or anyone else who makes them feel uncomfortable or insecure. If a shy person submits to God’s sanctifying process, God will help him overcome his fears and give him enough boldness to get involved with people who need to be evangelized, discipled, confronted, counseled, or consoled. Aggressive people tend to take charge and get things done, but they can be insensitive and controlling in their treatment of others. If an aggressive person submits to God’s sanctifying process, God will teach him the importance of inviting others to do something rather than forcing them, and how to be sensitive toward others. People who are easygoing are a fun to be with, but they tend to be lax in fulfilling commitments and careless in the use of other people’s possessions. If an easygoing person submits to God’s sanctifying process, God will expose his careless approach and teach him the way of love — love which keeps its word and protects the interests of others. In other words, God wants to sanctify our personality and character traits, not eliminate them. As we submit to and cooperate with His sanctifying process, our personality and natural character traits are transformed so that in this way, too, we are conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Sanctification does not eliminate our natural desires and feelings. God created us with an appetite for food, the desire to feel loved and secure, and a concern for our own well-being. He created us with the ability to feel joy, happiness, excitement, fulfillment, and pleasure, as well as sadness, disappointment, anger, fear, and pain. These natural desires and feelings have no moral character in themselves. They are neither good nor bad. Their purpose is to enhance our lives.

Consider this. Our appetite for food seeks food for the sake of satisfying our hunger. However, this appetite has nothing to do with seeking food for the pleasure of eating or to dull the pain of rejection and loneliness. Our appetite for food is just that, an appetite. It is not responsible for controlling our eating habits. Our intellect has that responsibility. Therefore, God wants to sanctify our mind, our thoughts, our beliefs, our attitudes, and our motives. Then our sanctified intellect can rightly deal with our appetite so that we eat according to some sane sense of nutritional need, not self-gratification.

Feelings like pleasure and pain, satisfaction and disappointment, add a dimension to the experiences of life that captivates our attention and gets us personally involved in whomever or whatever is causing the feelings. Yet feelings themselves do not understand that sadness over the loss of a special relationship or loved one is normal while hatred and depression are destructive. Feelings know nothing about the harmful effects of illegal drugs, sex outside the marriage relationship, or the accumulation and selfish squandering of wealth. Feelings have no idea that certain pleasure-producing activities can become obsessions which replace God as the most important thing in our lives. Our intellect is responsible for such things. Therefore, God wants to sanctify our mind, our thoughts, our beliefs, our attitudes, and our motives. Then we can experience our full range of feelings without going outside the boundaries of love — love which promotes and protects the good of everyone.

Anger and fear warn us that something is wrong, yet they have no ability to select a response. Our intellect is responsible for selecting responses to the things we fear or feel angry over. If we select responses that are excessive, aggressive, selfishly protective, and irrational, it is not the fault of our feelings. We, through the use of our intellect, have made the decision. Therefore, God wants to sanctify our mind, our thoughts, our beliefs, our attitudes, and our motives. Then our response to anger or fear won’t compromise the good of anyone who is in any way affected by our response.

God created us with natural desires and feelings for our benefit. When we submit to His sanctifying work, God does not require us to condemn or forsake the desires and feelings He gave us. What He asks us to do is cooperate with His sanctifying process so that with our renewed mind we will use our natural desires and feelings for the good of everyone affected in any way by our choices and behavior — God, others, and ourselves.

Sanctification does not eliminate our natural affections. Natural affections are those special feelings of comfort, closeness, appreciation, or esteem we have for certain people. It is natural that some people are more pleasing to us than others. We naturally feel a closeness to our family and friends which we do not feel with many of our neighbors or co-workers. We naturally feel endeared to those who treat us in respectful, kind, sensitive, caring ways. We appreciate and even esteem those who live according to the values we embrace. In contrast, we feel repulsed by or estranged from those who mistreat us or generally behave in gross and immoral ways. Such feelings are the result of our natural affections.

Sanctification does not eliminate our natural irritations. It is natural to feel upset, and even angry, when we see a husband abusing his wife or a mother neglecting her children. We naturally feel disturbed when children carelessly destroy property or ridicule a handicapped child. It is natural to feel angry when governments are unjust, or those in power force those under them to endure senseless suffering because of their greed. We naturally feel angry when the criminal’s rights take priority over the rights of the victim. These are examples of normal irritations which God is not asking us to eliminate. But He does want to purify the way we respond to our natural affections and irritations so we do not allow them, in any way, to hinder us from loving others just as we wish to be loved.

Sanctification does not make God the constant and direct object of our thoughts and affection. There are moments when we will give direct attention to God as we read the Bible, pray, meditate upon some aspect of God’s love or portion of His Word, listen to a sermon, or sing and worship with others who have gathered to praise the Lord. However, there are other moments when our attention is directed toward the activity at hand. When we are driving in busy traffic or participating in an intense discussion, we must focus our attention on what we are doing if we are to do it well. This is not just acceptable, it is necessary. The proof we are being sanctified is not in constantly thinking about God, but in making consistent, obvious progress in living for Him. To drive with respect for other drivers, to listen carefully and respond in love when someone is criticizing us, to provide for our family, to be honest in our work, to keep our word, to share what we have with those in need, to stand for what is right and just in the face of evil or injustice, to speak about faith in God to the unbeliever, to protect the weak, to be intimately involved in the building of God’s kingdom here and around the world, to seek the well-being of all mankind — these are the things which prove God is the supreme object of our thoughts and affection. God wants to so sanctify us that when others observe our lives it looks to them as if He is the constant and direct object of our thoughts and affection.

Sanctification does not mean we are free from errors in judgment. The sanctifying process brings about amazing changes in our thought life, choices, and behavior, but it does not mean we become infallible. Our level of understanding and application of truth is limited by what we know, our level of maturity, experience, and wisdom. The more we grow in knowledge and experience, both in the spiritual and natural realm, the more of God’s truth we can apply to the varied circumstances of life. There are many judgments and decisions to be made each day. Improved decision making comes with increased knowledge, added experience, and greater wisdom. As we trust God to continue working in us, as we search and study the Bible, as we reflect on our experiences to see how we can improve, and as we persist in asking for wisdom, we will improve the quality of our judgments and decisions. God will sanctify us as we submit to His sanctifying process, judgment errors and all.

Sanctification does not remove our ability or our freedom to sin. There is nothing about the process of sanctification that changes us in such a way as to make it impossible for us to sin. As long as we have the intellect and freedom of will God created us with, we can choose self-centeredness over love, sin over righteousness, and our way over God’s way. This does not mean we should tolerate known sin, or take failure lightly. Neither does it mean we should see ourselves as total failures if we foolishly choose to give in to temptation and sin. Keep everything in perspective. The goal of sanctification concerning the issue of sin is threefold. First, to develop within us a hatred of sin and the resolute determination never to sin again. Second, to give us the motive and means to do what we know is right. Third, to teach us how to get back on track when we go astray (i.e., to confess our sin, make things right with those we have wronged, and get back on the path of doing what we know is right).

Sanctification — God’s Path to Godliness

Sanctification is God’s way of conforming us in thought, motive, word, and deed to the image or likeness of His Son, Jesus. It is the only path to godliness. Other paths may lead to improvements in specific areas, but only sanctification has the means and power to transform us whole-life, life-long. With sanctification being the only path to Christ-likeness, God expects every one of His children to follow it to the end. In fact, sanctification is so vital to God’s plan for securing the good of all, that should we choose to forsake this path and return to the willful and continued practice of our old sinful ways, we put our soul’s salvation in jeopardy. (Note: Ezekiel 18:24-32, 33:10-20 with special consideration for 33:13; Matthew 7:17-23; Luke 8:9-18; Romans 8:12-14; Hebrews 2:1-4, 3:12-4:2, 6:4-8, 10:23-31, 12:14-25; James 1:26-27, I John 2:3-6, 3:1-10, 4:7-8)

With sanctification being the only path to godliness, and with it being so vital to God’s plan for securing the good of everyone everywhere, why is it a path or process and not an instantaneous act? What keeps God from conforming us to the image of Jesus at the moment we repent and put our faith in Him? It seems a most practical solution to the sin problem. So why not?

In this life we may never know the full answer to this question. But there are clues surrounding this process that shed some light as to why it is a process requiring time, compliance, and persistence on our part. The following five clues help us understand why God chose to make sanctification a process and not an instantaneous act.

1. God does not change us against our will.
2. Sanctification is not an “either/or” situation.
3. Knowledge builds on knowledge. As we grow in the knowledge of God and His Word, and as we gain experience in applying that knowledge, we are able to comprehend more so we can learn more and apply more.
4. There is often more than one habit to be broken and replaced and more than one fear to be dealt with before a particular sin is forsaken.
5. Sanctification does not prevent temptation while we remain in this world.
 
SUBMISSIVE
I do His will as if I were His slave.

TRUSTFUL
I trust Him completely to be my provider and
protector as if I were His young child.

LOVING
I love Him above all others
and do those things which endear Him to me
as if I were His bride.

MUTUALLY INTIMATE
Our relationship is two-ways.
We love each other. We trust each other.
We do almost everything together.
We always seek the good of the other.
We serve each other. We talk a lot.

Item 1: Not Against our Will

Sanctification brings change — profound, penetrating, life-altering change. This life-affecting process draws us into a submissive, trustful, loving, and mutually intimate relationship of communion and companionship with God. It teaches us to deny the sinful side of self-interest so that we replace self-centeredness with heart-felt, action-oriented love that seeks the good of everyone affected by everything we do. It trains us to serve God, first and foremost, so that we focus on what we can do for Him rather than on what He we want Him to do for us. It teaches us to share with those less fortunate rather than squander our resources on the pursuit of luxury, personal happiness, and financial security. It trains us to use what power we have to defend the weak and empower the powerless. It teaches us to build relationships of mutual love and trust rather than power-bases of control or fortresses of self-protection. It motivates us to aggressively seek out non-Christians for the purpose of inviting them to repent, to be reconciled to God, and to live for God. It prepares us to go into the world around us and be the saltiest salt and the brightest light we can be for the glory of God and the advancement of His purposes. It implores us to live up to what we know is right, right now.

Living up to what we know is right is the most important thing we can do in cooperating with God’s work of sanctification. But the motive for living up to what we know is of equal importance to the doing. To see why our motive is of equal importance to our actions, consider this: There are two primary motives for doing what we know is right: obligation and conviction.

In relation to doing what we know is right, the motive of obligation is based on fear and hope. This means that the motive of obligation finds its power to motivate through an appeal to our fear of punishment and/or hope of reward. The weakness of this motive, then, is that it uses self-interest (selfishness) to promote unselfish, and often self-sacrificial behavior. This is like making a child overcome his fear of the dark by threatening or bribing him to sleep in a room with the light off and door closed. He may do what you want, but only because you’ve made the cost of disobedience or the reward of obedience greater than his fear of the dark. In other words, obligation compels us to do what we do not yet believe in, or agree with, or would choose to do if we could do what we wanted to do. The problem with this is twofold. First, no matter how noble obligation-driven-obedience begins, in time it breeds grudging obedience and resentment toward the one requiring obedience. Second, remove the fear of punishment or hope of reward, and obedience quickly returns to disobedience. Therefore, instead of providing the sustaining motivation to remain faithful to the process of sanctification, obligation ultimately turns us against God and feeds our desire to return to doing as we please.

In relation to doing what we know is right, the motive of conviction is love-based. This means that conviction finds its power to motivate through our concern for the good of others, especially those directly affected by our choices and behavior. The strength of this motive, then, is that it uses community-interest (selflessness) to promote unselfish, and often self-sacrificial behavior. In other words, conviction inspires us to do what we cheerfully and of our own free will want to do, agree with, and believe in as the only sane and sensible way to live. The advantage of this is that it breeds eager obedience while feeding our adoration and respect for the one entreating us to do what is right. Therefore, conviction provides internal, intentional, tenacious, voluntary, whole-life faithfulness to the process of sanctification, and a growing, maturing endearment for the One sanctifying us.

There is no denying that obligation-driven-obedience produces quicker results than conviction-driven-obedience. But if we are forced into the sanctifying process through threat of punishment or promise of reward, our cooperation can never be whole-hearted, voluntary, or cheerful. It can never produce God’s intended results. Forced obedience is never the result of a changed mind about right and wrong, about God, and about self. It is the result of a self-serving response to the fear of punishment or the hope of reward. Without a changed mind, without the conviction that sanctification is the only sane and sensible choice, without voluntarily submitting to God’s process of sanctification, we will never become any more godly than our self-centeredness will allow. Therefore, God will not, and does not, force us into being sanctified.

If we are to be sanctified, we must be willing to be sanctified. We must voluntarily submit to God and cooperate with His efforts to sanctify us. We must, of our own free will, take responsibility for our part, and do our part until our dying day. We must, of our own volition, do what we know is right. We must willingly acknowledge and deal honestly with the selfishness and sin that is in our life. We must choose to put self-centeredness to death. We must, of our own accord, give up anything that gets in the way or slows the process of becoming all God has saved us to be. We must intentionally die to any passion or appetite, any concern or aspiration, any amusement or hobby whose craving for gratification distracts us from our commitment to be conformed to the image of Jesus. We must deliberately search for or ask to be shown the fears that drag us into sinful choices and behavior. We must willfully cast aside every idol so we can love and trust God above anyone and anything else. Truly, we must be willing for God to wholly sanctify us in whatever way and by whatever means He deems best if we are to be sanctified at all.

A word of caution is important here. Be careful not to confuse wishing with willing. They are not the same. Wishing is a form of wanting which places the burden for receiving on the giver. You can forever wish to be sanctified, yet do nothing to make your wish come true, because you are waiting for someone else to make it come true. Wishing lacks the personal commitment to make the personal choices necessary for the wish to turn into reality. Many wish to be sanctified, but they are waiting for God to magically change them, or for God to motivate them, or for the right time, or for the right circumstances. And while they are wishfully waiting, they involve themselves in things that distract them from the sanctifying process. For them, wishing is hoping they can be changed into Christ-likeness without taking responsibility for their sinful desires and practices, and without making the hard choice to die to self.

In contrast to wishing, willing is wanting, verified by choices and actions which are intended to produce the desired result. Those who are willing to submit to God’s process of sanctification place the burden of sanctification on God and themselves. They know sanctification is not a one-party, one-sided process. They know that without God doing His part there is no hope of progress in the process of sanctification. But they also know that they must do their part if they are to be sanctified.

Now, think carefully about this last point. There is no such thing as being willing to be partially sanctified. Being willing to kill off part of self and forsake most sin is not a step in the right direction. The purpose of sanctification is to change us from being self-centered to having a loving concern for the well-being of everyone (including God) affected in any way by our choices and behavior. Partial improvement, be it one percent or ninety-nine percent, defeats sanctification’s purpose by failing to kill self-centeredness. For this reason, wanting partial sanctification is wholly worthless. It says we do not want to completely deny self because we are still convinced there are times when we need our self-centered ways. Under this condition we cannot be sanctified, we can only become as good as our self-centeredness will allow.

Do not let anyone deceive you about this. The sanctifying process requires your voluntarily active, intentional, whole-life, life-long participation to accomplish its purpose. Therefore, if you do not voluntarily choose to cooperate with God, wholeheartedly submit to His sanctifying process, and do your part, you will not be sanctified.

Item 2: Not an Either/or Situation

The sanctifying process it is not an “either/or” situation. It is not a question of, “Are we sanctified, or aren't we?” It is not a matter of being perfect or imperfect, sinless or sinful. It is a matter of personal integrity — of being honest with ourselves about how sinful we still are and how much sanctifying work is yet to be done. It is a matter of hungering and thirsting after Christ-likeness — of wanting nothing less than whole-life, life-long godliness. It is a matter of wanting to love God supremely and others as ourselves, and then pressing God to work with us until it becomes a reality. It is a matter of whole-heartedly cooperating with God’s sanctifying process — of persistently doing our part to pursue a godly life, day-by-day, the rest of our life. It is a matter of living up to what we know, and of following where we know God is leading. It is a matter of taking full responsibility for our wrongdoing when we sin, making things right with whomever we have sinned against, and returning to doing what we know is right. These are the things that matter. And as we do these things, along with making full use of God’s promises and provisions, and preparing each day for the challenges of that day, we will steadily become as godly as is humanly possible.

Therefore, the issue is not whether we have attained sinless perfection or still manifest sinful behavior. The issue is whether we have earnestly gotten involved in God’s sanctifying process and are making progress toward becoming as sinlessly perfect as any human can be. Because of our humanity, perfection may not be possible in this world. But because of God’s power and methods for fulfilling His intentions to sanctify us, steady and obvious progress toward perfection is a reasonable expectation.

The point of all this is that sanctification is a process. It is a process which takes time and effort on both God’s part and ours to bring it to completion. There is nothing instantaneous about becoming all God saved us to be, or about being conformed to the likeness of Christ in every single area of life, any more than growing from childhood to adulthood is instantaneous. Therefore, it is not a matter of being sinlessly perfect today, but of making today count in becoming more like Christ. This is why sanctification is not an either/or situation.

Item 3: Knowledge Builds on Knowledge

The more we learn, the more we are able to learn. What we know enables us to learn what we do not know. We cannot learn something previously unknown unless we know something which connects us to that unknown. In other words, we cannot learn how to add and subtract, or divide and multiply, until we have learned about numbers and the value each number represents. We cannot understand advanced math until we have learned basic math. In the same way, before we can understand and apply the deeper, more advanced truths about God and His Word, we must understand and apply the basic, foundational truths. This should not surprise anyone since it is the way we learn everything.

Therefore, if we are to grow to maturity as Christians, it will require learning the basics before we can learn the deeper truths. It will require beginning at the beginning and working from there to the more advanced lessons. There is no short cut to the deeper truths. If we ask God to completely and immediately change us, we may be expressing a sincere desire, but we are asking for something that goes against the way He created us. This fact should not discourage us, for certainly our all-wise and loving God knows what is best. We can, therefore, rejoice that He is doing something good in making sanctification a process. And, we are doing all God asks of us when we are living according to what we know — be that one truth or hundreds of truths.

Item 4: No Quick Fixes for Long-time Problems

Our beliefs, fears, desires, passions, and impulses are hothouses overgrown with seeds of self-centeredness. From the day of our birth, these seeds are nurtured by Satan, the world (especially our social circles and the media), and our natural bent toward selfishness. Satan’s goal is to nurture these seeds into a bumper crop of faulty beliefs, bad habits, irrational fears, self-deceptions, and self-sabotaging choices — fertilized and watered by distrust of God. And as is undeniably obvious, he achieves his goal in every one of us.

During childhood, our primary focus is on self. We pursue, most often, those things which are self-serving, self-gratifying, and self-protective. Because of this, we get entangled in many faulty beliefs, selfish desires, foolish passions, thoughtless impulses, and irrational fears. We then develop ways (which through repetitive use become habits) of dealing with life according to our perception of people and circumstances. Through repetitive use, these habits became so familiar we no longer have to think about them — we just live according to them.

Therefore, by the time we are eighteen, even the nicest among us have harvested a bumper crop of sin-promoting beliefs, self-serving habits, irrational fears, and foolish choices. We have invested heavily in self-centeredness, believing it ensures the greatest amount of personal happiness and security. And too often, we have done what we’ve known to be wrong because we’ve admired sin’s utilitarian, fast-acting, self-gratifying, self-protecting solutions when looking for acceptance and love, pursuing pleasure, striving to control people and circumstances, seeking financial security, or dealing with difficult situations.

However, as we grow into adulthood, we gain the ability to examine our methods of survival. As adults, we can determine which beliefs, habits, and fears are fit for use as a loving adult, and which ones need to be discarded. If we do not examine the survival methods we developed as children, and discard the ones based on selfishness, we will continue to use them as adults. We may dress them up so they do not look so obviously selfish, but we will depend on them just as much as when we were children.

Because we are intricate beings with many interlocking twists and turns in our personalities, no single habit or fear stands alone. Each one is inter-related with other beliefs and fears. If we are to change one habit or fear, we will have to deal with the others that are linked to the one we are seeking to change.

Consider anger. Sinful anger (inappropriately expressed anger), is directly related to control. Control is based on the belief that we cannot be happy or secure, or that something is significantly wrong, if people and circumstances do not act according to our expectations. Believing it is our right to be happy and secure, and that it is our obligation to require others to do things our way (because we think our way is right, or the only way), we proceed to control and manipulate people and circumstances in keeping with our beliefs. When others do not cooperate with us in satisfying our wants and needs, we believe it becomes justifiable to make them cooperate. Too often, then, we make them cooperate through the use of anger — making uncooperative people do what we want and keeping unkind people from doing what we don’t want. Experience teaches us that if we get angry enough, most things go our way. Getting our way enough reinforces our belief that anger is an effective method of control.

When we repent and place our faith in God, the Holy Spirit and God’s Word convict us concerning our selfish use of anger. As we cooperate with God in dealing with our anger, we must also deal with the related beliefs and feelings which drive us to pursue happiness and security in self-centered ways (at the expense of others and to the detriment of loving relationships). Therefore, it is not just anger and control of others that has to be dealt with. We must also deal with our beliefs about personal rights, happiness, security, and arrogance (my way is the right way, best way, only way) — just some of the driving forces behind our manipulative anger.

Dealing with anger in this holistic way requires time. We must first see that we selfishly use anger to get our way. Then we must see that the driving force behind our anger is insecurity, or the desire for personal happiness, or arrogance. Next, we must look into God’s Word and discover what He says about security, happiness, and humility, where He says it is found, and how to gain it within the boundaries of love. After coming to these truths, we then need to work these truths into our life so we will look for security and happiness in the right places and in the right ways. This is not easy. In fact, it is hard, repetitive work.

Soon after becoming a Christian, Jan saw how she used anger to control people and circumstances in an effort to get her way. At first, she balked at having to give up familiar methods for untried ways (God’s) of dealing with people and circumstances. She said God’s ways made her feel defenseless, and at the mercy of others — a feeling she wanted nothing to do with because she hated even the hint of vulnerability. But once she saw how her anger made those around her feel unloved, unimportant, used, and abused, and how it destroyed her chances of having meaningful, intimate, shared relationships with those closest to her, she was ready to make the change. That is when she hit the brick wall.

Jan had made the godly choice, but now she had to break her long-established habit of using anger to get her way. Instead of trusting her ability to manipulate and control others, she now had to use God’s methods. She had to trust Him to work things out for the good of everyone involved — in His time, not hers. To begin doing this, she spent time at the beginning of each day preparing to do the new thing — God’s thing — until it was firmly planted in her mind as the only way. When tempted, she would review why selfish anger was sinful and worthless, and why God’s way was best. She would then resist the temptation, redirect her thinking so as to think God’s way, and proceed to do what she knew was right. If she failed to do what was right, she would confess her sin, make the wrongs right with whomever she hurt, and get back on the path of doing things God’s way. Then, at the end of each day, she would thank God for His direction and help in living according to what she knew.

Change did not come naturally or easily for Jan. In fact, if anything came naturally and easily it was her old use of anger to control the people closest to her. She was in a battle, a fight for her life. But after about five months, God’s loving way began to become a habit, the natural thing, something she could do without all the preparation and careful thought. Because she stayed in the battle, drawing on God’s power and using His resources to gain victory over temptation, she had made significant progress. Now, a solid victory was in sight. What began as a difficult struggle was now much easier. Praise the Lord!

God can do anything. He is all-powerful. He can completely change us in an instant. But that is not His way. He has chosen to make life an experience of growth, be it our physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual life. The death of self begins as a once-for-all decision, but it requires a process and time to be worked out. There are no quick fixes for long-time, self-centered beliefs, irrational fears, and sinful habits.

Item 5: No End to Temptation in this Life

Sanctification does not mean the end of temptation. If you make the decision to die to sin, be it in a general or specific sense, you can be sure Satan and the world will make every possible effort to win you back. If they cannot win you back to their way of life, they will make every effort to derail you from God’s path of love. Even Jesus was tempted during his days on earth. We should expect no less.

If we examine the temptations of Jesus, we discover that the more broadly our faith is applied and the more spiritually mature we become, the stronger the temptation to sin. This is the case because the strength of temptation must be equal to the strength of our faith in God if it is to have any attraction at all. Those who are the most mature in their Christian life experience the strongest temptations. Therefore, we must remain active in God’s sanctifying process, depending on God and all He has provided, in order to keep free from the influence and practice of known sin the rest of our days on earth. (Note: Luke 4:1-13)

In Summary 

Sanctification is the process by which we, through faith in God, are separated from self-centeredness, the world, and sin. It is the process by which we are consecrated to God — set apart for fellowship with Him and fitted for service to Him. It is the process by which love is made both the ruling principle over and motive behind every thought, word, and deed. It is the process through which we mature in serving God by seeking the good of everyone affected by our choices and behavior. It is a process that begins the day we put true faith in God, repent of sin, and call upon Him for salvation from the power and practice of sin. It is a process that lasts until we become perfectly holy like He is holy.

Sanctification is a process that takes time and effort. The choice to repent, completely trust in God and His Word, and pursue holiness, is a moment-in-time, once-for-all choice. It cannot be improved on, only worked out. In other words, making the choice to be godly takes place in a moment of time while growing in godliness takes place over a period of time.

Sanctification is not a process to be feared or to be borne as a burden. Rather, it is to be embraced with joy, and with a zealous cooperation with the One who is sanctifying us. There can be no lasting good and happiness for any of us until we submit to God’s sanctifying process and become new creatures filled with deep, life-affecting love for God and our fellowman. As we see the truth of this, we will plead with God to press the issue of sanctification in our life, holding back for nothing, so we can become everything He saved us to be.

What about you? Are you willingly, intentionally, eagerly, zealously submitting to God’s sanctifying process? If you do not seem to be cooperating as you should, are you willing to face up to the fears and/or desires that are getting in the way of God’s purifying process? Are you willing to take responsibility for your resistance to God’s working in you? Are you willing to ask God to so work in you as to bring you to that place where you will willingly, intentionally, eagerly, zealously, and fully participate in His sanctifying work?

God will see you through as long as you keep cooperating with Him and depending on Him to enable change. It may require some time before you see major changes taking place, but you will be changed. God is faithful, and He will bring to pass all that He has promised. You can stake your life on it.

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