Most of us have at least a baseline understanding of sanctification. We know it means to a degree: it's the process by which we are becoming more righteous, progressively more like Christ. And yet, we can also admit some confusion about that process. What if I told you that every time you suffer, you have an opportunity to grow more like Christ in holiness and righteousness? Would that give you a different outlook on your suffering? Read on to see why suffering is a key ingredient to our sanctification.
Sanctification. It’s that churchy word that sits in the middle of justification and glorification - two other words equally churchy. And yet it’s the state of being where we spend our time as Christians on earth. These three words together, this salvation triad, confuse veteran believers as much as they do new believers. However, they’re really just haughty words for simple ideas in the Christian faith.
What Is the Difference between Justification, Sanctification and Glorification?
Whereas justification is a momentary process, when we are declared righteous before God at the time of our declaration of faith in Him, sanctification is an ongoing process from that point until our glorification in heaven. Glorification occurs in heaven when God removes all of our sins and we realize our state of perfect holiness for eternity.
Justification: I was saved from the penalty of sin (positionally righteous).
Sanctification: I am being saved from the power of sin (progressively righteous).
Glorification: I will be saved from the presence of sin (perfectly righteous).
So How Does Sanctification Work?
Sanctification gets us as close to that state of perfection as we can get while still living in a sinful body on a fallen earth. In sanctification, we’re on our way to becoming like Jesus. We’re becoming holy.
How do we become like Jesus while we’re waiting for heaven? In my life I have observed a pattern: suffering produces wisdom which produces maturity which culminates in holiness. As I pray during times of suffering, and times of peace, I ask God to grow me in these areas making me wiser, more mature, and a picture of holiness.
Suffering: A Key Ingredient for Sanctification
The most confusing understanding of the Bible is that of suffering. We ask, “Why would a loving God allow suffering?” The answer to this question requires too much explanation for one article, but what’s important to understand is that God does not cause suffering, but he does use suffering for our sanctification. He makes our suffering matter.
Imagine times in your life when circumstances are good. You experience health, plenty, and met desires. Happiness greets you each morning. During such seasons are you at Jesus’ feet? Do worship, honor, and thankfulness fill your heart as you realize your depravity before Him? Hopefully so, but for most of us, we find ourselves in that posture before God during our suffering.
Suffering creates a desperate need for God. When we’re not suffering, our thoughts are, “I’ve got this!” But during suffering, our thought is, “I need a Rescuer!” God is our Rescuer.
Sanctification Grows through Wisdom (Given in Trials)
When we suffer, our natural inclination is to run and hide. I see this in my children when I discipline them. I see this in myself when I feel depressed. This truth first appeared in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. What did Adam and Eve do when God confronted them about their sin? They hid.
When I pray for someone facing a difficult circumstance, I often pray that instead of running away from God they run to God. Instead of allowing anger, confusion, defiance, or isolation to define God, they go to God and beg for comfort, mercy, and wisdom. The main premise of the book of Proverbs is that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Running to God instead of away from Him in our suffering is the application of fearing Him - showing our reverence and awe of Him. This produces wisdom.
Proverbs 14:29 tells us, “Long-suffering results in great wisdom.” However, only long-suffering with the fear of the Lord. Long-suffering without the Lord's presence only brings hopelessness and more internal suffering. Hanging on to Jesus for dear life during our suffering gives us wisdom. This is the wisdom that helps us discern the next steps and leads us to maturity.
Sanctification Grows through Maturity (Grown through Exercising Wisdom)
Wisdom is not simply knowing what to think or do, but wisdom is doing it. The more we exercise wisdom by doing the right thing, the more mature we become.
In the example of the vine and the branches in John 15, Jesus tells us that we must remain in Him in order to produce fruit. The sign of maturity in a fruit-producing plant is that healthy fruit grows. The same is true for us as Christians. When we live mature, Christian lives, we produce healthy fruit (Matthew 7:16). First Corinthians 13:11 explains maturity like this: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Maturity is giving up childish ways.
Like the rest of the Christian life, however, fluidity within wisdom and maturity exists. Because of our sin nature, we are not always wise or mature. However, as Matthew 7:20 states, "Thus you will recognize them by their fruits," wisdom and maturity define us the more often we produce each of these fruits in our lives. Which leads us to holiness.
Holiness – the Culmination of Wisdom and Maturity
At last, we reach the pinnacle of Christ-likeness - holiness. First Peter 1:14-16 says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” Holiness is the culmination of wisdom and maturity operating in consistent sync with each other.
Of course, pure holiness will not be achieved until we reach our place of glorification in heaven where we will be made perfect. Nevertheless, we strive for holy living now, here on earth.
I find in my life that the question, “Does this resemble holiness?” helps me make decisions that may not sinful, per se, but at the same time do not move me towards holiness. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.” This is the process of applying wisdom to what is mature, beneficial, and displays holiness.
Holiness, literally translated "set apart," becomes our testimony to the world. Holy living sets us apart from the world. We look different and act differently which makes our testimony of the Gospel attractive to people who are searching for something different than what the world has to offer.
A Few Truths to Remember:
Seasons of Delight Should Sanctify Us Too
As outlined above, whereas seasons of suffering create in us a desperation that leads us to the foot of the Cross, seasons of delight can and should have that effect, too. When we approach God only in seasons of suffering, we treat Him as a magic genie who we go to during crisis to have our needs met.
However, God wants all of us, all the time. Seasons of delight have the opportunity to sanctify us because they keep us humble. Praising and honoring God for our blessings reminds us that nothing comes from our hands, but everything is an act of God’s grace and mercy upon us. We are able to say, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (Psalm 16:2).
We Cannot Produce Our Own Sanctification
When we think about becoming holy, it’s easy to move into the temptation of legalism. We naturally make a checklist in our minds oi f the holy actions and behaviors we should be doing. This is what the Pharisees did. The truth is that only God through the Holy Spirit can sanctify us. Sure, God calls us to holy living as is outlined in the Bible. However, holy living with impure motives becomes unholy. “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. (1 Thessalonians 5:23). We hope our spirit and soul become blameless. Only God Himself can make that happen.
Sanctification is not something we need to be overly concerned with. If we are surrendered to Jesus, seeking Him through His Word, sanctification is going to be a natural byproduct.
Brenda Rodgers considers herself a “recovering single” after years as a single woman chasing after marriage instead of chasing after Jesus. Now her passion is to mentor young women to live purposefully and grow in their relationship with God and others. Brenda has been married for five years to a heart transplant hero and is the mom of a toddler girl miracle. She is also the author of the eBook Fall for Him: 25 Challenges from a Recovering Single. You can also read more on BrendaRodgers.com and follow her on Twitter.
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