What you were saved for
How’s that for a churchy word? I mean, talk about a word you don’t hear when you’re eating at the local Taco Bell. Some Christians have never even heard of the word “sanctification,” yet it is one of the most important concepts in the Christian faith. A couple of months ago, we talked about justification, the idea that God declares us righteous in His eyes because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. But being justified is not the end of our salvation. In fact, it is only the beginning. You see, we are saved for something, and that something is our sanctification.
The two parts of sanctification
So what is sanctification? The word comes from the word sanctify, which means “to set apart.” So, sanctification could be defined as the process of being set apart for God. There are two aspects of this setting apart. First, we are set apart spiritually when we are justified. Remember, part of justification means that God relates to us as though we are not sinners. So in that sense we are sanctified, we are set apart in God’s eyes. We are like Christ because his righteousness becomes our righteousness when we are saved. But we still aren’t really righteous, at least not from our perspective. That’s where the second aspect of sanctification comes into playover time, we gradually do become more righteous.
Going through the change
Though we will remain sinners until the day we pass into eternity, God would not have us be the same as we were before we became Christians. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Did you catch that? A new creation. We become someone different when we are saved, and part of our salvation is that we continue to grow spiritually. Specifically, we continue to become more and more like Christ. You see, the normal pattern of the Christian life is that Christians become spiritually stronger as time goes on. That doesn’t mean we don’t sin. It doesn’t mean we don’t have periods where our faith may be weak. What it does mean is that, when you look back over the course of your Christian life, you should see a general pattern of spiritual growth. You should see a record of ongoing sanctification, of becoming increasingly “set apart” for God.
Signs of sanctification
So what does sanctification look like? Well, it looks different for different people, but several common traits are observable. First, sanctification means that you sin less. In other words, the closer you grow to Christ, the less you will commit willful sin. In fact, the closer you grow to Christ, the less you will even want to sin. Second, sanctification means that your desires become more and more like God’s desires. Your priorities begin to look an awful lot like God’s priorities. The things that break God’s heart also break your heart. Third, as the above-mentioned traits are increasingly present in your life, sanctification means that you look less like the sinful world because you have been saved from the sinful world. To put it simply, the more you are sanctified, the less you act like a non-Christian. The less you think like a non-Christian. This is what God saved you forto become less like what you once were and more like what he wants you to be. And what God wants you to be is righteous.
A disclaimer on sanctification
It is important to note that sanctification does not save you. Remember, salvation is God’s gracious gift, and we cannot do anything to earn it. So sanctification is not trying to be righteous to earn God’s favor, rather, sanctification is becoming more righteous because we have God’s favor. Sanctification is the result of our salvation, not how we gain our salvation.
I know that sanctification is a big topic. I know it’s also a little bit scarybecoming more like Christ might mean that you lose some friends, or that you are considered weird by people. Becoming more like Christ means you do whatever God wants you to do, even if it means making big changes in your personal life. If you are a reader (and I hope you are a reader!), I want to recommend a few books to help you grow in your Christian life.
For beginners: Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of God (NavPress, 1996); John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Crossway, 2003); Sinclair Ferguson, The Christian Life (Banner of Truth, 1997).
For those who are a little bit braver: Donald Whitney, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health (NavPress, 2001); John Piper, Desiring God (Multnomah, 2003); Bryan Chapell, Holiness by Grace (Crossway, 2001).
For those who really want to dive in and live radically sold-out to Christ: J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Charles Nolan, 2001); John Owen, The Mortification of Sin (Christian Focus, 2002); John Piper, Future Grace (Multnomah, 1998).
I pray God’s blessings for you as you grow in your sanctification!