Let’s be honest for a minute. Sanctification is difficult. It’s trying. The word should be found in the dictionary separated with a = sign next to frustration. I think it’s supposed to be that way. Before you rush off to the comment section with your “no condemnation,” “faith is all you need,” God has a purpose” statements, hear me out for a minute.
My daughter’s generation is in desperate need of men and women who will tell them the truth. I don’t want her to grow up with a watered-down, sugar-coated version of the gospel. If you’re new to the Christian faith, I have a message for you today. There’s a good chance it might go against whichever sermon it was you heard that set your soul on fire for Jesus for a few minutes. Still, you need to hear it.
Being a Christian isn’t easy. You’re not going to find that in the Bible. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a chance you might finish this article just to see comments from readers that go against what I’m writing tonight. In no way, shape, or form am I trying to lead someone away from Jesus. I simply want to save someone else from what I went through.
Following Jesus is the most important decision you’ll ever make in life. You need to read that last sentence again. I didn’t say going to church every Sunday is important. I didn’t say you need to close your eyes and raise your hands while the church band does Christian Karaoke. Following Jesus is the most important decision you’ll ever make.
Putting Jesus before all things in life doesn’t happen in an hour and a half every Sunday. It’s not accomplished on your knees when you wake up or before you go to sleep. I’ll put it how my pastor does. Faith doesn’t happen to you. Faith happens through you. Because of this, sanctification is required.
Jesus’s love for us cost Him something. His life. As a result, an effort is required for us to follow Him. Yes, salvation is a free gift for us to receive. All that is required is faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. However, if you’re not demonstrating your faith in the way you live, you have it all wrong. That would be like Jesus saying, “I’d give My life for you if I had to, but I’m God, so we don’t have to go that far.”
Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives making us more and more like Jesus. Here’s the thing. We aren’t bad people who need to try harder. We’re not in need of a life coach. We’re sinners, dead in our trespasses. In desperate need of a Savior. Hell is real. It’s not somewhere we’re condemned to go. It’s where you choose to spend eternity through the choices and decisions you make in life.
I made reference to a few verses at the beginning of this post people use to demonstrate individuals like myself making too much of sanctification. “It’s nothing you do, silly. Stop making so much of it. God will do what He’s going to do when He’s ready.”
I have two answers for statements such as this and similar ones saying, “Works aren’t necessary. Faith is all we need.” Answer one, yes, God is sovereign. Answer two, Romans 7:15 (ESV).
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
You see, when sanctification first became important in my life, things were complicated. I was 30 years old and living at a faith-based halfway house for men suffering from alcohol and drug addiction in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. More than anything, I wanted to grow closer to Jesus.
There were a few of my sins that really bothered me. The way I thought about women. The way my anger controlled me. And my obsession with alcohol. These three sins controlled who I was. I couldn’t stay sober. I lived four blocks from the ocean. The harder I tried not to look, the more I noticed the bikinis. I was outraged with what my life had become. Living with a group of men. Waking up when I was told. Being at home and in my room at bedtime.
To make things even worse, I had discovered a passion and calling for writing about how Scripture could be applied to life. As a result of a blog post I’d written, I received a full ride scholarship to study and pursue an education in theology at Aidan University.
The men I was living with demonstrated great signs of growth on a weekly basis. I, on the other hand, continued to struggle with the same issues. Within a month of moving out of the halfway house, I was drinking on a nightly basis. More than one young woman had been hurt. They were attracted to me because of how close they thought I was to God. I didn’t just leave the house I was living in. I allowed my anger to put me in a position to where I was asked to leave.
Fast forward almost seven years. I don’t say that to get to the end of the article. I simply want to prove a point. A lot has changed in my life since 2012. More progress has been made than I know how to demonstrate. I’m confident that, as long as I do tomorrow what I did today, I’ll go to bed sober tomorrow night. Bikinis no longer get my attention. Except for the few my wife wears. It’s been a while since I’ve said or done something out of anger I’ve needed to apologize for.
All that being said, still, when I wake up tomorrow, sanctification will be the most important part of my day. I’m no longer frustrated with the same sins I used to be. There are new ones the enemy uses to keep me off track.
I’m by no means an expert on sanctification. I’ve missed a ton because my eyes were closed too tightly. What I have been able to see has been so amazingly frustrating, I missed the opportunity to enjoy the growth. I want to use the rest of this article to give a few pointers that might help you enjoy the journey the Holy Spirit has you on. Before I go any further, I have another verse I want you to think about. You’ll understand in a minute.
1 Samuel 5:8, ESV – So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” The inhabitants of Gath replied, “Let the ark of God be moved on to us.” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel to Gath.
Sanctification is a process, not an event.
As I mentioned earlier, sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s how we become more like Jesus. He was able to live the perfect life we’re unable to. As humans, it’s natural for us to obey the flesh. This isn’t something we can change through flipping a switch.
We’ve had our way of thinking since we were born. Because of this, habits need to be broken. We have to learn what it means to live a life of surrender to God. This doesn’t mean we don’t do anything while we wait on Him to act. It means we grow so close to the Holy Spirit that we’re able to identify His guidance in our lives. We show Him this is important to us. We act and depend on Him for results.
Mistakes will be made along the way. That doesn’t mean we give up and return to our old way of living. This means we identify where we fail to trust Jesus and allow Him to guide us. The gate we’re to walk through is narrow. We might not find a way through the first time. But, if following Jesus is important, we seek His forgiveness and make corrections as they’re needed.
Focus on the presence of God. Then you’ll recognize His work.
Think back to the verse I mentioned a while ago. The Israelites had been wiped out in a battle. As a result, they lost possession of the ark. This was the presence of God in their day. It was now in the hands of the Philistines.
The people of Ashdod were now in the presence of God. They failed to receive this for what it was, though. They weren’t willing to surrender to the God of the Israelites. As a result, sanctification was never an option. They failed to acknowledge the presence of God in their lives. Because of this, they were closed off from His blessings.
In order to grow the way the Holy Spirit would have us, we have to make experiencing His presence a priority in our lives. We have to spend time focusing on who He is instead of what He’s doing. Until we realize this, our eyes are closed to what He wants to show us.
Stop comparing yourself to others.
This was a huge hangup for me in 2012. I was living with a group of men. I was also part of a disciple group through a church that met every week. Because of this, I was surrounded by men who were experiencing God in their lives. I didn’t take the time to appreciate what God was doing in or through me. Instead, my focus was on what others were doing.
This put up huge roadblocks for sanctification in my life. In a way, I was trying to make deals with God. You do this for me, and I’ll do this for You. God isn’t in the deal-making business. Jesus is either Lord of your life and in control, or He’s not. Until we put Him where He wants to be, we can’t expect to change the way He wants us to.
Featured Image by Anton Darius