December 30, 2015

Sanctification & Bracing Ourselves for a New Year

by Eric Davis
Happy New Year 2016 replace 2015 concept on the sea beach

Without knowing what the future holds, we can safely say that there is one thing we will need for 2016: godliness. To stably and safely weather all of the we’re-not-in-heaven-yet things coming from this new year, we will need a high dose of christlikeness and, if you’re like me, an increase thereof. So, sanctification should be a dear friend as we turn a calendar year (and as we enter each day, for that matter).

Sanctification: God’s work of progressively conforming the Christian into christlikeness from the time of spiritual birth (regeneration) until we see Jesus (glorification), through the Spirit, our effort, the means of grace, and any number of circumstances. Sanctification is not the means of salvation, but the consequence of it.

But oftentimes, we can have a myopic, low view of sanctification. For example, it really only occurs when I sit down for my daily quiet time or during the Sunday sermon. Yet sanctification involves much more than that because God the Father is much more involved than that in the lives of believers.


Putting sanctification in its appropriately high place will position us for the kind of people we need to be for the new year. A high view of sanctification involves two ideas. First, it sees God as big, his love as involved, and his sovereignty as limitless. Second, with those things in mind, a high view of sanctification means we are more occupied by seeing God’s sanctifying work in our lives through struggle than we are irritated by the struggle; the particular means (e.g. difficult people, jobs, family, health trials) which he uses to sanctify us.

Similarly, a high view of sanctification involves these four tenets:

  1. God’s work in every Christian is to continually and progressively conform them into the image of Christ.
  2. God uses all sorts of circumstances (especially difficult ones) to accomplish our progressive formation into christlikeness.
  3. God is sovereign over all things; us, every detail of our lives, the lives of those around us, and everything else.
  4. Therefore, an accurate view of my life, as a Christian, involves seeing how, not if, God is using every circumstance—big and small, difficult and less difficult—to accomplish my sanctification.

With that, here are a few reasons to be armed with a high view of sanctification so as to position ourselves for a good 2016, no matter what the year is like:

  1. A high view of sanctification will occupy us more with God’s loving work on us than people’s imperfections among us.

A classic symptom of a low view of sanctification is when our knee-jerk response to hard people and circumstances is frustration towards them/it before humble trust in our loving Father’s work on us. How so-and-so irritated us becomes a bigger deal than how God the son suffered for us and subsequently is transforming us. God the Father is conforming us to the most wonderful Person in the world, yet, that precious truth often slips to the infrequently-visited theoretical place in our thinking.

343c6d9But a high view of sanctification will help us focus more on God’s love for us in changing us rather than the being irritated by the particular circumstances used to facilitate the change.

  1. A high view of sanctification will help us be less irritated by, and more loving towards, the sin of other sinners in our lives.

It’s inevitable. Your spouse, kids, coworkers, neighbors, roommates, family, and fellow church members are going to sin against you. You will get rubbed the wrong way this year. A lot. But a high view of sanctification reminds us that God is at work purging our minds of anger towards people, replacing it with God’s love, as he actively fathers us. Which means people’s fallenness won’t get on our nerves as much. It’s all being used by our Father to child-train us since we, too, greatly need increasing spiritual maturity.

  1. A high view of sanctification will position us to increasingly walk by the Spirit instead of succumbing to the flesh.

Whenever we find ourselves replaying how offended we are; how our toes were stepped on; and what kind of epic comeback we should’ve pulled off to put them in their place, we’re doing all things for the glory of self. Whatever we are doing, we are not walking by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is never leading us to play the tape of how annoyed we are by so-and-so.


Instead, the Spirit is given to Christians as the engine of sanctification. He is the holy hijacker: the flesh seeks to regularly blame and complain at all things outside of us in struggle so as to not change, but the Spirit hijacks the flesh by showing us the good work our Father is doing in the struggle so as to sanctify us.

  1. A high view of sanctification will help us readily immerse ourselves in the means of grace, rather than getting stuck in focusing on, and chafing under, irritating people and situations.

Another evidence of an atrophied view of sanctification is when we brew on those people and things that just made our lives hard rather than Scripture and prayer. Stewing in frustration becomes more appealing than chewing on God’s word.

Whenever hard things happen, we find ourselves standing at the fork in the road. We can go the wrong way: led by our flesh, we run to self-validating, self-actualizing, and self-exalting thoughts that seek change all things except for self. Or we can go the right way: led by the Spirit, we will recall that we are wretched, and God is lovingly exposing and eradicating remaining sin in our lives in order to improve us. Being reminded of that, we’ll throw ourselves more into God’s channels of change; local church involvement, Scripture study, prayer, obedience, and serving. When we have a high view of sanctification, struggle will more quickly grab the tools of change instead of rutting out in fleshly responses.

Like David when he responded to difficult, sanctifying people, we will say, “But I am in prayer” (Ps. 109:4). Attending our local church worship gatherings and other teaching venues will change from being something “I should probably do” to “I must and get to” because we will be eager to receive God’s corporate care through the ministry of the local church. Understanding how important sanctification is to God, we will dive in deeper to his means by which it happens.

  1. A high view of sanctification will further our endurance in the battles of life.

As Paul (Rom. 5:3-5) and James (Jas. 1:2-4) mention, there is a symbiotic relationship between struggle, sanctification, and endurance in the Christian life. A high view of sanctification feeds an expectation for, and hope in, suffering. This breeds endurance because we will be less tempted to bail on difficult relationships and circumstances. We will endure by preaching to ourselves the truth: God is using these difficulties for a wonderful end product; perfect christlikeness. With that true perspective, we will stand in the struggle longer.

  1. Volatility AheadA high view of sanctification will make us more pleasant to be around.

When, not if, people are challenging and the hourly normalcy of fallen-life do not bow under our smooth-sailing-secret-demands, we will remain at peace, by God’s grace. Why? Because we grow to expect God to do what God does; prune away the spiritual weeds and stubble in our lives using his divine clippers (cf. John 15:2). We know that we are in God’s holiness guild, and thus, we won’t be taken off guard by the force administered to cut away those weeds. So, we won’t be like Mr. Volatile Vinnie who boils his fury into everyone’s lap when the circumstantial pillow isn’t fluffed as wished. Consequently, we will just be more calm and joyful, and people will be blessed by our stable spirit when the Curse curses.

  1. Father and son

    A high view of sanctification is a means of persevering to heaven.

God does not orphan any of the souls whom he births. All birthed will grow and finish glorified (Rom. 8:29-30). Which means sanctification will be in the picture for God’s redeemed between birth and death. And on the flipside, if a professing believer has no heartbeat for sanctification, it’s likely they are dead. Heed to our sanctification, then, is a means of perseverance (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16). Without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

These are not the only benefits to keeping and living a proper, high view of sanctification. And that is not all we’ll need for a God-glorifying new year. Even so, a high, biblical view of sanctification will set us up in many ways to grow in God’s grace so as to be ready for a challenging 2016.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • D.J.

    Thanks for this encouraging post. I am often amazed at what small irritations people take great offense. When I find myself defeated and wondering if perhaps I am not really saved myself one flag that waves for genuine conversion in my life is the seemingly significant offenses I do not find particularly challenging or a stumbling block. At the same time, I wish someone would write on the offenses that are deal breakers and even when one should involve law enforcement. Thanks and Happy New Year!

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks DJ. Happy New Year to you too.

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  • Jane Hildebrand

    So grateful for this post today. So many reminders that I needed to hear. This will be one I will reread several times going into the new year. Thank you.

    • Eric Davis

      Thank you, Jane. Glad it was helpful.

  • KPM

    A couple of things about this post are really great. I especially like point number 6.

    We can easily have a false view of sanctification, and the Christian life in general, that views progress in the Christian faith simply as the attainment of theological knowledge, or we can personalize sanctification to such a degree that it is all about “personal holiness,” as if holiness is something separate from the mercy, justice, charity and love that we ought to show our neighbors.

    What we fail to grasp is that love of neighbor is the second greatest commandment, so that if we want to become more like Christ, our focus, in large part, should be on loving and serving our neighbors.

    In his Small Catechism, in regards to the eighth commandment, Luther says the following:

    “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”

    Boy, do we need more of that in our public discourse!

    Elsewhere, Luther famously said “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.”

    Understanding good works as those things which benefit our neighbors, rather than those things which increase our inner, personal sense of “piety” (aka self-righteousness) is crucial if we ever want to make true progress in the Christian faith.

  • Barbara

    Eric, I came to CG to find some encouraging word, and here it is for me. I’ve been dreading 2016 because in February I am being scheduled for open heart surgery, and the last 3 months have had me going to & fro from the hospital for tests and talks. I’ve only been three times, yet it feels like an agonizing endlessness. One of your posts this year I’ve read often, about your surgery. A month or so after I read that post I received the news, though no surprise I am overwhelmed at the prospect. And then here is this post, on sanctification. Because,Eric, my fear has been that I won’t stand up to the trial, that I’ll fail in my walk, to show God’s love & strength. I’m sure I’m not thinking right, so much of my time has been spent thinking about the surgery, and not pouring myself in His Word. This has been a reminder that trials ARE the means of sanctification and the Lord does not disappoint. It’s true that people in our lives are used for our (and maybe their) sanctification, but oft times I think bigger circumstances, from global happenings all the way down to burning the toast in the morning work towards our being more like Jesus.
    I don’t think good works results in sanctification, Mormons laud their good works all the time, but personal piety (which by definition is NOT self righteousness) and holiness, love and fear of the Lord (which is the start of wisdom) leads to charity towards those that one might want to otherwise ” stab in the face, Patrick”. So, I enjoyed your post as it spelled out clearly how to view this important topic.
    I don’t want to be a stoic, but as you wrote, I want to have the Spiritual Stability that helps other people. Recently my focus has been off, thanks for redirecting my gaze. God Bless you and your church family, they are blessed to have you. Regards, BarbL🌹

    • Jane Hildebrand

      May God’s love and comfort be with you through this trial, Barbara.

    • Eric Davis

      Hi Barbara – thank you for sharing your battle. I am sorry to hear about the trial, but God will certainly use it for your good and his glory. I will pray for a successful surgery and comfort in Christ.

      • Barbara

        Thank you Eric and Jane, I appreciate the encouragement.

    • Eric Davis

      Barbara – would you mind if I asked what procedure you will be having? No prob if you prefer not to share that.

      • Barbara

        I have Ebstien’s Anomaly, a tricuspid valve deformity, that I was born with. I will be having a catheter procedure first to test aortic pressure, cardiac artery blockage and another test for electrophysiology. Then, if those turn out okay then the surgery entails the attempt to repair the valve using the cone technique, and also make the right atrium smaller. They won’t know if they can repair until they are there , of not they will replace with pig valve. I won’t know until I wake up. 🤔 To be frank, I don’t even feel up to having the catheter, my physical fortitude is quite low, (not to mention stress , including our pet, Samson, our Jack Russell died of a heart attack New Years Morning) Eric, someone at church said to me, “just do it” in context, if I trusted in Jesus enough any physical limitations I have or perceive would be easily overcome. So, there’s another sanctifying moment. The surgeons talk with confidence, but I admit I am scared. Your openness has really helped a 54 yr old lady work through this, most of the web sites that have CHD patients are secular and unhelpful. Lord Bless You.

        • Eric Davis

          Thanks for sharing that, Barbara. This is certainly a trial, but our God has planned these things all for God; he only does us good, though it may be until glory that we see exactly how that all works out… And I am sorry to hear about your dog. Would you mind sending me a message (eric AT after the surgery to let me know how it goes? Thanks Barbara. Praying for you.

        • Eric Davis

          Also, if you have not already, I recommend reading Jerry Bridges’ “Trusting God Even When Life Hurts,” Richard Sibbes’ “The Bruised Reed,” and Joni Eareckson-Tada’s, “A Place of Healing.”

  • tovlogos

    “…sanctification should be a dear friend ” Absolutely, Eric.

    Traditionally, in Judaism, “perfection” may be divided into two categories: The pursuit of perfection, and the maintenance of perfection.
    Just as God called Abraham and Noah, perfect, as in “Blameless’, (Genesis 6:9; 17:1-2), because they followed Him; Christians are justified and the experience of sanctification is maintained.
    Of course, having been given the Holy Spirit — the ultimate Help that keeps us able to continue in conformity; and positionally perfect. There is joy in that alone.

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for that insight, Mark.

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