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:
- God’s work in every Christian is to continually and progressively conform them into the image of Christ.
- God uses all sorts of circumstances (especially difficult ones) to accomplish our progressive formation into christlikeness.
- God is sovereign over all things; us, every detail of our lives, the lives of those around us, and everything else.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.