In theological language, spiritual growth or discipleship – a topic we’ve been exploring for the past few weeks – is essentially about our sanctification. It refers to our spiritual development of becoming Christlike (holiness), a process that continues on from our justification in Christ. It’s one thing to become a Christian (justification); it is quite another thing to become Christian (sanctification). When we read the New Testament, it is clear Jesus and the apostles place a greater emphasis on being Christian than on being a Christian. In other words, our sanctification is not optional!
The call of discipleship is to become Christian, to become imitators of Christ, is radically counterintuitive and distinct from the ways of the world. Consider Jesus’ teaching, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that…But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:32-36).
Our Lord Jesus in the final hours before his crucifixion prayed that God would sanctify us by His truth (John 17:17). The gospel truth – that is God’s unmerited favour to us through Christ’s righteousness – needs to be the foundation of our sanctification and growth. We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience! It is not that obedience isn’t important but rather we don’t rely on it in order to gain His love, approval and acceptance. Instead, we become imitators of Christ because we love God in response to His grace. The gospel replaces guilt, fear and pride with worship as the reason for our pursuit of Christlikeness. That is incredibly freeing!
But the Scripture also challenges us to train ourselves for godliness. The process of sanctification doesn’t happen automatically and apart from our participation. Grace is not opposed to our efforts at being righteous but to our efforts of earning our righteousness.
In the context of sanctification Paul wrote, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). This ought to encourage us to keep persevering as God works to sanctify us. It is also a reminder to us to not go through life but to grow through life! Our sanctification is very important to God and for our witness!
Have a fruitful week!