“As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). As believers, we often misread this verse. We replace the word ‘holy’ with the word ‘perfect’ and throw our hands up in defeat. C.S. Lewis says “Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.” This notion, although true, can be incredibly daunting when taken seriously. The assumption is that if I am to be a “little Christ,” I need to be perfect. If I am a Christian now, why do I still make mistakes? Why am I not perfect?
The sanctification that we experience as Christians is a gradual transition, not an immediate shift. I was raised in a Christian household with my father serving as a pastor and my mother as a nursery school teacher’s assistant at a local church. My lifestyle since birth had been formed around the church; therefore, as I have grown older, I have found that many of my intuitions are consistent with Christian morality.
Having Christian ethics engrained in my mind and on my heart during the early formative years of my life has prepared me to approach adulthood with a Christian perspective. If I had not grown up in the church however, my Christian experience would be much different. Instead of intuitively accepting Christian morals, it would be much more difficult to reconcile my background and upbringing with my newfound faith. Even within a Christian upbringing, I have struggled through the process of sanctification with just as many failures and mistakes as the next person.
Paul’s letter to the Romans outlines three main parts of the sanctification process. The first step in sanctification is allowing Christ to destroy sin’s dominion in our lives. In Romans 6: 12-14, Paul writes “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” This is a crucial point in the Christian walk, but I can guarantee you that this act of humbly presenting yourself to God will be necessary throughout your Christian walk. According to Paul, we are living sacrifices; as living sacrifices, we will constantly be trying to crawl off of the altar on which Christ has called us to surrender (Rom 12:1-2). Destroying sin’s dominion in our lives requires discipline, prayer and patience. As fallible humans, there will inevitably be moments when we fall into sin and Christ has grace with us in these moments. After realizing that we have disobeyed God however, we must humbly present ourselves to him and acknowledge our own brokenness with repentant hearts. Christ does not expect us to be perfectly sanctified the instant we accept him as our Savior. Rather, his justification prepares us for the process of sanctification, in which he will challenge, forgive, and grow us.
Christ does not expect us to be perfectly sanctified the instant we accept him as our Savior. Rather, his justification prepares us for the process of sanctification, in which he will challenge, forgive, and grow us.
The second aspect of sanctification is the struggle against sin. In Romans 7:18-19, Paul describes the spiritual crisis that is characteristic of the sanctification process. He writes “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Here, Paul is describing the tension that develops within a Christian as he grows in his faith. He is saying ‘I know what I should be doing and I want to do what I should be doing, but I am doing what I shouldn’t be doing.‘ Although it would be easy to reach this point in your faith and feel as though you are not living correctly, this tension can be an indicator of the Holy Spirit growing you in discernment and wisdom. Think back to before you were a believer. Did you feel bad for doing what you knew was wrong? Were you uneasy at the thought that you were disobeying God? If your answer is no, then take heart; the Lord is developing a spirit of discernment in you. It should come as no surprise that the struggle against sin will be difficult. Strive for full obedience while accepting grace in the midst of your own depravity.
Abidance with the Holy Spirit is the third aspect of sanctification outlined in Romans. The presence of the Holy Spirit will guide and direct you in your actions and decisions. The indwelling Spirit of God will encourage us in righteousness and convict us of our wrongdoings. Romans 8:11 reads, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” As we grow in our faith, we become more sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who gives us life and dwells within us.
God’s desire to sanctify us is evidence of his love for us. He loves us enough to transform our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh that we may experience the salvation of his son Jesus. In the midst of rebuke, transformation, and challenges, God is merciful in drawing us to himself.