As Christians, we each made the decision to turn away from our sin and follow Jesus. While this salvation is the most important gift we could ever receive, it is not the end of God’s work in us. He doesn’t just give us salvation and then move on to the next person. Salvation is the first stage in a process called sanctification. God’s work in us is constant. Someone once described sanctification like this: A man was given a flower as a gift. When he went to put it in a vase he realized the vase was dirty. So, he cleaned the vase. When he went to put the vase on the table, he noticed that the table was dirty, so he cleaned the table. Then he realized the floor was dirty, then the walls, then the rest of his house. So he cleaned, and he kept cleaning because cleaning is a chore that never ends. Had he not been gifted that flower, the process of cleaning his house would not have been started. Conversely, had he not started cleaning his house, the beauty of the flower would have been lost in the mess. Sanctification is a process that follows a similar pattern. Salvation is our flower and we can’t just put it in a vase and forget about it. We must be constantly learning and growing, until the day when we meet our father in heaven and the action of cleaning no longer exists in our lives. Romans 6:22 says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” This verse points out all three stages of sanctification: salvation (now that you have been free from sin), maturity (the fruit you get leads to sanctification), and glorification (and its end, eternal life). It also warns of the cost of sanctification, that it means to become a slave to God.
Many people confuse sanctification with justification but they are two different things, and recognizing that is crucial. God loves justice and has ruled that all people are sinners and deserve death. “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” Deuteronomy 32:4, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23. However, the penalty of sin was fulfilled when Jesus Christ died on that cross. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23. Accepting this gift saves us from death and also justifies us in the law of God. After this does sanctification begins, making justification the start of sanctification. Hebrews 13:11-12 states, “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” This says that Jesus sanctified us through his blood. His blood which was shed on the cross.
After justification comes the stage of maturity. This is the period between our salvation and our entrance into heaven. We are to be constantly growing in Christ and maturing in our faith, until the day when all is revealed to us when we see our savior face to face, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23. This verse is not saying that God is going to sanctify us freely, it takes work and obedience on our part. Right before this verse in 5:22 it says, “Abstain from every form of evil.” It is up to us to ask God for strength to resist temptation and to stay away from things that would take glory away from him. Evil can come in the form of our thoughts and desires. Some live under the assumption that abstaining from evil means not doing things that are potentially wrong or sinful. But in fact, anything that is not holy and pleasing, and giving God glory, is sinful. Many people will ask the questions, “Is this okay?” and “What’s wrong with it?”. But as John Piper says[i], people who ask these questions are usually looking to minimize wrong rather than maximize holiness. Only living to minimize wrong is not glorifying to God. Instead of asking “Is this okay?”, we should be asking “Is this holy?”. This is glorifying to God. One could also go a step deeper and ask “Is this sanctifying?”, as sanctification leads to holiness, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16.
The final stage of sanctification is glorification. This comes on the day when we enter heaven and meet our savior. This is when we are made holy as God is holy. Here on earth, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we have been made holy. However, we are still humans in our fleshly bodies and we still sin. When we finally reach heaven there will be no more sin, we will be made completely holy and completely perfect. 1 John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” On the day we see him, we shall be made like him. We are now in the world and it is our duty as disciples to glorify God with everything we do within this world. However, one day it will all go away. All that will be left is God and those who served him, those whom he sanctified, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:17.
Being sanctified is not easy and comes at a great cost. One must be willing to go wherever God leads, sacrifice what God says to sacrifice, and humble himself as Jesus did, who was obedient enough to suffer and die on a cross[ii]. It means becoming a slave to God and his cause. “I am speaking to you in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” Romans 6:19. “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Romans 6:22. Being a true follower of Christ does not mean that you get to be happy and comfortable, for holiness reigns over happiness[iii]. We should always be striving to be better, but change comes with challenge. This call to follow Christ is a call to die completely of one’s self. This is our purpose. Luke 14:25-27 says, “Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”. God wants our love for him to be so great that our love for anything else looks like hatred. If we cannot do that, we cannot call ourselves disciples.
Through this study I have learned the three stages of sanctification, and what they should look like in my life. It began when I gave my life to Jesus, and it will end when I get to meet him. But in between, I should be doing my best to grow and learn and strive to be the person God wants me to be. I need to be constantly examining myself and figuring out if I really am willing to lay it all down for Christ. Sanctification is a life-long process that comes at a cost. But I have been set free of my sin because of a gift I did not deserve. And with that salvation began a journey of constantly pursuing Christ. When I meet my maker I want him to tell me that I did good, and that he is proud of me that I lived my life completely for him. John 3:30 says “He must increase and I must decrease”. I want to decrease to the point that when people look at me all they can see is the love of Christ. I know that is not an easy thing to accomplish. I know that I need to learn to hate the world. But I want Jesus to accept me as his disciple. So I pray that he will allow my love for him to grow so abundantly that it overflows into everything I do. Everything in this world is for his glory and I want to do what I need to to help his cause.
[ii] Philippians 2:8
[iii] (Pastor Travis Davenport, Here as in Heaven, 8/2017)