May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV)]
This life, therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on our way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the end but it is the right road. At present, everything is being cleaned. [Martin Luther]
Our sons recently visited to celebrate their father’s birthday. As I watched them work their culinary magic in the kitchen, I marveled at how the boys who once thought Kraft mac n’ cheese to be haute cuisine became gourmet cooks. For that matter, when did they get so tall or those wrinkles appear around their eyes? At what point did the tow-headed boy’s hair darken and start receding or his brother’s turn grey? The changes I observed weren’t just physical. As we talked, I wondered when my once irresponsible boys became so sensible and wise. None of it happened overnight and yet each little change was so subtle it barely was noticed. But, when I thought back to the children and young adults they once were, the change was enormous.
When we accept Jesus, we are justified: set free by the blood of Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are spiritually reborn. But, because we still sin, our work has just begun. No parent wants their children to remain helpless infants, unthinking youngsters, or reckless teens and God is the same way with His children. Just as babies must learn to walk, new believers must learn how to walk in the steps of Jesus. We gradually transform from newborn Christians into mature ones through the power of the Holy Spirit in a process called sanctification. While justification is once and done, sanctification is a lifelong journey. Growing in grace, we become obedient to God’s Word, understand His ways and, little by little, become more like Christ.
Although challenges are often accompanied by spiritual growth spurts, for the most part, we transform gradually in barely noticeable ways (as did my boys). If we look back, however, we’ll see the difference our sanctification/spiritual growth has made in the way we conduct our lives. Because of our faith in Jesus, somewhere along the line, we probably developed enough patience to deal with our tiresome neighbor, enough wisdom to counsel a troubled friend, or enough restraint to step away from an argument. At some point, we found the ability to have peace in the midst of turmoil and self-discipline in the face of temptation. We began to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgiveable, and give generously without expecting something in return. When looking back, we’ll realize how the Holy Spirit slowly but steadily matured us from baby Christians into adolescents and beyond.
No matter how far we’ve come in our journey, a little self-examination tells us how far we still need to go. Like the wrinkles that come with age, sanctification it is a gradual, daily, and life-long process. But, unlike those inescapable wrinkles, sanctification isn’t inevitable—it takes effort. To become sanctified, we must actively pursue a holy life. By yielding to God, we become empowered by the Spirit to live a life that honors Him (without becoming self-righteous, legalistic, or proud about doing so). Like a child learning to ride a bike, however, there will be times we fall but, by the grace of God, we keep trying!
Even though I’d prefer the face and body I had twenty years ago to the one I have now, it’s because of Jesus that I much prefer the woman I am today to the woman of decades past. While I don’t look forward to seeing more wrinkles in the mirror, I do look forward to the changes the Holy Spirit continues to make in me. While I’m not who I once was, I’m still nowhere close to the woman God wants me to be.
Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” [John Newton]