In part 1, “Never More Justified” we saw that we are never more justified as a Christian than when we first believed. Never more or less right with God; Never more worthy of our justification; and God is never more pleased with us (in the fundamental sense of us being His children through adoption in Christ).
But there is something about us as Christians that begins at our conversion and progressively develops throughout our lives on earth. Sanctification is the term usually used to describe the changes in our hearts, minds and lives as Christians that see us grow in holy living. In simple terms we might describe being sanctified as having our lives increasingly come to reflect and resemble the truth of who God has declared us to be in Christ through justification. Or simpler still, being sanctified is the process of the Holy Spirit conforming us to the image of the Son: making us more and more like Jesus in our character and behaviour.
Sanctification is not about “staying in” God’s family by works after getting in by grace through faith (Galatians 3 condemns this thinking quite strongly!). It does require effort on our part, but is ultimately dependent on the work of the Spirit to succeed. It is not a joyless, demanding obedience to a set of special rules for Christians, but a willing, joyful submission to God’s will out of a desire to imitate Christ and respond to His glory.
But if it doesn’t make us more “right” with God, more worthy of his love and acceptance or more essentially pleasing to Him, it may in fact seem like going through an ongoing process of spiritual growth is somewhat optional or unnecessary when we have so much through justification already. This would be a mistake, however as sanctification is a vital companion to our justified status and does bring about results that justification by itself would not.
#1 We can become increasingly more like Jesus the more we are sanctified
When God justifies us, He declares us to be righteous in His sight because Christ’s righteousness is counted to us as a free and undeserved gift. Theologians call this imputed righteousness (righteousness that isn’t intrinsically ours, but is counted to us as though it actually were). When God sanctifies us He makes us more like the Jesus we have believed in and benefited from. While our lives will never be good enough nor our actions right enough in this life to please God apart from Christ, sanctification sees our lives become more and more reflective of Christ’s character. The more we become like Jesus, the more we act in ways that please God – with our behaviour coming into greater harmony with the fact that God is pleased with us as beloved children on account of Jesus.
The more we reflect Jesus in our attitudes, speech and actions, the more we tell the story of what kind of Saviour He is and what wondrous things He has done for us. Becoming more like Jesus is the goal of Christian life and one of God’s key purposes in redeeming, justifying and adopting us into His family. Which brings us to the next point.
#2 We can bring more glory to God’s name the more we are sanctified
The classic Presbyterian Catechism asks the opening question: “What is the chief end of man?” (or “What is the highest/most important purpose of humanity?”), to which it answers: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
If this is the purpose of our existence, how do we ensure it occurs? The key lies in what we just discussed above: becoming more like Jesus. Jesus’s aim was always to bring glory to God in whatever He did. To imitate Him is to follow Him in the way of seeking God’s glory. To become Christlike is to develop qualities of character that naturally reflect God’s goodness and bring Him glory in the sight of others.
To glorify God is to give Him “ascriptive glory” – to recognise how glorious He is and respond to it with reverence, awe, love and a certain kind of life. The more our hearts are opened to see who God is, the more our minds are illuminated by the revelation of God in His Word, the more the Spirit enables us to live faithfully in a way that demonstrates the majesty of the King we love and serve – the more glory God gets from us and our response to Him.
#3 We can have greater enjoyment of God the more we are sanctified
When these changes are progressively happening in us, the more we can experience part B of our great purpose: enjoying God forever. The more we know and appreciate God through the gospel and the more our lives are transformed to be like Jesus, the greater enjoyment we should have of God. One reason for this is that although our grasp of who God is when we first believe is profoundly impactful – there is actually much more of God to be discovered, known and loved. This deeper enjoyment of God is not simply the process of accumulating more theological knowledge. We only deepen our enjoyment of God if our character and heart is being changed by our encountering God in His Word and His work in our day-to-day lives. There is a sense of divine enjoyment that can only accompany mature Christianity.
Sanctification is often linked to our sense of assurance of salvation. While our confidence in Christ should not depend on how well we think we’re “performing” as Christians, God often seems to grant a greater sense of assurance to those who are diligent in their pursuit of holiness and Christlikeness, while withholding it from those who are negligent in their Christian development. The level of certainty we possess in relation to salvation and the promises of the gospel has an enormous impact on how able we are to enjoy God.
Next time we’ll look at three more things that sanctification can affect or improve…