Why is sanctification essential for the Christian? Quite simply put, it’s God’s will for his people to be sanctified and it’s through this sanctification that each of God’s children receives the assurance of their salvation. Without sanctification there is either rebellion as a child of God or proof that a person is not a genuine Christian. “Sanctification” comes from two Latin words: sanctus which means holy, and ficare which means make. So, in a most literal sense, to sanctify means to make holy. True progressive sanctification leads away from legalism and toward joy in Christ.
Hindrances to Sanctification
The Christian life has been described as an uphill journey. Others have labeled it as an upstream lifestyle, which is the direct opposite of the lazy lagoon method of so many people who simply go with the flow through life. The world, the flesh, and the devil are actively seeking to pull God’s children off course. When Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress followed “Vain Glory” off course, it led to a discouraging end—the dungeon of Doubting Castle.
Following Bad Examples: All through the New Testament, we find Paul encouraging others to follow in his footsteps. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Ultimately we follow Christ, but in this life, we must consider the examples who walk before us. At times, we will have poor examples and we must have discernment to withstand the temptation to follow in their footsteps. Far too often Christians become lazy in their walk with the Lord and find themselves following the example of people who are often not genuine Christians or those who are living in sin.
It’s essential to follow the example of those who walk closely with the Lord. We find these words in 3 John 11, “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” Ultimately, the elders of your church should be setting a good example worthy of imitation as noted in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
Disconnecting Yourself From the Local Church: It goes without saying that the local church is God’s will for the Christian. To disconnect yourself from your local church is problematic relationally. We need the community of the local church, not just the pulpit of the local church. It has never been God’s will for his people to journey alone in the Christian life. The “one another” and “together” passages are essential for us to consider through the New Testament. Paul writes the following in Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” In Romans 16:16, Paul writes, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” The affection that we see among the early church is key to their commitment to caring for one another (see also Acts 2:42-47).
Neglecting God’s Word: Two of the most common ways to neglect God’s Word involve personal and corporate study. The first involves a lack of personal intake at home through the week. In such cases, life gets busy and the Bible remains closed as it rests on the coffee table or in the backseat of your car. The second involves a lack of intake of God’s Word through your local church. This is often due to a neglect of church attendance and a refusal to show up to be nourished in God’s Word. Many times Christians claim that they are not being fed spiritually within their church, but in all reality they’re not showing up to receive the Word of God. We must have a steady intake of God’s Word in order for us to grow spiritually and pursue holiness.
The Joys of Sanctification
The sanctified life is filled with joy because at the heart of true biblical sanctification is the pleasure of God. If the pleasure of God and a desire to be conformed to the image of Christ is not at the heart of sanctification—it quickly becomes legalism and empty religiosity. This is why Paul delighted in the law of God (Rom. 7:22), because his delight was in God—not checkbox religion. We enjoy charting the growth of our children by marks on the wall in their bedroom, but when was the last time that you charted the growth of your soul spiritually? Do you love the Bible because of your love for God?
As we grow in our faith and become more sanctified, it provides us proof that we are the children of God. It is God who sets us apart through “sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). This is the initial work of salvation and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to faith in Jesus. However, as we continue to walk in the Spirit, we are progressively sanctified. Jesus prayed for this work in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Paul writes the following to the church in Thessalonica, “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 Thess. 5:23).
Charles Spurgeon once remarked, “There can be no peace between you and Christ while there is peace between you and sin.” It’s essential to wage war on sin and to overcome it. However, shallow and empty checkbox religion describes sanctification as merely the work of “mortifying” sin, but far too often it neglects the joyful submission to Christ and the beauty of holiness. As a person is clothed in holiness, there is great joy in pleasing God and walking in glad submission and obedience to him. It is through this glad submission that true assurance of salvation (John 14:15) and spiritual fulfillment floods the soul of God’s children.
Puritan Thomas Watson explains the joys of sanctification by writing, “After the fall, the affections were misplaced on wrong objects; in sanctification, they are turned into a sweet order and harmony, the grief placed on sin, the love on God, the joy on heaven.”