Sanctification is an odd English word. It’s not a word we use every day, at home, on the job, or in conversation with friends.
It comes from the word sanctify, another odd word. Simply put it means to set something apart for one use. I’ve written about that before.
In the Bible that word means set apart for God’s use; consecrated to God; holy. The word saints means sanctified ones. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2), he addressed them as those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.
Being set apart for God’s use means God gets to use us. We get to cooperate. Simple.
I once read a book by a minister who taught that sanctification is a second work of grace that makes a Christian sinlessly perfect, an event that can happen in an instant. I have no idea what event had happened to him — every Christian I know continually strives to be sinless and I don’t know any who would say they’ve achieved that goal!
Being set apart for one particular use is quite understandable to me, however. It’s like my storing a large silver spoon in a kitchen drawer, using it only for serving food. (Not for digging in the flower bed!) It’s ongoing; as long as I serve food, that spoon will be set apart for that use.
Whatever else it is, sanctification is an ongoing process — and it’s an improvement process. We learn, and grow, and mature. We get better at hearing God’s voice and being led by his Spirit. Better at understanding the scriptures. Better at exercising faith, in praying, or in sharing a testimony with friends. Even better moms, dads, friends.
Better at becoming perfect as Jesus and the Holy Spirit go to work on us. Like sanctification, perfection is an ongoing process.
“Wilson’s characters included Reverend Leroy, materialistic pastor of the ‘Church of What’s Happening Now,’ and his most popular character, Geraldine Jones, whose line ‘The devil made me do it became a national catchphrase.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flip_Wilson)
I remember seeing Flip do that sketch on the Ed Sullivan Show. So very funny, people adopted that phrase wholesale to excuse their bad behavior. Nothing is ever their fault! Although Flip died in 1998, the attitude lingers on.
Today there are books on the market that say many (if not all) of a Christian’s imperfections, sinful habits and weaknesses are caused by the devil — by persistent demon influences, or emotional scars from past sin or abuse done to us by evil people. Some authors offer personal deliverance or “how-to” advice on self-deliverance, for a fee (cost of the book or conference).
While I don’t believe everything in those pages is wrong, I have a problem with some of it. Where in the gospels did Jesus teach those things? Jesus performed countless healings and deliverances. He showed them how, then sent the disciples out to do likewise and they did.
We’d all like to be free from all hang-ups in a flash when we’re born again, never to sin again, but it seldom works out like that. The gospels and the epistles give us many admonitions, good things to learn and practice, because we are born again as baby believers, not as mature Christians. We have to grow up.
And, sometimes it does involve seeking help from mature Christians who know more than we do about overcoming certain struggles. The book “Beauty for Ashes” by Joyce Meyer helped me a lot some years ago. (http://www.joycemeyer.org) Along the way I discovered that this growing-up process isn’t automatic – it involves work, time, and lots of patience. Trial and error, too.
Consider these verses: (references from NIV unless indicated)
- Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48
- His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.
For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. II Pet. 1:3-8
- Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher (perfecter) of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Heb. 12:2 KJV
- Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil. 1:6
- He (Christ) is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. Col. 1:28
- Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Phil. 2:12-13
- If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Gal. 5:8, 25
- The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Gal. 5:22-23 (Fruit doesn’t appear instantly; it grows.)
- Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Gal. 5:24
Does all that mean we have it made now? We no longer do anything wrong, foolish, or childish? Well, obviously not, because so much of Galatians chapter 5 is admonishing the believers what not to do. Even the apostle Paul struggled with this himself. (See Rom. 7:15-25)
But the Lord will enable us to “just say no” to the wrong things and “yes” to the right things. It takes cooperation, it takes practice, and “Practice makes perfect.” Eventually.