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What Is Sanctification?

Written by Brad Merchant on

Not long after I became a Christian, I began to ask myself two all-important questions:

  1. What is God’s purpose for my life? 
  2. What does God want me to do?

For months I felt discouraged, stressed, and worried that I would never uncover the mystery of God’s will.

And then I read 1Thessalonians 4:3: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

What Is Sanctification?

The heartbeat of the Christian life is what theologians call sanctification. The doctrine of sanctification teaches that God makes his people more and more like him through their faith-fueled effort. Wayne Grudem puts it this way: “Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”

Sanctification is a lifelong journey. God declares his people holy through the death of Jesus (Heb. 10:10), and progressively makes his people holy by his Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Cor. 6:11). One day, when Jesus returns, he will make his people perfectly holy (Rev. 22:3).

The doctrine of sanctification reminds us that God, in his kindness, wants to free us from our slavery to sin. God is wholly against any false belief that says, “Come as you are and stay as you are.” When the apostle Paul says that the will of God is “your sanctification,” he’s putting our ear to the heartbeat of the Christian life: God’s will for every Christian is to be more like Jesus.

Much like the way an expert archer focuses on the bullseye and pays careful attention to his aim, we glorify God by taking a disciplined approach to growing in godliness.

3 Means to Godliness

It’s important to note, however, that God does not zap us with godliness. Instead, God uses three primary means to make his people godly:

  1. God’s Word

God’s Word is living and active (Heb. 4:12), and has to power to change what we think about, care about, and pursue. On our own, we are vulnerable to the deceitfulness of temptation and the devastating effects of sin. But God, in his mercy, sends out his Word and heals us, and delivers us from destruction (Ps.107:20).

  1. Wise people

Proverbs 13:20 tells us, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” God blesses his people with wise, thoughtful Christian friends to help them live skillfully to the glory of God.

  1. Suffering

It’s through the fire of trials that God chips away at our self-reliance and makes us more dependent on him. As we come to the end of our own strength and ability, we realize more fully how desperate we are for him and how he alone can satisfy our hearts.

Sanctification is the means by which God uses his Word, his people, and hardship to make his people more happy and holy in Christ. So, what does God want for you and me today? To be more like him.

Brad Merchant

Brad serves as the Pastor of Theological Development at College Park. Brad is passionate about equipping people to be flourishing, joyful Christians. He enjoys spending time with friends, fellow College Park pastors and elders, and his wife and son.

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