Why should we want to be sanctified? Is there really any point at all in striving to be holy? Does the gospel, on its own, make us better each day or do we have to take action steps and put sweat into it to become more like Christ?
Just thinking about becoming more sanctified in our lives can just make our heads start to spin. Honestly the process just seems downright confusing. The idea of pursuing holiness is completely countercultural to the ways of this world. Today, even within Christianity, there seems to be a lot of different perspectives and discussions on how one grows in holiness. Are we suppose to continuously reacquaint ourselves with the good news of Christ Jesus daily or are we suppose to strive and make every effort within ourselves to become more holy? The best way to define the way we need to look at sanctification in a Christian’s life is by analyzing the ideas behind short term sanctification and long run sanctification.
Active obedience (short term)
John Piper once said that, “When it comes to killing my sin, I don’t wait passively for the miracle of sin-killing to be worked on me, I act the miracle.” Active obedience is the call for Christians to vigorously pursue growth in holiness. The reason we need active obedience in our lives essentially derives from the idea that you and I fail to believe and live in the gospel continuously each day. Since we fail to reapply and cover ourselves in the good news of Jesus daily, we must strive and exert effort to follow God. He deserves our obedience. Christians should always strive with all the power that they have within them to follow God’s will and obey God’s law. When Christians are inclined to sin, they must fight the urge to fall into temptation by making every effort to please their Father in Heaven (Heb 12:14). This is not legalism, but rather active obedience! We must be willing to fight and war against our sin when we fail to rest in the finished work of Christ. Active obedience is an absolute necessity for all Christians in the short term. Active obedience is the call to strive to kill sin in the short term when our hearts and minds fail to believe the gospel of Jesus. We all fail to believe the gospel at certain points, but we are still called to actively obey. Tim Keller once said when discussing the need for refraining from sin that, “there is no reason that, in the short run, a Christian can’t simply use pure willpower if necessary (to overcome sin). God deserves our obedience, and we should give it to Him, even if we know our motives are mixed and impure.” When it comes to sanctification we must pursue active obedience in the short term because God always deserves all the glory and he is worthy of all praise.
Gospel heart change (long run)
The only way for sanctification to be sustained in the long run is by diving deeper into the glorious gospel. The reason is because the gospel is solely about the work of God done through Christ Jesus. When becoming more sanctified depends on our own abilities and strengths we will always fall short. We need something outside of ourselves to look towards! That is why the gospel must remain central in our pursuit of holiness. To sustain growth in godliness, our hearts must be changed by this good news of what someone else did for us! The more we see and understand the truth that Jesus paid our price and gave us life, we will fall more in love with our glorious God. Because, in all reality, when you fall more in love with someone, you tend to want to please them more and more! Essentially, the good news changes our hearts and sanctification becomes more about falling in love with the gospel over and over again than it is about rigorous obedience. Long run sanctification is only going to be accomplished by exploring the depths of the gospel.
The answer to becoming more holy encompasses both active obedience and gospel heart change. That is what is needed in the short term and the long run. We must actively obey God even when do not feel like it, and also learn to obey him more and more because of the glorious news that we have been redeemed. Sanctification can be a delightful process if we stick to short term and long run sanctification until the very end!
Matt Manry is the Director of Students at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia and a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. You can follow his blog at gospelglory.net or his twitter @matt_manry.