Have you ever wondered why God didn't design for His people to be instantaneously taken up to heaven upon their conversion? Why did He not order salvation to go from justification to glorification? Why did He include the intermediary step of sanctification? God, in His infinite wisdom, had a reason, and the Apostle Paul offers insight to this reason in Ephesians 2:10, which says, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (ESV). Those of us in Christ are saved for good works. We are not saved by good works. This is clear from the preceding two verses: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
As His people, we are set apart for good works. This truth is woven through Scripture. Titus 2:14 tells us that Christ gave Himself for us to not only redeem us but also to "purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works." But what is the purpose of good works? To understand its purpose, we must have a biblical understanding of good works. Good works are evidence of our justification. It is increasing conformity to Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is growing in holiness. And the purpose is to put God on display. Hebrews 12:14 says, "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." We are to keep our conduct honorable so the world "may see your good deeds and glorify God" (1 Peter 2:12). He is after His own glory, and we are invited to bring Him glory on this side of eternity through our sanctification.
But sanctification is progressive. It can feel slow at times. Because our flesh remains unredeemed, we continue to wrestle with sin. Though the power of sin is broken, the presence of sin remains. Scripture likens us to soldiers in battle, needing the armor of God (Ephesians 6). Though we have victory in Christ, Jesus said that following Him on this side of eternity is the narrow way, and "the way is hard" (Matthew 7:14). There will be days when we feel weary and discouraged. There will be days when we want to give up. We need to keep a long-term perspective of the Christian life. We need to have a long-term perspective of sanctification. But how? Here are five things I do to stay encouraged in my personal faith journey.
1. Have a biblical understanding of sanctification.
We have to remember that sanctification is a reality of being a follower of Christ. If, by God's divine grace, we have been justified, then sanctification is our reality. Thus, we need to understand what it is. Justification is instantaneous–we are declared righteous by God because of our union with Christ. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. We are then sanctified by the Spirit. It is a progressive work. In the beginning, mankind was made in the image and likeness of God. Our nature, in many aspects, was fashioned to represent the nature of God. However, this design was marred by sin. We have distorted the image of God. But in and through Christ, this image is being restored. This is sanctification. It is the restoration of the moral imperfections caused by sin. It's the renewal of the inner nature of man. We see this moral perfection in Christ alone, and it is conforming to His likeness that the Spirit works in us through the process of sanctification. It is then that we are enabled to do good works for the glory of God!
Sanctification is a work of the Spirit, but we are not passive participants. One aspect of being an image-bearer is having the ability to relate to God. We have a rational nature allowing us to engage our intellect and emotions. This means we that are able to read the Word of God and respond to the Spirit's illumination of the Word, and we respond to His convictions and exhortations through active obedience. We are strengthened and comforted throughout the process through our intimacy with Him, which can be cultivated through Bible intake and prayer.
2. Fix your eyes on eternity.
Setting our eyes and hearts on eternity can seem like an elusive thing to do, but it is a gift that believers can embrace daily. When believers consider eternity, they are contemplating the glorious future that is theirs in Christ. We are leaning into the future hope of eternal life with God! This future includes a world that will be completely restored and renewed. Jesus will bring the new heaven and new earth; it will be a land of perfect peace where God will dwell with His people again–this is the end of our story. Whatever we're going through today is not the end, and knowing that truth should strengthen our weary hearts, comforting us as we face brokenness and helping us persevere in our fight against sin and our fallen reality. When we set our minds on our future glory, it can impact the way we live today. It can shape how we use our time and energy. Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." This is a loving exhortation that the Spirit enables us to do! This doesn't mean we neglect the tangible things in front of us; we want to be good stewards of what the Lord has entrusted to us. However, when our eyes are fixed on eternity, we allow gospel truths to be the lens through which we see everything else. This causes us to abide in Christ. This leads to the bearing of good fruit. We are transformed to emulate Christ. We find joy in our sanctification when our minds are set on eternity.
3. Delight in your daily dependence on God.
God, in His infinite wisdom, created us to be dependent on Him. This truth confronts our culture's glorification of independence and "doing it all." However, living as a child of God on this side of eternity means we look to Him daily. We acknowledge that God is the only, truly independent being. He is completely self-sufficient; He has eternally existed, and He is the only uncreated being. This should be a comfort to us. We can trust Him to be enough for our daily needs. If we're honest, we feel these needs intimately. We are invited to confess them before the Lord and find Him strong in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). He knows that each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34), and in turn, He supplies new mercies every day (Lamentations 3:22-23). When we yield to these biblical truths, we will find the beauty in daily dependence. We submit to the truth that apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5), and we delight in it! Even in our sanctification, we don't have to look to self-sufficiency. We lean into the truth that it is ultimately His work of grace in us; we simply need to surrender and follow.
4. Lean on the church.
Humility is not a bad word. It is the example set forth for us in Jesus. Philippians 2:6-7 tells us that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself." It is an attribute that we are to desire. It is how we yield to the good design that God set forth: to be dependent on Him moment by moment and to be dependent on one another. In 1 Corinthians 12, we are told that we are members of one body–the church–and we are called to do life together. This means we are called to be after each other's sanctification. On days when we're discouraged and feel overwhelmed by the cares of this world or the weight of our sins, we can reach out to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to "stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25). When sanctification feels slow, worshiping together can be a powerful reminder to turn our eyes from ourselves and lift them heavenward.
5. Find joy in the spiritual disciplines, especially Bible intake and prayer.
Lastly, may we remain faithful to our personal devotion to God. Spiritual disciplines are activities that we are called to practice on a daily basis. They are means of grace in our lives! We need to be diligent students of God's Word, believing that they are the living words of God. It is how we get to know Him, and it is how we are sanctified (John 17:17). We are also called to respond to His Word in prayer. We cultivate intimacy with our Heavenly Father as we feast on His Word and bring our praise and petitions before Him in prayer. This relational intimacy with God is what reminds us that our pursuit of holiness is really about loving God. Love for God and others will stir us up for good works!
Sanctification is a life-long process, friends. May we hold fast to a long-term view of the Christian life and remember to delight in the beauty of daily dependence on God and His people, fix our eyes on eternity, and engage in the spiritual disciplines. He is faithful to complete the work He began in us (Philippians 1:6).
For additional resources related to this topic, check out:
Ep. 96 True Hope for Hard Times: Setting Our Eyes on Eternity (podcast) by the Daily Grace Co.
Ep. 57 The Beauty of Daily Dependence (podcast) by the Daily Grace Co.
Preaching the Gospel to Yourself (Bible Study) by The Daily Grace Co.