Sanctification and the Gospel

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  Romans 6:12-13 (NASB)

I have been meditating on the blessing of sanctification in the life of the Believer. Sanctification is often looked at as putting feet on our beliefs and our faith. Sanctification is a result. We are sanctified (set apart for holiness) at our conversion which is the point in time when God saves us by His grace. Sanctification is done to us and for us by God (positionally) and we are passive recipients of it.

Practical sanctification is the working out of your own salvation (Phil 2:12b, 13). Because the Holy Spirit resides within us, new actions and attitudes will come out of us. This is the evidence of our salvation in Christ Jesus.

A gospel-centered approach to sanctification is all about change as Romans 6 tells us.  On the basis of what Christ did for us on the cross and on who we are in Christ we are to practice personal holiness of the heart that overflows into our actions. We grow to understand personal holiness through the appropriate use of the Word and its application to first our heart and then it will overflow to our lives.

A key component in all of Christianity is belief, or faith. We can “know” Christianity intellectually and recite its doctrines and say we believe it is true, but we have to live as though it is true- because it is. The transfer has to be made from belief to action.

We tend to live and act according to our belief systems. If we believe that we are what God has declared us to be- dead to sin and alive in Christ, then we will (or should) begin to live that way.  Once we understand the cross and our acceptance by grace through faith and God’s never-ending love for us, the desire to live how we please and abuse the grace of God should not be a part of our lives.

The Bible is clear that we are to change, and that the Word and the Holy Spirit are the agents of change. Sanctification that is gospel-centered is a result of a heart that desires God and flows from a heart that is centered on the gospel.

What is non-gospel oriented growth? The best example is the performance based Christian. This is the belief that if you are truly a committed and growing Christian you will live your life by a certain set of rules. There is also the belief that you earn or forfeit the blessings of God by how well and how often you succeed or fail at living the Christian life. It is “check-list Christianity.”  They practice the spiritual disciplines; they try and work on their heart issues and sin areas by human effort.

They live with a sense of never measuring up because their flesh is still very strong. They are constantly measuring themselves against themselves, and coming up short. They are not meeting their own expectations as a Christian and believe that God is displeased with them, that they are “out of fellowship” with Him, not “walking rightly,” and so on.  Life is lived on the performance treadmill and they are never quite able to keep up.

They recognize that they are lacking and inconsistent in true spiritual growth, so they live with an ongoing sense of guilt at their failure to perform. There is little to no joy in the life of a person driven like this. 

For years I was trapped there, and it is joyless and void of authentic Spirit-grown fruit. I am very glad to see men like John Piper, and Jerry Bridges speaking out against performance driven Christianity in recent years.
The truth is that folks who think they are “perfect” and acting “Christian” in all the right ways don’t need the gospel anymore. In many ways they set themselves up as superior to the rest of us and sinfully think in their hearts they are more spiritual and holier than the rest of the unwashed masses.

This brings us again to the cross. It brings us back to what Christ did for us, our right standing in Him, and our inability to do anything to save or fix ourselves. Because of our failures, because of our ongoing struggles with sin we are to go back to the gospel and reckon ourselves dead to the power sin has over our lives.

So while in the process of sanctification, keep focused on the gospel. The more you grow, the more you will see how sinful and wicked your heart still is! This can be mighty discouraging. But rather than it taking you into the pit of despair, let it take you to the cross with thanksgiving!

Let it remind you of all you don’t have to do to be acceptable, and how much you are already loved and accepted by God in Christ. Let the gospel motivate you…let it complete its perfect work in your heart and overflow into your life.