Sanctification and God’s Rambunctious Children
I have three preschool children.
That’s a lot of rambunctiousness, a lot of clumsiness, and a lot of childishness. For example, my kids haven’t yet learned how to walk and not stomp like a herd of angry elephants everywhere they go. They missed the memo that says you can’t just talk full volume when you remember something you wanted to tell Mom in the middle of church. They are unaware of the social etiquette that says #2 is to be done in the bathroom—you don’t just stop talking and get red in the face mid-conversation. Sometimes, for reasons I have yet to understand, they show up in public as naked as the day I birthed them.
Despite all appearances, I truly am raising them to be adults. But, it’s no secret they are NOT adults. And that’s okay. I don’t expect them to be for another 20 years! I don’t expect them to know when to talk and when to be silent, what clothes match, how to sign their name, conduct an interview, drive a car, or pay their bills. I’m happy if they attempt to make their bed and only pick their noses in private.
My kids like to think they are adults. They claim to have all of the answers and argue with me about the color of their cup. They say they don’t need help putting their pants on as both legs go into the same hole. However, once they accept that they are, in fact, little children and need help to learn how to do things, they begin to thrive and grow. It is the very act of being teachable that makes them most likely to reach adulthood.
We are, like my children, desperately needy and utterly dependent upon God, not only to meet our needs but to sustain our faith and grow us into spiritual adulthood. We are called to be Christ-like, but that does not happen at the moment of conversion! Like my children, we need to be teachable, aware of our spiritual child-likeness. This is necessary in our relationship with God. The painful process of making mistakes and learning from them is a long, unpredictable dying to self. By nature we want to be great instantly at this “Christianity thing,” and if we can’t, we pretend that we are to ourselves, to our friends, and even to God. But God knows the state of your heart. He is not fooled, and His expectations for your sanctification are inseparable from the slow slog of reality.
You are NOT like Christ; until you are glorified, you will fail.
In light of that, I need to tell you something about myself. I am a failure. I’ve been called to holiness, but my life? It’s not cutting it. Even now, forgiven by the Father, bought by the Son, with the Holy Spirit inside of me, I still sin. And you know what? God is not surprised. God has designed our salvation to create in us a desire to become more like Christ but for that reflection to not reach full maturity until we are united with Him in Glory. To clarify:
- A Process. This process is one that is not complete until you reach glorification. By granting us the Holy Spirit and the process of sanctification, God communicates something about His expectation of us; He wants us to seek to follow Him, confess our sins when we fail, and move forward in repentance. His grief over our sin does not diminish His availability to us or His love for us. He doesn’t lose sleep over our sin. There is no sin big enough to scare Him. He gives us perfect grace when we fall, dusts us off, and says “try again.” There is no time for condemnation, for getting angry with ourselves, or for doubting our salvation because we fail. Instead, confess your sin, and recommit yourself to Him with the full knowledge that you are being sanctified. Especially when you fail!
- Personalized. No Christian is sanctified at the same rate or in the same way. There is no room for comparison. The same God who is at work in you is at work in that Christian you think you are better than. He has a purpose for each of us, and our individualized sanctification is preparing us for our different calls. Stop worrying about how you stack up compared to other Christians you see and instead look only to Jesus. Are you more Christ-like than you were a month ago? A year ago? Praise the Lord for His growth in you and in your brothers and sisters!
- A promise. You don’t have to wonder if God is going to sanctify you or not. You don’t have to try to be as holy or spiritual as the women around you. God will sanctify you. Paul comforts the Philippian church by reminding them of the truth that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). If you wish to seek sanctification, the answer is not to act more holy and put on airs—it’s to seek Him. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8).
- Practice. Someday my children will do the dishes all by themselves. For now, when my kids load the dishwasher, my expectation and desire is only that they will participate. Sometimes the practice of loading the dishwasher is a lesson in working willingly. Sometimes it’s a lesson in diligence–completing a task. Sometimes it’s a lesson in dishwashing–what goes where, and be sure you scrape your food first! As we practice our sanctification, habits like reading our Bibles may at first be a practice in obedience and faithfulness, but sometimes it’s a practice in learning how to interpret scripture. For my children, everyday is an opportunity to take another step towards adulthood, and in our case, we stride daily towards spiritual maturity.
- A Position. We are to position ourselves at the feet of Jesus to learn. This means accepting our need to become spiritual adults and submitting ourselves to the prescribed means of getting there: scripture intake, Christian community, corporate worship, and prayer. Once we’re ‘positioned’ to learn by engaging in these spiritual disciplines, they can transform our hearts and minds to right understanding of who God is and who we are as His needy and growing children.
At the heart of it, sanctification is the process of being set apart from the world and losing ourselves in constant devotion to the Lord. The childishness of my children does not surprise me. It ought not anger me. As long as my children remain teachable, I am confident that they will leave their childishness behind and mature into adults in the right time. How much more so, then, does God look at our childishness with peace?
Spiritual adulthood cannot happen in our own strength. In our own understanding, we cannot begin to fathom how to get there. All we can do is realize and accept our childishness and pray for God to make us more like Him, that we might “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (2 Pet. 3:18).