As a new believer, I was confused about sanctification. My rather simple understanding was sanctification means your “sin-meter” is going down.
I thought sanctification was this slow process by which believers become holy. I assumed as I grew in sanctification I would sin less, because sanctification moved me closer to holiness, and holiness is the absence of sin.
When I became a believer, my “sin-meter” was filled to the top. But the more I grew in maturity, the more the level on my sin-meter would decrease, until God finally makes it hit bottom in the kingdom of heaven. How can you tell if you’re being sanctified? Take stock of your sin-meter. The trend will be bumpy, but the general direction should be downward.
Of course, the big problem is: how do you read your sin-meter?
Some of my behaviors have changed for the better. But in other ways I am worse, because now I recognize that some behaviors as sinful that I thought were just fine before. How do I evaluate that? Am I better or worse today? There’s a sense in which I’m just as much a sinner today as when I first believed. But there’s another sense in which I’m better.
And there’s a sense in which the scale doesn’t. Does it really matter that I’ve dropped from 1 million units of sin to a half million units? I’m still a sinner. How should I understand sanctification when I continually struggle with sin, selfishness, and thoughtlessness?
The more I’ve studied the bible, the more my understanding has changed. RC Sproul’s classic book The Holiness of God has been very instrumental in developing my thinking. I highly recommend it.
The word holy is associated not only with God Himself, but with what belongs to God. Holiness distinguishes between the sacred and the profane. The holy or the sacred is set apart for God’s use. The common or the profane is not.
God is holy. He is perfect in character, nature, wisdom and understanding. When I see Him, I immediately recognize that He is awe-inspiring, gloriously different than everything in this world.
The temple building is holy, even though it is brick and stone like any other building. It belongs to God. His purposes are fulfilled there. It is not common or ordinary because it is set apart for God.
Similarly, you might have a common ordinary incense burner that you use daily and another incense burner that is reserved for use in the temple. It is holy. It is set apart to be used only for God in His temple. You don’t use it for ordinary daily tasks.
Believers are holy like that incense burner, because we now belong to God. We are not perfect or sinless. Rather, we are set apart for God’s use. The sanctified person has NOT ceased to struggle from sin, rather the sanctified one belongs to God.
As believers, we are different than the world. We no longer value and strive for the riches of this world. Rather we count on the hope of the gospel, and seek God’s kingdom. Our lives ought to look different from those who reject the gospel.
We all face the big questions of life eventually: Who am I? What do I want? What should I pursue in life? What is worthwhile and valuable? Believers answer those questions differently than nonbelievers. We answer them by thinking about the our Lord and His promises. Then we act accordingly. We are no longer committed to pursuing a life of sin.
The pursuit of sanctification is the pursuit of maturity in faith, of learning what is true and of living in the light of that truth. We still struggle with sin, but we grow in wisdom, understanding and maturity.
At any given moment, we may fail and fall into sin, but our response to failure will include repentance. Eventually, we will turn to God and seek forgiveness.
Sanctification is the pursuit of truth of God and living in light of that truth.