Last month, we had a couple over; she was American, but he had been born and raised in the middle east. He had a lot to say about his Muslim upbringing, his conversion, and his experience in the U. S.. But it was what he said about sanctification that really grabbed me.
As a Muslim, this man had always lived with a strict set of rules: things he must not do if he was to attain paradise. But even when he and Muslim friends were outwardly conforming to the law, they would still inwardly want the sin. Sometimes they didn’t keep the law because they couldn’t. Other times they did keep the law, but their hearts weren’t in it. They weren’t drinking, but they wanted to. They were praying, but they didn’t want to. This believing man described this as an inescapable bondage: you do (or don’t do) certain things with no heart, no love, and no power.
So after he was converted, one of the joys he discovered was that not only was it possible to have his sins forgiven: it was also possible to put them to death! As he grew in the Christian life, he found that his heart no longer wanted some of the sinful things that it wanted before his conversion. The realization that the Spirit was working in him to make him holy was a joy, freeing him not only from sin’s guilt, but also its power. Not only could he stop doing wrong things: he could also stop wanting to do them. Having lived under Islam’s law, this man could see that grace gave him forgiveness and true, personal holiness, completed in glory, but begun in this life, at conversion.
It is so for every Christian. Charles Wesley wrote, “He wills that I should holy be:/What can withstand His will?/The counsel of His grace in me/He surely shall fulfill.” If you are in Christ, you will become holy. Scripture holds out the paradox of the Spirit working sanctification in us, and us working out our salvation with fear and trembling after we are justified and adopted. We can, through the Spirit’s power, start killing sin, even while in the body. God’s law is a joy, not a burden. It is written on our hearts, not carried on our shoulders. It spurs us on in godliness instead of weighing us down in condemnation.
I grew up in a covenant home, raised by parents who grew up in covenant homes. I can easily take the blessing of sanctification for granted, neglecting to see what a gift it is. Sanctification is a blessing to the church and a witness to unbelievers and a foretaste of our coming glorification as we increasingly love God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves. Sanctification is testimony that we have the Spirit of the living God dwelling in us: the Holy Ghost working to make us like Jesus. The doctrine and reality of sanctification in our lives should be a source of great joy to us. It is a sure hope that enables us to be not triumphalistic, but triumphant, knowing that He who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6).