The Purpose of Sanctification
One of the largest weakness in human society today is self-centeredness. It is evident everywhere. We even find it in places we least expect, such as church. Society is full of selfishness: people pleasing themselves, and people satisfying their own desires even if it doesn’t line up with God’s Word. These characteristics are so established in us as humans that when we become a Christian, our main goal and desire is often to increase our own happiness and joy through material things. If we don’t deny Satan’s push for self-satisfaction, we will fail in our temptations and trials. We need to be sanctified. Although sanctification brings joy to the believer, it is much different than the “happiness” we had before receiving God’s gift of salvation.
Sanctification means to be set apart; completely consecrated and devoted to His service. It is not something we can do on our own, but through Christ, it can be accomplished and perfected on the last day. Once we realize our weakness and surrender our lives completely to His service, He sanctifies us, fills us with His Holy Spirit, and empowers us to do His will. Then we can “be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Jesus says in his high priestly prayer, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:17-19) The Lord sanctifies us, preparing us for deeper and more meaningful service. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).
What does it practically mean to be set apart? Sanctification can be described as an inward spiritual process whereby God brings about holiness and change in the life of a Christian by means of the Holy Spirit. This fallen world harms each one of us in different ways, but once we have Christ in our lives, the Holy Spirit begins to make a transformation. He convicts us in areas that we need to change, helping us to grow in holiness and to be more like Himself. We begin to view the world, our difficulties, and people with a more biblical and Christ-like perspective. Our choices and decisions begin to be motivated by love, not selfishness. Growing in spiritual maturity, or sanctification is full of conflict. We are at war with ourselves. Our flesh wants to serve self and the devil, while our hearts long for God. We engage in spiritual warfare, and we will continue until we get to heaven.
The question then arises, what is the purpose of sanctification if we will be perfect when we get to heaven?
First, we should look at what sanctification is not. God’s purpose in our sanctification is not to make us ready for heaven. We are already fit for heaven the very moment we are saved. What Jesus did on the cross is fully sufficient to cleanse us and make us ready for eternal life. It is a gift given to us by God’s grace as a result of Christ’s work. It is a result of accepting His gift of salvation. We are, in God’s eyes, perfectly holy, perfectly righteous, and perfectly sanctified. That is our position in Christ by His grace. However, our condition in this world requires work.
There are several reasons we should strive and work for sanctification. The first is to glorify God. As in all things, we must pursue sanctification for God’s glory. It is the will of God that all believers be sanctified, so when we are sanctified, it brings glory to God.
It is also for our enjoyment. Though it may take an incredible amount of work, there is no better place to be than to be set apart, striving to fulfill God’s plan for your life; there is no greater joy than to be in God’s will and fulfilling His purpose in our lives. The reason for this is simple; we were made for God.
The third reason for sanctification is that sanctification empowers us not only to declare the gospel of Christ in word but also in deed. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4). God’s purpose in our sanctification is to show His Son to the world so that the world may see and be attracted to Him. We are to be witnesses, not just in word but also in deed. Is it hard for people to notice that we are different from the world around us? Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Just to look at a few examples of sanctification in the Bible. “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Here we are directed away from ourselves and shown that sanctification should not simply increase our happiness, but also help us walk blamelessly with Jesus Christ to live a holy life and be the example that He wants us to be. We cannot accomplish sanctification on our own because of our human weakness. When we try on our own we fail. We need God’s power, strength and spirit in our lives in order to bring it to completion. He promises to supply everything we need for sanctification. It’s up to us to do our part, to read and study God’s Word, pray, seek His will, and to strive for it with all our being.
The work of sanctification will ultimately be brought to completion in every believer’s life when Jesus Christ returns. This is the hope of every Christian. What a glorious day that will be when the struggle of sin and temptation will no longer hinder our relationship with God. We will be made completely perfect and righteous! May we give God all glory and praise for His wonderful gift!