Years ago, I was part of a group of other young adults (so, quite a few years ago). When we would study together, we learned about sanctification. In fact, we memorized a response, so that we would look appropriately studious if a minister stopped by our class. (I didn’t imply that we were fully sanctified at that point, did I?) The teacher would ask the class, “What is sanctification?”, and the class would respond, “Becoming like Jesus”.
In fact, sanctification is a pretty great thing. It’s that process by which we move from admitting that we’re sinners and accepting Jesus’ payment for our bad choices, to actually living in a more holy manner (like Him). This process doesn’t “earn” us our salvation, but it is expected of us. Furthermore, obedience to Jesus is a natural outcome of making Him the Lord of our lives. Finally, Jesus said that obedience would result from loving Him:
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14:15 NASB
We’re not on our own, though. The good news is that God invests in us throughout our journey. As Paul said:
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6 NASB
I believe that the Holy Spirit of God specifically helps us move towards this goal (see John 14:26). It’s a process, but we are not left to our own abilities to get there.
Consider Paul, who considered himself “set apart”, as described in the introduction to the book of Romans:
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Romans 1:1 NASB
(Note that Paul didn’t say that he set himself apart. This was a calling by God.)
When we have the advantage of history, and understand Paul’s contributions to spreading the good news about Jesus to many places, we find this to be an accurate description: Paul was indeed set apart for a great work by God, and made a lasting impact on the world for Jesus Christ.
However, notice that this process did not start when Paul started on his first missionary journey, nor even when his conversion occurred on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:1-22). It didn’t even start when Paul studied to become a Jewish religious expert. Have a look:
But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
Galatians 1:15-17 NASB
Instead, Paul’s selection for God’s purpose was something that happened before Paul was even born. God was working on Paul, preparing him and developing him for a purpose. Paul’s rabbinical training just added to his effectiveness as a preacher of Jesus (who fulfilled the Law that Paul had studied). Then, time that Paul spent with Jesus helped to further develop Paul into who God had planned him to be.
So, if it feels like you have a long way to go to obey Jesus, showing your love and gratitude to Him through obedience, that’s ok. No one expects you to be perfect the day you accept Him as your Lord and Savior, and even the most mature of Christians will likely tell you that following Jesus doesn’t make us perfect (on this earth); in fact, learning more about Jesus sometimes just makes us aware of how far we have left to go.
However, as we invest in habits that help us learn more about God’s plan for our respective lives, and become more like His ideal for us, the process of sanctification should be evident in our lives. Regardless of whether or not you want to try and use this fancy term in conversation, may you (and I) become more like the example that Jesus gave us, each day.