degrees of sanctification

September 24, 2007

The Christian life is one of constant change. We are always trying to take more steps away from self and towards Christ. Repentance is a daily need, and we can all agree that there is no person who has no room for improvement.

Where my new problems lie is in where I mentally place myself along this scale. About a month ago at our church’s men’s group the question came up of whether we think of ourselves as sinners or saints. Do we act in life as if we are fallen humans, constantly making mistakes, or do we assume that we are positionally justified and think in terms of how we are positively affecting the world around us?

It seems like an innocuous difference, one that will only bother philosophers and people who over think details. But in reality how we view ourselves will greatly affect our lives, especially our lives in Christ.

When we think of ourselves more in the camp of a depraved, fallen human who is unable to please God with our actions (which we are), we will be quick to accept our mistakes. “I couldn’t help but sin because I am just a sinner,” we lament, all the while justifying our sins because we have accepted our fate as sinners.

At the same time, however, if we think of ourselves too much in the realm of saints (which we are), as holy ones, we can falsely think too highly of ourselves. It is possible to then go through much mental strain when we inevitably fall into sin because we have assumed that we will not sin. At the same time, that bar is set high because of Christ who was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

What I think we have to keep in mind, is first off, we are a new creation. The old self is gone and a new has come so that we are able to live free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:4-7). In my recent dialogues with people on a wide number of blogs I am finding more people who accept sin and throw their hands in the air. That beliefe seems pretty incongruent with Paul’s teaching on the matter.

Secondly, I think that the Bible does not encourage us to think of ourselves as completely changed. In 1st John we read that anyone who claims to be without sin lies (1 John 1:8). We will not be perfect until the day of the Lord and we are give our glorified bodies.

What I think is the right way to think about personal sanctification is to never give the old self any foothold in our thinking, while recognizing that we are fallible. We must never recommit our minds to thinking that we are still part of the kingdom of darkness, who no longer has power over us. We are under a new kingdom. There has to be striving and real commitment to living as close to perfect lives as we can – for (as Peter Akinola said this Sunday) there is no alternative to obedience. Any part of our lives that is not changed into conformity with God’s commands is still to be changed. But our identity, at its core, has to lie with Christ and his kingdom. We are not of this world anymore.

So wherever you find yourself on the sliding scale of sanctification, do not allow yourself to think that you are still a hopeless sinner, because if you are in Christ you no longer answer to your former master. You are part of the body, and we all ought strive to make that identity more and more prominent in our lives.

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One Response to “degrees of sanctification”

  1. Carey Says:

    Very good post! I appreciate your honesty with the tension involved here. While we are clearly spoken of as “saints” in Paul’s writings especially, we are also told (as you pointed out) that we still “have sin.” The mindset is crucial. We behave like who we think ourselves to be. I’ve seen this most recently when visiting my aging parents. Though I’m a father of 5 and have been married for 18 years, I still feel, and think of myself, and act as if I am the “boy” when around my parents. It’s amazing what power our perceived identity has on us! Oh Father, help us to see ourselves rightly – as You see us!


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