Do you ever think it’s weird you’re so religious? You’re so devoted, in fact, you immediately started saying, “I’m not religious, I have a relationship!” (Non-churchy people don’t think in those terms, BTW). Not to mention the fact that you care enough to have Bible devotions emailed to you daily, just saying. You’re that person. It’s OK.
I’m a pastor, and I still have to accept the truth about myself: I am one of those Jesus people. I don’t know why I feel weird about this fact. Everyone knows this about me. I guess the truth is that when I think about who it is I want to be, “Jesus Freak” is not at the top of the list.
When I think about who I want to be, I look to “successful” people, not godly people. My Kindle is full of books from people that have achieved the success I desire. Individuals who are known for how much money they have, or their leadership abilities, or their list of accomplishments. Even the religious books I read, I don’t read them because these people are godly, but because they are the Pastor du jour and are famous or successful in something, whether it’s being an incredible preacher or being the senior pastor of a mega-church. I’m going to say it: bad preachers from small churches aren’t getting their books published, regardless of how valuable the information is.
Let me be super-vulnerable here. I model my life after these successful people because those things are valued by other people, and because pursuing stuff is not only easier to define, but easier to accomplish. Why spend time being godly when I can be rich?
It’s a constant source of contention for me because I don’t want to suffer. I know that becoming like Christ (which for me is true greatness) requires that I die to myself and live for him more and more every day. It’s painful, sometimes embarrassing, and sometimes lonely. It means that what I want is not the most important thing. It means that I have to live my life for something greater than myself.
Then I read things like this:
…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
— Romans 5:3–5
I know. Struggles make me better.
Here is the truth: when people can’t have real greatness, they glorify the unexceptional.
They tell you sex is better than relationships. It’s not, it’s just that having a real relationship is hard. Sex is easy.
They tell you that money is better than significance, when the truth is real lasting significance is not something you can buy, it’s something you earn from the strength of your will, and the sweat of your brow to make a real and lasting difference to the people around you.
The world will glorify drinking and partying trying to convince you that it is the same as experiencing life, when the truth is that to experience the world requires presence and mindfulness, things that are not possible for a mind that isn’t sober.
I believe that if I choose to be godly, if I want true greatness, I will not be put to shame. I will not be disappointed. I wake up believing that every day is hard, but I trust God, because God is not a liar.
Recently, I have run across quite a few Christians who are obsessed with discerning God’s will for their lives in specific areas. Some worry that the person they are engaged to may not be the one God has chosen for them. Others feel absolutely stuck, baffled as to which career path God wants for them. I have noticed that a cloud of anxiety surrounds these people. They fear that they might make the wrong choice, and that this will lead to devastating life consequences.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this manifestation of anxiety, and I have come to wonder if perhaps these well-meaning Christians have bought into a very tricky idea. It goes something like this: If I choose the right direction, I will be safe, because God will protect me. But if I choose the wrong direction, I open myself up to heartache, rejection and regret.
It’s easy to see where Christians might get this idea. God told the Israelite people way back in Deuteronomy 28 that he would bless them if they obeyed him, and would curse them if they disobeyed him.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
— Proverbs 3:5
We all want straight paths, right? Of course we do. But here’s the tricky part: While obedience to God does bring good, it can also bring struggle and pain. How do I know this? Jesus himself endured unthinkable physical and emotional pain because of his obedience to the Father when he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 7–8).
If our Savior endured heartache, rejection, abandonment and shame because he was obedient, then it stands to reason that following God does not guarantee that we will be safe from these things. In fact, Jesus pretty much guaranteed the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). He told his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you… They hated me without a cause” (John 15:18, 20, 25).
In this world, following and obeying God does not keep anyone safe.
What’s the point then? If I can’t keep myself safe by trying to discern God’s will for every choice in my life, why would I even care what God says? It’s because he also promises us something far greater than safety. He promises us himself.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
— John 15:9–11
Our joy is not born in safety. Our joy is born in Christ. Today, let that be enough. To be loved, truly loved, deeply loved, is so much better than to be safe. We live in a world broken by sin. But we have a Savior whose love prompted him to give up his very own life for us. By God’s grace, through faith in Christ, we are becoming who he has set us apart to be. The do fades in light of this. By God’s grace, through faith in Christ, we are a people motivated by his love. The what fades in comparison to this incomparable why. Today, that is enough. Tomorrow, that is enough. Forever, that is enough.
Through middle and high school, I was heavily involved in music, playing trumpet in the band and, senior year, joining my high school a capella and show choirs. Music taught me plenty of things — namely making me better at singing loudly in my car each morning — but what it taught me most was that it can’t ever be mastered.
There is no perfect way to play any piece of music or sing any song. While music has concrete details, such as the notes, time signature and key, the way in which we perceive the quality of a piece’s performance is almost entirely abstract. As such, it can’t really be perfected, no matter if it’s me or Luciano Pavarotti doing the singing.
This is the aspect of the Christian faith that I find myself most interested in as well. From the moment we come to believe in the life and death of Jesus Christ to the moment we pass on to his kingdom, we never conquer or perfect following him.
I’m not sure about you, but that really excites me, both as an impeccably average former musician, and as a growing Christian.
The work God continually does in our lives is always sanctifying us. And it’s sanctifying us from our former lives, before we came to know his glory. I think this is an important distinction to make. It should be clear to us that we didn’t become better people when we came to know Christ and began to follow his Word, we became entirely different people.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
— 2 Corinthians 5:17
The nature of Christ is continually renewing. Because our sins and past transgressions were wiped clean, we’re commanded to focus on the present and keep our eyes on our heavenly future. For us, this should come as a relief! We may no longer concern ourselves with our past actions, decision and thoughts. We are liberated from any wrongdoing and only have Jesus, the author and foundation of our faith, to look to.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
— Romans 6:1–5
For Christians, we have the liberation from sin and the undeniable joy that comes with giving glory to God.
And don’t forget, this joy is also for those who have not yet placed their trust in Jesus — his freedom is available to all. There’s no sin too great, no chasm too wide, no soul too far from God that could ever be out of the reach of his love.
The invitation is there, both to continue the renewing and rejuvenation of our new souls, and to embrace the love of our heavenly Father for the first time, a decision that would radically change your life and cement your future. My prayer for each of us would be to encounter God for the first time, and to then see him and embrace him each and every day after, allowing his healing hands to sanctify us.
Have you ever noticed that every area of your life requires learning new vocabulary? This is the case whether you are talking to your doctor, your mechanic, or just trying to buy some flowers at Walmart. Your doctor will use words like hypothyroidism, osteoarthritis, deep vein thrombosis, and diabetic neuropathy. Your mechanic will say things like alternator, differential fluid, catalytic converter, and injection system. And the person selling you flowers at Walmart will use words like annual, biennial, and perennial. You may know what these words mean now, but there was a time when you didn’t have a clue what they meant. The only reason you know what they mean now is that someone explained them to you.
This is how it is in many areas of life, and Christianity is no exception. There are many vocabulary words in the Bible that require a thorough explanation for us to fully understand the truth God is trying to convey to us. God gave us the Bible with the full intention of us understanding the truth its words contain, but some parts of the Bible require a little more study to understand than others.
“Salvation” for instance. We all know it means to be saved. But to fully understand all that God means when he uses the word “salvation” requires a decent bit of study. And when you start to study salvation, you will come across more new vocabulary words like: conviction, faith, repentance, regeneration, union, justification, sanctification, and glorification. If you want to fully understand all that God’s word has to say about “salvation”, you will eventually have to understand these words also.
Now, I am not trying to make anyone feel hopeless at the thought of ever understanding the deeper truths of scripture. For it has been said many times that the message of scripture is so simple that even a child can understand it, yet, at the same time, so complex that you could study it the rest of your life and never fully understand it.
My point is that if you want to gain a deeper understanding of God’s message to you, you will have to understand some new vocabulary words. My goal here today is to help you gain a little better understanding of the salvation God offers and bestows upon those he has called to faith in his son, Jesus Christ. To do this, I am going to discuss three of Christianity’s most important vocabulary words: justification, sanctification, and glorification.
I wrote a devotional that went out on July 18 that was titled “A Divine Love Story” in which I explained that the salvation God offers us is obtained by being united by faith with Jesus Christ and what he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection. Salvation is ultimately a supernatural work of God in which he unites us with Jesus Christ. Salvation is union with Christ. That is how salvation is acquired. Now, in this devotional I want to explain what all that salvation entails, from the moment we are united with Christ to the moment we cross over into eternity in the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Now, my explanation is going to be far from complete, but I want to at least help you understand salvation a little better by helping you understand justification, sanctification, and glorification, and how they are different yet related.
First, let me explain how they are related. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are simply three parts of salvation. In my explanation of these three parts of salvation, I will be using some quotes because sometimes you just cannot say something better than someone else has already said it.
The following definition is a quote from page 197 of John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus (broken up for simplicity):
“Justification may be defined as:
1. an act of God whereby he imputes to a believing sinner the full and perfect righteousness of Christ,
2. forgiving the sinner of all unrighteousness,
3. declaring him or her perfectly righteous in God’s sight,
4. thus delivering the believer from all condemnation.
That definition contains several elements: imputed righteousness, forgiveness of sins, a new standing before God, and a reversal of God’s wrath.
Those all indicate that justification is a legal verdict. It is a forensic reality that takes place in the court of God, not in the heart of the sinner.
In other words, justification is an instantaneous change of one’s standing before God, not a gradual transformation that takes place within the one who is justified.”
Justification is only the first part of salvation. Justification happens in the blink of an eye. It is the moment that God, by his grace, unites us with Jesus Christ by his gracious gift of faith that he produces within us. It that moment, our sinful inner person is united with Christ in his death and raised from death to life with Christ in his resurrection. In that moment, God’s Spirit enters us to indwell us, initiating salvation by regenerating us, making us a new creation, resulting in us becoming a child of God. But the Spirit does not indwell us just to initiate salvation, but to continue to produce that salvation within us until the moment our salvation is completed on the day of Christ’s return.
Justification is the initiation of salvation. Sanctification is the continuation of salvation. Glorification is the completion of salvation.
The following definition is a quote from page 980 of Millard Erickson’s book, Christian Theology, 2nd edition (broken up for simplicity):
1. the continuing work of God in the life of the believer,
2. making him or her actually holy.
By ‘holy’ here is meant ‘bearing an actual likeness to God.’
Sanctification is a process by which one’s moral condition is brought into conformity with one’s legal status before God.
It is a continuation of what was begun in regeneration, when a newness of life was conferred upon and instilled within the believer.
In particular, sanctification is the Holy Spirit’s applying to the life of the believer the work done by Jesus Christ.”
Sanctification is the second part of salvation. While justification happens in the blink of an eye, sanctification takes place for the rest of the believer’s life. While justification is the moment a new believer is legally declared righteous in the court of God, sanctification is the process of the believer being continually and actually transformed closer and closer into the righteous image of Jesus Christ. It is the process of the indwelling Spirit of God continually convicting the believer of their sin, moving them towards repentance of those sins, working within them to bring them to repentance of those sins, and producing actual obedience to the will of God.
Now, during this life the believer’s actual righteousness will never fully conform to their legal standing of being perfectly righteous before God. But God promises to complete the salvation he has begun in his children. This is where the third part of salvation, glorification, comes in.
The following definition is a quote from page 1008 of Millard Erickson’s book, Christian Theology, 2nd edition (broken up for simplicity):
“Glorification is multidimensional…
1. It involves the perfecting of the spiritual nature of the individual believer, which takes place at death, when the Christian passes into the presence of the Lord.
2. It also involves the perfecting of the bodies of all believers, which will occur at the time of the resurrection in connection with the second coming of Christ.”
Glorification is the third part of salvation. It is the completion of the salvation God initiated when he justified you and made you his child. It is the completion of the salvation God continues to work in you even at this very moment.
So many people mistakenly think that salvation is justification alone, and do not realize that the salvation scripture speaks of includes all three: justification, sanctification, and glorification.
You see, God’s salvation is a complete salvation. By his amazing grace, he grants you the faith necessary to trust in Jesus Christ to save you, he legally declares you righteous in his heavenly court (justification), he indwells you to continually produce an ever-increasing righteousness in you as he conforms you to the image of his righteous Son (sanctification), and he will someday complete your salvation by making you perfectly righteous, giving you a heavenly body, and accepting you into heaven to spend eternity in his presence.
All of your salvation, every part, from initiation to completion, is a supernatural act of grace bestowed upon an underserving person by a loving God.
A FINAL THOUGHT
The salvation God offers always includes all three: justification, sanctification, and glorification. If God justifies a person, he will sanctify them until the day that he glorifies them.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
— Romans 8:28–30 NAS
If a person is justified (what many mistakenly refer to as salvation), then they will show signs of being sanctified. There will be some sign of evidence in their life that God’s Spirit is indwelling them and working within them to conform them into the image of Jesus Christ, increasingly making them more and more righteous by bringing them from conviction of sin to repentance of sin and ultimately to obedience to his will.
In light of this truth, we should all listen to the apostle Paul when he exhorts us to:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
— 2 Corinthians 13:5 ESV
Ask God to open your eyes to clearly see the truth about yourself. Ask God to help you see yourself as he does. Examine yourselves.
What are you basing your salvation on? Are you trusting in some prayer you prayed in the past? Are you trusting what someone else has told you? Did your pastor tell you that you were saved? Does your mother or father constantly remind you of the prayer you prayed and tell you that you are saved?
Please, do not base your eternity on some prayer you prayed in the past or on what someone else tells you! True assurance of salvation comes from experiencing God’s sanctifying work in your life today.
Examine yourselves. If God is sanctifying you today, then you have been justified and will surely be glorified. If there is no evidence of God’s sanctifying work in your life, then you may not have truly been justified. And I assure you, if you have not been truly justified and are not currently being sanctified, you will surely not be glorified.
If you have been mistaken about your salvation, the fact that you are reading this right now means that God has given you the breath, at least at this moment, to call out to him to save you.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
— Galatians 2:20
I used to read this verse and find myself feeling a mixture of emotions. On one hand, I loved the truth that, when I accepted Christ as my Savior, I was immediately made new. On the other hand, I often found myself feeling guilty and frustrated because I still struggle. I wanted to say, “I live by faith, and I no longer sin!” I wanted to skip the process of sanctification.
I’m guilty of this in many areas of my life. I’d love to run a 5K from start to finish without stopping. I wish I could plant a beautiful garden, and keep it alive. And I so wish I were a better violinist. I see people all around me who have these skills. The difference between them and me is that they are putting in the work. Growing a garden takes patience and daily attention, running takes training, and playing music takes study and practice.
Our spiritual growth is no different. Sanctification is the working out of our salvation (Philippians 2:12), a process of growth in our spiritual lives. Let’s look at Jesus’ words on this topic:
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
— John 17:15–17
Here are some things we can take away from Jesus’ words:
Just as it would take daily training to achieve my 5K goal, spiritual growth takes daily attention. Here is what I know to be true of training to run: it isn’t always fun, sometimes it is painful, and it takes sacrifice. But those who have achieved goals in this area always tell me, “It is so worth it when you cross the finish line!”
God never promised an easy road, but he does promise that he has good plans for our lives and, if we will be disciplined in our pursuit of spiritual growth, he is faithful to walk patiently with us each step of the way!