Sanctification: A Super Simple Illustration
The other night my mom asked me a question regarding my book, sanctification and being free from sin.
“Are we free from sin and now we can actually stop sinning? Or are we only forgiven of the sins we commit from now on?”
It gave me great pleasure to tell her (and now to tell you) that the answer is both!
We are free and forgiven!
Romans 6 makes it clear over and over that we are completely free from sin, but wait! We do still sin.
Then the obvious question is if we are free from sin, why do we not only still sin, but feel compelled to sin? Many would say that it’s because we’re still being sanctified (changed from dirty sinner to holy saint like a real-time purgatory).
Since that believe is so popularly accepted, here is a deeper look at sanctification.
Sin, Sanctification and Nail Biting
As I was explaining sanctification and our freedom from sin I saw some nail clippers on my desk. I picked them up and gave her an illustration.
“I have these nail clippers in my hand, yet sometimes I still catch myself biting my nails. Why? Because I’ve been biting my nails for my entire life–it’s a lifelong habit. I’m in the process of exchanging old habits for new ones, and these new habits are based on the tools I’ve received–tools I didn’t have (or know I had) before.”
There’s no guilt or shame when I catch myself biting my nails. I simply remind myself that I’ve been given a tool specifically created for cutting them.
Now what reason or excuse do I have to continue biting them when I have a better solution to the problem? (Romans 6:1-2). The real excuse would be to say “I don’t have what I need to stop biting my nails! I’ll always bite my nails until I die!”
Contrary to what people say about how hyper-grace teachings gives license to sin, it’s actually the teaching that you’re a sinner with a sin nature that gives that excuse. Just read this explanation from GotQuestions.org about overcoming sin.
Millions of Christians think with this hopeless no-real-victory-until-death-mindset. In one breath they say, “stop sinning!” and in the next, “We’ll always sin until we die.
Now in the same way that there’s no guilt or shame when I catch myself biting my nails, there’s no guilt or shame when I catch myself in sin. I know that’s blasphemy to many, but it’s Biblical nonetheless (Heb. 10:2).
Instead of running away in guilt, I remind myself that I’ve been given all the tools I need in order to live free from sin (2 Peter 1:3, Titus 2:11-12).
If I have tools to overcome sin, why would I keep sinning? I don’t have to live that way anymore.
With all of that said, we must still recognize that, while we do have these tools, we’re also breaking old habits and ways of thinking that were created when we lacked them. We’re forming new habits based on what we have, not what we lack. Yet our mind is often so used to thinking in terms of lack and that it’s easy to act like we need to attain something more before we can have real victory.
So then, in Biblical terms, I’m renewing my mind. In the old (without Jesus) I didn’t have the tools to live free from sin, in the new (with Jesus) I do. Now I’m forgetting the old (the lack, the hunger, the thirst, the emptiness, the need), and accepting the new (“…and in Him you have been made complete.” – Col. 2:10).
Sanctification Isn’t Determined by Your Actions
Many read about their freedom from sin, then see the contradiction in their actions and conclude that either,
- We’re free from sin but will continue sinning until we die (which is the equivalent of saying, “I’m free from prison but I’ll always live in this cell until I’m dead!”), OR
- We’re slowly becoming more holy, but again, we won’t reach the goal until death.
The thinking is that “if Christ set us free from sin, but I still sin, then I must not literally be free from sin—not until He returns or I die (whichever comes first)! Therefore Jesus and the scriptures must have meant something else by freedom from sin.” (Talk about a license to sin, huh?)
The Sanctification Process
“We’re in a sanctification process!” is what many say in order to explain their clear lack of self-control. While it’s true that there is a process, what most Christians mean is that we’re slowly transforming from unholy to holy–we’re slowly being cleaned up and made more pure and acceptable to God.
Hebrews 10:10 says you’ve already been made holy by the will of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. In John 15:3 Jesus says, “You’re already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
Is He a liar? Is His word untrue? This is the one who said, “Light, be.” and light was. Do you think He can say, “You are clean” and you will somehow remain dirty?
The “sanctification process” is not about transforming and being cleaned up, it’s about learning what you have and how to live by it. But in order to use what you have, you first have to acknowledge it.
We’re already sanctified (holy, clean, set apart), but we’re learning to walk it out by putting the tools we’ve been given to work.
Sanctification, Conformation and Transformation
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” – Romans 12:2
Am I being transformed from a gross sinner into Christ-likeness? Not at all! I was created in the image of Christ–I can become no more Christ-like than I already am! (1 John 4:17)
Romans 8:29 says we were predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. The word conformed doesn’t mean we’re changing (in the sense of transforming) into the image of Christ, but that we’re are adapting to it.
To adapt means that you’re already there, but your behavior and the way you live in your environment is changing to comply with where you are. And so where are you? Well, in mind and body you are here on this lovely blue planet. In spirit, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:6)
So although you are physically on earth, you are spiritually adapting to your heavenly environment.
Think of how animals adapt to new environments and their surroundings. They’re aren’t becoming what they already are, but the longer they’re in that environment the more their body and tactics of survival change. Moreso, they don’t get everything right overnight. There’s lots of failure and getting eaten by predators before their species learns how to live.
Likewise, I’m not changing from sinner to saint, or from imperfect to perfect. On the contrary, I’ve already been changed to a perfect saint (Heb. 10:14), I’m simply adapting to these changes because they’re a different environment than the one I lived in before. (more on that in my post: How to Overcome Sin)
Sanctification And Spiritual Puberty?
In going through puberty, do females become MORE female? Do males become MORE male? No. They’re the same amount of male or female they were before, they’re only growing up and maturing. In doing so they learn to adapt to those new changes.
Likewise, we’re all going through—dare I say—spiritual puberty. We’re not becoming more holy and Christ-like, we’re simply growing up into Christ (Eph. 4:15).
We’re maturing into the full stature of who we were created to be–who we already are by nature.
Like a growing teenager then, we have grace for the times we revert to childish habits, because our Father understands what’s going on. Even Jesus Himself understands (Heb. 4:15), because He too had to learn and grow (Luke 2:52, Heb. 5:8).
Is that an excuse to consciously run around and act like a child? Of course not! I know I’m not a child, but I accept that while I’m learning to be this new man, my behavior may occasionally be influenced by the habits I formed when I was a child.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” – 1 Cor. 13:11
Then what’s being transformed? My thinking (which affects my heart, which affects my behavior). I’m putting the ways of childhood behind me and embracing manhood, but those things are only transformed as I renew my mind to who I am and what I already have in Him.
Sanctification is not a process of attaining things you lack, but a process of realizing that you lack nothing!
I no longer lack nail clippers, so I can freely choose to stop living the way I lived when I did. Since I know I’m not “prone” to bite my nails, I know that I’m not doomed to bite them until I die.
As long as I believe I lack nail clippers (or that I won’t receive them until I die), then I’ll continue biting my nails as long as I’m alive. Once I acknowledge the tools I have in this life (right within my reach) then I’ll be able to take advantage of those tools whenever I need them.
Do I feel an urge to bite my nails? I can run to my nail clippers.
Do I feel an urge to sin? I can run to the truth about myself that’s found in Jesus.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,” – 2 Peter 1:3
All things. You lack nothing.
Have you found your nail clippers, yet?