Friday, November 1, 2013


Why is sanctification—the process of transforming a person into the image of Christ; of making us holy, set apart for service—why is it a process at all?  If it is the work of the Holy Spirit, why is it taking so long to—at least in my life, I'll let you judge your own—produce so little holiness?  Why is it so—dare I say it—ineffective?

Please tell me I am not the only one who feels this way.  It’s tough enough to realize that, after all these years of being a Christian, that I may know more stuff, be able to parse the Bible in its original Greek and Hebrew, discuss in detail various  schools of theology, and lay out in bullet points numerous techniques for prayer and meditation, and yet feel like I am still basically the same person I was 25 years ago, better in all too few areas, the same in way too many other areas, and, yes, worse in others.  Am I alone in this?

Anyone familiar with the church knows that there is far too much sin in its ranks and far too little holiness.  And I read the prophets’ frustration with Israel, that after hundreds of years of being God’s Chosen Ones, given the advantages of God’s presence, protection, and written instructions from Sinai, they are still no different than the nations in their devotion to God and their treatment of the weakest.  And I read Paul’s letters to the churches and the immorality that apparently was rampant in them, and it’s clear that this is not a new problem.  So much time, so little to show for it.

“It’s a process,” we’re told.  “It takes time.”  Why?  Why does it take time?  God spoke, and light appeared.  Light is both wave and particle, and nothing is faster than light, and God created it in an instant.  But making me holy takes time?  That’s harder than creating light?  Really?

In 1 Corinthians 5 and 6, Paul is dealing with the Corinthians about immorality in their church—and he emphasizes that he’s talking about immorality among Christians in the church, not the pagans outside the church.  He’s talking about some bad stuff, too: fornication, adultery, idolatry, slander, theft.  And he says, “And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

Note the passive voice: you were washed, were sanctified, were justified.  See?  It’s the Spirit’s work in us.  Yet it’s clear both in the context of chapters 5-6 and in the entire letter that Paul holds the Corinthians accountable for their immorality and holiness and for tolerating it among themselves.  How can you hold someone accountable for something that they are not responsible for?

Unless they are.  Responsible.  For their sin.  For their unholiness.  And if you are responsible for your unholiness, that means you are responsible for your holiness.  Your sanctification.
Oh.  No wonder it takes so long.  No wonder I’ve so little to show for it.

So sanctification isn’t the work of the Holy Spirit?  Of course it is.  But love isn’t coercive, it’s persuasive.  God doesn’t force things on us without our consent and our cooperation, even good things.  He just won’t.  Sanctification is something we can’t do without the Holy Spirit, but he won’t do it without us.

And you know what?  It’s hard.  I mean, it’s really hard.  Sometimes I think it really would be easier to create light.  Old habits die hard, new habits come harder.  Old ways of thinking die hard, and new ways of thinking don’t come without pain, even trauma.  But it should be hard.  The best things usually involve hard work.  Marriage is hard, parenting is hard, being church is hard, being a Christian is hard.  But they are all worth it.  

And you know what else?  God ultimately gets what he wants, and he wants our holiness, so he’s going to see this through to the end.  As Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”


  1. Hi Larry, You speak my mind so often!! Every day I walk into the classroom begging God to be my heart, my voice, my hands and my actions and so often I fail. I believe we have that wonderful/awful thing to blame called choice! Our choices are made faster than the speed of light and usually come from the dark. I am reminded of the verse from 2 Corinthians 3: 18, "So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord--who is the Spirit--makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image". Perhaps it is because we have God's view of His glory that we are more clearly seeing our "ungloriousness". As we are becoming more like Him we are seeing beyond the veil, beyond the vision of this world. On those rare and precious times when I do respond in God's grace I am blessed with a tangible, beautiful sense of His presence. As I choose to live in His Spirit I am more likely to choose His way. These precious moments are what draw me to beg for more of Him. Perhaps that is how it is to be until we are face to face with Him and are changed into the perfect reflection of Him;seeking and longing for more of Him.
    Thank you for your profound thoughts!

  2. Thanks for the wonderful thoughts, Sharon. Choice is truly double-sided in its effects. What often gets in the way are not the conscious choices we make--those instances where we have time to consider our actions--but those times when we don't have time to really give thought to our actions but simply react. We often speak of these instances as if they are not choices and decisions--"I didn't think, I just reacted"--when if fact those reactions are the result of decisions that have been turned into habits or mindsets. When we're walking we don't have to think about walking, we just do it. So the challenge is not making better choices but taking those things that we would decide if we had the time to think about them and making them so second-nature that we don't have to think about them. Paul calls this the renewing of our minds. When we choose to allow Christ to renew our minds, in those instances when we don't have time to really think but simply react, we react in a way that we would have chosen. Our reactions are a result of previous decisions. Does that make sense?