I really appreciate that the church Luke and I attend often allows some of the young guys who have a gift for teaching to stand up and give the Sunday sermon. Recently, one of these guys has been doing a series on Psalm 16. His teaching, combined with our reading of Michael Horton's For Calvinism, has lately had me pondering the subject of sanctification.
Sanctification... it's a long word but a good word. I think we Christians shouldn't shy away from big words or be put off by them, because they often have so much depth and richness that if we were going to spell it out instead of using the big word, it would probably take a whole paragraph.
Sanctification in Christian terms is the process of becoming sanctified or holy. As Christians, we desire to become more and more like our Creator and Lord. The process of santification covers the whole of the believer's life and is never fully completed until we join God in heaven.
The question is: how do we obtain progress in sanctification? I think at least part of the answer lies in Psalm 16. In verses 1-2, David writes:
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
I believe one of the problems with the understanding of sanctification today is that we are constantly looking to ourselves in our efforts to make ourselves holy and thereby to "please God more".
Even the questions we ask ourselves and each other reflect this: "How can I improve my relationship with the Lord?" "How can I serve the Lord?" "How is my walk?" The problem with these questions is that they keep our eyes focused on ourselves. In the excerpt above, David acknowledges that there is no good in him, and any good in him comes from God. So when it comes to sanctification, we should be looking to God. "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:2.)
Sanctification can only happen in, of and through Jesus's work on the cross, by which we became justified before God through the work of the Holy Spirit. In the process of sanctification God through His Holy Spirit regenerates us and makes us a new person with a new heart.
The sermon last Sunday put it in the following way: "The focus of the Christian life is not our works or love for God, but the righteous life and atoning work of Christ."
If you want to become more sanctified, you need to immerse yourself in the Gospel, preach it to yourself, remind yourself of it, live it and breathe it. From this we will slowly come to understand more of who God is and become filled with the joy of knowing Him, which will cause us to want to serve Him, obey Him, trust Him and love Him more. This is my understanding of sanctification.
And I'm not saying that I do this - believe me, I'm preaching to myself more than anyone else. But we have to get to a point where we step back and realise: It's not about me. It's about Him. It's all about Him. I am nothing without Him. As John the Baptist said: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
David also understood this. Later in Psalm 16 he writes:
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
In For Calvinism, Michael Horton also comments that although God delights in our sanctification and good works, as a father does in a child's obedience, nevertheless "good works are not for my benefit or God's but for others: my brothers and sisters in Christ, my family, and my neighbours in need of loving service and witness... only God's work for us can prepare us for our work with others."