Sanctification: being made holy, or being set apart
It happens every time we attend a Jesus conference or camp! We are reminded of the bad news of sin and the good news of forgiveness and love, and we turn back to God. Time after time, students experience this phenomenon. Praise God for his working! And yet…
The next question on their young hearts is always the same:
“What can I do to feel this close to God back home?”
The frequent concern in the older hearts of adults is similar:
“Why do I not always feel close to God?”
There is a single answer to both questions – sanctification. The words of John the Baptizer (John 3:30) fit quite nicely here to explain it succinctly: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
The first time we claim that Jesus has become our Master, the first time we ask forgiveness of a holy God, we are set free from sin’s chains; we are saved from sin. Because the perfection of Jesus has been exchanged with our sin, we are holy enough to share heaven with God after death. But the journey does not finish there; the journey BEGINS there. Salvation has occurred, but sanctification has just begun.
Perfection has been realized in Jesus, but not yet in us. So our journey to be holy, to be like the Holy Spirit who lives in us, has many miles yet to go. This plays out in the dichotomy of the world versus God, your desire to sin versus your desire for God, your obeying God’s rules versus your disobedience, your good attitude one minute and your hateful attitude the next.
The book of James offers such helpful words concerning sanctification. God says in James 4:1 that “your passions are at war within you.” That makes sense, does it not? There is an intense internal struggle – almost a split personality in our minds. James calls us “double-minded” (James 4:8 and 1:8), and that idea of two brains arguing internally seems to fit our experience. Becoming holy (sanctification) means becoming set apart for God. It means becoming more like God. It means that the mainstream is traveling in a raging torrent, but God pulls us from that current and sets us off to the shore on one side. We are not like the world. Because God is not like the world. He is different. We should also be different in that same way. James explains that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). We travel back and forth between our desire for the world and our desire for God. Sanctification is desiring God more and more. It is desiring God more and more intensely. It is desiring God more and more frequently.
But James does not leave us with such general ideas. He gets very, very specific about how we can become holy. He explains that when we draw near to God, that God then draws near to us (4:8). How? By being doers of the word and not merely hearers of the word (1:22). He tells us to put away wickedness and to humbly receive God’s word (1:21). He tells us to submit to God and to resist the devil (4:7). He is specific enough to discuss prayer, our speech, orphans and widows, showing favoritism, feeding and clothing those in need, making peace, and long-range planning (see James 1:5, 1:26, 3:8, 1:27, 2:9 2:15-16, 3:18, 4:15-16).
So the question remains: how do I feel close to God?
But don’t we already know the answer? What if we already know what to do? What if we ask this question only because we do not believe that the answer could be so simple?
The answer is to draw near to God. Take steps to walk closer to where he is. In other words, become holy (also called sanctification).
And where is God?
You can find him in the pages of the Bible, but you have to actually pick one up AND dust it off AND carve out some time AND read it AND think about it.
You can find God by having conversations with him (this is called prayer), but you have to actually believe that having a conversation with someone you cannot identify with any of your five senses does not make you crazy AND carve out some time to talk AND actually talk to him AND listen to his replies.
You can find God in doing the things he says to do, but you have to quit making excuses AND actually know what he says to do AND do it even if you do not feel like doing it AND do it even if it costs you some time or money AND stick to this plan for the long term.
This is summed up in James 1:25.
Read what God has said in the past.
Do what God says in the present.
Stick with God in the future.
You will find God – the God who was, who is, and who will be.