Sanctification is the soul-changing process of growing in Christ-likeness as your Christian faith matures. For an authentic Christian, this process begins the moment you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior (the point of Justification). And it will end the moment the Lord takes you home (the point of Glorification). What this means is that all of life, every sweet moment, and every difficult trial is an opportunity to be sanctified, to become more like Jesus. He is able to use it all for His glory and your sanctification. As the Puritan Thomas Watson wrote so profoundly in All Things for Good, “To them that are godly evil things work for good; to them that are evil, good things work for hurt.“
Sanctification is therefore a sort of inward affection change, the impact of which is bilateral. In the one direction, we genuinely learn to love that which God loves. In the other direction, we genuinely learn to hate what God hates. Again Thomas Watson wrote, “The more we love God, the more we hate those heterodox opinions that would draw us off from God into libertinism.” To become a disciple of Jesus is to have the seed of your soul planted in rich soil and kept by a heavenly gardener. One must expect a flower after some time, a flower after Christ’s own making. If no flower develops, one must question if the seed was ever planted at all; if the wrong type of flower blooms, one must question who the gardener is.
To love what God loves is written all through the Scriptures, but Psalm 119 is a helpful place to begin the journey. “My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times (Psalm 119:20).” Notice, the Psalmist is consumed with longing for His “rules.” Why his rules? Those who are on the path of sanctification understand this verse well. His rules are expressions of His heart. They reveal his attributes and His purposes. They guard us from the pain of sin and all of its consequence and guide us towards living the life we were created to live, a passionate life for Christ. The Christian truly believes, “Blessed are those who way is blameless who walk in the law of the Lord (Psalm 119:1).” We must eagerly chase after that blessed life, and eagerly flee from the cursed life of living outside of His path. We aim to, “choose the way of faithfulness,” which is, “to set His rules before me (Psalm 119:30).” This is at least part of what it is to love what God loves.
But what of the other side of sanctification. Ought we not also to grow in our hatred of that which God hates as Thomas Watson expressed. Ought not a disgust with the libertinism of this world increase gradually over the course of a life that is being sanctified? I believe it is on this side of sanctification that modern Christians have much to learn.
Many mornings as part of my own daily devotions I will include readings from historic Christian documents, especially the writings of the Puritans. Recently I was reviewing the Heidelberg Catechism from 1563 and reflected on question 100 which discusses the third commandment to not use the Lord’s name in vain. It reads:
Question: Is blasphemy of God’s name by swearing and cursing really such serious sin that God is angry also with those who do not do all they can to help prevent or forbid it?
Answer: Yes, indeed. No sin is greater or provokes God’s wrath more than blaspheming his name. That is why he commanded it to be punished with death. (Lev. 5:1, Lev. 24:15)Question 100—Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
What a remarkably foreign idea to modern Christian ears! Can you imagine a love for God so deep and so true, so imprinted on one’s heart, that one would be unable to stay silent in a room where His name was uttered in vain. This is like the love of a faithful husband towards his wife, who is unable to standby idly while his wife’s honor is at stake. The husband intervenes and defends his wife’s honor because he loves his wife.
Oh how I fear that we have lost our passion for God’s honor. Make no mistake—God does not need us to defend His honor. Yet He invites us to join in Kingdom ambassadorship as part of the life that is truly life. Thomas Watson described a numbness towards sin as a Spirit of Consumption. He said, “the Godly are weeping doves; they grieve for the oaths and blasphemies of the age. The sins of others, like spears, pierce their souls. This grieving for the sins of others is good. It shows a childlike heart to resent with sorrow the injuries done to our heavenly father.” This is godliness. Hating what God hates. The Ephesian Church was commended for this very virtue, “Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Revelation 2:6).”
Across every culture there exists normalized cherished sins. Sins that have woven their way so deep into the psyche of society that even Christians struggle to recognize them as sins any longer. The hard work of sanctification is dedicating oneself to the study of God’s Word in such a way that we increasingly are able to see the world around us with clarity, through the eyes of God. Like a microscope being fine tuned to see an interior structure of a cell, the soul submitted to the Scriptures is slowly fine tuned to see reality as it really is, as God sees it.
Thomas Watson said, “Love infuses a spirit of gallantry and fortitude into a Christian… He who is afraid to own Christ has little love of him.” Oh Christian—hear my plea. Do we hate what Christ hates? Do we hate it so much that we are willing to make enemies (and then commit to loving those enemies), standing up and exposing it as Ephesians 5:11 commands us to do, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them“? Or was that a way of life only fit for Christians of the past? Have we grown numb to sin and callous to evil? Or worse, far far worse. Have we become so enthralled by the messaging of our modern world’s pseudo-virtue system that we are incapable of seeing the Devil in disguise?
Oh may we learn to test every idea, not with surface level cherry picked verses, but with a life of serious dedication to God’s Word. May we learn to wrestle with the questions of our age with a meaningful biblically-inquisitive Spirit. And if the day so graciously comes that God reveals we have been unknowingly duped by the father of lies, accidentally championing Beelzebub’s schemes, may we run with a childlike reckless abandon to the throne of mercy and grace.
Oh God—may you raise up a strong Church once again. Dig our roots deep on the unchanging Word of God!