What does sanctification actually look like?

I’m having a hard time today understanding the division between personality traits and people’s core identities in Christ, and the specific bits and pieces of us that are refined through sanctification.

I feel as though a lot of Christians understand sanctification as a process where you cut parts of yourself off to appease a moral code of living. I know a lot of people who aren’t willing to believe in God because they feel as though being in the same place as other church people makes it impossible to surrender their hearts. And I know a lot of church people who have holed up in church every Sunday for the past 20 years, but don’t know much about love.

To be honest, I’m not really sure. I find it hard to believe that God would call us to cut off parts of our core selves for his purpose. In my life, I have seen him refine my character instead of silencing it. In a world that believes Christians are in denial of social change or don’t have anything real to hold onto, we should probably spend more time talking about that refinement process through God than specifically what moral capstones we require of people to get in the door. It should surprise no one that left unchecked, that kind of dialogue makes the whole body look bad.

I believe that we are called to submit to God and be his disciples, and I believe that allowing God to change you is absolutely necessary as part of sanctification. However, God is the one who works on us, and we have to be willing to submit. We don’t beautify ourselves. When we “self-improve” ourselves, we do it wrong: picking convenient targets to reach goals that either aren’t meant for us, aren’t necessary, or would just do us harm. We do it without the strength of Christ. We do it to spite others.

Even if we as people are unfinished, I don’t believe our imperfection is always the same as sin. In the garden, humans didn’t have the same amount of power as God. We were created to rely on him. We had some responsibilities and authority, but everything we have always has been and was always God’s. When we muck through the “self-perfection” stew that has become synonymous with sanctification in even Christian spaces, we strive to be like God in a way that was never of him. We repeat the same sins of the garden and call them beautification. And maybe that’s not always the outcome, but enough lies are mixed into our interests that we end up predictably falling short. It’s not as though if we asked good things of God, he would not give them. We are meant to ask God for every good thing and prayerfully discern whether or not they’re for us, how to achieve them if they are, and how to steward our good things thereafter.

If we go after exclusively shallow goals (like hemlines and whether leggings count as pants), we become a shallow people. May God help us understand how to relate to people and still hold onto the teachings of God. I don’t believe that God calls us to deviate from the truth, but he often complicates the principles of what we believe so that we can understand that people are still searching for God despite our principles. The love for people who don’t have Christ has to be greater, and loses brilliance if we make our beliefs into a power struggle. I don’t believe that fighting within ourselves produces godliness or accurately represents the gospel. Not just that, but church divisions demonstrate to people on the outside that we don’t actually have the presence of God that they’re seeking (which is not the same as our self-righteousness). That being said, churches are full of broken people who need guidance and compassion just as much as the people on the outside. May the correction of God come like discipline and not a sword. Ministry is a lot like parenting.

A lot of people naturally adjust the way they live through the Holy spirit, as they mature in faith. This process is prompted by God and is entirely for the good of his people. He does not lose authority when we fall short, but he freely provided Christ for that reason. The Lord requires not just impartiality instead of hierarchy, but he calls those who desire to lead to actually become less/lower than the accepted norm. We have to serve to have any understanding of leadership. If we aren’t willing to serve, we become like tyrants.

If we aren’t willing to help people experience the great love of God, we need to take a hard look at why we remain in church. In our weakness, there is always the invitation to go deeper with God. My prayer today is that the full body of Christ would receive the love of God purely, and have the desire to go deeper. With the world as it currently is, we have to be a city on a hill.


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I am a second-grade teacher and pastor-to-be who loves people. I spend my weekends with friends or wandering the museums of DC alone and with a journal, trying to put words on the places of the soul that still feel wordless. I spent most of my days at school trying to learn patience through my students and running on sheer nerdy passion. I follow Jesus Christ, and savor that as my most important identity--that I am a child of God, as are infinite others, regardless of their other identities. Christ is my one thing.

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