God has given us the DNA of righteousness. We are saints. Nothing we do will make us more righteous than we already are. Nothing we do will alter this reality. God knows our DNA. He knows that we are "Christ in me." ~The Cure
Struggling with sin isn't a sign of God's absence, but of his presence. ~Darrin Patrick
I don't know when or where I got it into my head, but growing up I had the picture that sanctification was a lot like a series of steps. Master step one, move up to step two, master step two, move on to... you get the picture. Only that's not at all how sanctification actually works. A step analogy doesn't do justice; sanctification is more like a lifelong adventure with plenty of mountains to climb, valleys to run through, raging rivers to cross, and meadows for peaceful rest. (Kinda like Middle Earth, you know?*)
With each passing year I only become more and more assured that sanctification, being made more into the image and likeness of Christ, is a growth done rarely by leaps and bounds, but rather in millimeters. Likewise, the longest ten to twelve inches in distance known to mankind exists between the head and the heart. What the heart says to the head, which comes out in our behavior, the words we speak, and the way we live, is a working done over time. This is why sanctification takes time--loads of time. For you, for me, and for everyone else.
Arguably, these two words should never be interchangeable: justification and sanctification. As Christians we have to have solid, clear understanding on what those mean to us, lest we slip and slide into a messy conglomeration of religious, moralistic deism using the guise of Christianity: I do/say _______ to get God's approval of me. If we don't have a right understanding of these two inseparable acts, we do not understand the gospel.
Have you ever fallen into that trap? I know I have. I know many others who have as well. But, I am convinced that what you and I don't need is more rules, more obligations, more lists of things to do to become genuinely transformed, to truly change.
What we need is a better framework: We need a Jesus focused sanctification. In fact we cannot have sanctification without Him. It's impossible.
After the fall of mankind in Genesis three, God had to give us boundaries--laws. This was not a bad thing, but a loving gift for all of us. Without laws and boundaries we hurt one another, we hurt ourselves, we don't steward what's been entrusted to us well... and really, without these law, we wouldn't be reminded of how shalom--peace--used to work in a perfect work, how is should be working now but isn't due to sin, and how it will one day be restored. This is why the Psalmist could sing of how "his delight [was] in the law of the Lord, and on [this] law he meditate[d] day and night" (Psalm 1:2). Even God's law, contains hints of sweetness, because our hearts long for a perfect existence.
These laws were created to show us we are made for such a world, but they also exist to show us that we cannot keep them in their entirety perfectly because of the sinful nature we're born with. And so when God had Adam and Eve removed from this paradise they were living, he gave them laws, but he also gave them a promise of a Savior who would restore all the generations of their children and the world at the appointed time. He would not let pain go unhealed, He would not let grief turn into a never-ending cycle, He would not let suffering continue, He would not let evil reign over creation. Sinful humans, which is all of us, cannot be trusted to govern themselves--to steer their life. He would rescue and restore, because He loved us. Each and every single one of us are incredibly dear and precious to God, because we're made in His image--in the Imago Dei. So He promised a Savior: Jesus Christ.
Christ would come and do what none of us could: Live an upright, perfect life to fulfill God's laws and commands for our sake. So that we would have a way to get back to perfect Shalom, a way back to a relationship free of sin with a holy God. Sin separated us, Jesus tore those barriers down. This means that when God sees you and me, he sees Jesus perfection as a covering over our ugliness--our sins. This means justification. Being justified means...
God is [showing] you all His cards, revealing breathtaking protection. He says, in essence... "That I love them right now as much as I love my only Son. What if I tell them there are no logs of past offenses... What if I tell them they are actually righteous... [that] I'm crazy about them? What if I tell them that, if I'm their Savior, they're going to heaven... that they have a new nature, that they are saints... that I live in them now... that they don't have to put on masks? ~The Cure
Truth is, there is no "if" about any of the weight behind justification. Justification means you and I are protected, are loved just as much as the Father loves Christ, have no record of offenses, we are righteous, God is crazy about each of us, we have a new nature and are saints, and we can stop white knuckling our way into God liking or approving us. He already does, and I'm sure you're exhausted from that kind of living. We don't live our way into His love; we're freed to live out of His Love.
Justification is resting in the fact that Jesus will not recant the love He's spoken over you, His beloved.
Justification tells us what we've been saved from out of the overflow of Christ's passionate love for us, then sanctification is Christ saying, "Now, take my hand and let me show you the grand adventure; the grand love story of a lifetime you're saved to because of me."
True sanctification breaths freedom. One of my favorite songs from Tenth Avenue North, in the chorus, sings "Hallelujah, we are free to struggle. We're not struggling to be free. Oh, blood-boughten makes us children, children drop your chains and sing." True sanctification says that even when you and I still stumble and fall, struggle and sin, that Christ will still proclaim that "he will never retaliate. Your circumstances are not a result of me trying to even the score. The basis of our relationship is not dependant on how little you sin, but on how much you let me love you. You may hurt My heart, but I'll never hurt yours. I have no secret agenda or trapdoors, and that none of this is about your self-effort, but about allowing me to live through you" (The Cure, paraphrased).
If we boil down Christianity to simply this glorified lifestyle of following rules to get God to love us and get us into heaven then, like for real, that's lame, boring, it's not sustainable, and it will not keep me loyal. But if Christianity is about this incredibly gracious Savior who loves me and knows me so intimately, and longs to transform me into His likeness, because Jesus is just AMAZING people… I'm on board with this through thick and thin, regardless of how much struggle there is in the in-between, because I know that victory is already promised to me. Not because of anything I've done, but because Jesus is AWESOME.
*I apologize for my nerdy mythology moment there for you non-LOTR fans.