FOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR PROGRESS IN CHRISTIAN SANCTIFICATION
1. THINK SERIOUSLY AND DEEPLY
Thinking seriously and deeply about God, the purposes of God, why right is right and wrong is wrong, why we do what we do, how our behavior affects others, and what our part is in the process of sanctification does not seem to come naturally. And sadly, many preachers, Bible teachers, church leaders, and parents want to tell us what to do without teaching us how to think so we can understand why right is right and wrong is wrong.
Of course, knowing what to do is vital. But understanding the why is equally vital. It opens the door to doing what is right from conviction rather than obligation. It makes it possible to apply godly principles to new situations. And, it improves our ability to help others understand the truth by which we choose to live.
However, if you are to be a thinking Christian seeking to understand the what and the why, you must work at it. You may have to work at it on your own because so few want to think this seriously and deeply. Don’t let that deter you. God is resource enough should there be no one else to help you.
To develop the art of serious thinking, try these suggestions. Begin by regularly (daily) asking God to teach you how to be a thinking Christian. Make it clear you want to know as much about the what and why of Christianity as is humanely possible. Keep asking until you are convinced He has answered your prayer. At the same time, seek out thinking people and ask them to teach you how to be more thoughtful. Refuse to settle for shallow answers, undefined generalizations, spiritual clichés, circular reasoning, and speculation treated as fact. Avoid exaggerations and extremism. Read the Bible with a dictionary close at hand. Look up words you vaguely understand to gain a clearer, larger, more personally applicable understanding. Think about why God says to do certain things and why He says not to do other things. Ask those who tell you what to do to explain in plain, understandable terms why they believe it is the right thing to do. Test every what and why against the principle of love. Find out if it seeks the good of everyone affected when put into practice. Look carefully at the short and long term consequences of people’s choices and behavior - especially your own. Look at your life as a whole and see how your choices help or hinder your growth to Christian maturity.
Practice thinking this deeply and you will become a more serious thinker. Use this kind of thinking in your pursuit of God and it will help you in becoming what God saved you to be. There is no shame in not knowing as much as others know. The shame comes from not using, to its created potential, the mind God has so graciously given to you.
2. PRAY WISELY, PRAY PERSISTENTLY
Prayer is an essential part of growing to Christian maturity. We should develop a prayer life which makes God an indispensable father and integral partner in our sanctifying process. We need His participation to be sanctified. And, we need to be keenly aware of His participatory presence if we are to consistently rely on Him in the process and go hand-in-hand with Him through the process. Therefore, we are wise to pray thoughtfully and frequently, for this depth of reliance and companionship is best nurtured through prayer. (Note: Hebrews 4:16)
Praying wisely includes being careful that we do not contradict our prayers by our choices and behavior. How easy it is to ask God for help in the sanctification process, and then proceed to live in such a way as to work against the help He gives. Many times I have asked God to work in me to bring about needed changes only to discover several days or weeks later that I didn’t really want to change. I liked my sin and life as I was living it. So even though I was praying for God to help me change, I was at the same time resisting and sabotaging God’s efforts by my repeated and treasured choices and behavior.
Upon coming to my senses in each of these cases it became apparent that I needed to change my prayer lest I go on contradicting my prayer by my choices and behavior. I needed to tell God my true thoughts and feelings about this area of change. I needed to tell Him that I wanted to change but I didn’t want to change. Then, I needed to ask Him to help me come to the place where I genuinely wanted to change so I could begin cooperating with His process of change. In my experience, persistence in this prayer has always led to a strong enough desire to change to become a cooperative participant in God’s sanctification process. So, be careful not to contradict your prayers by your choices and behavior. If you see that your are, make that the issue of prayer until it is settled between you and God. Then you can proceed to attack and pray about the issue which you know needs to be changed to become more like Jesus.
Praying persistently is essential, too. Persistence is our way of staying with an issue until it is settled between God and us. It is our way of letting God know we mean business, that the matter we are placing before Him is as vital to us as life itself. How easy it is to pray seriously about a serious matter one moment and then get so embroiled in the affairs of life that we forget what seemed so important just moments, days, weeks, or months before. If we wish God to believe a matter is important, and indeed, if it is truly important to us, we had better persist in prayer until the matter is settled between God and us. In relation to sanctification this often means praying about character, thought, habit, and emotional changes for six months to a year, for such changes take time and repeated effort.
Praying wisely leads to asking for what really matters. The Scriptures give us some great prayers and prayer requests to use as helps in deciding what we should pray for in relation to God’s sanctifying process. Below are a few of these scriptures for your consideration and encouragement.
EXODUS 33:12b-13a, 18
Moses said to the Lord, ". . .You have said, ‘I have known you by name and you have also found favor in My sight.’ (13) "Now, if I have found favor in Your sight, teach me all of Your ways that I may know You personally and intimately, and so that I may please You in all that I do." (18) Then Moses said, "I beg of You, show me Your glory!"
EPHESIANS 1:15, 17-19a
Having heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus, and your love for all the saints, (17) I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the ability and desire to soak up the wisdom of Christ and comprehend all that his life reveals so that you can know him fully. (18) I pray that your mind and heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the purpose for which Christ has called you, the richness of the glory he receives as we live for him, (19) and the surpassing greatness of the power he makes available to everyone who believes in him.
I pray that your love may flourish and increase still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, (10) so that you may identify and cherish the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.
We continually pray for you, asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (10) so that you may live in a manner which brings due honor and glory to our Lord, which pleases Him in all respects, which brings forth fruit in every good work, and which causes you to keep growing in the your knowledge of Him. (11) We pray that you will be strengthened with all power, according to God’s unsurpassed power, so that you will be faithful and patient in your Christian life; joyfully (12) giving thanks to the Father in everything.
I THESSALONIANS 3:12-13
May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people everywhere, just as we love you; (13) so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God, our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His followers.
3. GET HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT
If you need help or counsel, seek it until you find the help that meets your need. Refuse to let shame or an inadequate helper keep you from getting the help you need. Discipleship is God’s idea. It is one of God’s provisions for making progress in the process of sanctification. So when you need it, look for competent help and counsel until you find it. And as you look, be asking God to lead you to people who can answer your questions, teach you the truth, and show you how to apply truth in the most practical ways possible.
4: HAVE A PLAN AND WORK YOUR PLAN
It is important to know where you are going. It is equally important to know how you are going to get there. Planning and preparation require organization. Organization requires methods. To help those who do not know where to start in their planning and preparations, I offer a method that has been a great help to me. Take this as a suggestion of what to do, not as the only method available. You need to test it to make sure it works for you. If it doesn’t work for you, modify it or look for another method that does. But be wise! Make your plans. Prepare at a level equal to the task before you. Then, when you go into battle, you will have a plan, you will be dressed in battle gear, and you will be ready for whatever the enemy throws at you.
1. Identify a thought pattern, habit, or behavior that you know is wrong and needs to be changed. Determine when and how you are most often tempted to do this thing you know is wrong. Then, write a concise statement about the wrong you want to change and the most common way(s) you are tempted to do it.
2. Consider the consequences:
A. Examine the short-term consequences of yielding to the temptation. Look at the consequences on yourself and anyone else affected by doing this thing you know is wrong. To identify the destructive consequences, look for ways in which the wrong directly harms others and/or damages your relationship with them - including God. Look for ways in which this wrong harms you and sets you up for more problems. To identify the self-gratifying consequences, look for ways in which this thing gratifies any selfish interests or desire, thus benefiting you in some, though certainly a wrong, way.
B. Examine the long-term consequences (one month, one year, five years) of yielding to the temptation., Look at the consequences on yourself and anyone else affected by doing this thing you know is wrong. Identify the self-serving benefits, the harm done to others and to your relationship with them (be sure to include God), and its destructive effects in your life.
C. Examine the short-term consequences of saying no to the temptation. Identify one or more ways in which doing what’s right seems to cost you, especially at first. Look for ways in which doing what is right directly promotes, or at least protects, the good of others (including God) and your relationship with them. Look for ways in which doing right minimizes future problems.
D. Examine the long-term consequences (one month, one year, five years) of saying no to the temptation. Don’t be surprised if there are some long-term costs. Not everyone will praise you for doing what is right. So identify possible costs, too. Identify the benefits to others, how it should improve your relationship with them (including God), and how it makes you a better person, thus enabling you to better love others as yourself.
3. Use the Scriptures:
A. Look for a verse(s) from God’s Word which speaks about the wrong you have identified in number one.
B. Seek to understand what God’s Word says you ought to be doing in place of the wrong you have been doing.
C. Pick a verse that will help you resist the wrong and do what is right when tempted. Write it out. Memorize it. Meditate on it. Then use it!
4. Daily preparation must be done during non-testing times. This is best done when you are alone. You can set quiet time aside for this or use times when your task allows for thinking about other things, such as when driving alone, shaving, brushing teeth, showering, doing laundry or dishes, etc.
A. In an attitude of prayer, tell God what it is you want changed. Ask for increased sensitivity to the problem so that you not only see when it is happening, but you see it coming. Ask for wisdom to deal with every facet of it. Remind God you are depending on His empowerment and provision to be successful. Remind Him that you want to do this for His honor and glory in the world, and for the well-being of everyone affected by your choices and behavior.
B. In an attitude of prayer, review with God all the consequences listed in number two. Use this information to reinforce how foolish and destructive sin is, and how good, God-honoring, and relationship building it is to do what you know is right.
C. In an attitude of prayer, review with God what He says in His Word about this area of needed change. Affirm your commitment to do what He says. Review how you will use your chosen scripture verse to help you resist temptation and redirect your thoughts toward doing what you know is right.
D. In an attitude of prayer, look ahead and determine the most likely times during the day when you will be tempted in regards to number one. Ask God to help you be more sensitive to those times so they do not catch you unaware. Then practice (in your mind) facing the temptation, resisting it, and making the godly choice.
E. In an attitude of prayer, look back to the last time you were tested in this area. If you failed the test, review the situation. Think about how you might have handled it better. Then picture yourself going through that situation again and handling it right. Use this practice as one means of preparing to handle testing in the future.
5. What to do when you sin:
A. Be humble enough to acknowledge your sin without making any excuse or explanation. Be sincere enough to make right whatever wrong you have done to anyone, beginning with God.
B. Do not give in to discouragement or false guilt. Wallowing in despair helps no one. Use your energy to get back on track and make more progress in overcoming the sin. In time, doing the right thing will become a habit that replaces your old, sinful practice.
C. Remember, perfection is what we are aiming for. But progress, equal to the need, is the best we will do in this life. Be realistic. Sanctification is a process that depends on consistent, accumulative progress to achieve its goal. So, aim for perfection, but be content with consistent, measurable, God-honoring progress.
Self-centeredness, evil thoughts, sinful habits, irrational fears, fueled passions, and foolish behavior die hard. You cannot kill them off without God’s help. Use all He provides. This includes the idea of accountability. Seek help from a trusted friend, family member, fellow church attender, counselor, or your minister. Reveal your problem and what you are doing to change it. Ask for prayer and accountability. This means asking the person to join you in praying for change and in making regular checks to see if you are following through in doing what you must to make commendable progress. On those days you would rather sin, or give up the fight, they can offer support, encouragement, advice, and admonition. When you fail, they can help you get back on track. This may be embarrassing, yet the cost of embarrassment is nothing compared to the gain of becoming all that God has called you to be in Christ Jesus.
It is never a question of God wanting to sanctify us or being able to sanctify us. It is always a question of our wanting to be sanctified, and then validating our wanting by entering the process and doing our part. Have you entered the process of sanctification? Are you doing your part?
There is no easy way, no short cut, no magic wand to sanctification. It requires work - hard work. It requires perseverance - to the end. It requires taking personal responsibility for what you are and what you can be. God has done His part. Will you do yours? If you will, you will be sanctified, completely.