In the flurry of conversation about sanctification– thanks to the public disagreement between Pastor Tullian and The Gospel Coalition– I keep wondering if one question is being ignored:
What is sanctification for?
We’ve explored what it might mean– a looking back or a striving toward– and if it results in transformation or not...but why does it matter? What is it for?
In our day, we seem to force everything through the grid of acceptance and rejection. So, when it comes to sanctifcation, we ask, “Will I be accepted if I am not fully sanctified?” Or, “How sanctified do I have to be in order to not be rejected– by God or by the Church?” While these might be sincere questions, I suspect they are misguided.
Consider the following:
(a) If we were created to be God’s image-bearers– to reflect God’s wise and loving rule into God’s world, and
(b) if the Fall has marred that image (at best), and
(c) if Jesus is the perfect image of God, and
(d) if salvation– in its totality– is about setting us right, putting us and the world back together again in such a way that we and all creation are being made ‘new’,
(e) then sanctification is about restoring the image of God in us for the glory of God and for the life of the world.
When God incorporates us into Christ, His righteousness becomes ours, the Spirit in-dwells us, and we are called children of God. And then the Spirit begins to work in us both to desire and to do (Phil. 2:12-13), conforming us to the image of the Son of God…not so we can become children of God, but because we are dearly loved children of God (Eph. 5:1).
The Spirit helps us become the children of God that we already are in Christ so that we can once again be God’s image-bearers in His world. In short…
We are being conformed to the image of the Son of God not so we can be ‘accepted’ but so that we can reflect God’s glory into His world.
But as long as we’re fixated on acceptance and rejection issues, we’ll miss the wider and more glorious call to bring God’s wise and loving rule into His world, anticipating the day when His Kingdom arrives in fullness.
[N. T. Wright’s fabulous but lesser known book, “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters” is a helpful exposition of these ideas.]