The Philadelphia 76ers haven’t exactly been basketball royalty for almost two decades. In fact, my team has been so bad that some have suggested that the Sixers had begun to lose games on purpose — a strategy known as “tanking” — in an attempt to secure higher draft picks. Whether or not this is true, it’s been painful.
One can imagine how hard it would be for anyone to stay optimistic and motivated, especially the players, but through the losing seasons, Sixers players and fans heard one phrase over and over. These three words let us know that the organization had not turned its back on us: Trust the Process. We were told that what we were suffering was all part of a larger process that would lead to winning.
When Sanctification Looks like Losing
Everyone who walks with the Lord experiences the same kind of process. While there have been seasons in my life filled with apparent victory over major sin, little suffering, and seemingly unhindered communion with God, there have also been seasons filled with defeat, loss, affliction, and silence. In those moments, I feel tempted to “tank.”
But I’m reminded from God’s word that this is all part of a process; namely, the process of sanctification. Having redeemed me from the grave, God is now transforming me and changing me into the image of Jesus.
God Is at Work
Tough seasons lead to the inner conversations in the locker room of my heart about God’s purpose in this loss. In the moments when I am questioning whether or not God is working in me for his good pleasure, the Bible reminds me that I can trust the process of sanctification because “the God of peace [will] himself sanctify [me] completely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The Lord who began this process of sanctification the moment that my heart was made alive to him “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
He will not leave his new creatures unfinished. So if I press on in the war with my sin, continuing in faith and repentance, trusting the process means that in both my best efforts and my worst failures in working out my salvation, I can be assured that it is God who works in me, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Furthermore, sanctification is a team effort. Part of trusting the process is to entrust ourselves to those who are also in the process. In Hebrews 10:24–25, the inspired author encourages us, the people of God, “to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Sanctification is constantly at work in our lives because it’s a process which began with God, and is completed by God — and his work overshadows seasons of victory and defeat. While we engage in the efforts of working out our salvation, we can have assurance that God is at work, for his purposes and his glory, and for our joy.
Trust the Process
Imagine if, in the midst of a losing season, with heads hanging down in the locker room, the team owner walks into the room with the championship trophy, informing the players that it is theirs. It has been secured for them and therefore they can enjoy the game, competing as those who have already won. They would be able to fully trust the process because they were certain of the outcome.
Our sanctification works in a similar way, but better. We have been assured of the outcome and, therefore, we can trust the process. We can trust that God is working because God has worked. In 1 Corinthians 1:30, Paul tells us that Jesus became to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, meaning that he has already accomplished for us what the process is working in us. Jesus is our sanctification, meaning that he has positionally set us apart for God’s purposes — not on the basis of anything within us, but on the basis of his finished work in his life, death, and resurrection.
Jesus himself is our holiness. To truly trust the process of being made holy is to trust in him. He has lived the perfect God-pleasing life that we should have lived, facing and enduring seasons of both joy and suffering without sin. Jesus has died in our place for the life that we chose to live.
As God’s people placed in the process of sanctification, our heads can be held high in every season, because our final outcome is not in question despite how the present may appear. To “trust the process” is more than an unfulfilled phrase; it’s an unshakable promise. The final outcome of what God is producing in his people is secured. Those whom God has justified truly, he will glorify fully. Even now, Christ “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).