Sanctification is a long word. Even though we know it's important biblically, still it manages to get stuck in the abstract. And truth be told, our old self likes it better that way.
The abstract, after all, is much more comfortable. As long as we keep sin in vague terms — as long as sanctification stays out there instead of in here — things can stay the same. That's why it's easier to pray, "God, take my life," rather than "God, take my cash." We may love the idea of sanctification, as a theological concept, but the particular forms it should become in our specific lives, not so much. Keeping sanctification at arm’s length maintains the guise of maturity (i.e., we pray well) but nothing really changes.
"Change" — now that's the word. Perhaps it sounds more blue collar than "transformation." Change reaches down into the everyday and is the inevitable need when we talk particulars. Particulars, such as real things we are doing right now that we should do differently.
The apostle Paul had real things in mind when he told the Colossians to put on compassion. He didn't mean that they consider the idea of it. Could you imagine? "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, the idea of compassion, the notion of kindness, the concept of humility." He meant for the Colossians (and us) to be compassionate, not just think about it. To be kind. To be humble, and meek, and patient. To really put up with one another. Matter of fact, if there is a complaint between you and someone else, forgive them (Colossians 3:12–17). Paul lays out concrete things for God's chosen ones.
We are God's chosen ones, his holy ones, his beloved ones. Having elected us to be holy and blameless in Christ, the Father is conforming us into the image of Jesus (Ephesians 1:4). And if he is conforming us into the image of Jesus, that means we're not completely there yet. And if we are not completely there yet, there are things in us now that will be different then. There are things in us that will change. And here's the point: some of them are specifics we know and should seek after now.
I don't mean we calculate our progress on some chart. Nor do we try to measure our growth by how well we practice one or two virtues. The last thing we want is some formulaic approach disconnected from the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Savior and King and the one whose image we're saved to reflect.
But what I do mean is that some of us can stop praying, "Make me a better husband," and instead pray, "Make me love my wife better when it comes to feeding the kids at the dinner table." Not just pray, "Do a work in our city," but also pray, "Give me boldness to speak the gospel to Joe and Jill next door." Some of us can replace, "My resources are yours," with, "Help me draw up a personal budget for maximum kingdom impact this week."
Some of us can begin to think more realistically about sanctification. And we can say goodbye to the abstract, but, of course, our unsanctified self may like it better that way.
Recent posts from Jonathan Parnell: