Have you ever been frustrated with your sanctification (or becoming holy)?
While there are sins that are easy to let go, there are sinful tendencies that are much harder to overcome. And the reason for that is our unique make ups.
For example, I don’t wrestle with a tendency to steal as much as I wrestle with the tendency to grumble. For another, the tendency to grumble may not be as significant compared to the tendency to view pornography. Each person – based on his/her experience and bent – struggle with sin differently.
In Geerhardus Vos’ sermon on Hebrews 12:1-2, he expounds on the phrase, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”. He comments, “Sanctification ought to be to every child of God not a desultory (casual) matter, but an intelligent systematic pursuit”.
And to say that sanctification is an intelligent, systematic pursuit is unfamiliar to many of us. Most of us have grown up with the slogan, “Let Go, Let God”. While that is a good summary for what ought to be done with circumstances beyond our control, it is not a good summary of how we are to interact with habitual sin.
Yes, there is an element of surrender and reliance to God. But surrender and reliance to God will lead to an act of the will – the willful act of saying “no” to ungodliness. Paul says in the letter to the Philippians: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).
So how does this work?
The battle for sin is first and foremost a battle of the mind. For example, if someone is struggling with pornography, then the first thing they should know is not that they should stop watching porn. They kind of know that already. The first thing to be done is to place their desire and tendency in the framework of God’s design.
Someone should tell them: “Why do you watch porn? You want sex. And sex is good – even great! And God made it not just as a physical activity to be enjoyed as one-off but as an act of intimacy, love, and mutual enjoyment. Porn gives you visual-mental stimulation without intimacy, love and mutual enjoyment found only in marriage.”
In every battle against sin, the mind must be taught the design of God. But beyond knowing God’s design, it must be persuaded of the reasonableness of it. In fact, until one can say that they find God’s design to be preferred over anything else, then the intelligent battle with sin must be waged continuously. For all of us, it will take a lifetime.
The battle for sin will take us a lifetime to fight. Bursts of energy are good. But we need sustainable means to fight it. There ought to be a system to (a) catch oneself doing it, (b) evaluate how he fell into sin, (c) ask forgiveness from God and from the people affected, and (d) take practical steps to keep from falling.
For example, if someone has a tendency to grumble, then (a) he should have a time allotted in the evening where he will recount the events of the day and see if there was a time when he grumbled.
Then, (b) he should think over what led him to grumbling. Was it because this was recurring? Was this really worth grumbling over? Was there a similar instance previously where he saw God pull through in similar situations? This step is both evaluating and preaching to the self.
Afterwards, (c) he should spend time in prayer confessing to God and asking the Holy Spirit to give him a grateful heart and a tamed tongue. Should he have grumbled in front of someone, perhaps an email or a text message is in place.
Moving beyond confession, (d) the next time that he is tempted to grumble, he can ask himself – did God put me here to harm me or will this in any way be for my good? Can I trust God to be faithful? If yes, then I shall bring this concern at his feet and leave it there.
And here’s why it’s a system: you’ll have to use this again and again. Even day-to-day.
When we pursue, we only stop once we’ve acquired the object of pursuit. Sanctification is a tricky one. In a sense, we acquire it daily. We see progress in our lives. In another sense, we never acquire it in this side of eternity. We will never see moral perfection before Jesus returns. So we strain towards the goal moment-by-moment, click-by-click, post-by-post.
And when it becomes harder to fight, we endure. Why? The trials of sanctification are nothing compared to the glories awaiting those who attain the righteousness without which no one can see God. That righteousness given to us freely by Christ is being wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And I look forward to the day when my positional righteousness shall become practical righteousness.