The Lord cultivates the earth and all that inhabits it. From lilacs budding in the springtime to intricate patterns canvassing the wings of insects—no created thing is beyond the watchful eye or the careful, intentional hand of the Almighty (Colossians 1:16-17). As believers, our hearts are not outside of this jurisdiction.
Sanctification is defined as the process of being made holy. However, there is an important distinction between “definitive” and “progressive” sanctification. As Fred Zaspel explains, “Theologians often call the status of holiness that we have in Christ ‘definitive’ or ‘positional’ sanctification, while our pursuits of Christian virtue and personal godliness are called ‘progressive’ sanctification.” In other words, the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts as the result of sanctification’s definitive nature, and the fruits of the Spirit are evidence of its progression (Galatians 5:22-26).
The process of sanctification is not completed through own effort. We are sinful, inadequate beings, desperately in need of redemption and the Spirit’s continual aid. However, we still aim to be Christ-like.
In his book Holiness, author and pastor J.C. Ryle examines the process of sanctification further. He offers comfort, writing:
“Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy or walking across a room, so is our Father in heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle, and intention of their actions, and not merely at their quantity and quality.”
Our striving towards holiness, it follows, is evidence of the Spirit’s work in our lives.
Growing in holiness means understanding the grace we have received, and therefore extending that same grace to those with whom we interact—exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit (Matthew 18:21-35). Each day, we become increasingly filled with awe at the grace granted to us, which will in turn fill our hearts with grace. We should be quick to forgive when wronged and compassionate to the needs of others, even when doing so is inconvenient. We should be patient with those seemingly undeserving of patience and kind to those whose bitterness may likewise cause us to grow bitter. As points of sanctification, these areas are often overlooked because we convince ourselves that our emotions and actions are justified, despite their sinfulness. We tell ourselves, “I would never do that, so I have a right to hold a grudge,” or “We’ll clearly never get along—it’s too difficult to be friendly and I don’t particularly want to be.”
Dear friend, have we not sinned similarly, making us deserving of condemnation ourselves? Do we forget our lowly position and need for repentance?
Over time and with continual prayer, the Holy Spirit will remind us regularly of these truths. As He works in our hearts, we will find kindness to be easier. We will find that the mundanity of life can be approached without grumbling. In my own life, as the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin, I continue to grow, specifically in these areas. For example, when I react bitterly to a classmate or grow impatient with a friend, I have become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s voice. This is not of my own efforts—if sanctification worked that way, we would have already reached the end of our journey toward holiness. It is the work of the Spirit in our hearts.
Over time, the Lord will cultivate a sensitivity to the Spirit’s wisdom, which will cause our faith to grow. We will recognize when to be patient with those who are hard to love, and gentle with those who–by our flawed judgment–deserve retaliation.
Sanctification is daunting. Spiritual growth often leads to the realization that we have a long way to go. It is humbling to lay at the foot of the cross, and we may feel discouraged by our inadequacy. However, we can rest in our definitive sanctification through Christ’s work on our behalf. The Christian’s striving toward holiness does not require perfection, nor does the Lord expect it. He simply requires a repentant heart, in which the Spirit will dwell and act as a counselor and advocate. He will spur us on to good works until we reach the throne room of Heaven.