Warm-Up: Ephesians 2
If Christianity had a test like the SAT, then justification and sanctification would be two of the top vocabulary words. They’re important concepts and central to the faith, but the words are 5 syllables long and sound complicated. Over the past few months, I’ve lived a pretty good metaphor for justification and sanctification, so I thought I’d share.
This past summer, my wife and I bought our first home. We spent 3 months looking and didn’t close until September 20. We wanted a house in an area that was mostly above our price range, which meant the home we could afford and purchased needed a lot of work to look and feel like then home we wanted.
Since closing, we hired some great contractors who worked in the house for 5 weeks. They removed some walls, changed the flooring, painted cabinets, skimmed ceilings, and more. On top of that, we ourselves did a lot of work because we wanted to be involved and, frankly, didn’t have the money to keep paying others to do it!
With the help of our family, we changed the lighting, updated the kitchen backsplash, painted a few rooms, white washed the brick fireplace, cleaned up the yard, and so on.
We didn’t actually move into our house until October 30, and even then my wife and I spent 2-3 weeks staying up every night until 1:30AM painting and cleaning and unpacking after our son went to sleep. You might also notice a lack of furniture: After living in another country for five years we almost had to start from scratch.
It’s now December, and we still have plenty of boxes to get through. Phase 1 of our fixing-up process isn’t quite complete (the walls of the kitchen dining area is the final major project), and some furniture won’t be delivered until late January. We also know there will be a Phase 2 and Phase 3 over the next few years, and those projects seem just as daunting as the first.
My wife recently said, “I knew there would be a lot of work, but I just didn’t think it would take so long.” Her comment got me thinking about the work of justification and sanctification that God does in our hearts.
Justification occurs when we are justified, or made right, with God. It only takes a moment – it happens once. It is the moment when the price that Jesus paid on the cross is applied to the debt of our sin and God forgives us of everything we’ve done wrong. It is the moment when God makes us his own, when we become part of His family.
It’s similar to the day we closed on our house – it happened once, we were given the keys, and the house become our own. The beauty of justification is that God takes us as we are. He doesn’t demand that we get better before we’re good enough for justification. He sees us for who we are and chooses to adopt us anyway.
Sanctification is the process in which God sanctifies, or makes us holy. Through sanctification, God changes our behavior so that we become more like Him. It takes more than a moment – it is a never ending process and it takes a lifetime. It occurs after we have been justified – we belong to God and our salvation is secure, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need our very nature restored.
This is the work we’re doing to our house now. The house belongs to us, but we seem to spend time everyday improving it. Although we’ve made a lot of progress, there is still plenty of work to be done. They say home ownership is a job that never ends – the same can be said about sanctification.
Our son’s “sanctified” bedroom. Photo by Flawlessly Framed Photography.
The Work of God
Ephesians 2:8-10 and 18-22 explains things nicely: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.“
“For through [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.“
Our house didn’t buy or build itself, and neither did we save ourselves. Instead, we are saved through the work of God. Likewise, our home cannot restore itself, it requires our workmanship (or the work of a contractor because I have no business tearing down walls). This is a great reminder that, not only do you need God’s work in your life for salvation, but He is the one who makes you into a dwelling place for God (a better person). He has planned and prepared good works for you, and we live those out best by living in His presence everyday.
Through faith, God justifies us and sanctifies us. He is a patient God, which is a good thing, because there is a lot more wrong with me than there is with my house. I wish I could become better faster, but God does his workmanship at His own, deliberate pace. We can be thankful that he justifies us before requiring us to be sanctified, and we can look forward to the day when His Kingdom comes in full and our sanctification is complete.
Why God is Proud of You
I have to admit, I’ve noticed a slightly irrational sense of pride in my house lately. I know it still has plenty of flaws (I see them everyday), but it is our home! There is a sense of ownership that comes, not just from spending all our savings on the house, but in spending countless hours working to refinish our home.
In the same way, God has an even stronger sense of pride in His people. He sees my flaws and he sees your flaws, but He loves us just the same. He has paid the price in full, we are justified. He is doing the work of restoration in our lives, we are being sanctified. We don’t need to hide from Him or pretend to be something we’re not to earn His favor – He has already given us full access and membership in His household.