Is living a sanctified life possible in today's world?
When we first give our lives to Christ, there is a clear expectation that we change our ways and align to a new way of life (Matthew 16:24). The freshness of the real living relationship with Christ spurs us on - for a while - but then, the new normal comes tumbling down and the old normal is front and center again. This isn’t only in those early months as a Christian, it can continue for years, even a lifetime, as we constantly flip-flop between the old life we were born into and the new life in Christ. Perhaps it’s not surprising. For most of us, the new life in Christ did not come with any concrete markers of rebirth: no new home, or new community, or new set of work colleagues, or new family, or new set of ‘good’ habits. Rather, all the sameness of the ‘BC’ life was still there, vying for our attention: bad habits, cultural standards, foul language, unruly children, grumpy spouses, mean in-laws, biased bosses, addictions etc. What had been the ‘normal’ for years, is in reality, still the normal. Sure, we can find a new church, meet a few Christian people, buy a new bible, even get baptized, but the world at large remains relatively unchanged despite the massive, earth-shattering experience of our individual salvation. We are now a new square pin living in the same round hole.
The Apostle Paul felt everything in our inner being naturally pulls us away from God, not towards God: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I Keep doing" (Romans 7:18-19). He's burdened at the challenge: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
Not only do we have natural laws of our flesh working against us, we have cultural influences of a fallen world pressing upon us (Romans 12:2a) and spiritual forces battling against us (Ephesians 6:11-12). In all, the odds are surely stacked against us in living a sanctified life.
Equipped for sanctified living
To live a sanctified life, we need tools that set us free from the trappings of the flesh and the enticements of the world (natural enemies) as well as tools that guard us against spiritual forces (supernatural enemies). Of course, our almighty God has equipped us perfectly (Phil 4:13; 2 Tim 3:17); we just need to know what our equipment is, how to use it, and when to use it.
Some of the tools we have been granted as Christians are: truth (the word of God & Holy Spirit), righteousness (through Christ), faith, salvation, peace, prayer, a sober mind. Three of these are the focus of today’s blog: Truth, Righteousness, and Faith.
1. Truth: We can’t choose to live right, if we don’t know what is right. As Christians, we have two sources of equipping with truth: God’s word and the Holy Spirit.
(i) God’s word: Jesus said “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). Knowing the difference between the world’s statement of right/wrong and God’s statement of right/wrong comes with studying His word: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).
(ii) The Holy Spirit: One thing that changes when we give our lives to Christ, is we are gifted with the Holy Spirit (John 7:39) and this allows us to make wise, Godly, choices: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5). With the mind surrendered to the Holy Spirit, we have a powerful source for transformation: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
Using truth in our lives allows us to make wise choices, to be pure in our motives, to know and live God’s will, to have genuine fellowship with believers, to have loving friendship with non-believers, and to be more venerate in our relationship with God through repentance and adoration.
2. Righteousness: This is being right with God and doing what is right in God’s eyes - obedience. Knowing the will of God does not necessarily mean we choose to act in accordance with His will (Romans 7:18-23). To obey the will of God requires a complete denial of self, on a daily basis, moment-by-moment, despite the confluence of factors driving us away from God’s will. No matter what barriers exist to obedience (laziness, fear, stubbornness, addiction, pride, outside influences), we can overcome all of them through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). It is simply loving God more than we love ourselves or our life choices, and having a distaste for disobedience that outweighs our fears.
3. Faith: Standing firm against spiritual forces requires a fuller armor (Ephesians 6:13). When the pull away from God lies beyond ourselves and our fallen culture, and moves into a spiritual lure (deception, fears, doubt, temptation), our faith allows us to stand our ground. Knowing that we are protected under God (Psalm 40:2; Ephesians 6:13; Psalm 23:4), through the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16), enables us to maintain the victory - which is already ours if we are willing to stand firm, and even after we are tried to our limits, to still stand (Ephesians 6:13).
1. Which of these 3 pieces of equipment in your toolbox has scope to be sharpened? How does operating with dull tools impact your ability to thrive as a Christian? If this tool were sharpened, and in full operation, how different would your relationship be with God?
2. Thinking of a Christian you know who has chosen not to obey God, despite knowing clearly what God is asking, why do you think this person made that choice? How are your reasons for disobedience different from these? How are they similar?
3. What is needed in your daily life to sharpen your truth, obedience or faith? How can this be continued long-term to bring about successful, lasting, change? Is that something you are willing to invest in?