When I became a Christian, I quickly grasped the wondrous content of justification and glorification. What has come much more slowly to me is the meaning of sanctification. Not the “textbook” meaning. I get that well enough, and love it. But the practical day by day meaning. What does it mean to be sanctified? How do you understand it, practically? How do you know when or if you have “achieved” it?
I don’t feel I have truly grasped something until I can put it in my own words, with a fairly simple illustration. Finally, after being a Christian many years, I have found something I think encapsulates these truths to my satisfaction. Let me share it with you.
Before we are Christians, we live in the darkness with snakes. Picture a basement full of the creatures, We live down there with them and are content to do so. It is “native land”. Then Christ comes and lifts us out. He raises us up and builds a beautiful hardwood floor for us, above the snakes, and tells us that is our new dwelling place. As we go on, day by day, he begins to build a complete home around us, and it is beautiful!
But you know what? By and large, the snakes are still in the basement. Over time, a few are killed, and that is wondrous and a true victory. But so many remain, it sometimes feels like we have hardly got going in dealing with them. And sometimes we even go down and visit with them. In this life, they are always there.
So what do we do? We simply learn to live “above” them – to stay up on that new hardwood floor, in that ongoing house. Each morning, as long as God gives us life, we get up and look at God, through His word. We ask him to conform us to his image, and we live our day downstream from that. John Calvin was called the “theologian of the Holy Spirit”, as I recall, and I think that is exactly what he meant by living in the Spirit.
In this life, many, many of the snakes are not put to death, but they can be so ‘neglected’ by us that they are rendered ineffective. The hardwood floor, the new home, are more and more where we want to be. And that is sanctification.
But, like you, I long for the day when the snakes are finally put to death, each and every one. That is what we hope for and long for. Nothing less.