In the closing remarks of a 1980 presidential debate, Ronald Reagan famously said, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” While its origin is in politics, it has a legitimate application to the Christian life as well. The presidential candidate was applying the question to purchasing power, physical security and worldwide respect, but for the Christian it’s about your sanctification.
“Sanctification” is not a word you hear outside of church, but it’s a concept that is distinctly biblical, so it’s important to understand. To sanctify something is to set it apart as holy. In Gen. 2:3 God blessed and “sanctified” the seventh day. That is to say that He purified it.
God does the same thing with His children. When He saved you, He cleansed you of all sin and changed your eternal status. Based on the work of Jesus, you went from guilty to not guilty. However, until we meet Him in glory, He has a plan to progressively conform you to be more like Jesus. He is getting rid of the old and creating new. The Bible says you must “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).
Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Are you able to point to specific ways in which you have distanced yourself from dead stuff and put your time and energy into life in Christ? More to the point—have your affections changed over time? Do you find yourself less enamored with earthly prizes and more captivated with pleasing God?
If you cannot attest to any meaningful change then you must evaluate your relationship to God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). If you cannot chart an increase in keeping His commandments, then it is reasonable to question your love. Stop reading, repent and believe.
If, however, you know that you love God and can identify growth (unsteady as it may be), then there are some things you should know. First, it is God that is sanctifying you. You are not sanctifying you.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12–13)
Even in the command to carry out a Christian life, God is the one doing the work in you. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who love me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20-21). Do not become exasperated over a lack of growth. Redirect those emotions into love for God that continues His growth in you.
Second, when it comes to increasing your spiritual strength, you are not alone!
According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:16–19)
This sanctification business is done in community. Increasing in love, growing in faith and living an increasingly obedient life is accomplished shoulder-to-shoulder with other Christians.
Third, sanctification is directly connected to the Bible. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). If your heart’s desire is for holier living, then evaluate your time in Scripture. Are you consuming it, meditating on it and memorizing it consistently?
Asking if you’re better off now is not as important as asking if what you are doing now will make you better off in the next four years. Thank God for the progress He has made in you. Seek ways to help others in the church grow in holiness as they, in turn, encourage you to do the same. And develop an avid curiosity and deep-seated love for God’s Word. When it comes to Scripture, saturation leads to sanctification.