Sanctification is the process whereby God conforms us to the image of Christ. Sanctification is the growth of a believer in Jesus Christ. To understand sanctification, we need to understand our role in the process and God’s role in the process. And it’s really quite simple. Consider these two principles:
1) God makes us more like Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:18 reads, “And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Spirit.”
The Bible is clear. God is the one who transforms us into the image of Christ. The word transformed carries with it the idea of a metamorphosis, major and fundamental change in one’s life. The last part of verse 18 explicitly says that it is the Spirit who does this work. Only God can change our hearts, minds, and lives to be more Christ-like. We are desperately dependent on God to grow in our faith.
2) God makes us more like Christ, as we behold the glory of Christ.
In verse 18 we see that the transformation happens as we behold Jesus. You might say that transformation is God’s part, our part is to behold Jesus. Continual beholding takes effort! It takes discipline to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. It takes the discipline of consistent Bible reading, prayer, and worship. As you read God’s Word and spend time with Him in prayer you are turning your heart towards Jesus. As you worship with God’s people, singing to Jesus and hearing from Jesus as the Bible is preached, you are gazing at Him in an extended manner. The word translated “beholding” has the idea of looking in a mirror. How do you look at yourself in the mirror? A quick glance or do you look intently? The answer is, we all look intently at our image in the mirror to make sure we are presentable. Sanctification comes as we gaze intently at Christ, not just quickly glance at Christ.
So your growth as a Christian happens through dependent discipline. Only God transforms, but God works through means. As you discipline your life to gaze at Jesus, God will work to make you more like the One upon whom you’re gazing. God has a role and you have a role. That’s why I appreciate Wayne Grudem’s balanced definition of sanctification:
Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.1
1Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 746.