Last week we talked a little about what sanctification was and two of the problems that are commonly involved when discussing sanctification. I explained how some churches have a strict, discipline-like approach to sanctification focusing more on behavior modification than true transformation. On the opposite end of that spectrum, I explained that most churches fall into the second group of apathy in the face of sanctification sometimes believing it’s not really important to true Christian faith.
Lucky for you, today I’ll be talking about some common misconceptions when it comes to sanctification and how you should respond to them. Let’s begin!
Doesn’t Total Depravity cancel out Sanctification?
There’s two doctrines being represented in this misconception. The first one is the doctrine of total depravity. Total depravity is at the core and a pillar of Christianity. It’s agreed upon in most reformed circles as well as most Arminians. (i.e. both the Calvinists who believe in God’s sovereignty and the salvation of solely the elect AND those who believe in the free will of man and the salvation of all who trust in Christ as their savior believe this.)
Essentially it says this: that people aren’t born intrinsically good or neutral, but, rather, have a bent toward evil. Essentially, every human born since the fall is born as a slave to sin and “is utterly unable to choose to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.” (via Wikipedia)
The misunderstanding comes when Christians assume that total depravity forever prevents God from doing any work in that Christian’s life, that he/she is forever in bondage to sin. Part of the good news of the Gospel, is that man is no longer slave to sin and is given new life in Christ. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that man rejects sin and embraces holiness.
What About People with Addictions?
In the conversation I talked about last week, my friend asked me about addictions. The exact phrasing she used was calling alcoholism a disease and then claiming that since alcoholism is a disease we cannot expect people to overcome it. This is a complicated answer but essentially she misunderstood sanctification when it came to addiction.
First, yes, I do believe that alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease. Alcoholism destroys lives and families. Alcoholics have a physical dependency on alcohol that they cannot control mentally (like one would be able to will his arm to move), and frequently have little free agency when choosing to drink or not.
However, it would be silly to believe that alcoholics cannot stop being alcoholics. Why? Because there are thousands of alcoholics who stop drinking all the time through rehab and 12 step programs. These are people who have serious problems with alcoholism (or insert other addiction here: sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll) and are able to overcome their addictions. Now the key here is that they still struggle with the temptation of their vice but the Holy Spirit weakens those temptations and making them more easily overcome through time and discipline.
In the same way, sanctification pushes us to focus our attention not on our dead sin but rather on the living God. Through God’s empowering Holy Spirit, we have victory over sin and move along in holiness. It doesn’t mean we won’t struggle with the temptation of sin but as we move in sanctification, we have an easier time saying no to sin.
Doesn’t Sanctification Send Believers Backward?
Some of you when you hear of sanctification think the Christian believer is going backward. You started out as a slave to sin always trying to earn your salvation through good works. Then, you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, put your trust solely in Him, and sat back as you felt the weight of sin come off your shoulders. But, now, some dude is telling you that you need to do more? That somehow, even though you’re covered by the grace of Christ, you still need to do works?
It’s an important distinction to make when talking about works before and after justification. You did works before salvation to earn grace. This was when you believed that God would love you more if you did more, and you had to earn God’s grace by doing good things. You did works after because you are so transformed by God’s Grace that you cannot help but do His Will and usher forth His Kingdom. Sanctification is what transforms you enabling you to do works for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
Is Sanctification even necessary?
“So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!” Romans 6:1-3 MSG
Shall we stay in our sin and keep on sinning because God is forgiving? By no means! This was something my friend missed in our conversation. She insisted that Christ’s death on the cross was the sole reason for the New Testament. Despite being the symbol of Christianity, the cross is only half of Christianity. As Christians, God calls us to repent of our sins and forgives us but also called calls us to live the life to which He calls us. God has great plans for us and is pushing us toward a greater wholeness we have yet to know.