When we reduce the good news of the gospel to the truth that we have been forgiven, we're missing out on much of what makes the gospel beautiful. Not only does Jesus remove for us the guilt of our failures. He also frees us from them, so that we can “walk in newness of life.” To use the classic theological terms, the gospel tells us that in the death and resurrection of Jesus we are both justified and sanctified. And sanctification is a big deal.
To be sanctified is to have your faith simplified, clarified, and deepened. You need God. You know God. You love God. You see life, God, yourself, others more truly. And to grow as a saint is to grow in actually loving people. How other people are doing matters increasingly to you. You care. You help.
Becoming more holy does not mean that you become ethereal, ghostly, and detached from the storms of life. It means you are becoming a wiser human being. You are learning how to deal well with your money, your sexuality, your job. You are becoming a better friend and family member. When you talk, your words communicate more good sense, more gravitas, more joy, more reality. You are learning to pray honestly, bringing who God really is to the reality of human need.
And to grow in holiness does not mean you now talk in hushed tones and every third sentence quotes the Bible. It means you live in more clear-minded hope. You know the purpose of your life, roll up your sleeves, and get about doing what needs doing. You are honestly thankful for good things. You honestly face disappointment and pain, illness and dying.
Sanctification, saint, holy, and holiness—they speak of daily life. There is nothing more practical than to live with an evergrowing love, joy, and purposefulness. There is nothing more eyes-open and helpful than to be maturing in wisdom, hope, and faith.
This process of being sanctified is what I deeply want for myself, and it’s what I pray for our church. It’s what we’re talking about whenever we speak of “experiencing the life-changing love of Jesus.” And, thanks be to God, this beautiful process is truly taking place in us through Christ.