Before getting into the different types of evidence we can expect through the process of sanctification, it is necessary to first draw a clearer distinction between: 1 – the object of sanctification, and 2 – the evidence of sanctification.
In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus provides a powerful metaphor to help us understand these two concepts, saying, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
The image drawn here by Jesus revolves around two central subjects: a tree and its fruit. In verse 45, He explains that the fruit in the metaphor represents the things we “bring out”, or those things that we allow the world around us to see. This includes our physical appearance, our circle of friends, our actions, and our words.
The tree in this metaphor represents our heart. Our heart is the source of the “fruit” that is produced in our lives. It is the essence of who we are. The substance of our actions, words, and behaviors is naturally and entirely determined by the substance of our heart.
Often in our approach to sanctification, our focus lies entirely on the “fruit” of our lives. A debilitating addiction, a painful relationship, uncontrolled fits of rage – it is at this “surface” level that we desire these areas of brokenness to be healed through the process of sanctification.
But this is not an accurate perspective of sanctification. When we focus solely on the transformation of the fruit of our lives, we become tempted to fall into the traps of legalism and our own wisdom and will to achieve what we are looking for.
In Deuteronomy 30:6, we have the prophecy of Moses, when he said to the Israelites, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
When we submit to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, He doesn’t transform the fruit of our lives. He transforms the tree. Through sanctification, the old, broken essence of who we were is crucified with Christ, and we are resurrected in the body of Christ Jesus into new life. We become a new creation, with a renewed heart.
The transformation we see in the fruit of our lives is simply a bi-product, a natural consequence of the true transformation – or the sanctification – of our heart.
What does this look like, this transformation of our heart through sanctification?
1 – Identity
Let’s look again at the baptism of Jesus Christ in Matthew 3, at the moment He received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 3:16-17 says, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is My Son, Whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
In that moment, along with the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus heard the voice of His Heavenly Father speak the truth about His Son. Upon hearing these words from His Father, Jesus Christ received one of the most vital components of His life of faith and obedience: He received His identity.
Now let’s go back to the story of the temptation of Jesus Christ in Matthew 4, immediately following His baptism. Notice the words the enemy uses Matthew 4:3 and 6, we he endeavors to tempt Jesus Christ. In both cases, he begins his attack by saying, “If you are the Son of God…”
Note here the specific target of the enemy’s attack. He is attacking Jesus’ identity.
Much of the brokenness and darkness in our lives stems out from lies and deceptions that we carry regarding our identity. The condition of our false, broken identity effectively distorts our perception of who we are, how valuable we are, how much we are loved, how worthy we are to know love.
Through our submission to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, the authority of the lies we believe about our own identity begins to break. Sanctification comes as we are able to hear the voice of our Heavenly Father speaking to us the truth who we really are. Holiness – freedom – comes when we are finally able to hear Him say to us, “You are My child, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”
2 – Renewal of our Mind
In Romans 12:2-3, Paul writes “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The process of the renewal of our mind leads to a change in both our thinking and in our perception of the world around us. Our conceptions and assumptions of ourselves and of God and of the people around us are no longer based on the lies and fears and darkness that fill the earth, and which have always reigned in our lives.
Through sanctification, our perception of things changes, becomes founded on the truth of God’s Word. We begin to see the reality of things, in the way God sees them. Our thoughts start to spring up naturally from the truth of Who God is, and what His unfailing Word says. The scriptures are no longer just nice words on a page to question or to strive for in our own strength, but they become the reality by which we naturally walk out our lives. As the prophet says in Jeremiah 31:33, the Lord puts His law in our minds, and writes it on our hearts.
3 – Revelation of the Glory of God
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” John 12:27-28
“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:2
One of the greatest sources of deception and prison for mankind revolves around this question – to whom belongs the glory? Through the darkness of pride we are condemned to give all of our energy and time and hearts to the fruitless quest of the glory of man. Even in the Church, we struggle with the deception that praise and glory belong to man, and often find ourselves battling through human wisdom and politics in order to put ourselves and our voices up above those around us.
In Psalm 115:1, the psalmist writes, “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.”
Ephesians 3:21 says, “To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
1 Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
Why do the scriptures insist that God receive all glory? Why did Jesus consistently pray for the Father alone to be glorified?
Because the only way for anyone to be saved from the death and deception of this world is to see and to know their Father God, by the blood of Jesus Christ. People do not need to see you and me. We can save no one. When we seek to have the glory – the attention and praise of man – brought onto ourselves, we make it more difficult for others to see the one, true Lord and Savior.
It is also important to recognize that man is not designed to carry the weight of the glory that belongs to God alone. When we ourselves become lifted up by the praise and adoration of man, or when we attempt to put other men onto pedestals reserved only for God, we put ourselves and others in danger of steep, painful falls into the temptations of pride, addiction, and idolatry.
The depth of the darkness in us and around us threatens to extinguish our hope, and our joy, and our life. Through sanctification, our eyes are opened, and we begin to see revelation of the truth of God’s glory all around us. We begin to see the overwhelming evidence of the reality of Who He is, and of what He has done.
Following are some of the things He desires to reveal to us about Himself:
1. He is near to us.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
2. He is sovereign.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
3. He is good.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will He harbor his anger forever;
He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His love for those who fear Him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Psalm 136:1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.
In Galatians 5:19-25, Paul writes, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
When we read through this familiar passage, it is important to resist the temptation to see these words as simply a list of rules, which we must work to achieve in our own wisdom and will. We see that Paul is identifying these attributes not as the “object” of sanctification, but as the “fruit” of sanctification.
The first list here, what Paul calls the “acts of the sinful nature”, are those behaviors and tendencies which are a natural bi-product of a heart that has not been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, has not been reconciled to the love of the Father. Paul describes these fruits as “obvious”, easily recognized as acts rooted in darkness and fear that reign in our lives.
Deep in our spirit, we are aware that these types of actions – sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, and rage – lead to our death. And yet, we find that we are condemned to continue to walk in them. As a result of the broken condition of our hearts, these types of behaviors draw us in, feeling almost natural, even as they choke all hope and life from our spirits.
In Psalm 51:10 we read the plea for sanctification: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
When we submit our lives to the saving blood of Jesus Christ, and become free to enter into the very presence of our Heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit begins His work of creating within us a new heart.
It is important to recognize that initially, as our heart begins to be transformed through sanctification, the old “fruits” of our lives may not stop immediately. But a clear indication of sanctification is that when these old fruits of sexual impurity, jealousy, rage and selfishness do show up, they begin to feel unnatural, even uncomfortable to us.
For example, if our heart is full of resentment and jealousy, we may be naturally prone to outbursts of rage. We may recognize that after each outburst, we are left feeling ashamed, isolated, and exhausted. But we feel bound, unable to control the resentment as it naturally arises in response to events and circumstances around us. So, despite our exhaustion and isolation, we continue to act out in these fits of rage. In fact, in our most vulnerable moments, these outbursts feel natural, even gratifying.
As we submit to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, however, the authority and source of the rage and jealousy within our heart naturally begin to break. Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the nature of our hardened, resentful and jealous heart is transformed.
Initially, we may find that the outbursts of rage still come in situations that leave us feeling vulnerable. But through the process of sanctification, these fits no longer bring the same sense of gratification they once did.
Over time, we begin to hear the Holy Spirit warning us in our weak moments, when temptations come for us to fall into old habits. In those circumstances in which we were once prone to submit to the old rage, our renewed heart becomes repulsed by it. Instead of being overcome by the resentment and jealousy, we begin to turn into our Savior, and to the truth of His Word for us.
As the authority of old lies begins to be replaced with the truth of God’s Word for us in our hearts, we begin to experience freedom. The fruits of the Spirit, which Paul describes, slowly begin to spring up naturally in the places where the old fruit use to exist. A life of love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness begins to overflow from within our renewed hearts, becoming a natural, even subconscious part of everything we say and do.
Other specific evidence of sanctification in our life:
1 – Repentant Heart
Psalm 32:3-5 says, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And You forgave the guilt of my sin.”
In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul draws a distinction between conviction that comes from God, and condemnation, which comes from the world, writing, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Before sanctification, we are bound to live under condemnation, or “worldly sorrow”, which is a natural result of the “old fruit” in our lives. Through sanctification, however, we begin to experience conviction, described by Paul as “Godly sorrow”, which comes from the Holy Spirit.
Conviction is not like condemnation. Condemnation grows up from deception and fear, and leads to paralysis and death. Conviction of the Holy Spirit, however, springs up out of the love and mercy of our Father, and leads to new life.
Conviction is necessary in order to make us aware of the temptations and sin through which we are being robbed of true life, which Jesus Christ bought for us on the cross. The Holy Spirit lovingly, but firmly brings these areas of deception and weakness into the light, in order that we may come to the cross, confess our sin, receive forgiveness, and walk out the freedom we have been given in Jesus Christ.
2 – Forgiveness for those who have sinned against us.
In Matthew 6:12, Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Matthew 18:21-22 says, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'”
Further, Romans 3:10-12 reminds us that we are all guilty, as Paul writes, “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.'”
Forgiveness is not a natural fruit of the sinful nature. When someone sins against us, in our own strength and wisdom we become naturally distrustful. We attempt to protect ourselves, building up walls of fear and anger around ourselves. Bitterness and rage often find their roots in our unforgiveness, as do isolation and resentment.
Through sanctification, the places of resentment and bitterness that we hold towards our enemies begin to be transformed into wells of empathy and compassion. The feelings we harbor of anger and vengeance towards others are broken, and we begin to see the depth of the pain and fear, which they themselves carry in their own hearts. Our fantasies of revenge are replaced with hope and prayer for our enemies, that they will come to know the love of their Father, in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As our own hearts are transformed, we begin to naturally walk in the peace and joy that come when we are able to let go of the fear and bitterness in our hearts, and to forgive. We discover true freedom when we allow the walls of protection we have built around us to be torn down, and learn to rest in the assurance that God alone is our Protector. He alone is our Defender.
3 – Unity in the Body
In John 17:21-23, Jesus prayed for us, saying, “Father, just as You are in Me and I am in Your. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.”
In John 13:35, Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In the environment of much of the Church today, it is difficult to even imagine what real unity looks like. The Body has been so plagued with conflict and division that these words of Jesus Christ seem almost impossible. We have become so consumed with making our case, proving ourselves to be right, proving others to be wrong, that we have long since taken our eyes off of Him who is the Head of the Body, Who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
There are few things more effective towards the building up of love and unity in the Body of Christ than when we pray together. When we submit to the blood of Jesus Christ, and enter into the presence of our Holy Father God in prayer, our hearts are sanctified together. The walls and divisions, which we have built up between ourselves, begin to crumble. We begin to see joy and hope in our different perspectives. We begin to celebrate and encourage each other in our various gifts and passions, especially those that differ from our own.
When we commit to pray regularly together, we no longer see only the places of disagreement and offense among our community, but our eyes are opened to the truth that we are all children of God, bought by the blood of Jesus Christ. In that place where we are sanctified together in the presence of our Heavenly Father, we lay down our defenses and our weapons, and begin to walk as brothers and sisters, in the peace of Jesus Christ.
Week 5 Meditation
This week, along with your regular quiet times, try to find one morning or afternoon on which you can set aside 2-3 hours to spend with the Lord in prayer. As before, try to find a place where you can get away in these hours from your regular work and distractions, to a place where you can have some privacy and solitude.
As you are preparing to get away, consider packing a bible, a journal, and some water. As you are packing, ask the Father to show you what else He’d like you to bring during your time away with Him.
As before, begin this time by just sitting or walking silently, and asking the Father to help you clear your thoughts of all of the worries and distractions of your day. Or you may want to start by reading through some scriptures, and asking the Holy Spirit to open up the Word for you.
– Psalm 23 – As you read, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you your own spiritual walk in these words.
– Matthew 5 – In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, ask God to deepen your understanding of the process of sanctification of the heart, through the examples Jesus gives here.
Some questions to ask the Father in this time:
– What are some of the “fruits” – thoughts, words, behaviors, addictions – in your life, which you are working to change in your own strength?
– Ask the Holy Spirit to come and show you the places of darkness and brokenness in your heart, in which these painful fruits find their roots.
– Ask the Holy Spirit to bring you courage to allow Him to crucify those old places – the “old” nature – even with uncertainty on what your new identity, your new life in Christ Jesus, will look like. (For further reading on this topic, see Neil Anderson’s book, Living Free in Christ (1993, Regal Books), giving particular attention to the subsection entitled, “Who I am in Christ”.)
*This week, it may be good to reach out again to the same person with whom you met and prayed last week. Spend some time with him or her talking and praying through some of the things the Lord reveals in your time of prayer.