Your Sanctification is Not Your Job

Editor’s Note: This article is a part of our annual Rooted Student Series, where high school, college, and graduate students share their voices, wisdom, and experiences in learning to be disciples of Jesus. This entire week (and a few more times though the month of August), we will share articles from students to encourage parents, youth pastors, and fellow students in their own walks with Christ.  

I’ve never been able to solve a Rubik’s cube. Granted, I have never looked up how to solve one, but every time I try to solve one I have the same problem. As I try to get one side correct I inevitably ruin the other sides, and the cycle goes on until I give up feeling completely exasperated.

For so long I viewed growth in the Christian life the same way, and I often find myself still reverting back to that thinking. Sanctification, as 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, is the promise that “we are being transformed in His image with ever increasing glory.” It does not say that we are transforming ourselves. It is something that is being done to us. 

Too often, however, I tend to believe that my sanctification is my job, that I am in charge of looking for the problem areas in my life, and then working diligently on them until I “fix” them. However, as soon as I felt like I had one area of sin under control, I realized I had neglected another. I would then focus on the area that popped up, only to lose control on the thing I had been working on before. The Rubik’s cube of my sanctification was not getting solved. 

When we take our growth upon our own shoulders, several problems arise. First, I am way too sinful to be able to account for all the problem areas in my life. Thinking I can handle and fix my own sin is rooted in not seeing the full weight and gravity of it. I am more sinful than I could ever imagine. However, taking it on my shoulders also leads to despair. I remember sitting with my RUF campus minister one day crying and crying just feeling the weight of my sin. He gently asked, “What is wrong in you that is especially bothering you?” and all I could muster through tears is “What is right?” 

When I think it is my job to uncover and solve my own sinfulness, I’m overwhelmed by the totality of my sin. I feel buried in my brokenness, unable to see anything else. In the same vein, another key problem with trying to produce our own growth is that it is a constant state of looking inward. This is rooted in a false belief that if we just look inward enough we can figure out the problem and then solve it on our own. 

I’ve also realized that this affects how I treat the growth of others as well. I lead a small group of high school girls, and I find that when I believe that I need to change and sanctify myself, I put the same pressure on myself to sanctify them as well. It is as if in pursuit of becoming Christlike I have taken Him out of the picture to help me or others to become like Himself. This damages both me and others. If I am not ultimately entrusting others to God, I will tend to be more controlling and desperate to mold them to my will, instead of faithfully walking alongside them as we pursue Christ together trusting that He will grow us in His time. 

I’m beginning to learn that the Christian life and the process of sanctification is much more organic, and much less on me than I typically believe. I have found conviction and comfort in Philippians 1:6 which says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” God began a good work in us and He is the one who will finish it. As pastor and author Sammy Rhodes says, “God works slow and steady but he doesn’t waste time.” 

I wish I would have known this sooner. Growing up, I was obsessed with rightness in many categories of life, and if I made a mistake I felt that it was on me to fix myself. The problem with this is that it produces dutiful legalism. There is no joy in obedience when we try to grow ourselves. 

This is why I was so struck the first time I spent time in Psalm 119. It was always the long and daunting psalm that I often skipped in high school, but my freshman year of college I began to read it bits at a time. It came alive to me, and yet perplexed me. Why is the psalmist delighting in God’s laws and statutes? How can he delight in them? Why aren’t they causing him to beat himself up? Why isn’t God’s law feeding his inner self critic? 

And that’s when it began to click for me. We can delight in God’s law when we realize that we already have the record of perfectly keeping it. Because of Jesus’ atoning work, because we have Jesus’ record as our own, we are actually free to obey out of joy knowing that God’s law is out of love and that He is the one who is changing us. 

Leviticus 20:8 says, “Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” What a remarkable verse! God is saying, “Obey and keep my commands, resting assured that I am the one who gives the growth, I will help you obey, I am making you new day by day.” What freedom! What rest! As John Newton so beautifully writes, “Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before, since we have seen His beauty, have joined to part no more.” 

As we gaze on Christ and His sufficiency both for our salvation and sanctification, we will find deep rest, and the power to obey and follow Him with pleasure and joy. What beautiful news. The Rubik’s cube of our growth is not in our hands; it is in Christ’s. Let Him pry your hands off, and trust His faithfulness and timing. 


Follow Rooted’s annual student series on the blog this week and throughout the month of August, and check out all our student series articles from over the years here.

Emily Zell is from Saint Louis, Missouri, and is a senior at the University of Missouri studying Secondary Language Arts Education and minoring in Art History. In her free time, Emily enjoys writing, thinking, and both watching and performing stand-up comedy.

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