by Rev. Mark Buetow
But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”
1 Corinthians 1:30-31 (NKJV)
Do you do drugs? Sleep around? Look at porn? Steal stuff? Gossip about others? Treat your parents like dirt? Blow off church? How can you be a Christian and do those things? Or maybe those aren’t your sins. You know people like that but it’s not you. Ah, so it’s pride then? Proud of how well behaved you are? Wonder why those other people can’t make the good choices you do?
So, either you’re in the first group—the hardcore sinners who just live like animals, with no common sense and even a little effort to stop doing stupid things, or else you’re in the second group—the self-righteous folks who look pretty good outwardly but whose hearts are full of pride and a self-satisfaction about how few sins they think they actually commit.
Big theological word alert! SANCTIFICATION. The work of being SANCTIFIED. To SANCTIFY. What’s it mean? The Latin word “sanctus” means “holy.” Okay, we’ll try that. HOLY-FICATION. The work of being HOLY. To HOLY-FY something. Still not getting it? “Holy” means “set apart.” When something is holy, it is set apart by God to be special. Are you special? Or do you just blend in with the worldly crowd that could not care less about what it does or how it looks to God or others? Or do you think you’re holy and special because you live a better life than others? Do you see something wrong yet in this article you’re reading? Here’s what’s wrong: We’re talking about everyone but Jesus!
You can’t have sanctification or be sanctified without and apart from Jesus. So watch out! When some people talk about sanctification, they want to make it about you. Usually sanctification is described as “how you live as a Christian” but that’s not it at all! Sanctification is about how Christ lives in you. A church member once accused his pastor and said, “Pastor you never seem to talk to us about good works and how we should be living a good life.” (Incidentally this guy thought he was doing a much better job than some in the congregation.) The pastor replied, “But we don’t do good works. Jesus does them in and through us. ‘For it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.’ Galatians 2:20.” “But pastor,” he cried, “then you make it sound like Jesus is responsible for your sins, too!” “Exactly!” The pastor smiled, “Now you understand the Gospel and what it is that Jesus has actually done for you!”
The point of that little exchange is this: When we talk about the “Christian life” we can’t ever mean anything else by that than Jesus: Jesus who became man. Jesus who took our sins. Jesus who bore our sins to the cross of Calvary to face our punishment. Jesus who suffered, bled and died for our sins. Jesus who descended into hell, who rose from the dead, and left all your sins buried in His tomb forever and ascended to the right hand of the Father and sent the Holy Spirit through His Word. Jesus who washed you at the font, who absolves you week after week and who feeds you with His pure and perfect body and blood and so actually lives in you. The Jesus whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and, yes, our sanctification. Jesus is your “Christian life.”
Okay, well, so what does that look like? Well, first of all, it means you stop doing things to impress the Lord. So many Christians try to live a certain way because they think that it makes God happy. They are the ones who so easily judge others who don’t live such good lives as they do. Because of Jesus, God is already happy with you! Never doubt that! He smiles upon you every minute of your life, forgets your sins and counts whatever else you do as holy and precious. No need to impress God. Repent of ever thinking you can win God over by how you act! But don’t fall off the wagon on the other side! Just living however you want and doing whatever makes you feel good doesn’t help your neighbor. The problem with drugs or porn or anger or gossip or any of that other stuff is that it doesn’t do anyone else any good. In fact, it harms others. It’s selfishness. Repent of thinking only of yourself and treating others like dirt to get what you want!
And the key to this daily repentance is found in your Baptism. Remember the Catechism? “The Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires and daily the new man should arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” In other words, as we face temptation, and fall into sin, and struggle with trying to avoid sin, the “Christian life” is lived in Jesus, just as Jesus lives in you. It looks like this: You go and receive forgiveness for your sins over and over. Daily you make the sign of the holy cross and remember your Baptism into Christ. You hear your pastor tell you your sins are forgiven. You hear Christ’s Word and preaching about what He’s done for you. You feast upon His Body and Blood which forgive your sins and by which Jesus lives in you.
If you’ve done some nasty sins, Jesus died for those. If you think you’re okay because you haven’t pulled some of those nasties, Jesus died for that, too. And that’s the point of talking about sanctification. Christ is holy and He makes you holy. His holiness covers your sins and makes you look good to the Father. And He lives in you and through you, glorifying the Father and serving your neighbor, which means that you glorify God and serve your neighbor. You can’t not do those things because Jesus lives in you. Holy Jesus, Holy you. That’s what sanctification and the “Christian life” are all about.
Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, Illinois and serves as Media Services Executive for Higher Things. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.