A famous artist finished a sculpture of a mighty stallion. When asked how he did it, he said he just chipped away at everything that didn’t look like a horse. At times, onlookers may have wondered what that hunk of stone would become, but in the mind of the artist, it was already a horse and only needed his chisel to make it appear.
WWII fits this idea of being over before it was over. The end of the war was declared over before the fighting actually ceased. It was ‘already but not yet’ over, something like the horse was already there, only not yet exposed.
This sense of already but not yet applies to some biblical truths. The kingdom of God is here but not yet in that Jesus rules, but everyone is not yet able to see or experience it. This also applies to sanctification in that God declares me godly and perfect in His sight (because of Christ) but have not yet learned to act like what I already am.
C.H. Spurgeon said, “I do not admire the term ‘progressive sanctification’ for it is unwarranted by Scripture; but it is certain that the Christian does grow in grace . . . .” He went on to say that the conflict with sin never lets up, but Christians do grow. Even all that conflict and our imperfections cannot deny this progress because it is guaranteed.
The Scriptures says this about sanctification after a list of sins that keep people out of God’s kingdom:
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11, italics mine)
When a person becomes a Christian, the initial change is often obvious; they stop doing those sinful things that were part of their lives. Not all sin vanishes immediately, yet the changes happen and continue. As I abide in Christ, He is changing the way I live and this should be expected. Who can have the holy, sinless Son of God living in them and stay the way they are! As the above verse says, “And such were some of you . . . .” John the Baptist also said, “He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease.”
Change, transformation, new life, is all part of what it means to be a Christian. Without it, Scripture puts a question mark on the genuineness of anyone who professes faith but has not changed.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:1–10, italics mine)
This growth and change does not affect who I am in the sight of God because Christians are already holy, already perfected in Christ. He “perfected forever them that were sanctified” meaning we are set apart by God for Himself and seen in Christ as new creations. To be born again means having His divine nature implanted in us.
That is, I am perfect and complete in Christ, yet not yet fully living up to what I am. I am growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, in faith and in love and in hope, and in learning to live according to how God sees me.
However, in God’s estimation, I do not grow in holiness because Christ is my holiness. As long as I live in this world, my old nature is sinful and never going to stop pestering me, but the new life I have in Christ continues to rely on Jesus and become more like Him. Growing up in Him is not my holiness: He is my holiness!
Jesus, I shake my head in wonder at this amazing truth. God has declared me His child and imputed to me Your righteousness and holiness, even Your very nature and self. I am so blessed. Nothing that happens can change this truth, yet as the Holy Spirit chips away at everything that does not look like You, You are changing me. Praise Your Name!