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Is sanctification optional?
- Jacob Ninan
There are people whose main struggle is not being sure of their acceptance with God. Some think that it depends on their being good enough or keeping up practices such as reading the Bible, praying daily, etc. Some others cannot believe God loves them because they are aware of their sins. Imagine their surprise when they hear that God accepts them through a gift of grace (unmerited favour) because Jesus has already paid for every one of their sins. All they need to do is to repent from their sins and accept this salvation. Then God begins to count them as 'justified', washing away their record of sin. This is truly the good news that everyone needs to hear.
But then comes the issue of the failure with sin after this born again experience. Forgiveness of sins doesn't seem to have dealt with their indwelling sinful nature and the temptations that still come to them. In trying to comfort and encourage such struggling saints, some teachers are over-emphasising acceptance by grace. Since Jesus has not only died for our past sins but also for any sin that we might fall into, there is nothing for us to worry about but to rejoice in our acceptance just as we are, they say. There is an element of truth there, but there is more truth that we need to understand.
"So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Co.1:10). This is just one of many verses that tell us that after we have received the free gift of forgiveness, we should now live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. If we are already pleasing to the Lord because He has accepted us, what is this about trying to please Him? We thought, and rightly so, that no one can please God so as to find acceptance before Him!
The difference is that now we don't seek to be pleasing to the Lord in order to find acceptance with Him, but because we have been freely accepted by Him we want to please Him in everything we do. Let us be also clear, there is a difference among us when it comes to our lives being pleasing to Him. Some receive the words, "Well done, good and faithful slave," and others altogether something else! We bear much fruit or less.
If we don't even think in the direction of wanting to be more and more pleasing to God, there is a chance that we really have not even been born again. Paul has left us a challenging example in that from the time he got to know what grace meant, he laboured to follow that vision and to be always pleasing to the Lord (Ac.26:19;24:16). That is a mark of one who knows he has been forgiven much (Lk.7:47).
If we become slack in this, our loving Father will discipline us (He.12:10), because He really wants us to be become holy in life, and not just in the way He recognises us in Christ. He will tell us if we go wrong, as in the example of the seven churches in Revelation He sent messages to. No, a holy life is not optional.