We know that sanctification is a divine work through the Word by the Spirit of truth. So, we must plead with the Spirit that He would mold and shape us into the image of Christ, through the truth, from one level of glory to the next.
We don’t want to remain spiritual children, perpetually stuck in infancy. We don’t want to be weak, vulnerable, and immature. Nor do we want to be ignorant about God’s truth, because we want to fully glorify Him for everything He has done. We want to appreciate Him in all His fullness, knowing and loving Him thoroughly. If that’s the goal, then how do we get there? How do we respond to the Word in a way that drives that progress?
I see three definitive steps in the biblical pattern of sanctification. The first is cognition. John 17:17 gives our Lord’s prayer: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” We have to understand what the Bible says and what it means if it is going to produce growth in us. Sanctification begins with spiritually renewing the mind, that is, changing how we think. We need “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). There is no premium on ignorance or naivete in sanctification. The discipline of putting the truth constantly at the forefront of our minds is crucial.
If we lack spiritual maturity, we must read everything we can that faithfully and accurately explains the Word of God to us. We must study the Bible and memorize it; we must read commentaries from biblical scholars, listen to sermons from faithful expositors, and read the biographies of godly saints whose lives display the kind of maturity we want to see in our own lives. We must soak our minds in the Scriptures, fueling the Spirit’s sanctifying work.
That seems like an obvious first step, but it’s one that many believers fail to take. They can’t fathom why they keep succumbing to the same temptations and why their love for the Lord has cooled and their interest in His church has plateaued. They fail to understand that the absence of biblical knowledge retards spiritual thinking and slows spiritual growth.
Don’t confuse childlike faith with childish thinking. Legalism won’t lead us to holiness and spiritual maturity. Mysticism and sacramentalism won’t get us there, either. Pragmatism will likely lead us in the wrong direction, and it invites us to pursue quick fixes and worldly wisdom instead of grounding us in the truth of God’s Word. The only activity that catalyzes the ongoing sanctifying process is taking in the truth of Scripture. Cognition—knowing and understanding the truth—is the first step in pursuing spiritual growth through the Word of God.
After cognition comes conviction. As we learn the truth of Scripture, we must begin to develop beliefs into convictions. Our lives are controlled by our convictions. As the truth of God’s Word begins to occupy our minds and shape our thoughts, it will produce principles that we desire not to violate. This is what sanctification is about—being inwardly compelled to obedience.
The Apostle Paul suffered many things during his ministry—imprisonment, severe beatings, shipwrecks, and a constant stream of unfounded accusations from false teachers.