IBCD Blog

The Grace That Sanctifies 

by Cheryl Marshall and Caroline Newheiser

The grace of God has appeared, . . . training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. (Titus 2:11–12) 

The Billy Graham Library is about a thirty-minute car ride from my (Caroline’s) home, and it’s become a favorite site for my husband and me to visit. I especially enjoy walking through the peaceful Memorial Prayer Garden located on the library grounds. There you’ll find the simple burial site for Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth Bell Graham. These words are engraved on Mrs. Graham’s gravestone: “End of construction—Thank you for your patience.” A nearby plaque explains that Mrs. Graham once saw a sign with those words along the side of a road and requested they be placed on her grave. Her husband later explained: 

While we found the humor enlightening, we appreciated the truth she conveyed through those few words. Every human being is under construction from conception to death. Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent. At the end of construction—death—we have completed the process.[1]

It’s often said that Jesus meets us where we are. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. He doesn’t leave us where he finds us. We’ve seen in Titus 2 that Jesus came to save us, and now we see that he also came to change us—to train us to forsake sin and to pursue godliness (Titus 2:12). We were declared righteous when we were justified, but we become righteous as we’re sanctified. Both are a work of God’s grace in our lives. 

Sanctification is “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”[2] It’s the process of being conformed to Christ in our desires, thoughts, words, and actions. It’s our spiritual growth as we become more like Jesus in character and conduct. He’s the master builder, and we’re under construction. By his grace at work in us, we’re being built into his image. 

Imagine you’re watching one of the many popular television reality shows that follows a home’s renovation process. First, the buyers choose and purchase an older, rundown house with all its problems and quirks. Experts then help the new owners cast a vision for their home and draw up plans for repairs and updates to suit their purposes and personalities. Next, it’s time for the hard work of the actual remodeling. Out with the old and in with the new. 

After several weeks, the day arrives for the “big reveal.” All work on the house is complete, down to the smallest creative detail. Cameras roll as the excited homeowners see the finished project for the first time, and with lots of “oohs” and “aahs” they tour the house, surprised by all the stunning changes. The once rundown house is now a beautiful home—their beautiful home—and the transformation is amazing. The results are better than they had ever dreamed! 

Just like the renovation of a home takes time, your ongoing sanctification is a long-term pursuit of becoming like Christ. God is working in you to make you more like his Son in faith and obedience, and he won’t stop until the work is complete and you see him face to face (1 John 3:2). In Christ, you’ve been set free from sin’s power to control you, yet a struggle against sin still remains within you. The Spirit of God teaches and enables you to say no to sin and yes to the things of God. Instead of being enslaved to sin, you’re now free to follow and honor Christ (Rom. 6:17–18). 

Not only is the Lord working in you to conform you to his image; you’re also commanded to participate in your sanctification: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). This doesn’t mean that you work to earn your salvation—Jesus already did that. Rather, you obey God as an outworking of the salvation you’ve already received by faith. As he works in you to change your desires and behavior to glorify him, you are to forsake sin and actively pursue obedience to his word. 

It’s the grace of Christ that trains you to pursue godliness and purifies you to live for him (Titus 2:12, 14). Like a master craftsman who uses various tools to renovate an old house into a family’s dream home, the Lord uses various “tools” to bring you to spiritual maturity: his word, prayer, suffering, the ordinances and ministries of the church, and encouragement from other believers. To grow in Christlikeness, receive these provisions as gifts of God’s sanctifying grace. With them he will “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” (Heb. 13:21).[3] 

In heaven, when you are fully and forever sanctified, your joy will be indescribable. Can you imagine no more “put[ting] to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13)? At last, you’ll be perfectly righteous in body and soul. You’ll be entirely free from the presence of sin. You’ll be made holy like the Lord. The final result of your sanctification will be beyond anything you could ask or think: “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” (Phil. 1:6). Your construction will be complete.[4]

Understanding God’s gracious work in our own sanctification teaches and motivates us to speak with patience to others who are also being sanctified. We know from Scripture and personal experience that our sanctification is a progressive, lifelong journey. Sometimes we grow by leaps and bounds, and sometimes we take baby steps. Sometimes we may feel that we’re stuck in one place, not making much progress at all. But God is always patient with us as we’re being conformed to the image of his Son day by day: 

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. . . . 

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. . . . 

As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 

For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. (Ps. 103:8, 10, 13–14) 

Like a compassionate father, the Lord knows our spiritual weakness and immaturity, but he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. As he is patient with us, so also must we be longsuffering with the spiritual shortcomings and struggles of others. Instead of attacking or giving up on those who struggle with sin, we must extend an attitude of humility that communicates, “I sin, just as you do too. Neither of us is perfect, but our Savior is, and he’s changing us to become more like him. God will give us the grace we both need to grow in faith and obedience, and we can trust him for that together.” 

The apostle Paul provides an endearing example of patience that is worth following. He wrote to the Thessalonian Christians: 

We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. . . . You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God. (1 Thess. 2:7, 10–12) 

As with Paul, being patient with those you love doesn’t mean you never say the hard things that they may need to hear. Instead, it means that when you do encourage or admonish others to walk in a manner worthy of God, you speak with the gentleness of a devoted mother and the heartfelt concern of a loving father. Your love for others will be measured by the patience—and grace—with which you speak (1 Cor. 13:4). 

Content taken from When Words Matter Most: Speaking the Truth with Grace to Those You Love by Cheryl Marshall and Caroline Newheiser, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.

Footnotes:

[1] Billy Graham, Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 95.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 746.

[3] For more about the process of sanctification, we recommend Jim Newheiser, Help! I Want to Change (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2014).

[4] For a thorough discussion about the different aspects of sanctification found in Scripture, we recommend John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 2: Selected Lectures in Systematic Theology (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1977), 277–317.


Cheryl Marshall (MM, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a wife, mom, counselor, and Bible teacher. She has over twenty-five years of experience teaching and discipling women, and she currently serves as director of women’s ministries at Founders Baptist Church in Spring, Texas. You can connect with her at cherylmarshall.com.

Caroline Newheiser (MACC, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte) is an ACBC-certified counselor. She has been a pastor’s wife for over thirty years and is currently the assistant coordinator of women’s counseling at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte. Caroline’s ministries include counseling, blogging, and speaking to women’s groups. You can connect with her at carolinenewheiser.com.