In the face of some troubling coping behaviors, a friend recently told me, “I need to get right with God again.” I winced because I knew such a statement came from pain and shame. I also knew it came from a misunderstanding of justification versus sanctification.
Becoming right with God is not something you can do. Being right with God (justification) is something God does for you through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 3:24). Even your faith to believe in Christ’s work of justification was given to you as a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9). And your justification is not revocable (Rom. 8:30).
It’s easy for a believer to feel as though she is not right with God when she experiences the ongoing battle with indwelling sin and the many temptations with which the world system and Satan assail her, especially when the battle is sometimes lost or she falls to a temptation. Believers are not yet 100% free from sin—and won’t be until they are in Heaven. While we remain in this sin-sick world, we are in the process of becoming more and more like Christ. This is called sanctification. Hebrews 10:14 very succinctly states that we are both justified and being sanctified: “…by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (NIV).
So, if we are already right with God, what can we do to address the sin we find so alarming? Here are just a few verses that pertain (my emphasis added—all from NIV):
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this work, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:1-2)
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory [or “contemplate the Lord’s glory”], are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (1 Cor. 3:18)
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the [flesh]. (Gal. 5:16)
You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:22-24)
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthy things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:1-3)
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. (Tit. 2:11-12)
As we depend more and more on God and become better and better acquainted with his truth—in Christ and in his Word—we are transformed. And when we do fall, we are caught and carried by his grace (Phil. 1:6). You are already right with God, and he is at work in you to make you “righter” in your behavior (Phil. 2:13).