rebelling against low expectations

The Forgotten Side of Sanctification

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Some Christians commit to doing the right thing some of the time; they deem certain situations as more important than others and feel a sense of duty in those situations. Some choose to do the right thing most of the time but make exceptions or excuses in situations that are highly tempting or difficult. And then some, likely a small minority, make a daily commitment to do the right thing all of the time, in every situation, no matter the difficulty.

We will all fall into one of these three categories, but which of these approaches to life should we adopt?

Choosing to do the right thing only some of the time seems to be an obviously substandard approach, given a Christian morality. Doing the right thing most of the time is more than commendable in the eyes of the world, but is that approach acceptable in the eyes of the Living God?

According to Scripture, God requires a constant commitment to moral perfection from every believer.

1 Peter 1:14-15 says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

God is not pleased for you to be holy in only some of your conduct for some of the time. We are required to reflect the moral character of God in all of our conduct, at all times.

Our Biggest Problem

Knowing that God requires universal holiness from believers, we can begin to see that our biggest problem as Christians is an ongoing clash of wills between us and God. Because we have remaining, indwelling sin, our will is not always aligned to God’s will. Hence, there are countless situations in life where what God wants us to do is completely opposed to what we want to do.

There are binding moral requirements laid upon us in every situation we encounter in life, but often what we want in our hearts runs counter to those moral requirements from God. Our conscience tells us the right choice, the Spirit guides us toward the right choice, and our flesh simultaneously tempts us with the wrong choice. We are at war within ourselves (1 Peter 2:11).

Therefore, it is always wrong to go against God’s will. Likewise, it is always wrong to go against your conscience, the aspect of the soul which makes moral evaluations. But is there ever a good excuse to violate God’s revealed moral requirement?

No Good Excuses

Firstly, God has designed the world in such a way that believers are always free and capable of choosing the right thing (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). In other words, God never forces anyone into a situation where the only option is to sin. If we sin, it is because we freely chose to sin according to our desires, and we are fully responsible for making that choice. Our sin cannot be blamed on our circumstances or anything else outside of us. Therefore, there are no valid excuses for choosing to do the wrong thing.

With that said, I want to address a common, yet sneaky, excuse that I can say personally held me back from progress in sanctification for years. The excuse goes like this: “I chose to do the wrong thing because, even if I had chosen the right thing, my heart’s attitude toward the right thing would have been very sinful. Therefore, choosing the right thing wouldn’t have been any better.”

The power of this excuse lies in its abuse of the truth that complete moral sanctification involves inner heart transformation. It tries to create a false dichotomy between inner heart transformation and holiness of external conduct. This means that it tries to make these either/or instead of both/and. Either you pursue inner heart transformation, which gets to the root of the issue we’re told, or we forget heart transformation, avoid immoral conduct, and work towards doing the right external actions.

However, the excuse’s major flaw is the assumption that sanctification only involves internal transformation and stops short of external actions. “If I focus on sanctifying my external actions,” it says, “I will become legalistic.” But the truth is that both our external actions and our internal affections, thoughts, and attitudes must be conformed to the holiness of God.

If we strive for heart change without a commitment to holy conduct of life, we will run into the ditch of using grace as a license to sin. If we strive for holiness of actions without heart change, we end up in the ditch of external, perfectionistic legalism. Therefore, we see that inner transformation and holiness of outer conduct are completely dependent upon one another in sanctification.

Here are three succinct truths that directly combat the lies behind this excuse:

1. All over the Old and New Testaments, God demands holiness both inwardly and outwardly. Our hearts and our conduct are to be conformed to the holy standard of God’s Word.

2. Even if we could theoretically always choose to do the right thing, we would still never have a perfect heart attitude towards the right choices while on earth. All our morally good choices are mixed and stained with sinful, inward motives and goals. Though we are required to seek the Holy Spirit for the sanctification of our hearts, we must also know that we will never achieve perfection in this life regarding our thoughts and desires.

3. It’s always more pleasing to God for us to do the right thing with a less than perfect attitude than choosing to do the wrong thing. Between these two alternatives, the former is always better and more blessed.

A Crucial Step

In summary, making the commitment to always do the right thing is an absolutely crucial step in Christian sanctification. This is because every time you choose to do the right thing, especially when this choice conflicts with your internal desires, it creates an opportunity for God to renew and transform your inner man. God uses this warfare to spiritually mold us, strengthen us, and grow us.

Alternatively, every time we choose to do the wrong thing, we have irrevocably lost an opportunity to be sanctified by the Spirit in the inner man. How many opportunities have you already lost by making excuses for choosing the wrong thing? Where could you be in a year if you stop making provision for your sin?

Being sanctified in knowing the right thing to do in every situation, according to God’s revealed will, and desiring to do the right thing is a lifelong project that only God can bring about in His sovereign grace to us. It is God’s prerogative to transform your heart; it is your responsibility to commit to holiness of life by always choosing to do the right thing.

Additionally, choosing the right thing will always have better consequences than choosing the wrong thing. God blesses obedience and curses disobedience; He cannot be mocked (Galatians 6:7).

The greatest way to live a life of doing hard things is by always doing the right thing. And this is the blessed life. Make this commitment today and continue making it every day for the rest of your life.


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About the author

Zach Smith

is a full-time speech-language pathologist who works primarily with children with autism. He’s married to a beautiful woman and is a father to boy-girl twins. He enjoys lifting, playing chess, reading, and writing. You can find him online at: Basic Truth – Applying the Word of God to every area of life and culture (wordpress.com).

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rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →