Going Deeper

The Most Often Asked Question on Holiness

Any seeking heart can be filled with the very love of God Himself. by Dr. Bill Ury
Question Mark In Sky

The question I am asked more than any other goes something like this: Is sanctification a crisis or a process? 

My answer is both! Christians have always grappled with being holy. Many believe that we are only ever “holy” by process or growth alone. Words like “striving” or “pursuing” define their understanding of being made holy. Paul’s words are the common reference, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12 NIV). But that is not Paul’s—or the Lord’s—last word on holiness. 

First Thessalonians 5 reveals that the Holy One desires to make us holy before Heaven:

  • God’s sovereign, perfect will is our sanctification (5:18).  
  • God alone offers all the reality of His holiness (5:23). 
  • Shalom, or peace, is the power of God to bring total rest to every heart that desires wholeness rather than a continual battle with self-centeredness (5:23).  
  • God is able to keep us blameless until Jesus comes again (5:23).
  • God is the One Who intimately invites us into the realization of His holy love (5:24).
  • His commitment and faithful ability to make us like Himself never changes (5:24).
  • Perfection and holiness are impossible, except when a person submits to the agenda of the Holy One to do in the heart what only He is able to do (5:24).

His will is the entirety of His life in ours, now! That clearly points to a crisis.

Secondly, to those who feel that Paul advocates only constant striving in reference to obtaining holiness, I ask that they read the Scriptures further. He goes on to say, “All of us, then, who are perfect.”  Many put the word “mature” here, but it is the exact same word found earlier in v 12. “Those who are ‘perfect’ should take such a view of things” (3:15). I don’t believe he is contradicting himself. 

Paul is talking about two kinds of perfection. He has not obtained “all this” (3:12)—referring to resurrection from the dead and perfection—the all that we will know in the future; and notes that he must press on (process) to all that Jesus has for him. But Paul also says that until Heaven comes to each of us, Christians can still be “completely,” “perfectly” and entirely His (3:15). Our hearts can be free of double standards, our intentions can be motivated by the love of God, and our moral lives can be pure. He is faithful; He will do it. He offers Himself in an experience of His holy presence in our hearts (crisis) and He keeps us as we grow (process) until we enter Heaven. 

Sadly, many testify to a constant struggle with sin. They have been taught that they will never be free of a heart full of transgression. They don’t know that the Holy Spirit can alter them, that inner struggle can be dealt with through crisis.  

Any seeking heart can be filled with the very love of God Himself (1 John 4:7-8,16; Romans 5:5). We do not have to displease God. In truth, our sinful nature can be changed, sanctified and made holy as we receive His transforming grace. No one has “arrived.” We always will need more of Him. But we can also be assured that everything we are is His without reserve.  

Questions to ponder

  1. Do you feel like you have reached a spiritual plateau? Do you find yourself struggling with the same sinful desires? 
  2. Have you asked God to reveal if there is something He is asking you to surrender? Something that you have avoided confronting with Him like bitterness, lust, resentment, pride, laziness or greed?
  3. If you find your heart is held captive to sinful temptations and desires, ask God to purify your intentions completely and to renew a right spirit within you. He can cleanse you and He can do it now.