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Is our focus on personal sanctification being self-centered?

Greg E. Gifford, PhD, CBC



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Does focusing on personal sanctification make us self-centered? One of the things that haunts me as a pastor and counselor is whether or not our emphasis on personal sanctification is another way of stoking the flame of self-centeredness. In other words, is my desire to grow into the image of Christ really an emphasis on me and not Christ?

Maybe: maybe I have misconstrued the purpose of sanctification by emphasizing the process of sanctification. Here’s what I mean. Part of my DNA in being a pastor and a biblical counselor is to be about the process of change in people’s lives. And I will candidly admit that I aim at biblical change in every conversation, every counseling session, and every sermon. So in that emphasis on change, do I muddy the waters of Christ exaltation by making sanctification the end-all-be-all? Again, we must say “maybe.”

The reason we say, “maybe” is because there will always be a process by which we glorify God. Think with me for a moment: the glory of God is the reason for which we exist. This is not up for debate. Yet, that end is always accomplished through a means. God is not glorified in some neutral happening. No, rather, He is glorified in us prizing, honoring, valuing, praising, and obeying Him. And in each of these action words, there is a corresponding process. Praise comes through a process; obedience comes through a process. Therefore, we say “maybe” because there will always be a propensity to magnify the process over the end of that process.

However, does that make us self-centered? Not always. Focusing on sanctification in your own life is foundational to the end-state of glorifying God. In fact, we cannot fully glorify God if we are not willing to personally conform to the image of Christ. It can even be said that disciple-making is none other than encouraging others to grow in their own sanctification—both positional and progressive. And if we are about disciple-making, then we are about personal sanctification, too.

Where then does a focus on personal sanctification go south? When its end terminates on the process. When I attempt to change so that I change. When growth is the goal, not glorifying God. On one hand, the goal of change is not change but conformity to the image of Christ. On the other hand, growth is the goal so long as it corresponds to greater Christlikeness. Do I want to become more patient? Yes. Do I want to control my anger better? Yes. Not so I can be more patient and control my anger but so I can give glory to God.

So can we focus on personal sanctification without erecting the idol of me? Yes and we must. Yet, that focus has God’s glory in perspective and as ultimate. True sanctification is precipitated upon God’s glory. It cannot happen without God’s glory or else it is only ‘personal improvement’. Sanctification is not the end but the means to the end. Can I make it about the means? Sure. Does that negate the need for a means? No way!  For God is always glorified through a means.

"God may be looked upon in an absolute consideration, as he is in himself the best and most excellent being, wherein we behold the concurrence of all perfections, the most amiable and beauteous excellences, to an intellectual eye, that it can have an apprehension of." --John Howe, On Delighting in God
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