Three Purposes of Sanctification (Meditation on Psalm 119:79-80)
“Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies. May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame!”
Do you ever wonder why we have to go through the process of sanctification? Wouldn’t it be easier to just be sinless, or even go straight to heaven once we are saved? Well, we know that God is sovereign, and has purpose in all he does and ordains. We know that he has numbered our days before even one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). That includes our days before conversion, and after. So, the question then becomes, what are the purposes of sanctification? I want to suggest three purposes, and we find them here in these two verses.
God is glorified in our Sanctification
In John 15:8 Jesus says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” In the previous chapter Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). God is glorified in his children when they bear the fruit of the Spirit by obeying His commands. This is a specific kind of obedience, however. Remember, Jesus warned against those people who honor him with their lips while their heart is far from him (Matthew 15:8). In other words, we are not talking about behavior modification, or the kind of obedience that is merely external. We are talking about a joy-filled pursuit of God, by obeying His commandments and keeping in step with the Spirit. This, Jesus says, glorifies the Father.
The Psalmist prays “may my heart be blameless in your statutes.” This is a cry for Spirit-empowered obedience. The kind that glorifies God. The kind that is a light shining to the world around us and causes people to see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). We can know that this is the kind of thing the Psalmist has in mind because he is not praying that his ways or his actions would be blameless in God’s statutes, but that his heart would be. His affections and his motives are essential to his blamelessness. And this glorifies God.
Our Ministry Becomes More Effective in our Sanctification
Paul shows us in 2 Corinthians 5 that as a new creation we no longer live for ourselves, but rather we have now been enlisted into God’s Kingdom as ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation. This is one of the main reasons we don’t go straight to heaven after conversion. We are image bearers, disciple makers, ministers of reconciliation, and ambassadors for Christ. We are on mission. Jesus makes this abundantly clear in Matthew 12:30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” There is no in between. Your existence is not a mistake and you are not to be passive or ignorant of your calling. You are either working for the Kingdom of God as a gatherer, or against God’s Kingdom as a scatterer.
In 2 Peter 1, Peter reminds us of the gracious gift of adoption that we have been given. And as partakers of the divine nature we are commanded to not only supplement our faith, but make every effort in doing so. Then Peter lists a bunch of sanctification qualities: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. But Peter gives us a purpose for this effort. This isn’t just so we can pat ourselves on the back and feel good about our improvements. Sanctification isn’t just for us. Peter says in verse 8 “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is what we are pressing towards in our sanctification: fruitfulness (holiness in our own life) and effectiveness (ministering to the church and gathering God’s elect). God has chosen to call His own to Himself through the use of His disciples. This is how people call on the Lord and are saved, through the preaching of the gospel from the feet of those who go (1 Corinthians 1, Romans 10).
This is what the Psalmist is talking about when he says, “let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies.” He prays that his heart would be blameless right after, so it is clear that he is not seeking his own glory. He wants those who are being drawn by God or are seeking to grow in God to turn to him. This is a high and holy calling. We ought to live our lives in such a way that those who fear God can turn to us. This is what Peter means when he says make every effort to supplement your faith with these fruits of sanctification so that you can be fruitful and effective. Live in such a way that those who fear God can turn to you so that they too may increase in fruitfulness and effectiveness.
Our Joy Increases in our Sanctification
The Psalmist finishes the verse saying, “that I may not be put to shame.” Shame is a joy killer. Shame is the result of not walking according to God’s commands. Shame is the result of seeking joy outside of God’s law. Shame is the result of being someone who scatters. Shame is the result of being unfruitful and ineffective.
Jesus Christ “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Do you see how in this verse shame and joy are at odds? Jesus had the choice to choose shame or joy and he despised the shame and ran after the joy set before him. And what was this joy set before him? Obedience to His Father. In John 6:38 Jesus says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” This joy, though it was full of suffering and cost him his life, was real joy. It was serious, eternal, God-glorifying, law-abiding joy. Jesus looked at the temporary satisfactions and temptations of this world and saw through them. He looked beyond their mask of appeal and saw shame. And He despised it. And then He looked at the road of suffering, and obeying God’s commandments; and rather than seeing bondage and loss, He saw real joy.
Hebrews 12 tells us to run our race the same way! Look through the lies of the devil, beyond the lustful desires of the flesh, to see real shame. And then look to our High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses, “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” And “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Let us see this as it truly is, as Jesus says it is, a pursuit of joy. Real, true, God-glorifying, eternal joy!