Sometimes (not often), I hear comments like – ‘I don’t want to be a Christian because it means I can’t do ______ / I have to ______ / I must give up ______.’ These things might be trivial: having to stop swearing or losing your Sunday mornings or wearing longer skirts. But they could be huge upheavals: your entire career, your long-term partner, your family (e.g. if you’re converting from Islam), your riches, your safety. Either way, they are real concerns.
But there is a glorious truth for the one who chooses to put his trust in the Lord, and that is when you come to faith in Christ, you are born again. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s meant to. Everything about the cross is foolishness to the unbelieving (1 Cor 1:23). Christians call it regeneration. And with it comes all spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3), procured and secured for us by Christ, and that includes a promise that as we look more and more to Him, we will look more and more like Him (2 Cor 3:18). This is what Christians call sanctification, or growing in righteousness and holiness.
A non-Christian who has seen a friend before conversion, then after, may sometimes be shocked at the changes wrought in the friend (I hope so). ‘How can New Christian be happy without X? He used to love it!’ ‘I can’t believe he would spend so much of his time on Y just so he can go to heaven, he must be miserable.’
Well, that’s where they’re wrong. Fighting against sins and temptations and worldly desires is undoubtedly a tiring and painful process (thus the apostle Paul’s constant calls to endure and be steadfast), but it is a joyful, triumphant fight, mostly because we know it has already been won by our Lord and Saviour, and because we seek a far greater reward: pleasing the One we love. And this change in our fundamental desire is where regeneration and sanctification come together, as Dane Ortlund says beautifully:
How does regeneration fuel growth? In this way: by changing what we want. What we delight in. New birth does not, in other words, simply give us a new power to do what we always wanted to do. After all, before new birth we did not even want to obey God. Rather, new birth gets down underneath our very will, transforming what we desire. Both obedience and sin are simply the fruit of what we delight in. In authentic sanctification, the will is not pushed, but pulled—that is, the will is not pushed by threats of punishment or fear of judgment or appeasing of others, but rather pulled by a hunger for beauty, for God.
The key question, in sanctification, is not, Are you getting better? The key question is: What do you want?
Read the whole excellent post on sanctification here. (: