It’s a drum I beat again and again: Your sanctification is a gift to others. Your continual growth in holiness is not something you emphasize merely for your own benefit or your own assurance, but something you pursue for the benefit of others. This message cuts hard against the individualism of western society, so is one we need to hear again and again.
A wife’s sanctification is a gift she gives her husband. A pastor’s sanctification is a gift he gives his congregation. A parent’s sanctification is a gift he gives his children. A Christian’s sanctification is a gift he gives his family and neighbors and co-workers and world. Those who feel little compulsion to become holy for their own sake, at least ought to feel a burden to become holy for the sake of others. We are, after all, to live outside ourselves, to do unto others as we would have them do to us.
Sanctification is a gift to others. But so too are the means God uses to achieve that sanctification. The reality is we are deeply entrenched in our sin and poorly motivated to put it to death. The reality is that righteousness doesn’t always look attractive and we are poorly motivated to bring it to life. Whether for this reason or for his own inscrutable purposes, God sometimes uses difficult means. He uses trials and sorrows and suffering. And through it all he conforms us to the image of his Son who was also made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). He wastes none of it.
The means God uses to sanctify us are a gift to the rest of the church so others can be encouraged by our faith, so they can be motivated by our endurance, so they can weep with us who weep and rejoice with us who rejoice. A man’s confidence in God’s provision through an extended period of unemployment is a gift that strengthens those who witness it. A woman’s hope through miscarriage is a gift that serves others who will soon endure a similar trial. A widow’s godly grief models confidence in the coming resurrection to those who weep with her even as she weeps.
Focusing specifically on the purposes of God in suffering, Ligon Duncan says this: “Suffering is God’s instrument to bring about the maturity of the whole church. God ordains for our suffering, as a participation in the suffering of Christ’s body, to bring about in the church the purposes of Christ’s affliction. In other words, sometimes God appoints his children to suffer so that the whole body will become mature.”
Sanctification is a blessing that extends to others. The means used to achieve sanctification are equally a blessing that extends to others. God uses both the means and the end to strengthen his people and glorify himself.