by David Powlison
“Sanctification” is the five syllable word used to describe the process by which we are reborn and then grow in a new way of life as followers of Jesus. But how does your growth in grace actually work? And how does ministry encourage and support growth in someone else? We need to pay attention to how God changes people. One interesting characteristic is that all Christians already have some first-hand experience. Every Christian can say: “This was key in helping me when I struggled with that in those circumstances.” Those stories teach us a lot.
But first-hand experience also presents a danger. It is easy to turn your own experience into a general rule: “This must be the key for everyone.” Both Scripture and personal testimony teach us that there is no single formula for the kinds of problems that call for our sanctification. There is no single formula for the kinds of change that sanctification produces in us. There is no single formula for the truths and other factors that produce change. There is variety in how God changes people. Here are two stories from my own walk with Jesus to illustrate the key things that helped me—with my particular struggles in my particular circumstances.
Story 1. August 31, 1975
When I was 25 years old I came to Christian faith. My conversion was dramatic. In high school I had become preoccupied with existential questions: “What lasts? What is meaningful? Who am I?” Four lines of development gave force and shape to my search.
First, in my teens I became estranged from the nominal version of church-going in which I had been raised. I never heard that Jesus Christ was anything more than a moral example. Christianity, as I experienced it, seemed like a polite veneer for people who didn’t want to face hard realities.