And that word? It's sanctification. (okay, it might only sound stuffy to me, I get that)
When I hear that word, I immediately get anxious. Why? Well, because I picture myself in a Sunday School classroom and someone is asking me what that word means, along with other big (scary!) words like: propitiation, justification, and of course, hermeneutics.
But then I also think back, with much embarrassment, to the times in college when I'd use these exact words to try and show people that I was a mature Christian. Oh, the depths of brokenness, friends!
LOOKING FOR AN ANSWER
If you google, "What is sanctification?", you not only get a lot of results (over 6,140,000 in less than a second) but you're also not alone. To me, it's one of those terms where I know what it means, but I still get nervous when people ask for a (succinct) definition.
In short, it's spiritual growth or better yet, God's plan for our spiritual growth. Which, we see clearly defined in Paul's letter to the church in Rome, as being conformed to the image of Jesus, by and through the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, in the famous Romans 8 chapter, I think we neglect the fact that the Holy Spirit is referenced in this chapter a lot. More than any other chapter in this entire book (er, letter).
I do like this word, because it forces me to think of Jesus and the Spirit. Personally, when I think of "spiritual growth" or "spiritual formation", my mind starts thinking of all the things that I can do to 'make this happen'. Which, in a sense, is antithetical to the Gospel as presented in Romans.
As I studied this letter/book recently, I was overwhelmed with reminders that I play a part in this process, but it's not the first part nor the main part. God initiates, God sustains, God grows. How? Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is clear in the first eight chapter, and of course, expounded upon as Paul continues to flesh it out over the remaining sections his writing.
RETHINKING MY RESPONSE
If a college student where to come to my office and ask me, "How do I grow as a Christian?", my gut reaction and response would be to start a discussion on the spiritual disciplines. Perhaps it's because I'm a recovering workaholic or pragmatic to a fault, or maybe it's because I read The Power of Positive Thinking cover-to-cover at the ripe age of 11.
Regardless, I think that Dallas Willard helps me refocus:
"Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort."
Like Paul, Dallas is saying that we don't earn it (or anything in the Kingdom) but in fact, it requires or invites us to participate. And as Paul demonstrates, God's will and revelation (but specific, special and general) mean that He is in charge. And He is the doer, in the Kingdom, not me. I am merely invited to be a co-conspirator.
So, I hope to answer that student, that it's about beholding God, Jesus and the Spirit. It's about believing and trusting. It's about covenant, not fulfilling a contract. Yes, the spiritual disciplines are key, but they are almost a fitting reaction to the knowledge or understanding of the goodness of God and his grace, both in creation and also, in the life of Christ.
A WAY FORWARD
If I focus my ministerial advice (or even personal devotion), on first, what I can do, I then miss out. Why? I have created a disordered narrative, wherein the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit are relegated. Thus, I force on myself a weight or burden that was not created for my shoulders. And that in fact, Someone's shoulder's have already carried.
Holy Spirit, may I collaborate with you, but let you lead my growth, my maturation and my walk with Christ. Help me to humbly and with obedience, follow you. And may I get involved, and put in effort (strive, even) but never from a posture of 'I'm the first to move' or 'I'm making this happen'. Instead, as a loving response, to a gracious King.
This sixth chapter of Romans and its proper interpretation is not only imperative for your sanctification, but also for your sanity.
Robert L. Deffinbaugh