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The Two-Step Dance of Sanctification

Now that we’re here in the third week of Lent, have you thought about what you’re going to do after Lent?

Perhaps you’ve been following the ancient tradition of fasting during Lent, whether from food, luxuries, or some other form of excess. These practices connect us with our surpassing need for God and, hopefully, put us in a repentant frame of mind. That is, after all, the purpose of the season.

What about when Lent ends? We celebrate with the feast of Easter—and with good reason! It’s the undisputed high point of the Christian calendar. But when the fun and feasting end, will anything be different in your life?

Just as we give things up during Lent, we ought to consider taking things on in the Easter season. By giving up excessive and perhaps harmful practices during Lent, we form habits of healthy behavior and thinking. It is similarly healthy to look for new habits to take on as we focus our attention on the new resurrection life that begins at the empty tomb.

Paul talks about this two-step dance of sanctification in Colossians 3. Verses 5–11 describe “putting to death” or “putting off” practices that pertain to the flesh and are condemned under God’s wrath. Verses 12–17 speak of “putting on” the virtues and habits that flow from the love of God now residing within us as a result of his gracious election.

Notice that the process is not by any means automatic. “Put off” and “put on” are active concepts. Theologians refer to sanctification as a cooperative work, since unlike predestination, justification, or adoption, the work of sanctification requires our participation.

Ideally, Lent is a time for putting to death those things Paul mentions—sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk (Col 3:5, 8). But let’s not forget the full scope of the gospel. It doesn’t just blot out our sin; it restores us to wholeness! In Christ we are “a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).

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The time following Easter is well suited for celebrating new life in Christ by taking up new habits of obedience—compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving, love, peace, thankfulness, marinating in Scripture, encouraging others, and singing (Col 3:12–16).

Developing a new habit of behavior is every bit a discipline as is stopping an old behavior. As a church, we have been thinking together about the practice of prayer using the Prayer Covenant as a guide. Many of the items from Paul’s list of practices to “put on” are reflected in the lines of the Prayer Covenant. Prayer is the right way to go about this, since we change not by dint of our own effort, but in cooperation with the Spirit of God at work in us (Phil 2:12–13).

What disciplines of joyful obedience might God be calling you to as you look to the celebration of resurrection life in the Easter season?

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