I grew up memorizing lots of fun Christian words in our church’s kids program on Wednesday nights. My favorites were grace and mercy, and explaining the difference between the two. Concepts like justification and propitiation were still far beyond my reach, but I could tell you the definition word for word. And maybe even spell it for you.
Sanctification is another of those big Christian words. It means the process of being made holy, to be set apart for the intended use of the Creator and Designer. It happens as we receive salvation in Jesus and are covered by His blood, but it is also a journey of God refining us as we grow and mature in our relationship with Him.
I’ve heard a lot of things over the years in the church about sanctification, especially in relation to marriage. I’ve witnessed people say over and over how marriage is sanctifying, purifying. I don’t doubt that the sacrifices and joys of pursuing a God-honoring marriage do this. I’ve always wondered where this leaves me though, a single woman in my 30s with marriage nowhere on the horizon. Do I have any hope of holiness in this lifetime?
God works in each of us to refine and grow us into maturity. This happens in the heart of the believer who is obedient and open, no matter our relationship status. He DOES use the relationships we are in with family or spouse or friends, but ultimately this work is done through the Holy Spirit in us.
Just as marriage can sharpen and deepen our character, so can singleness in various ways. I have learned much and had to sacrifice and compromise in my relationships with my teammates on the field. Our opinions differ, out of which decisions still need to be made. We wrestle with personality differences, seeking understanding and celebrating the uniqueness of our gifts and weaknesses, how all of this can come together like puzzle pieces to create a beautiful picture of the church working as one. In any relationship, we have to learn to give and take, to sacrifice and receive help and love.
Even though I’m already in to my 30s, I still desire marriage and have conversations with God often about this. He has used this longing in my heart as a refining tool. Sometimes I desire marriage so much that it consumes every corner of my heart. It is my first thought in the morning and keeps me company throughout the day. Instead of happiness over a friend’s engagement announcement, all I can think is “This isn’t fair, Jesus! When will it be my turn?” By this point, marriage has become an obsession, a growing, stony idol in my heart that takes my worship away from Jesus. Then in His sweetness and love and discipline, God reveals this to me and asks me to once again surrender the longing and the dream of marriage to Him. He reminds me that the longing in my heart is not sinful, but should constantly be put at His feet in daily (or perhaps hourly sometimes) submission to Him. He should be my first love no matter what my human relationship status. He created us to be in connection and community with others and this longing should not be stuffed or guilt-tripped away. I need His correction and guidance to form this longing to be honoring to Christ.
Ultimately, I need to remember, and may I remind you gently as well, that God is the one who sanctifies us. We receive salvation in Him through the sacrifice of Jesus and not because of anything we have done to deserve this precious gift. He teaches us through His Word and the Holy Spirit, and He also uses the relationships we have with others to help spur us on to love well. Let’s remind each other, whether we are single or married, to look to our Heavenly Father who loves us and encourage each other on this journey of sanctification.
Romans 5:1-2 (NLT) Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.