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The way many of us think about sanctification is, well, not very sanctified. In fact, it's downright narcissistic. We thinking about how we're doing, if we're growing, whether we're doing it right or not. We spend too much time brooding over our failures and reflecting on our successes. We seem to believe that the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian.

Reflecting this common assumption, someone who was frustrated with something I had written said to me not long ago, "Don't you know that the focus of the New Testament is the personal holiness of the Christian?"

What? Seriously? To keep calm, I replayed Mr. Miyagi in my head, "Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out …"

The truth is, we spend way too much time thinking about ourselves, and we justify this spiritualized navel-gazing by reasoning that this is what God wants us to be doing.

There is nothing in the gospel that encourages us to focus on ourselves. Nothing! It's never honoring to God when we take our eyes off of Christ. Never! In fact, the whole point of the gospel is to get us out of ourselves and to "fix our eyes on Christ" (Heb. 12:2). The truest measure of Christian growth, therefore, is when we stop spiritually rationalizing the reasons why we're taking our eyes off of Jesus to focus on ourselves.

It's sin that turns us inward. The gospel turns us outward. Martin Luther argued that sin actually bends or curves us in on ourselves. Any version of "the gospel," therefore, that places you at the center is detrimental to your faith—whether it's your failures or your successes, your good works or bad works, your strengths or weaknesses, your obedience or disobedience.

Ironically, I've discovered that the more I focus on my need to get better, the worse I actually get. I become self-absorbed, the exact opposite of how the Bible describes what it means to be sanctified. Sanctification is forgetting about you. When we spend more time thinking about ourselves and how we're doing than we do about Jesus and what he's done, we shrink. As J.C. Kromsigt wrote, "The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth."

Maturity is not becoming stronger and stronger, more and more competent. Christian growth is marked by a growing realization of just how weak and incompetent we are, and how strong and competent Jesus is on our behalf. Spiritual maturity is not our growing independence. Rather, it's our growing dependence on Christ. Remember, the apostle Paul referred to himself as the "least of all the saints" (Eph. 3:8) and the "chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15), and this was at the end of his life!

For Paul, spiritual growth was realizing how utterly dependent we are on Christ's cross and mercy. It's not arriving at some point where we need Jesus less because we're getting better and better. Paradoxically, Paul's ability to freely admit his lack of sanctification demonstrated just how sanctified he was.

Here's my point: when ...

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Tullian Tchividjian is pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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Displaying 1–5 of 13 comments


August 15, 2012  7:36pm

Hi Mark and Jeff! Just to be clear, I didn't say that there is nothing in the Bible that encourages to examine ourselves. I said that there is nothing in the Gospel that encourages us to focus on ourselves. The law of God causes to examine ourselves so that we see our desperate need for Jesus. The gospel of God causes us to see Jesus, not ourselves. The gospel is the good news of what God in Christ has done for sinners. It's sole focus is Jesus. Blessings, Tullian

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August 15, 2012  8:38am

Regarding "not focusing on ourselves" consider this: Jesus is The Law, The Word of God made flesh (John 1), and James 1:25 says "But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing." In the preceding verses (23-24) James uses the analogy of looking in to a mirror for examination, but instead of seeing yourself and how short you fall, you should see how Jesus measured up. Or, as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord [Jesus], are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." Pardon a secular analogy for clarity, but when the US Secret Service wants to catch a currency forger they don't study another forgers works, they study the original that was minted as the standard.

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August 07, 2012  7:56pm

Stephanie, I don't disagree at all with you and I didn't mean to imply that I expected Tullian needed to "re-state the entire New Testament." But what he said is "There is nothing in the gospel that encourages us to focus on ourselves. Nothing!" Repeating the word "nothing" and the use of the exclamation point placed a great deal of emphasis on this statement, and yet it appears that the statement is false. I think he weakened his argument with that statement which is unfortunate, because I think he is trying to make a valid point (as you so effectively did with your comment).

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August 07, 2012  9:16am

It would be easy to read this article and find all that Tullian has not included. He cannot re-state the entire New Testament and we all know that self-examination is vital, Tullian is just pointing out we spend too much time looking at ourselves. This is the most common theme in most of modern counseling therapies - stare at yourself continually, work on yourself continually, focus continually on the wounds and scars of how we were parented or not parented, etc. This is where the whole "self esteem" debacle was birthed. Me, me, me. I say all that knowing that all those things are MOST CERTAINLY important, but we must not linger there in "spiritual naval-gazing".

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August 06, 2012  12:23pm

I am thinking of the Pharisees who even gave glory to God for their perceived sanctification and they were not the ones who went home justified. Your writing is very refreshing Tullian.

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