How can we know that our salvation is sure? We need to be sure of our standing before God, because Jesus says that some who think they’re Christians will spend eternity in hell.[1]

So what distinguishes people who are Christians from those who just think they are? For those whose salvation is real—whose faith is the saving kind—God promises an ongoing transformation of our hearts to make us more like Jesus.[2]

God frees us from sin for the purpose of bringing us into everlasting unity with himself. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, he purifies one pattern of thought or behavior after another, allowing for more gradual change, when needed, for deeply rooted sins. He continually makes us better fit to do his work on earth and, ultimately, entirely fit to be with him in heaven.

Grappling with these ideas—the Biblical concepts of justification, sanctification, and glorification—has helped me figure out where I stand before a holy God.

  • “Justification” refers to God’s forgiveness of our sins. He forgives us when we end our love affair with sin and embrace a one-on-one relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior.  In justifying us, God frees us from the guilt of sin.[3]
  • “Sanctification” refers to God’s subsequent and ongoing work to help us see and overcome our sinfulness.[4] Sanctification frees us from the power of sin.
  • When we come face to face with Jesus at the end of our earthly lives, God completes our sanctification by making us pure in every respect.[5] This is glorification, which frees us from the presence of sin.

Together, these concepts describe the fullness of what Jesus gives us—love, forgiveness, acceptance, peace, purification, eternal purpose, and unity with God and his followers—freedom from all the things in this life that would condemn us and hold us hostage.

The transformation that God brings about in us will be foundational to our very nature and will have practical implications for our actions, words, relationships, and priorities.[6] We will desire more and more to experience God’s transforming purification. We will rejoice in his presence and abide in his love with deeper satisfaction and greater joy.

While God is patient and gentle with us throughout the transformation process, as the popular pastor Francis Chan says, “A lot should change in five years.”[7] By God’s power and with our cooperation, we will become more and more aware of our idols (i.e., anything we desire or trust more than God) and saddened by our selfish willfulness (i.e., our determination to do what we want to do and to do things in our own way). This realization of our personal sin and turning away from it can be painful.

Recently, my heart broke when the Holy Spirit, working through one of our sons, brought to my attention a behavior I had developed that caused distance between us. Overwhelmed by having too many things to do before sending off our older three to the next semester of college, I had become aggressive in my attempts to move things along. I cried because I had alienated our son and not represented Christ well. The joy that came from mending our relationship and putting my trust back in God rather than in what I could accomplish, though, eclipsed my grief.

I once believed that my salvation had been secured as a result of my confessing my past sins and asking God to forgive me. I had “accepted Jesus” as my Savior but not as my Lord and, for years, lived for myself rather than for him. I now know that because of God’s promise to transform those whom he saves, the best evidence of saving faith is God’s ongoing work in us, making our hearts and our lives look more like Christ’s.[8]

Are you sure of your salvation? Since we know that God will sanctify everyone he saves, it’s critical for professing Christians to knowingly experience ongoing sanctification. Please be sure that you desire God’s transforming work to make you more like Jesus and that you’re giving yourself over to him toward that end.

Proverbs 4:18

“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,

which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”


  • Describe your ongoing experience of God’s transforming work in you. Is he replacing your selfishness with gratitude, your pride with humility, your greed with contentment, your critical nature with graciousness, your fear with trust in him?[9] If not, seek him.[10] He will show you the way.[11]
  • As you consider the status of your heart now relative to a few years ago, do you find that you more readily acknowledge and respond to the Holy Spirit’s revelation to you of your sin?
  • In what areas do you want to grow over the next five years, both in your relationship with Christ and in your own character, habits, and spiritual disciplines?


Father God, I ask that you please create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.[12] Help me to desire obedience to you above all else.

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[1] Matthew 7:21-23

[2] 2 Corinthians 3:18, 2 Corinthians 5:17

[3] 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 3:21-28. For many Christians, justification is what we have in mind when we talk about being “saved.” In response to the Holy Spirit’s work in us, we admit that we have sinned against God, not only broadly but also in the details of our thoughts, words, and actions. We acknowledge the depth and severity of our sin in comparison with his holiness and seek God’s forgiveness. We place our trust in him alone, in response to which he accepts Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross as full payment for our sin debt.

[4] 2 Corinthians 3:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Romans 6

[5] Philippians 1:6, 1 John 3:2

[6] Luke 6:43-45

[7] Francis Chan, “A Lot Should Change in Five Years,” in Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013), 175–87.

[8] “Biblical Doctrine: An Overview,” in The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001, ESV Text Edition 2011), 2531.

[9] Galatians 5:22-23

[10] Acts 17:27, 1 Chronicles 16:11, Jeremiah 29:13

[11] Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 33:3, Hebrews 11:6

[12] Psalm 51:10

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