A few years ago, our children received a butterfly growing kit. These kits allow you to watch as caterpillars become butterflies. The process takes about two to three weeks. It is so exciting when the butterflies emerge from their chrysalides! And it is rewarding to set them free and watch them fly away.
Caterpillars go through an amazing process to become butterflies. Having molted several times already, their final skin hardens into a chrysalis. It stays in the chrysalis almost two weeks while it undergoes significant changes. When the butterfly is ready, it emerges fully formed.
But the butterfly cannot fly immediately. Fluids must be pumped from its abdomen into its wings. This happens during its struggle to break out of the chrysalis. There is a cautionary tale about a boy who “helped” a butterfly by cutting the chrysalis with a pair of scissors. It emerged with a fat body and shrunken wings and never flew.
God has ordained a similar metamorphosis for us. The final stage in the “plan of salvation” is glorification. Someday our salvation will be complete. We will receive new bodies, like fully grown butterflies. But like a caterpillar, our transformation isn’t instant. We must spend some time in the chrysalis.
The chrysalis stage of salvation is called “sanctification.” During this stage, the Holy Spirit purges us of our sin. He reforms us in the image of Jesus just as a caterpillar is reformed in the image of a butterfly. But just as a butterfly struggles from its chrysalis, so we struggle through sanctification.
A caterpillar doesn’t become a butterfly by breaking out of the chrysalis. It is already a butterfly, but it needs to struggle to become functional and mature.
In the same way, we don’t become Christians during sanctification. We became Christians when God converted us. But just as a butterfly struggles toward taking flight, so we struggle toward glorification. We must struggle to become spiritually mature.
In his letters, Paul addresses his readers as “saints.” This means “holy ones.” He greets the Corinthians, “To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people” (1 Corinthians 1:2; cf. Romans 1:7, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:2). There was a lot of dysfunction and sin in the church at Corinth! Yet Paul still says they are “sanctified” and calls them “holy people.”
After conversion, you aren’t a fully mature and complete Christian. But you are fully a Christian. Sanctification is the process of learning to live out our new identity in Christ.
Fighting the Flesh
Paul continues, “I always thank God for you because…you have been enriched in every way…you do not lack any spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 1:4-5, 7). He was grateful God had given the Corinthians all they needed for spiritual maturity. He has given us all we need as well. Peter promises, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
But reaching spiritual maturity isn’t easy. Although we have all we need, we must battle our old sinful selves. A chrysalis is made of the caterpillar’s final layer of molted skin. In the same way, we struggle against our flesh. It hardens around us, trapping us in with sinful desire. Being sanctified means breaking free from the grip of our flesh.
Paul says, “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:16-17).
This is the ongoing struggle for every Christian – yielding to the Spirit while resisting the flesh. Paul reminds us, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Even so, you must “put to death…whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Colossians 3:5).
We will not be glorified until Jesus returns and transforms our bodies to be like His (Philippians 3:20). In the meantime, we struggle against the flesh. And the struggle is real. “Old habits die hard,” especially sinful ones! And other factors besides the flesh work against our faith.
At times the struggle may overwhelm you. You may even regret becoming a Christian. But God will sustain you. As Paul wished his readers, “May God himself…sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
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