Sanctification isn’t easy—it takes faithfulness, hard work, and self-discipline. And even then, it’s not purely a function of your will, but the work of the Holy Spirit in you. It’s not manufactured overnight.
As with anything that takes time, effort, and patience, people are prone to look for shortcuts. Some people substitute a mystical, subjective feeling of closeness to God for actual spiritual growth. Others cling to outward expressions of godliness while sin still makes a home in their hearts.
But that’s not true spiritual growth—it’s counterfeit. If you truly love the Lord, you can’t be willing to move the goalposts on biblical sanctification.
There are many varieties of counterfeit sanctification. Some are easier to spot than others, but all lead to the same kind of spiritual shipwreck. Here are a few to be on the lookout for in your own life.
Moral virtue can often pass for true spiritual growth. Some people, for varying reasons, are fair minded, loyal, kind, conscientious, hardworking, and generous. They can make it through life without scandals and outrageous immorality.
But morality alone isn’t an accurate measure of a person’s spiritual condition. Moral virtue can exist apart from sanctification—even apart from salvation. You’ve probably known nonbelievers who hold to a high moral standard, perhaps even higher than some believers. But their virtue isn’t a substitute for saving faith. Outward morality doesn’t always equate to inward transformation. True spiritual growth isn’t just about good exteriors.
Another counterfeit of spiritual growth is religious superstition. Some believers methodically go through the motions of their daily Scripture reading, prayer times, and other practical spiritual disciplines as if the actions themselves merited God’s favor and blessing. You even see this attitude in little things, like praying before a meal. It becomes a mindless, empty ritual instead of an opportunity to express real thanks and praise to God.
The Catholic faith is built on exactly those kinds of superstitious rituals. But just as lighting candles, sprinkling holy water, praying the rosary, and confessing your sins to a priest don’t earn salvation, going through the motions of your Christian life—even fastidiously—cannot substitute for true spiritual growth.