Chapter 7 – Sanctification: The Transformation Process

Printable Resources:
Transformation Plan Checklist: [pdf]

Counseling is about change … both in the counselor and the counselee. Before a counselor can help a counselee work toward change, the counselor ought to be assessing himself and implementing change in his own life.

You can never truly understand or help others, even in your own family, unless you first look thoroughly into your own life and deal with your own sins without compromise, excuses, or evasion ( … Matthew 7:1-5; 2 Corinthians 1:3-5).[1]

This chapter will guide the counselor through personal transformation prior to aiding him in leading his counselee through a process of change. But how is genuine lasting change accomplished?

The Goal

Before discussing how change occurs, let us first consider what the Bible teaches about the goal for change. Just as in taking a road trip, knowing the destination is essential in setting the direction so it is impossible to determine the direction for counseling without first defining the destination. To do this, we must understand the purpose of human life. The Bible teaches that humans were created in the image of God to be whole-hearted worshipers of their Creator; to love Him with all their heart, bringing honor and glory to their Maker; to be a reflection of His image (Gen. 1:26, Deut. 6:5, Matt. 22:37, Exod. 20:3, 2 Chron. 16:9, Matt. 22:37, Rom. 11:36, Col. 1:16, Rev. 4:11). But because of the fall (Gen. 3) and the sin nature that ensued, man is no longer capable of fulfilling his purpose, thus he is stricken with a sense of aimlessness leading to paths that end in frustration, confusion, depression, sickness, sin, idolatry and ultimately physical and spiritual death.

Enter Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world who is able to restore sinful man to a sinless state by His atonement on the cross. At the point of salvation, a Christian is instantaneously declared righteous (Acts 13:39; Rom. 8:33). The believer who has been redeemed is forgiven of all sin and clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rev. 3:5). Yet, there remains a sinful nature to be brought under control. “Without question, one of the most frustrating things about the Christian life is the apparent contradiction between what God reckons us to be and what we, by experience, know ourselves to be”[2] in practice. We are “caught in the Gap Trap … Between the ‘Now’ and the ‘Not Yet.’”[3] This “gap” might be described as the gap between the acorn and the full-grown oak tree:

We all like to think that “Jesus came to take up our diseases [and struggles with sin]—therefore we don’t need to put up with them anymore.” But that’s akin to saying: “There’s an oak in every acorn—so take this acorn and start sawing planks for picnic tables. … Forty years will pass before that white oak is ready for lumbering. So [it is] with [Christ’s] rescue. What Jesus began doing to sin and its results won’t be complete until the Second Coming. “It is finished” he uttered from the cross—the purchase of salvation was complete, the outcome settled with certainty. But the application of salvation to God’s people was anything but finished.[4]

God promises that one day “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2) but in the meantime, there remains an on-going inner struggle between sin and holiness (Gal. 5:16-26; Rom. 6, 7). Over time, the heart of the struggling believer is gradually conformed to the image of Christ, resulting in the believer increasingly looking like Christ. This life-long struggle of the Christian being transformed into the likeness of Christ is accomplished within the heart of the believer through the process of progressive sanctification.

Sanctification is both definite (occurring at conversion) and progressive. It didn’t all happen in one experience in the past, nor is it to be thought of as only happening by degrees. We were changed and we are changing.[5]

Twice in Romans Paul uses the term hagiasmos urging his readers to “yield their members to righteousness for sanctification, clearly focusing on the ethical living expected of those who have been freed from the dominion of sin [emphasis added].”[6] The goal for the Christian, then, is to become more like Christ in every aspect of life; to increasingly love Him, obey Him, trust Him and to serve Him more effectively.

Change always demands a deeper understanding of the things of God and a more careful application of those truths to our lives. Since change is a lifelong process, it won’t be over until we are in the presence of the Lord. So, as we encourage people to change, dealing with the needs of the moment is not our highest priority; rather, it is answering God’s call to “Be holy, because I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). As we call people to do what God has called them to do, we must keep this ultimate destination in view.[7]

How is Genuine Change Accomplished?

Progressive sanctification is a joint effort between the Holy Spirit and the believer. While the Christian works to “put off” behaviors and attitudes that center on self and to “put on” behaviors and attitudes that center on God and others, the Holy Spirit is at work renewing the mind of the believer through the Word so that she is gradually transformed to look more and more like Christ (Eph. 4:22-24).

When the Bible refers to the “mind” or the “heart,” it is referring to the inner being of a person—her desires and passions, her knowledge and understanding and her will (see fig. 6.3). So in counseling, the counselor gives biblical instruction and assigns homework that will clarify biblical understanding for the counselee as well as hold her accountable to obedience of the Word. As the counselee learns what God’s Word teaches about putting off sinful behaviors and attitudes and putting on righteous behaviors and attitudes in their place, sin that prevents her from effectively bearing fruit (glorifying God) is identified and confessed. As the counselee works on homework assignments that are relevant to her sinful patterns, the Holy Spirit works inside her changing her will and her passions to be in line with Christ’s (Phil. 2:13). In turn what comes out of her in behaviors and words will be the fruit of a transforming heart (Matt. 12:34; Luke 6:43-45; Gal. 5:22-23).

All holiness [in humans] stems from [the Holy Spirit’s] activity in human lives. All of the personality traits that might be held forth to counselees as fundamental goals for growth (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) God declares to be the “fruit” (i.e., the result of the work) of the Spirit.[8]

Granted, learning to bear fruit through the trials of life cannot be reduced to a simple formula, yet for the sake of practical application, there are four “steps” which can be taken as we face adversity that will result in growth and maturity. By teaching these steps, the counselee can learn to duplicate the process after graduation as well as help others to do the same:

Step 1: Define the Problem Biblically

Step 2: Make a Plan to Repent

Step 3: Pray

Step 4: Practice

These steps are examined more closely below.

Step 1: Define the Problem Biblically

Without understanding a problem from a biblical perspective, a biblical solution will be difficult if not impossible to identify. Defining the problem biblically involves first making a determination of whether the counselee has sought counseling predominantly because of sin or predominantly because of suffering. In times of crisis the counseling will proceed much differently than a typical counseling session where personal sin must be addressed. If the counselee is experiencing such excruciating pain, fear, confusion or numbness that presenting doctrine for how to change would be inconsiderate and premature, then demonstrating the love and tenderness of Christ and directing the counselee to God’s character and comfort are most fitting. This might mean crying with her or giving her a shoulder to cry on. It may involve simply listening or saying nothing. Quietly reading a Psalm and praying together may be the most beneficial. Mobilizing the church to provide childcare, meals, a funeral, household chores, transportation, housing or financial resources may be most suitable. Wayne Mack in his A Homework Manual for Biblical Living has produced an excellent three-page study on suffering that can help the counselee, in due time, begin to understand how to find God’s meaning and purpose in her suffering. Soon after, the sufferer may also need to begin to address sin issues. But until some time has passed, grieving may be exactly what the counselee must do.

Addressing sin issues begins with an examination of self: “What do I need to change?” If trials are resulting from circumstances beyond human control, helpful questions to ask would be, “Am I responding in a way that honors God?” “Does my response demonstrate trust in God, His character and His promises?” If a problem occurs in a relationship, we cannot take responsibility for the actions of the other person, but we must examine ourselves in light of God’s commands. For example, Paul writes to the Romans, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:14, 18). Questions to ask would include, “What part of the problem is up to me?” “Have I spoken unkind words?” “Has my tone of voice been harsh?” “Have I granted the grace that God continually bestows on me?” “Is this an offense that ought to be overlooked?” When attempting to define the problem biblically, we can also consider whether or not we are reaping what we have sown. “Have I made choices in the past that are now reaping consequences?” “Have I established destructive habits that must change?” It is not until we have identified the problem for what it is biblically that we can begin to address the problem biblically.

An excellent tool to assist in the process of identifying sins is the aforementioned resource, Transformed Into His Likeness by Armand P. Tiffe:

The strength of this resource is that it is a complete package. It explains the biblical process of change, helps identify where personal change is needed, provides pertinent Scripture references to problem areas, and offers a practical worksheet to walk you through the change process and help you implement biblical change into your life … .[9]

By following the instructions in the manual, the believer can identify personal sin patterns as well as move to the next step: Make a plan to repent of sin.

Step 2: Make a Plan to Repent

It is not uncommon to maintain a Day Planner. People understand that in order to effectively reach goals, some planning is required. We make educational plans, vacation plans, financial plans, transportation plans and meal plans. If we want to build a new house, we will need architectural and engineering plans. If parents will be away from their children for work or other responsibilities, they must make plans for childcare. Unfortunately, most Christians put little or no thought into spiritual growth plans. That is what this section is about.

In “Step 1” as discussed above, problems must first be identified biblically before biblical solutions can be found. With the exception of those times of crisis where suffering must be attended to apart from sin issues, sin must generally be identified before growth and maturity will take place. Once sin has been identified, constructing and implementing a written plan to repent of that sin is the next crucial step. The word repent is translated from the Greek verb metanoeo, meaning “to change one’s mind and purpose, as the result of after knowledge.”[10] Once the Christian realizes an area of sin in her life, a plan for change is necessary in order to guide the implementation of desired change. Once a believer has implemented a few written plans over time, he may be able to work toward change without all the details of a written plan for every area of change needed. However, for habitual or life-dominating sins and for Christians learning how to implement change, detailed written plans will prove most successful.

In preparing a written transformation plan, the believer can begin by asking himself the following questions: “What specific action will be ‘put off?’” “What specific behavior will replace it?” “What beliefs, attitudes or mindsets need to be corrected or renewed?” “What Scriptures and resources will promote renewing of the mind?” “How will future temptations be addressed?” “How will hope be found when growing weary of the change process?” “How will change be measured?” “Who can act as an accountability partner?” “What is the expected timeline for beginning and evaluating the process?” “What triggers the temptation to sin?”

Once again we will turn to the resource Transformed Into His Likeness by Armand P. Tiffe. By following the instructions in the manual, the disciple is walked through the process of developing a written plan for change. Worksheets as well as a completed sample plan are provided for developing a transformation plan. In the first column of Tiffe’s worksheet, the sin is identified, the relevant biblical references are listed and insights from the Scripture passages are gleaned. In the second column of the worksheet, the specific put-off and put on are identified. In the third column, a practical plan for change is developed. Figure 7.1 provides a “Transformation Plan Checklist” with suggested activities that can comprise a thorough plan in the third column of Tiffe’s worksheet. The counselor, then, works as an accountability partner for the counselee’s implementation of her plan.


Transformation Plan Checklist: [pdf]

  1. Scripture
    1. Memorization
    2. Meditation (when will you do this? For example, while waiting, driving, standing in traffic, showering, etc.)
    3. Scripture reading & interaction with the text
  2. Prayer
    1. Request for guidance in developing your plan
    2. Request for help with implementing & maintaining the plan
    3. Turn Colossians 1:9b-14 into a prayer leaving blanks for people’s names. Write it on a card. Where it talks about God in 3rd person, change it to “You.”
    4. Pray for enemies (write a prayer to pray daily)
    5. Pray for the needy around you (maintain a written prayer list or journal)
    6. Thanks and praise (maintain a journal)
  3. Praise Journal and Praise music daily
  4. Preach the Gospel to yourself daily. What is the Gospel? It is the good news that Jesus, the sinless son of God, sacrificed His life and died in our place to pay the penalty for our sin so that through His shed blood and by God’s grace, we might be forgiven, declared righteous, and reconciled to God as His children through faith alone, in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone, for the praise and glory of God alone.
    1. Remember this daily. Think about (meditate) how your life is affected on a daily basis by this truth. What if Christ had not died for you? What if you had not been chosen by God to receive this salvation? How would your life be different?
    2. Thank God daily for what Christ has done in your life through the Gospel.
    3. When will you do this? Before getting out of bed each morning? While in the shower? Just before you walk out the door in the morning? Just before you fall asleep at night? At meals? By setting an alarm for a certain time each day? Choose a time when you can consistently spend a minute or two focusing on the Gospel truth.
  5. Collateral reading—read a good biblically based book or article relevant to the issue (recommended by ACBC)
  6. Serving others (a specific plan)
  7. Specific behavior(s) you plan to put off & specific behavior(s) you plan to put on in their place
  8. A commitment to review & implement the plan daily
  9. Share your plan with someone and ask them to hold you accountable
  10. What Scriptures of hope & encouragement will you turn to when you become discouraged throughout the transformation process?
  11. A plan for evaluating or measuring your progress. Sanctification is not an empirical science but changed behavior, which can be observed and evaluated, reveals heart change.

Step 3: Pray

We cannot change ourselves; we are desperate for God’s transforming power in our lives. Thankfully, it is God who works in us, giving us “the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Phil. 2:13; NLT). For this reason, we must boldly approach the “throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). This means we must pray.

Prayer is a necessary element in bringing down strongholds. Without God’s power, the counselee will never find freedom from a life-dominating sin and prayer is her vehicle for pleading for God’s power. It is in prayer that the counselee demonstrates her dependence on God and His power for her change. The counselor can help the counselee pray effectively by helping her understand how to pray and then assigning the praying of a particular prayer daily. Some Scripture passages that can be adapted as prayers to pray daily can be found in Colossians 1:9-14 and Ephesians 1:16-19, 3:16-19.

Prayer must be integrated into every transformation plan. For most Christians, there is much to be learned about prayer. There is a “Prayers in the Bible” homework packet available online[11] as well as four biblically-based online sermons on prayer.[12] The counselor can study these materials in preparation for developing sound lessons on prayer, which can then be taught to the counselee.

Step 4: Practice

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (emphasis added).

—Hebrews 12:11; ESV

Athletes must train. They must practice their skills repeatedly. In the verse above, the word trained is translated from the Greek word gumnazo meaning “to exercise vigorously, in any way, either the body or the mind.”[13] It can also be defined as to “train in gymnastic discipline; to control oneself; to exercise self-control.”[14] The idea being conveyed in this passage is that tenacious, disciplined training is required for living a life of righteousness and reaping its fruit. The practice of new righteous habits must, therefore be intentionally repeated by the Christian who wants to experience change. Therefore, “practice” is a necessary step to mature, lasting change.

There is often the temptation for the counselee to believe that victory hinges on her hard work. This is not true. Victory hinges on the work of the Holy Spirit through her efforts. “John 6:63-64 reminds us that human effort apart from the Holy Spirit is useless.”[15] Even though hard work by the believer is required, if the Holy Spirit does not work in the counselee’s life and heart, there will be no authentic lasting change regardless of how hard she works. But the hope that the believer can cling to is that God will never abandon His promise: “ … that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6; ESV).

A changed heart, through the process of progressive sanctification, is the crux of biblical counseling. With the goal of Christ-likeness, the counselor works to set an example, to teach relevant principles from God’s Word and to hold the counselee accountable to necessary changes. The counselee works to increasingly obey God’s commands through completing homework assignments. The Holy Spirit empowers the counselor’s teaching and the counselee’s efforts, transforming both into the likeness of Christ one step at a time: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

[1] John C. Broger, Self-Confrontation: A Manual for In-Depth Biblical Discipleship (Palm Desert, CA: Capstone Enterprises Ltd, 1991), 36.

[2] C.J. Mahaney and Robin Boisvert, How Can I Change? (Gaithersburg, MD: Sovereign Grace Ministries, 1993), 1.

[3] Mahaney and Boisvert, 2.

[4] Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes, When God Weeps (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 59.

[5] Mahaney and Boisvert, 5.

[6] D. R. W. Wood, & I. H. Marshall, New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1058.

[7] Tripp, Instruments, 239.

[8] Adams, Competent, 20.

[9] Armand P. Tiffe, Transformed Into His Likeness (Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2005), Introduction & Overview.

[10] M. Easton, Easton’s Bible dictionary (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897).


[12] If the links are not connecting, go to Select “sermons” and then select “Prayer Matters” or “Pray Like This Parts 1, 2 and 3.” The following sermons should be listed:

[13] Strong, (G1128).

[14] Friberg, 102.

[15] Mark E. Shaw, Addiction-Proof Parenting (Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2010), xvii.