We’ve all fallen for it.

It’s a danger that entraps us without us even realizing it. As committed followers of Christ, we have heard often God’s call to “be holy, as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). We know that as we seek to know Christ more, we are to become more and more like Him in every way, reflecting His likeness as a light to the world. So we pray, “God, make me more like you!” How many times have we prayed that prayer? It is a beautiful thing to want to become more like Christ. In fact, we should long for the work of sanctification to constantly be outworked in our lives.

So what’s the problem with that prayer? It’s a familiar scene. All too often, we find ourselves in the middle of praying that prayer out of desperation and hopelessness. You know the drill. You are striving to be better, to be more holy, and something trips you up. It’s the all-too familiar sin that perpetually throws you into a rut of despair. The same sin you’ve found yourself committing over and over again, regardless of the fact that you know all too well that what you’re doing flies in the face of God. So you repent, ask for forgiveness, pick yourself back up and…. [interject “Make Me More Like You” prayer here].

And the quest for sanctification just became a therapeutic cry to make yourself feel better.

The sad thing is, most of us don’t realize this until it’s already too late. It’s a subtle, sneaky thing, because the outward action stays the same. Yet our heart’s motive changes: Over time, our motive has changed from a true longing to become more like Christ into a masked plea for God to take away our guilt and make us holy so that we don’t have to feel crappy anymore. When our heart’s motive transforms our prayers into a cry for therapeutic sanctification, we are simply longing for God to give us something that will benefit solely ourselves. And now the danger is grossly clear: selfishness is disguised as godliness, and we didn’t even see it creeping in.

Before we throw up our white flag in defeat, let me share a story that brought redemption to my own struggle with therapeutic sanctification. Years ago, a very influential ministry leader was dining with some ministry volunteers she was overseeing. They held their meeting at McDonald’s, and this leader was was very much enjoying her fries and ice cream. At one point during mid bite, she looked up and made eye contact with the ministry volunteer sitting directly across from her. This specific volunteer struggled desperately with her weight. And something clicked in this leader’s mind. How could she, as a ministry team leader, not love her volunteers enough to commit herself wholeheartedly to their own journey towards sanctification? From that day forward, she began to eat healthy on behalf of her love for that specific volunteer.

Could it be that sanctification isn’t just for our own personal spiritual well-being?

Think about it. When we are holy, others are touched. When we live righteously, others are cared for and loved. They are protected from harm, shown grace, and forgiven freely by our commitment to do the right thing on their behalf.

“God, make me more like you” isn’t just a prayer for ourselves. Becoming like Christ means we are becoming an outpouring of love on behalf of others. Even more than that, it means we are becoming an outpouring of love for God Himself.

So maybe our prayers could become a little different to remind our hearts what’s really up. May we pray with one voice and with all the saints before us: “God, make me more like you so that others may too. Sanctify me by your truth; your word is truth, and your word is love. May my holiness reflect my love for you and for others.”