Taking Time to Explain
This is another essay inspired by my question to my friends on social media. This is also another topic that my beloved wife was interested in thinking through. There is often much talk in Christendom about sanctification. There is also much blurring of the lines between justification and sanctification. Worse still there are camps within Reformed thought that do not believe in progressive sanctification. They believe that any effort towards taking ownership of your sanctification will inevitably lead to works-based justification. These folks are functionally antinomian even when they declare that they are not.
In this essay I will attempt to present a brief but thorough argument for why it is important for us to get the issue of owning our sanctification right.
Monergism, Synergism and our Responsibility
The ongoing battle between the Monergists and Synergists does not appear to be waning in any way. So, I want to state that I believe that salvation is fully and only a work of God. The Godhead is the only one that has any part in the salvific work of justification. As Jonathan Edwards pointed out, “You contribute nothing to your salvation but the sin that made it necessary.”
Consequently, many today think that salvation is this once-and-done thing wherein there is no requirement upon the believer to work after they are saved. But nothing could be further from the truth. One of the greatest debates raging in Western Christian Culture over the last forty or so years is that centered on Lordship Salvation. This debate has divided families and friends and churches. Moreover, both sides have been quick to label one another heretical.
Opponents of Lordship Salvation insist that its proponents believe their works save them. This is often done by people who are knowingly taking statements from its proponents out of context. Any reference to the work required of the believer after salvation is painted to look damning. This is often done while intentionally ignoring places like Ephesians 2 where Paul reminds us that God has prepared good works for each believer to do.
Let it be thoroughly understood that salvation is only and all of God. However, that act does not exist in a vacuum. There are acts of obedience that flow from being an adopted and blood-bought child of God.
Taking Ownership of Sanctification Means What Exactly Todd?
Good question. I am glad you asked it.
We are told that we are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. While it would be easy to get bogged down in the nuances of what fear and trembling may mean, that isn’t the point here. Oft times, I think that phrase leads to more debate over the phrase instead of about the passage.
The build up of Philippians 2 is a powerful focus on the good of others because of the sacrifice of Christ. There is a powerful reality that Christ not only died for us, but that He did it at great personal cost to Himself. Therefore, we should do the same.
This leads to the powerful words offered to us by Paul in verses 12-18. The lynchpin being that we are to approach the once and done work of Christ with great reverence and awe. Not to earn our salvation, but instead, to pursue Christlikeness.
This is sanctification. This is the whole point of what progressive sanctification means. A constant drive to grow more like Christ. We cannot sit idly back and wait for this to happen to us. Sadly, many who would decry Antinomian theology are still functionally Antinomian. Shakespeare’s famous quote from Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks…” comes to mind.
The more you decry Antinomian theology but cling to the idea that being saved doesn’t by necessity mean there will be any noticeable change, the more Antinomian you look. Taking the right position here means that we will be about the business of taking ownership of our salvation.
Growing in Holiness
In general, truly converted Christians will acknowledge the need for growing in holiness. This is to be an active and constant pursuit for the child of God. In 1 Peter 1 we are told to be holy as God is holy. 2 Timothy 3 tells us that there is a genuine desire to pursue living in Christlikeness. These are more than nods in a general direction. It is a purposeful command to be about the business of pursuing sanctification.
But how can I make that claim?
I want to make sure I am not committing an etymological error here, so I need you to read carefully. The Greek words for sanctification and holy are linked in the word hágios. Holy is translated from hágios and sanctification is translated from hagiasmós. The implication of the command for believers to be holy as God is holy, is pursuit of holiness. Paul telling Timothy that those seeking to be Christlike will be persecuted is rooted in that pursuit.
Accordingly, we must recognize that there is an intentional commitment on the part of the believer to be obedient to this pursuit. There is no room in the Christian life for us to sit back and wait for sanctification to just happen to us. That being the case, this requires taking ownership of that pursuit.
A Recent Conversation Gives Context to this Dialog
Quite recently my beloved wife and I have been counseling a young lady that we love dearly. The context of our counseling is not overly important to the context of this essay. What is important is the essence of the counsel we were giving.
As will come as no surprise to many of you, I was pressing in on this young disciple of Christ quite intentionally. I was highlighting some areas that she needed to work on as she was pursuing Christ. She replied that she needed to work these areas out before moving on into new territories in her walk with God.
Maggie, often being the wiser of the two of us, said this, “You will never grow in these areas until you are put in a place where you have to grow.”
There was no more profound way for this to be stated. Any area where the Christian needs growth is an area where they need to be actively involved in their sanctification. Moreover, the act of growing in our sanctification is deeply personal. Taking ownership of it is vitally important. If we approach our sanctification with a laissez-faire attitude, it simply will fail. Hands off may work well for private economic growth, but it fails miserably for the Christian’s sanctification.
As my mother often said to me as I was growing up, “Don’t pray to God asking him to give you patience. Because when you do, He will often give you situations that require patience.” I think she may have said this from a deeply personal place. I may have been the means by which God was teaching her patience.
Are you Taking Ownership or Taking a Pass?
I want all of us to think about this.
It is of utmost importance that each Christian is striving for growth in the area of our holiness. While our salvation is secured in the work of Christ, our sanctification is not to be hands off. God has commanded us to pursue holiness and to live righteous lives. This is an active command. We are to be about loving God above all else and then neighbor as self. The more we strive for this the more we grow.
If you sit back with an attitude of passivity towards your sanctification you will dive headlong into sinful rebellion. It may start off with apparently small innocuous acts, but it will grow in time. Sooner or later that passivity will grow into rebellious activity, and you may soon find yourself with a cauterized conscience. That is a terrifying place to find oneself.
So, my dear and beloved reader, are you taking ownership of your sanctification or are you sitting around waiting for it to happen on its own?
Soli Deo Gloria!