Sam Storms: The words of the apostle John in 1 John 3:2-3 are both inspired and inspiring. He tells us that if we put our hope in the return of Christ, in the prospect of seeing Jesus “as he is,” this will serve to purify or sanctify our souls. Here is the passage: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). How exactly does this work? What is it about our hope for the return of Jesus and seeing him face to face that serves to purify our souls? I can think of four things. (1) We know that we will stand in the presence of Jesus to be judged for the things done in his grace and power.
No Holiness, No Heaven
How to Know If Faith Is Real or Dead Greg Morse: No one will be in heaven who did not walk in good works on earth. In other words, and in the words of Hebrews 12:14, there is a “holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Abbreviated, “no holiness, no heaven.” In directness, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26 NASB). In confession, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love” (Westminster Confession). In commandment: “Work out [literally, produce] your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In illustration: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away . . . and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:2, 6). In lyric, “He leads me in paths of
The Obedience of Faith
Ian Hamilton: Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a pastoral tour de force. It is of course richly theological. Nowhere does Paul more deeply and beautifully open up to us the gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ. But Paul’s theology of grace is not an abstract exposition of doctrine. He is concerned to explain to the church in Rome the gospel he preached and to establish them in that gospel. The apostle’s doctrine always has a pastoral edge to it. True theology is for living (Martin Bucer), it is never a brute chunk of fact. That said, it is striking that Paul bookends this Letter to the Romans with an identical phrase, ‘the obedience of faith'(1:5 and 16:26). He begins his Letter telling the church in Rome that he had ‘received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his (Jesus’) name among all the nations’; and he ends his letter telling them that
The Sources of True Change
David Powlison: When Jesus crosses paths with you, he reveals you for who you are. In response to him, people change—either making a turn for the better or taking a turn for the worse. A turn for the better means that Christian growth, or sanctification, is happening. But this is not the result of a single template of change. Because situations and persons come unscripted, fluid, and unpredictable, Jesus engages each person and situation in a personalized way. What are the sources of true change, and how does God work in those factors to transform your life? God himself changes you “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) God intervenes in your life, turning you from suicidal self-will to the kingdom of life. He raises you in Christ when you are dead in trespasses and sins. He restores hearing when you are deaf (you could not hear him
What Is God Up to with Corona?
Erik Raymond: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” (John Piper) I appreciate this quote because it reminds us of our limited perspective. We simply cannot see all that God is doing. But even above blind spots, we have capacity issues. Not only is God doing more than we can see, but he is also doing more than we can fathom. Therefore the first steps in Christian humility have to be in the path revealed by God’s Word. In it, we are given a divine intel briefing that helps us to know what’s going on. Take the current pandemic, for example. If I had a buck for every time someone postulated as to what God was doing in this situation, we’d be making our church budget. There are mysteries here that we simply do not know. But there are things revealed that we do know. Amid this current trial,
How Do We Become Spiritually Mature?
John MacArthur: We don’t want to remain spiritual children, perpetually stuck in infancy. We don’t want to be weak, vulnerable, and immature. Nor do we want to be ignorant about God’s truth, because we want to fully glorify Him for everything He has done. We want to appreciate Him in all His fullness, knowing and loving Him thoroughly. If that’s the goal, then how do we get there? How do we respond to the Word in a way that drives that progress? I see three definitive steps in the biblical pattern of sanctification. The first is cognition. John 17:17 gives our Lord’s prayer: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” We have to understand what the Bible says and what it means if it is going to produce growth in us. Sanctification begins with spiritually renewing the mind, that is, changing how we think. We need “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). There is no premium on ignorance or naivete
Philippians 2:12-13 – The Most Important NT Text on the Christian Life and Sanctification
Sam Storms: When it comes to our understanding and experience of Christian sanctification, I can’t think of a more important biblical text than Philippians 2:12-13. Here is what Paul wrote: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Paul’s point is that we work out the Christian life, or act in obedience to the Word of God, only because God has already been at work within, performing a miracle in our lives. At the heart of Paul’s argument is the fact that when it comes to the Christian life, God is always antecedent. He comes first. He acts before we act. We only act because he has already acted. God works in us in advance of our working for
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The Joy of Not Sinning
Tim Challies: I think it is a question every Christian would all like to ask God, given the opportunity. It is an honest question. A humble one, I hope. If you have the ability to immediately destroy and remove all of a Christian’s sin the very moment he puts his faith in Jesus Christ, why don’t you? Why didn’t you? There is always a good bit of debate in the Christian world about exactly how God sanctifies us and how human effort relates to divine work. Whatever we believe about sanctification, we know it is a lifelong battle and we know it is a difficult one. The difficulty is related to the extent of our depravity, the fact that the effects of sin extend to our every part, to our minds, our hearts, our wills, even our bodies. We could give every moment of every day to the battle against sin and still die as deeply sinful people. Every Christian
The Reformed View of Sanctification
Sinclair Ferguson: Reformed theology owes a special debt to the principles of biblical exposition recovered for the church at the time of the Reformation. It is particularly associated with the work of John Calvin, but was later developed by such seventeenth-century Puritans as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin (in England), and Thomas Hooker and John Cotton (in New England). Many later Christians have owed a special debt to the Reformed theological tradition. They include preachers like George Whitefield, C. H. Spurgeon and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones; and theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Abraham Kuyper and B. B. Warfield; as well as such influential twentieth-century Christian leaders as J Gresham Machen and Francis Schaeffer. From one point of view, most evangelical theology in the English-speaking world can be see as an exposition of, deviation from or reaction to Reformed theology. A cursory glance at the biographies or writings of these men under lines the fact that Reformed theology has always
There Are No Shortcuts to Growth
R.C. Sproul: I’m still amazed whenever I see the bumper sticker that reads, “Visualize world peace.” The idea is that if I, and enough other people, create the right mental picture of peace, it will soon come to pass. It’s astounding that some people actually believe that silly technique will bring about such a desirable goal. Then, there’s the popular “Coexist” bumper sticker. You may have seen it, the one spelled out with the symbols of different religions—the Islamic crescent forming the C, the Christian cross forming the T, and so on. The idea seems to be that if we religious people would just stop focusing on our differences, we could achieve world harmony. If we understood that our beliefs are all ultimately the same, all of the problems of war and strife would go away. The funny thing is, we’ll reject such sentiments when they appear on a bumper sticker, but we’ll accept them elsewhere. How many business seminars promise increased
Why we grow so slowly
Ray Ortlund: In his Thoughts on Religious Experience, Archibald Alexander asked why we grow so slowly as Christians. First, he rounded up the usual suspects: “The influence of worldly relatives and companions, embarking too deeply in business, devoting too much time to amusements, immoderate attachment to a worldly object,” and so forth. But then he drilled down further and asked why such things even get a hold on us, “why Christians commonly are of so diminutive a stature and of such feeble strength in their religion.” He proposed three reasons: 1. “There is a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace.” Even when the gospel is acknowledged in theory, he wrote, Christians define their okayness according to their moods and performances rather than looking away from themselves to Christ alone. Then, in our inevitable failure, we become discouraged, and worldliness regains strength in us, with nothing to counteract it. “The covenant of grace must be more clearly
How Does the Holy Spirit Actually Produce Change in Us?
A rich and wise answer from Abraham Kuyper: Dwelling in the elect, the Spirit does not slumber, nor does He keep an eternal Sabbath, in idleness shutting Himself up in their hearts; but as divine Worker He seeks from within to fill their individual persons, pouring the stream of His divine brightness through every space. But we should not imagine that every believer is instantly filled and permeated. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit finds him filled with all manner of evil and treachery. . . . His method of procedure is not with divine power to force a man as though he were a stock or block, but by the power of love and compassion so to influence and energize the impulses of the feeble will that it feels the effect, is inclined, and finally consents to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. . . . This operation is different in each person. In one it proceeds with
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Sanctification Is a Direction
David Powlison: Sanctification Is a Lifelong Process Often our practical view of sanctification, discipleship, and counseling posits a monochromatic answer and takes the short view. If you memorize and call to mind one special Bible verse, will it clean up all the mess? Will the right kind of prayer life drive all the darkness away? Will remembering that you are a child of God and justified by faith shield your heart against every evil? Will developing a new set of habits take away the struggle? Is it enough to sit under good preaching and have daily devotions? Is honest accountability to others the decisive key to walking in purity? Will careful self-discipline and a plan to live constructively eliminate the possibility of failure? These are all very good things. But none of them guarantees that three weeks from now, or three years, or thirty years, you will not still be learning how to love rather than lust. We must have
Passive Christianity Is Dead Christianity
Jon Bloom: What do you want? What do you desire? What is your ambition? Do you really want to know? Look at your behavior. You do what you want. This is a devastatingly simple psychology of motivation. But it’s what the Bible teaches: James: Faith without works is dead. Don’t tell me you have faith if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (James 2:17–18) John: Love without deeds is dead. Don’t tell me you love if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (1 John 3:17–18) Paul: Grace without holiness is dead. Don’t tell me you revel in God’s grace if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (Romans 6:12–14) Jesus: Discipleship without obedience is dead. Don’t tell me I’m your Lord if the way you live doesn’t back up what you say. (Matthew 7:21) We may say what sounds orthodox, but we do what we really believe. We may
5 Sources of True Change
This post is adapted from How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison: 1. God himself changes you. This is foundational to all. “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). He intervenes in your life, turning you from suicidal self-will to the kingdom of life. He raises you in Christ when you are dead in trespasses and sins. He restores hearing when you are deaf (you could not hear him otherwise). He gives sight when you are blind (you could not see him otherwise). He is immediately and personally present, a life-creating voice, a strong and strengthening hand. All good fruit in our lives comes by the Holy Spirit’s working on scene. Jesus said it was better if he went away, because the Holy Spirit would come (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit continues to do the things that Jesus does—continually adding to the number of books that could be
Is There a Silver Bullet of Sanctification?
This post is adapted from How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison. “Just . . .” We are all tempted to oversimplify. We long for one “key” truth, a “secret” principle, the foolproof technique, some life-changing experience that makes everything different from now on. If only there were some one thing to make Christian growth certain! But there is no single key. You often hear people say things like “He should just remember that . . .” Or “If only she would just do . . .” Or “If I could just experience . . .” You’ve probably said things like that yourself. I certainly have. Preachers, teachers, counselors, authors, and friends instinctively gravitate toward naming some truth, some spiritual discipline, some action step, or some experience as the key that will unlock everything. The phrase “Just . . .” is a tip-off. But there are no “Just [do x, y, or z]” solutions to the puzzles of our sanctification.
What is the Difference between Justification and Sanctification?
Erik Raymond: What is the difference between justification and sanctification? I am thankful that this is a frequent question that I get as a pastor; thankful because people are thinking but also because this is so important. After all, we are talking about our standing before God. In short, justification means we are declared righteous, while sanctification means growing in righteousness. Let me explain and contrast a bit further. Justification refers to God’s declaration that someone is determined to be righteous in his sight. This justification is a one-time act whereby God declares a sinner like you and me to be not only not guilty but perfectly righteous before his high bar of justice. How does God does this and maintain his justice? The basis for the divine declaration is the doing and dying of Christ. God credits (or imputes) us with the righteousness (merit) of Jesus. We are justified by grace (a gift) through faith (trusting in Jesus). Some
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Don’t Worry about Sanctification
Le Ann Trees: “The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth” (J. C. Kromsigt). One of my favorite things about trees, especially mature ones, is the way they provide shade and shelter from the natural elements. Yet, everyone knows a seedling doesn’t give much of either. Trees need a consistent supply of sun, water, and nutrients over a long period of time to survive and thrive. In the Bible, Jesus uses the image of plants to describe spiritual growth (Matt. 13:1–32; 17:17–20; John 15:1–7). Christians often wonder whether they are growing in holiness. Sanctification is a slow process of dying to the flesh (mortification) and living unto God (vivification). Just as it is impossible to know exactly what a tree seedling is going to look like in ten years, it is futile and frustrating to evaluate a person’s growth in Christ over the short term. Throughout the New Testament believers are
Is God always pleased with you?
Michael Kruger: Imagine this scenario. Your friend at church (who is a believer) comes to you and confesses an ugly sin they committed. And they feel terrible about it. What do you say? No doubt this scenario is played out countless times a week in evangelical churches all over the country–particularly given the church’s fascination with authenticity and vulnerability (see my post on that issue here). And it is not always easy to know how to respond. But here’s one response that gets used a lot: “Don’t feel bad about this sin. If you are a believer, then God is always pleased with you. He can never be more pleased with you than he is right now.” Is this response helpful? Yes and no. It depends on what a person means and how they frame it. Our purpose in this post (as in all the posts in this series) is simply to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of this phrase.
Justification and Sanctification Contrasted
Chris Castaldo: In his book, Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue, Professor Tony Lane distinguishes the Reformation doctrines of justification and sanctification: Justification refers to my status; sanctification to my state. Justification is about God’s attitude to me changing; sanctification is about God changing me. Justification is about how God looks on me; sanctification is about what he does in me. Justification is about Christ dying for my sins on the cross; sanctification is about Christ at work in me by the Holy Spirit changing my life. “The Reformers were careful to distinguish these two–but not to separate them. One cannot have one without the other–as with the heat and light of the sun. The sun gives out heat and light. These two cannot be separated. When the sun shines there is both heat and light; yet they are distinct and not to be confused. We are not warmed by the sun’s light nor illumined by its heat. To use a