Now before I get started breaking down these terms I want you to understand that, as Christians, sanctification is entirely monergistic in its nature, meaning that it is done entirely by God. It is not synergistic, meaning you do your part and God does his. And it’s an important distinction because the Bible is very plain when it says we are saved by grace, through faith. It is very plain when it says Christ is the author and perfector of our faith. So it’s very clear from the Bible that we can do nothing of our own power to make ourselves more Christ-like. Anything we do to make ourselves more holy in our own power makes us more like the Pharisees than Christ. I know sanctification happens entirely through the power of the Holy Spirit in you, this is what Christ meant when he called him our helper. After we have been saved, we’ve repented of our sin trusted Christ to forgive us we are then justified and sanctified. This is known as definitive sanctification. It refers to the decisive break with, or separation from, sin as a ruling power in a believer’s life. It is a onetime event that happens when we accept Christ’s gift of salvation. Sin no longer dominates our lives. That’s why the Bible says we are dead to sin. It doesn’t have the hold on us that it once did. That doesn’t mean that sin isn’t a problem, sin wars against us and hence our struggle, but it doesn’t have the hold over us it once did. We can see sin for what it is, the non-Christian doesn’t have that ability, they see sin as “bad-habits” that they need to break.
Progressive Sanctification happens slowly, over time we change and become more and more Christ-like, in our response to the world, how we interact with the world, and how we see the world. As we grow in holiness our world view shifts from an earthly world view to one that sees the world the same way Jesus does. This shift radically alters not just our view and thoughts about any given situation but it radically alters our behavior as well. The writers of the New Testament both assume growth and continually urge us to pursue it.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” Ephesians 2:19-21
“and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” Colossians 2:19
“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” 2 Thessalonians 1:3
Urged to pursue:
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18
Our pursuit of sanctification may seem to some as a synergistic effort but it’s clearly monergistic in that we would truly have no desire to pursue holiness had Christ not made us alive in Him. We pursue holiness because Christ loved us, not so that he will love us. The difference is subtle, but crucial, for it’s what separates true biblical Christianity from ever other religion in the world. Christian growth happens slowly, over time and everyone is at a different place. If it’s not happening, there is a problem, either you’re not truly converted or you are ignoring God’s primary means of communication with us. Growth is not optional. This is why James says that faith without works is dead. If your faith doesn’t make you, as a beggar, want to tell another beggar where to find bread…it may just as well be dead, because you have not truly learned and understood the joyous nature of the gospel or you don’t truly understand what waits for those in eternity without Christ. Progressive sanctification is gospel-driven, grace fueled effort, but what’s hard about it is the balance. There is a difficult balance between legalism and licentiousness. Legalism says you must do “x, y and z” or you’re not a real Christian, Licentiousness says that Jesus loves me just as I am so I don’t need to change. Legalism focuses on too much on obedience; licentiousness focuses too much on grace, both are traps to be avoided, the hard part is finding the balance between the two. That’s the hard part because that looks different for everyone. It’s a difficult balance because I know there are some things I should do to be obedient, and it’s difficult because though I know sin doesn’t have the hold on me it once did, I am still prone to it. When this debate goes on in my life I think of the words of the old hymn…
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Those who focus on grace have problems with the obedience part of faith, after all faith is a gift, grace is free…but I share with you the words of Paul, writer of much of the New Testament on this subject.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:1-2
“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Romans 6:15
“So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.” Romans 7:4
“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant–not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6
Just because Jesus loves you “just as you are”, doesn’t mean he intends that you stay that way. The Christian life, specifically progressive sanctification, is not an issue of legalism or antinomianism, it’s not one or the other; it’s the matter of the two in perfect tension with each other…or more simply put a matter of trusting and obeying.
AUTHORS NOTE: I know this is my first post on here this month…I’ll try and do better.