Sanctification – Part 2: God’s and Our Roles

Sanctification is growth in holiness and likeness to Christ. My family and I are currently studying it guided by Wayne Grudem’s chapter on it in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In my first post on it I shared from what we read in Grudem about its three stages and noted how my church’s view of it differs from Grudem’s view. In this post I’ll share from what we read in Grudem about God’s and our roles in sanctification, how it affects the whole person, and motives for obeying God.

God’s Role in Sanctification

Recognizing that sanctification is primarily a work of God, Paul told the Thessalonians, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely” (2 Thessalonians 5:23, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). Each of the three Persons of the Godhead is involved.

Two roles of God the Father in sanctification are equipping us to play our role in it and disciplining us as children. The former is referred to in Hebrews 13:20-21, “Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good that you may do his will” (Hebrews 13:20-21), and the latter is described in Hebrews 12:5-11.

Two roles of God the Son in sanctification are earning our salvation for us and being an example to us. The former is referred to in 1 Corinthians 1:30, “[Christ] became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” and the latter in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

However it is God the Holy Spirit who works within us to sanctify us. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul encouraged them to “walk by the Spirit” and to be “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16,18) and went on to describe the character traits that Christians display as they grow in sanctification as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Our Role in Sanctification

Our role in sanctification is both passive, depending on God to sanctify us, and active, striving to increase our sanctification. The passive role that we play in sanctification is seen in Romans 6:13, “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” And the active role that we play in it is seen in Philippians 2:12-13, “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.”

The New Testament doesn’t suggest any shortcuts by which we can grow in sanctification but just encourages us to follow the traditional means of Bible reading and meditation, prayer, worship, witnessing, Christian fellowship, and self-discipline. Grudem gives references for each. Ask in a comment on this post if you’d like me to provide them.

An old hymn emphasizes the importance of both our passive dependence on God to sanctify us and our active striving for holiness by saying, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

Sanctification Affects the Whole Person

Sanctification affects our intellect and knowledge. “Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge, after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).

It affects our emotions. We will increasingly display such emotions as “love, joy, peace” (Galations 5:22).

It affects our spirit, our nonphysical part. “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

It affects our physical body. See 2 Corinthians 7:1 above.

Motives for Obeying God

Certainly the key motive for obeying God is to show our love to Him. Jesus told the twelve, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:15,21).

However the Bible gives many other motives for obeying Him, Grudem’s listing these and citing Bible passages for them (ask in a comment on this post if you’d like me to provide them):

(2) the need to keep a clear conscience before God… (3) the desire to be a “vessel for noble use” and have increased effectiveness in the work of the kingdom… (4) the desire to see unbelievers come to Christ through oberving our lives… (5) the desire to receive present blessings from God on our lives and ministries… (6) the desire to avoid God’s displeasure and discipline on our lives… (7) the desire to seek greater heavenly reward… (8) the desire for a deeper walk with God… (9) the desire that angels would glorify God for our obedience… (10) the desire for peace… and (11) the desire to do what God commands, simply because his commands are right, and we delight in doing what is right (pages 757-58).

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6 thoughts on “Sanctification – Part 2: God’s and Our Roles

  1. Allison

    You wrote: “The New Testament doesn’t suggest any shortcuts by which we can grow in sanctification but just encourages us to follow the traditional means of Bible reading and meditation, prayer, worship, witnessing, Christian fellowship, and self-discipline. Grudem gives references for each.” Would you please provide these references?

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Grudem gives these references:
      Bible reading and meditation – Psalms 1:2; Matthew 4:4; John 17:17
      prayer – Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6
      worship – Ephesians 5:18-20
      witnessing – Matthew 28:19-20
      Christian fellowship – Hebrews 10:24-25
      self-discipline – Galatians 5:23; Titus 1:8

      Reply
  2. Evan

    The Apostle Paul in Rom 8:12-13 gives ample reason as to why believers need to lead sanctified lives and to walk according to the Spirit. Paul’s warning is a somber one as these verses describe the potential death of born-again believers, referred to as the brethren in v. 12. If this death were not a real possibility, the warning would be nonsensical. We also know that this warning pertains to spiritual death – not physical death – because everyone dies physically irrespective of how we live our lives. Moreover, one must have spiritual life in order to be in danger of spiritual death. You cannot threaten a spiritually dead person with spiritual death. Such a person is already dead. Therefore, it must be concluded that these are regenerate brethren who are being warned of dying. Also note that this verse is conditional – not unconditional – as indicated by the word “if.” IF believers walk according to the flesh = they will die. IF believers walk according to the Spirit = they will live.

    Those who hold to eternal security often point out that there is no condemnation for those in Christ citing Rom 8:1. However in its proper context, v.1 is conditioned by the clause in v.4 which states: “who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Thus, “no condemnation” is only promised to those walk by the Spirit which again is coherent with verses 12-13. Sanctification in terms of hearing and obeying is not optional in the Christian’s life.

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks, Evan, for your comment on the necessity of sanctification in the Christian life.

      The book that my systematic theology posts are based on, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, argues for eternal security. However I disagree with the belief and opposed it in my June 25 post, “Perseverance – Part 1: The Believer’s Security.” Thus I was pleased to read your argument against it based on Romans 8:12-13. Thanks again.

      Reply
  3. Evan

    Thanks for writing about the topic Bob as its importance relates to the very nature of the gospel message itself and what it means to have an abiding relationship with Christ. It also relates to and impacts the way we disciple people or more pointedly -,the lack of intentional discipleship in many churches. I think that the natural result is that those churches who teach eternal security tend to emphasize making converts since they are and always will be saved at the expense of making disciples. I often think about how many church splits and fractured relationships could be avoided if we emphasized the necessity of walking out our sanctification and learning how to edify one another. Though not an easy process, the result would be this elusive thing called unity which Christ prayed for.

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks, Evan, for your comment. Fortunately, although it may be a “natural result…that those churches who teach eternal security tend to emphasize making converts since they are and always will be saved at the expense of making disciples,” many members (including leaders) of those churches act as if they don’t believe in eternal security and that they need to walk out their sanctification and learn how to edify one another. Thus, despite the widespread belief in eternal security, there’s still hope for the unity which Jesus prayed for in John 17.

      Reply

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