Who Does What?

Reading Jerry Bridges’ book Discipline of Grace, especially chapter 6, prompted me to think about the importance of understanding “Who does What?” in our salvation.

Here are a few observations that I hope will provide some clarification:

  • Many are frustrated to unfortunate degree because they do not understand that sanctification is a process.
  • Many are spiritually stunted because they do not realize spiritual growth and maturity is a process in which we must actively and intentionally participate.
  • Many people just assume that, now that they are “New Creations”, Christ-likeness will inevitably emerge from within them whether they do anything or not.
  • But spiritual growthis not automatic.  God calls us to cooperate with his grace, by actively engaging in the Means of Grace (Word, Sacraments, Prayer), responding to the Spirit by his grace.
  • The confusion seems to be rooted in misunderstanding the differences and the relationship between justification (conversion) and sanctification (growth). 
  • While it is true that we can do nothing to bring about our justification, our new birth, any more than we can do anything to bring about our physical birth; it is not true that we can do nothing, or should do nothing to cultivate healthy spiritual growth.  Just as in our physical growth, where we develop in accord with our God-given DNA in no small part through healthy eating and activity, we grow spiritually by God-given grace AND healthy activity (i.e. Means of Grace, Obedience, Active Mission and Spiritual Disciplines).

6 thoughts on “Who Does What?

  1. Good post Dennis. I wonder if our life with Christ demands even more. When we say “growth” I wonder if we have limited the term somewhat…

    How do we measure our life in Christ ? Is it a matter of faith, or what we are becoming, what we do, living differently, holding different values, loosing our very lives for the cause of Jesus, putting others first, really following Jesus and not our cultureal fads, or is it all of this.

    Growth is a weird word unless we define it and know what it looks like, don’t you think?

  2. David, I would say that we measure our life in Christ by the degree we reflect Christ in not just our outer lives but our inner world as well. A heart molded to be like Christ’s will no doubt show the fruit of that in actions, but one can adopt the outward actions – even those you mentioned – wihtout growing in grace. In fact it is often those who strive the most who are among the furthest from God. (See the Older Brother in the parable of the Two Brothers/prodigal Son.) Christ is the only standard, and to help one another to reach full maturity in Christ is the goal. That’s why it is important to understand who does what.

  3. Far be it from me to argue that we should sit back and twiddle our thumbs while waiting for the Holy Spirit to “grow” us. However, I wonder if it’s a bit much to so sharply divide justification and sanctification. Doing so can quite easily turn into the idea, “God saved me, and now I have to make myself grow,” even if we never directly formulate the idea in our heads that way. After all, Paul commented, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3)

    We received justification by presenting ourselves to Christ as in need of His help and work in us. It is not our work, but we do participate insofar as we submit ourselves to Him. Paul seems to be arguing that sanctification works the same way. The sacraments, prayer, reading the Word, etc, are all means by which we present ourselves to God in dependence and need, and God then brings about growth. (c.f., 1 Cor. 3:16, Phil. 2:13, Heb. 13:21)

    Again, I’m not suggesting we sit on our hands and wait around for something to happen. That’s pretty presumptuous on our part! Yet to say that it’s up to us sort of turns God into one who justifies and then walks away…

  4. Matthew, Thanks for your comment. Your caution is well taken. It is not my intent to suggest any hint of a works righteousness. Nor do I believe that any of the points necessarily suggest it, especially if rad as part of the whole.

    However, I understand that much of North American Evangelicalism functionally disciples folks that way. And I share your concern about that error.

    What I was attempting to do in this post is distinguish justification and sanctification so that we are reminded that there is a difference. But in no way would I want to separate them. They cannot be spearated. No one can be justified without also being sanctified. Nor can anyone be sanctified if they have not first been justified. But a confusion about these things is a very common, and serious error that causes many to grow frustrated and discouraged on the one hand, and self righteous on the other. So I think the distinction must be frequently articulated. (See Richard Lovelace, Dynamic of Spiritual Life.)

    If my language was unclear, I appreaciate the insight you offered, and the opportunity to provide a better explanation. In fact, this has prompted me to write a new post about the functional unity of Galatians and James.

    • I suppose it depends on who’s doing the discipling. I’ve never heard one say directly that sanctification is unnecessary or that you need do nothing in it, but it does seem that many disciple in such a way as to emphasize justification while neglecting any mention of sanctification and thereby leaving the impression that there is no need to do anything further. On the other hand, I’ve run into many who, when others struggle in their growth, effectively tell them they’re not trying hard enough, which places the burden of sanctification squarely on their shoulders. And strangely, I’ve run into people who, depending on the situation, will spout either position. Perhaps it’s a matter of pick your implied faulty theology…

      I once had someone say to me, “If you do nothing, nothing will happen. But everything you do will just get in the way.” It’s sort of strange paradox that gives me a bit of a headache, but sometimes I think it’s quite true of sanctification.

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