In Moody’s Methods of Bible Teaching class we had a discussion about whether sanctification and Spiritual Formation are one in the same. As we discussed the concept, some of us thought that sanctification might be the total work that God does in us and Spiritual Formation is the aspect of sanctification where the believer is actively changing in the light of God’s grace. This is opposed to new birth and growth which is performed by God without the day to day awareness of the believer.
1 Peter 1 says that we are sanctified and Scot McKnight addresses some misconceptions in his commentary:
… the believers in Asia Minor are what they are “by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.”Both theological reasoning and spiritual experience confirm that God prompts us to believe through the convicting and regenerating work of his Spirit. The process of sanctification, a word drawn from Old testament tabernacle and temple worship, involves God’s setting his people apart and the lifelong work of his Spirit to effect God’s will on earth. Unfortunately, popular theology teaches that sanctification is something that happens after conversion and justification; first one is justified and then, throughout life and into glory, he or she is sanctified. this is not a biblical understanding of sanctification. The term refers to three features of christian existence: the initial separation from sin (clearly in 1:2; cf. Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13), the hard work of growing in holiness throughout life (Rom. 8:13; 2 Cor. 3:18; 7:1; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 12:10, 14), and the final act of God when he makes holy people completely holy for eternity (Eph. 5:25-27). Peter is referring here, then, almost exclusively to the first dimension of our sanctification: God’s gracious act of turning sinners into his people. Later, he emphasizes the lifelong process of sanctification (cf. 1:14-16, 22; 2:1-2, 9-10, 11-12; 4:3-4).
According to Peter’s letter, I am being separated from sin. It is passive on my part, but the declaration of my allegiance to God has been made at conversion. I am not who I was. In a similar way, when I got married I nailed my colours to the mast and committed to Kelli. However, marriage has been changing me and making me more of the man I was meant to be. I realise daily my shortcomings because they are lived in the presence of another. In the same way, as I walk in the Spirit, the Spirit transforms me just by his experiential presence in my life. I can resist such changes and I can even regress, if I am determined to. However, the proof that I am set apart for God, the proof that I have been chosen ifs that I am changing. I do not take joy in sexual innuendo as I used to. It has been replaced by a desire for my words to be clean and uplifting. I have left behind a lot of the negative influences I had growing up. It seems somewhat British (but I may well be globalizing my experience), to be negative and cut people down, especially in the press. My social groups used to excuse it as realism, but it was preventative of people reaching their potential. Whether it is a British attempt to prevent people from being ‘too-big-for-their-boots’, or whether it was limited to my own circle, it is something that I have left behind now I am in America. In fact, I am enlivened by the way that the students I teach often look for the positive to the point of erring on that side of reality. I still have much that God is stirring in me and bringing to the fore as items for change. However, I know that it is the Holy Spirit who accomplishes this work in me, and I am confident that the one who has laid hold of me in order to change me has the will and the resources to complete this work of sanctification.
The passive experience of sanctification encourages me. Despite how I feel or where I am, I will be changed. God knows I want to be other than I am. God knows that I am grateful for how much he has already done.
Holy Spirit, I seldom talk to you, but thank you! I am grateful for how much junk you have ripped away from my life because of my new identity. Continue to do that. Make me holy and help me to find joy and contentment by confessing and leaving behind all that pulls me away from you.
- According to 1 Peter, who does the work of sanctification?
- How would ancient people have been changed by God?
- How does McKnight describe sanctification?
- What does it mean to you that you are being changed?
- What changes does God seem to be working in you?
I am so thankful for the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification in my life, and enabling me to desire and make decisions to become more conformed into the image of Jesus. I was once only focused on my will, but now I delight in God’s will. I was once only focused on myself, but now I find joy and pleasing God and helping others in His name rather than my own. I was once filled with impure speech and desired unwholesome entertainment, and now I have become more like Christ in my thinking, words, and my interests. Now, God is working in my struggle of believing more highly of myself because of His sanctifying work in me. Pride comes in all sorts of forms, and I am learning that Christians struggle with it in a whole different way than nonbelievers but still equally as much if not more. But praise God, because of His grace alone I desire humility.
Peter describes sanctification as a passive process in which the Holy Spirit does the work. I have striven enough on my own, without seeking God’s help, to realize how true this is. I can struggle against the old life and identity, but my heart is ultimately changed through God. He may use my effort, but I think it is important to remember that God apposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Jesus says in Matthew 5 that one of the marks of those who are in His kingdom is humility. I still struggle so much with this. I want to do things on my own, to earn my righteousness and place in the world. And yet I find myself even more discouraged and lost (duh). While not ceasing to struggle, it has been very refreshing to submit myself to the Spirit in the realization that I am utterly lost and hopeless without Him. Even my efforts to do good become twisted, false, and prideful. I was so focused on creating my own worth and identity in my accomplishments and goodness that I lost sight of the source and reality of the worth and identity I already have in Christ (ironically diametrically apposed to the one I was creating).