If you have been following the Pastor's Ponderings over the last months, you know that we are going through a series on the order of salvation (ordo salutis). I'll let you in on a little secret, I'm doing this series because of the confusion of some surrounding sanctification. Sanctification is the aspect of the order that we deal with this month. What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. The Shorter Catechism has given us a beautifully succinct definition. I like what G.I. Williamson says about this:
“[Sanctification] is not merited by any man. It is not anything for which a sanctified man can take any credit. For it is not man who sanctifies himself but God only. As we shall see, however, it is accomplished in such a way that man himself is active and responsible in the process of sanctification.” The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12-13 to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” There is no doubt this is hard for us to grasp. How can the work of sanctification be the work of God and yet at the same time be the work of man?
We must first understand that sanctification relies first upon the change wrought in the heart by God's grace in regeneration. The Holy Spirit takes away our hearts of stone and gives us heart's of flesh that are able and willing to respond to the Gospel. In regeneration we are given a new nature that is all by God's grace. Secondly, we need to understand that sanctification is a “work” of God's free grace, which means it is gradual it is a process. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us little by little. NB, we do have a “positional sanctification” meaning we are counted righteous and holy before the Lord in a spiritual sense. However, in our lives we still sin and the Holy Spirit is working so that more and more we will die to sin and live unto righteousness. As you know, if you have been a believer for any length of time, this is a slow process. In fact it is a process that will not be complete in this lifetime, but the Holy Spirit will bring it to full completion when we come to the nest step in the order of salvation (more on that next month). The last thing we need to see here is that all the other steps in the ordo salutis are monergistic, that is to say they are the work of God only, but sanctification is synergistic. Synergistic means a work in which man cooperates with God. It is a work in which both man and God are active. The work of God is such that God gets all the credit for man's sanctification. The work of man is such that he never more than an “unprofitable servant.” We must always remember that it is God alone who enables us to do any good work. So don't be afraid of the commands and imperatives of the Scriptures. They are given for us to keep, but we keep them in reliance upon the enabling work of the Holy Spirit.
In this time of Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus who came to save us from our sins and He also came so that we would live in our sins no longer, but He calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him. He went to the cross in our place, now we are to die to our sin and selfishness and live unto righteousness, that is to live following Jesus. Praise the Lord, He has saved us!