Y: You Need Grace

For Y, I’ve got another treat for you. Benjamin Joffe has written a wonderful paper describing how Christians grow in holiness the same way they are saved, by grace alone. This may be a new idea for some of you, but I’m sure not for all of you. Enjoy these few paragraphs from his paper.

Sanctification can be defined as the process of pursuing holiness and thus becoming more like Christ. God’s call on our life regarding sanctification seems simple: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Yet, the concept of sanctification can be difficult to understand. In order to understand the true nature of sanctification, we must first understand the true nature of salvation, because the two are very closely related through the concept of grace. We cannot attain salvation by our own works. Our salvation is attained through the work of Christ on the cross; it cannot be earned through our own effort. It is a free gift given to us by grace, through faith. In the same sense, we cannot be sanctified by our own works. Our sanctification is attained through the work of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to fight against our sinful nature and experience victory over sin. We simply cannot become more like Christ with our own strength. Thus, not only are we saved by grace, but we are also sanctified by grace, because both are obtained only through the work of the Lord.

The trap is thinking that we must live righteous lives by our own strength after receiving salvation by grace in order to stay saved or earn God’s favor. This trap, called Neo-Nomianism or legalism, and can also be a way of trying to participate in our own salvation, as if Christ’s work on the cross was insufficient or if our works are sufficient. This idea is contrary to what has already been said about our salvation, as we are utterly unable to perfectly obey the law due to our sin nature. The law does not have power over sin. The more we attempt to follow the law, the more sin will be revealed in our lives, and we end up becoming lawless people.

So then, what do we do? We are clearly called to pursue holiness, but how should we proceed? The answer lies in finding a middle ground between Anti-Nomianism and Neo-Nomianism. We must understand that we cannot forsake our pursuit of holiness in light of our salvation by grace, but at the same time we cannot undertake our pursuit of holiness with our own strength. Jerry Bridges describes this middle ground this way:

“The pursuit of holiness requires sustained and vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no halfhearted commitment, and no lasses faire attitude toward even the smallest sins. In short, it demands the highest priority in the life of a Christian, because to be holy is to be like Christ – God’s goal for every Christian…At the same time, however, the pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure. That statement probably strikes many people as strange. A lot of Christians seem to think that the grace of God and the vigorous pursuit of holiness are antithetical – that is, in direct and unequivocal opposition to one another…Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.”

In summary, we must understand that we are called to actively pursue holiness (the opposite of license), but that we can only do so by God’s grace (the opposite of legalism). Stated another way, just as our salvation is achieved only through God’s grace, so our sanctification is also achieved only through God’s grace. The sin nature that makes it impossible for us to earn our salvation is not eliminated when we are saved. We do not experience complete victory over the power of our sinful nature at the moment of our conversion. We still battle this nature, also called the flesh, after we are converted. Before we were saved, we were unable to fight our sinful nature and it corrupted every aspect of our lives. However, the same grace that enables us to claim the salvation that we could not earn on our own us also empowers our sanctification, which we likewise cannot earn on our own. In that sense, since we are not able to be sanctified apart from the work of God, we say that we are sanctified by grace.

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