Pressing On – Sanctification in Salvation

This is an introductory post for this category.

This category of posts is called “Pressing On”, and it deals with the issue of growing in spiritual maturity.  When we first come to faith in Christ, we are so excited about our faith in Jesus.  But then somewhere along the line real life begins to take hold.  The issues of living out our faith in the real world begin to crowd in on us, and we realize that we still have some growing to do spiritually.  We realize that just as we are born physically as infant humans, so we are also born again spiritually as infant Christians.

So, how do we grow?  How to we mature spiritually, and is this a process that I must shoulder the burden for (as if I cause spiritual growth in myself) or is this something that God does supernaturally in me over time?

Philippians 2:12-13 says,
“(12) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13) for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

What does it mean to “work out your salvation”? How does that happen? If we read all of Paul’s letters, then we know that he is not saying here that we are to “work for our salvation.” Salvation is by grace through faith, not a result of works (Ephesians 2:8,9) however, we were created in Christ Jesus to do works (Ephesians 2:10). So, yes, we were saved by grace, but there are still works to do…and somehow, it involves us working out our salvation. The part of our “salvation” that Paul is referring to here in Philippians 2 is our sanctification.  Bible scholar Wayne Grudem defines sanctification like this:

Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.

If we have trusted in Christ for salvation, then we have already been justified by grace through faith…but now, the work of transformation in us requires some kind of interaction between “God who is working in us” (v.13), and we, who are called to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (v.12).  This interaction can best be described as us working in partnership with the Holy Spirit who is already working in us.  God is working in us, but He calls on us to do some work as well.

Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 to “train yourself (“discipline” yourself in NAS) for the purpose of godliness.” The word used there is the word from which we get the English word “gymnasium.” It’s a word with the smell of the gym…the smell of sweat and hard work.

Here’s the deal. God wants to transform us into people who will glorify Him and worship Him perfectly and He is working in us to do that transformation, but He says; “you’ve got a role in this as well……if this transformation work is going to take place…if its going to stick, then you’ve got to do some work as well.”

Our work is a combination of practicing “spiritual disciplines” and what the Puritans called “mortification of the flesh.” Both of these will be dealt with in this “Pressing On” category in greater detail in subsequent posts; however, a simple picture of each of these might be helpful here. Spiritual disciplines are those activities the Bible exhorts us to engage in for the purpose of staying spiritually connected to Christ. These will include things such as Bible reading, Bible Study, Bible memorization, prayer, fellowship, evangelism, etc.

Mortification of the flesh, on the other hand, is our effort to (as Peter says) “abstain from sinful desires that wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).  This will include practicing those spiritual disciplines above, but it will also include personal confession and repentance as well as ruthlessly rooting out sin in our lives for the glory of God.

The purpose of both of these is for us to see and savor Jesus Christ as our greatest treasure. As we do this “work”, we set the stage for the Holy Spirit to do His work in us, resulting in our sanctification and God’s glory.

As you read through subsequent posts containing suggestions to help you press on to know Christ better and be more Christ-like, remember that its not just about you working hard in order to affect spiritual growth. Rather, it is about your efforts supernaturally partnering with God’s efforts to bring about spiritual maturity, and all of that ultimately brings great honor and glory to God.

NOTE:  Check back on Friday for a new post from Tyler on “Thinking Biblically about Culture”.

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3 thoughts on “Pressing On – Sanctification in Salvation

  1. Ken, great article! It seems that too often we, as Christians, substitute relentless activity (work) for abiding in Christ (relationship). Instead, Christ calls us to relentlessly worship and love Him with all our being. That is the real work with which He is most concerned. All the activity and involvement then comes from His heart, and from His perfect plan for our lives.

    I’m greatly enjoying the blog. Keep up the great work and don’t stop!

    Blessings,
    Bill

  2. Great point Bill, and thanks for the encouragement with the blog. I pray God uses this to help us (NewBranch and beyond) move from being inward-focused navel-gazers to being cross-focused Jesus-gazers who are on mission where they are.

    You’re right, relentless activity so easily becomes a substitute for genuine heart worship and love for Christ. Yet our flesh is the thing that keeps us from that kind of genuine heart worship and authentic love for Christ. Sometimes I simply don’t “want” to relentlessly worship Him, and in my flesh, I’d rather worship “self” (serve self, entertain self, etc.). The spiritual disciplines seem to have an effect of “putting to death the deeds of [my] flesh” (Rom. 8:13).

    When the deeds of the flesh are killed in me, then I am walking in the Spirit, and then I can worship Him in spirit and in truth. So both the motivation and the foundation for our progressive sanctification is the worship of God.

    Great insight – thanks!

  3. Pingback: An Introduction to Spiritual Disciplines « Roots Run Deep

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