“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
As we celebrate what Christ has saved us from, we must also give thought to and make effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to – he has saved us to be conformed to His image; to be holy as He is holy (Lv. 11:44; 1 Pt. 1:16)
But thousands of people in the church feel “not very holy” and they want to move into the category of “more holy.” What will you do and say? How will you help them get there? How will you get there?
- Will you give them legalism?
- Will you give them license?
- Will you give them platitudes?
- Will you ignore the topic altogether we are gospel people and gospel people don’t talk about personal holiness?
- How do Christians grow in godliness?
Here is the answer: Spirit-powered, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort.
In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says he is “working hard,” and he also says “that’s the grace of God at work within me.” Our work is not only a response to grace, but an effect of grace. Two things you need to understand about the pursuit of holiness: (1) You need to work hard, and (2) God’s grace needs to work in you.
- The Holy Spirit give us real, true power to fight our sin and cultivate holiness (cf. Eph. 3:16; Rom. 8:9-13)
- The Spirit sanctifies by revealing sin, revealing truth, and revealing glory (cf. John 14)
- The gospel drives us to godliness out of a sense of gratitude (cf. Rm. 12:1). Humility + happiness from thankfulness tend to crowd out what is coarse, ugly, or mean.
- The gospel drives us to godliness by telling us the truth about who we are. Most sins become more difficult when we understand our new position in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20)
- We are justified by faith, and, in a different sense, we are sanctified through faith.
- In justification faith is passive (to receive and rest). In sanctification faith is active (to will and work).
- Better to say: the pursuit of holiness is the fight of faith—fueled by belief in God’s word to us.
- The holy life is always a life of faith, (1) believing not just in our justification but (2) believing with all our hearts all that God has promised to us now and in the future, and then (3) acting as if it were really true
- Not saying:
- we do it in our own strength,
- we do it to make ourselves right with God,
- we get justified by faith and then it’s nothing but work as we get sanctified.
- The call of Christian preaching is never to make effort at godliness apart from the power of the Spirit, the truths of the gospel, or the centrality of faith.
- But neither do the realities of Spirit, gospel, and faith eliminate the need for human effort.
- “Effort” should not be a four-letter word in your theological vocabulary.
- Romans 8:13 says by the Spirit we must put to death the deeds of the flesh.
- Ephesians 4:22-24 instructs us to put off the old self and put on the new.
- Colossians 1:28 tells us to toil and struggle.
- Colossians 3:5 commands us to put to death what is earthly in us.
- 1 Timothy 6:12 urges us to fight the good fight.
- Luke 13:24 exhorts us to strive to enter the narrow gate.
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 speaks of running a race and beating the body.
- Philippians 3:12-14 talks of pressing on and straining forward.
- 2 Peter 1:5 flat out commands us to “make every effort!”
- Hebrews 12:14 tells us to “strive for . . . for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
Simply put, As gospel Christians, we should not be afraid of striving, fighting, and working. JC Ryle: “The child of God has two great marks about him: he is known for his inner warfare and his inner peace.”
We don’t just say “get more gripped by the gospel.” We also need to work. We don’t hold to Keswick’s “let go and let God.” Sanctification is not by surrender but by divinely enabled toil and effort. When it comes to sanctification, we need to understand two points: (1) holiness does not happen apart from trusting, and (2) trusting does not put an end to trying.
Those who truly get the gospel also “get up” and work. Hard and work and grace are not opposed – rather, just as Paul said, hard work is fueled by God’s grace.
(HT: Justin Taylor)