Within the first year of becoming a Christian, I was taught this:

  • Salvation is being saved from the penalty of sin
  • Sanctification is being saved from the power of sin
  • Glorification is being saved from the presence of sin

In the ensuing years I haven’t seen it put better; no matter how large or brainy the theological book was.

The three phases of salvation, sanctification and glorification encompass the whole of the Christian life.

For over sixty years now I’ve been thinking about and discussing the sanctification piece because most Bible-believing, Gospel-centered, Jesus- honoring churches agree on the salvation and glorification aspects.

It’s critical that leaders continue to develop in their walk with Jesus in the sanctification process. This is part of being a life-long learner. We need to be fresh streams, not stagnant pools, for those we lead.

Recently, I was in touch with a church where there was some concern about the preaching pastor. Several felt he was preaching gospel with no law (grace with no personal responsibility.) This springs from Martin Luther’s comment that the truly mature are those who can rightly divide gospel and law, or between indicatives (what is wonderfully true about me in Christ due to his substitutionary death and bodily resurrection) and imperatives (what I do in responsive obedience as a result of what is true of me in Christ).

Philippians 2:12,13 captures this well:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (ESV)

Work out (sanctification)

God has worked in (salvation)

I love the insight of Dallas Willard:

“Grace is not opposed to effort but to earning.”

It is perfectly biblical to work (and work hard), as Paul suggests in Philippians 2:12, as you work out your salvation in dependence on His Holy Spirit. Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 1:5 to “Make every effort to supplement your faith with…”

We don’t earn salvation based on our works, but works are an essential part of working out our salvation.

As it relates to sanctification, there are several possible scenarios:

1.  God initiates and we respond, in the power of the Holy Spirit

– God-honoring obedience

2.  God initiates and we choose not to respond

– Willful disobedience

3.  We initiate on our own

– Sinful independence

An inordinate focus on gospel (indicatives) in the sanctification process can lead to passive Christianity

An inordinate focus on works (imperatives) in the sanctification process can lead to performance Christianity

It is my increasing sense that sanctification which is built on gospel with no works is as dangerous as salvation which is built on works with no gospel

Gospel with no works will not lead anyone toward sanctification (spiritual transformation).

Sanctification built on all indicatives, all grace, all gospel with no works (Ephesians 2:10), no responsive obedience is what Bonhoeffer calls “Cheap Grace.”

So there you have my current thinking and concerns as I see churches around the country which are filled with Gospel-believing and works-depleted believers in Jesus who are not growing and experiencing power over sin!

What do you think?

Let’s get a good dialogue going on this. Don’t send your thoughts to me via email, but post below in the comment section for all to see and interact with.