The New Testament is clear that God’s purpose for those whom He redeems is not complete at our justification. When we repent of our sin and trust in Christ to save us, and are declared righteous before God due to Christ’s own righteousness being imputed to us, that is only the beginning of God’s work in us. Paul writes in Romans 8:29, For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. This process of our being conformed to Christlikeness (becoming like Christ in our character and conduct) is called sanctification. It is God’s design that every believer would progress to that standard of holiness.
There is a great deal of confusion in the church about how sanctification happens. It seems that many of us err in one of two directions. Some of us live as if our transformation into the image of Christ is a work completed by our own effort alone. We attempt to rid ourselves of sinful attitudes and actions by sheer willpower. While we may accomplish some change in this way, it is usually only temporary. Inevitably, we are unsuccessful in achieving lasting change, and extreme discouragement sets in.
Others of us live as if our transformation into the image of Christ is a work completed by God without any exertion of our own. Some have called this the “let go and let God” approach to sanctification. We think that if we will just think hard about the truths of what God has done for us, we will automatically be changed in our attitudes and actions. Undoubtedly, God does work change in us, but the New Testament repeatedly teaches that we are to expend great effort in pursuing Christlikeness (Phil 2:12-13; 1Tim 4:10; Heb 12:14; 2Pet 1:3-7). Expecting God to sanctify us without any work on our part is itself disobedience.
So how do we maintain the right balance between depending upon God and actively pursuing obedience? The key is in understanding the role that the gospel plays in our sanctification.
You may have heard it said that the same gospel that saves us sanctifies us. What does that mean? And how do we appropriate the truth and power of the gospel in our everyday battle against sin? We’ve been looking at this issue in our Wednesday night study on dealing with anger. This is a teaching that is desperately needed in the church.
That’s why I’m grateful to God for a new book by Jerry Bridges that just came out, entitled, The Transforming Power of the Gospel. This is easily the best book I have read on the subject of how sanctification works and what part the gospel plays in that process.
On the inside cover of the book, Bridges writes this:
Transformation into the image of Jesus is much more than a change of outward conduct; rather, it is a deep penetrating work of the Holy Spirit in the very core of our being, what the Bible calls the heart – the center of our intellect, affections, and will. It is what is sometimes called “a change from the inside out.”
But though the transformation process is primarily a work of the Holy Spirit, it very much involves our earnest, active pursuit of that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. So what is it that will engage our affections or desires to earnestly pursue transformation into the likeness of Jesus? What is it that will inspire us to want to do what we ought to do?
This is a major question that we’ll seek to answer in this book. Its answer is one of the key lessons I have learned in my own journey toward spiritual transformation.
In the book, Bridges addresses such topics as what the gospel is, how we can embrace the gospel daily, how the gospel motivates us toward obedience, what grace is, how to understand the Holy Spirit’s work in us, what role spiritual disciplines play in our spiritual growth, and how God uses adversity to spur us on to greater maturity. This is a book that will be difficult for me to leave on the bookshelf – I will be keeping it close at hand.
Jerry Bridges writes in a very conversational style. All of his books are easy reads. This one is no different. Please consider ordering a copy for you and your family. It is well worth the time and money.
Posted by Greg Birdwell