Effort and Grace in Sanctification - How?


(SeanO) #1

I was perusing through some old notes from Seminary and came across the following quote:

The direction of the old divines is good: ‘use the means as vigorously as if you were to be saved by your own efforts, and yet trust as entirely to the grace of God as if you made use of no means whatsoever’

In the context of our journey to become more like Christ, what do you guys think of this idea?

My understanding is that the advice is to pursue holiness with all of our effort but simultaneously trust so completely in God’s grace that it is as if we made no effort at all.

Is this possible? What does it look like in your life?

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #2

Hi @SeanO. This reminds me of the verses in Philippians 2:12-13:

“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, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

My take on the quote from the old divines and your understanding is that when we pursue righteousness as if we were saved by our own efforts, we must not see it in a sense that we ground our Christian faith in doing, since if we fail, we will doubt our identity in Christ. It should be grounded in being. That we are God’s child, and that He is a God who loves us. We do our best in pursuing holiness with our heart anchored in gratitude on what Christ had already done, and what the Holy Spirit is doing, and what God will do in us.

So we basically do our best in pursuing holiness with serving the God we love in mind, with His love for us in mind. It’s like when you are doing something for someone special, the effort is different compared with something you do for another person. We give our all for love. Since if we do something as if we were saved by our own efforts, it may lead to legalism, and we might forget God’s grace.

Another thing, I’m thinking about is an illustration I learned from RZIM about the Holy Spirit’s role in sanctification. It’s like riding in a tandem bicycle. The Holy Spirit is the one who leads it, steers it where He pleases, and pedals. What we do is to pedal as well as He leads.

As I look into my life, I see this as God sanctifying me as He gives me opportunities to obey His word, which His Spirit uses so that I may be filled by the Spirit. Through this process, the Spirit works out in me to bear His fruit to manifest in me.

(SeanO) #3

@omnarchy Good observations. The tandem bicycle illustration got me thinking about other analogies that may be useful and sail boat came to mind.

Life without the Spirit is like a sail boat dead in the water - even if we have the head knowledge we do not have the power to walk in righteousness and understand the depths of the mystery of Christ:


Life with the Spirit is like sail boat with a strong wind - we have power to overcome sin and to see the glory of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ:


(Scott Lawrence) #4

This is a subject I have struggled to find a balance. Here is my thoughts and reasoning.

I know that there is nothing I could have done to repair my broken relationship with God. That required the Grace of God outside/ transcendent to me. To create life from the non-life in me required a new creation within me. There was nothing I could do by myself to fix it. Christ dying on the cross fulfilled the requirement of the Law of God and the Grace of God created a new life in me that put me in right relationship with God.

But what happens next? How do I move forward from this starting point brought about by Grace and the death of Christ. It began with repentance, turning my whole heart over to God, loving him supremely, and dying to self. But I believe from that point there requires tremendous effort and perseverance. My intent is to work to hold on to God, love him supremely, and walk according to the moral law of God. Loving God takes tremendous effort. I have found that love in life requires immense effort. Love is not passive but active, I have seen that with my wife of forty years. I don’t believe we love God partially and more of our heart is given over to God gradually over time. A partial heart is just a scheme to give God what you don’t particularly mind giving up while you hold onto your true love. I believe we love God supremely and hold to that persevere in that and if my self creeps back in and I do something that usurps the supremacy of God my duty is to repent and love God supremely. Anything short of this is manipulation and maneuver to hold onto what I want. The Christian walk is the effort, the journey, the way of righteousness and the effort to stay in a righteousness walk with God. Dying to self daily and allowing the Holy Spirit to reign supremely minute by minute day by day.

What are your thoughts on this reasoning?

The Bible says:
Luke 8:21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.

Luke 6:46-47. Why do you call me Lord Lord and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.

2 Peter 1:3-11. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(SeanO) #5

@slawrence 2 Peter 1:3-11 is one of my favorite passages in the Scriptures - it is such a clear description of how we grow in our faith. I think verse 4 where it says ‘so that through them you may participate in the divine nature’ is very important.

We have the opportunity through the grace of God displayed in Christ’s death and resurrection to ‘make every effort’ and ‘take hold’ and ‘strive for’ a state where the Christ life is fully active and the old man / the flesh has been fully crucified. And that is the journey we are on.

(Scott Lawrence) #6

Well said.

(Carson Weitnauer) #7

Hi Sean,

This is a great question. There are so many angles to it. I think one of the most important in my own life is how this relates to pride and humility.

For instance, there was a time when I believed that my persistent zeal for the Lord was to my credit - that I had stored up millions in the bank with God, that he owed me. Through a sermon, the Lord showed me that the pride and arrogance underlying my religious activity had rendered my account millions in bankruptcy. I was in a debt I could never repay, no matter what. It was devastating to see my account balance go from the positive to the negative ledger so quickly. I actually limped home from the run I was on. My spirit was crushed.

But, this was a very good gift from the Lord. Experiencing that his love for me was sufficient to cover all my sin, cleanse me of sin, make me a new creation in Christ Jesus, fill me with his Spirit, give me the desire to be holy, provide wisdom through his Scriptures, encourage me through his church, anchor me with the hope of eternity in his presence, honor me as his beloved son, and… the list goes on, doesn’t it? It changes the pride/humility conversation tremendously. What God is doing in our heart is of the utmost importance.

(SeanO) #8

@CarsonWeitnauer It sounds like that was a very profound experience in your life. I think that you are getting at the heart of the very challenge I am addressing - remaining humble while still being zealous.

It is easy to become deflated by God’s greatness and decide that no amount of effort could ever earn His favor and then simply give up. It is also easy to think that we ourselves can earn His favor.

But to live in that sweet spot where zeal meets humility - to know that we are just dust and yet also vessels for the Spirit in jars of clay - not to care about the opinions of anyone but the Lord and yet to love and honor others remembering that He is the Savior and Master and Maker - what a beautiful place to dwell!

(Jennifer Judson) #9

I am always utterly astounded at the means God uses to grow us, to move us along in that process of sanctification. There have been times when I’ve crossed paths with some struggling soul that I’m absolutely certain God has placed there so that I can be a shining light in their life–to help them over a hurdle, to lead them into the arms of Grace. Inevitably I’ve been humbled when I’ve faced the truth that God did ordain the relationship–but so they could shine a light on a flaw/hurdle/challenge in my life and lead me back into the arms of Grace.

Older people are always saying, “the more I know, the more I know how much I don’t know.” How true that is of our relationship with God–the deeper I go, the more I realize how shallow I really am and how great the unfathomable depths are. How patient and loving is our God who is always inviting us to go deeper.

(SeanO) #10


(Joni Geissinger) #11

Vigorously doesn’t show up many times in the Bible. I checked the concordance and it said 6 times Judges 8:1 referring to Gideon, Job 23:6 to God; Proverbs 31:17 the Proverbs 31 woman; Jeremiah 50:34 to the LORD Almighty, Acts 18:28 to Apollos; Acts 23:9 to the pharisees. I have to wonder if vigorously (basically meaning forcefully. Showing no signs of depletion.) could carry with it the tendency to fall rapidly into a works salvation. I think that if we look at our examples in the Bible our vigor should be used to seek God’s face. I think of Daniel. He changed people and from the little we are told about him prayer was his vigorous work. Ravi said in his talk on Building Your Private Life July 26th. That he can tell by your prayer life what your witness/impact will be. (If I understood him correctly) He said make prayer your priority. I agree with that. I think that the more in tune we are with our Heavenly Father the more our works become a total outpouring of love for Him and what He has done for us. So vigorously follow and seek a complete immersion in communion with Him. An evangelist was asked what the key was to his “success” his reply was I draw a circle around myself and when everything inside that circle is right with God. When totally surrendered to His will and in close communion with Him. The rest falls into place.

(SeanO) #12

@JoniAlene Thank you for those thoughts. Yes, we must be rooted and firmly established in Christ, the true vine, if we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit, live a holy life and walk in the glory of His presence.

(Sandy) #13

Hi @SeanO and @JoniAlene, thanks for reviving this thread!

How do you think this stacks up with ‘Galatianism’ Paul warned against? 5:4 “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” and his other writings as the master-teacher of God’s Grace. In looking at the great teaching also by Peter, referenced earlier by @slawrence, all things I need for this life and for “godliness” is found in the “knowledge” of God. In beholding Jesus through whom we’ve been given "exceeding great and precious promises, I escape the corruption of the world and partake of His Divine nature (transformation). 2Pet 1:8 All the virtues of v 5-7 are the “fruit” of revelation knowledge. v9 Lacking these he says is due to blindness because one has “forgotten” he was purged from his sins. Then sums it all up in 3:18 “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge…”

It has been only through knowing more of Jesus, full of Grace and Truth, for me the demonstration of God’s love, that I am what I am today, vastly different from the person Jesus sought after and found. Not there yet, but I’ve left :slight_smile: Thank you LORD! And why I need His Grace every moment! So I say as Paul ended Gal 6:14 “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world”.

I tried for three years after Christ saved me to change until one day distinctly remember saying to myself - “who can do this…I can’t do this…as I read my bible. Who can be a Christian?” Then Praise be to God that I came upon the Gospel and gave up trying to ‘do’ and began delving into seeing Jesus to “become”!

Thanks @SeanO for the question!

(SeanO) #14

@salee Thank you so much for your thoughts. They are such a good reminder that without the Gospel our hearts cannot be transformed. If I understand your point correctly, I think there is a subtle but powerful distinction between what you are referencing as ‘Galatianism’ and what Paul says in Philippians 2:12 - “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”.

Here is my short summary: there is a difference between relying on our works for salvation and working out our salvation. Does that make sense.

If we rely on our works for salvation, we are trusting in our own goodness and not in God’s grace through Jesus.

If we work out our salvation, we strive with everything we have to pursue Jesus and obey Him, but our confidence is not in our own flesh / ability - but in the cross of Jesus Christ.

So we should work out our salvation, but we should not trust in our works for our salvation.

Consider what Paul says in Philippians chapter 3 - he says this very same thing! Paul begins by pointing out that if anyone can boast in their good works - it is him:

“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”

Then, Paul moves on to say that he considers his own righteousness as filth compared to glory of knowing Jesus:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ”

Then, and this is important, Paul says that he ‘strives’ towards Christ - he exerts effort in working out his salvation. He recognizes and admits that he has not yet achieved his ‘goal’ of being like Jesus, but he strives for it with all of his might.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

In summary, we should not rely on our works for salvation, but we should work out our salvation.

Is that logical to you? What are your thoughts?

Here is a sermon by Tim Keller that I feel gives a nuanced view of how the Gospel shapes our lives in a way the law does not… After listening, I feel Keller makes some good points about how the Gospel of grace shapes us and helps us work out our salvation when we live in light of it.

(Joni Geissinger) #15

In Galatians 5 Paul is speaking about circumcision. Which the Jews believed to be one of the requirements of salvation. I think he was trying to caution them against a pharisee religion. Which was a whole bunch of religion but no relationship. It seems to me Galatians 5 is once again cautioning us. When we start to emphasize following the law it leads to a sort of snowball effect… from works to legalism. As Christians we try to do what we perceive as the right thing. However, we often fall into trying to out do each other by our works. While seemingly well intentioned. We have a hard time keeping our motives pure both unconsciously and consciously.
The advice of pursuing holiness is a double edged sword. While we are called to be holy. That can only be achieved in the context of a close personal relationship with Jesus. If we focus on being holy we end up right back at legalism, and works based salvation. I think that the law is there so that as we pursue a relationship with God. We have a frame of reference. Like a lighthouse on the shore is a fixed point of reference. So to is the law a fixed point of reference for us. It allows us to anchor our relationship in freedom and safety. The law is good! It is there to helping us know when our doctrine is totally off. If we feel that God is calling us to do something and it is completely against scripture. God is not speaking.

1 Timothy 1:8-9 we know the law is good IF a man uses it lawfully. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders.

Working out our salvation is something that can only be accomplished in the safety of a relationship with the Saviour the author of life itself.

(Joni Geissinger) #16

Thank-you for the link to this sermon. I hadn’t heard it before. I am a YouTube sermon junkie😊
I think the quote that stood out to me was “the law can’t give you motivation. It can only give you a standard.”

(SeanO) #17

@JoniAlene Yes, Tim Keller made a great point that our motivation is Jesus and His work on the cross. That is what motivated Paul as well. And it is that motivation - that relationship - that moves us to push forward towards the upward call in Christ Jesus! Appreciate your thoughts brother.

(C Rhodes) #18

Not that it is needed. There have been so many wonderful thoughts expressed. But, I would like to add my two cents to the pot of gold. How effort and grace plays out in my life. As simply as I can say it; my efforts have been redefined from what I do for myself and others, to what GOD wants to accomplish. Like many, I was driven. And as ridiculous has it is to try and do; I was very much a “pull myself up by my own bootstraps,” type of person. I was that way in my natural world and my spiritual walk. I had a strong reputation for consistency and thoroughness at work and at home.

I think throughout my walk the Lord has worked with me regarding this personal confidence. In 2013 He spoke in a way that brought me to a screeching halt! I found myself completely helpless. Unable to do anything for my own or anyone else’s benefit.

In the midst of this personal tragedy, I found that even people close to me seem to feel I deserved what was happening to me. There was no rush to help me. Apparently, I had offended many people; so, very few would even visit me in the hospital. With a broken heart, fighting the temptation to become bitter and resentful, I limped before the Lord. I knew I had done nothing to people. I knew I had spent my life serving and spending myself for others. Why was I in such a desolate place? Why didn’t my good works return in-kind?

I learned in the Lord’s answer, I was guilty of placing reliance upon my own strength, intellect, and labor. That I thought I had earned certainty by doing so. That even my disappointment in people was because of my reliance upon their strength and their debt to me. I was warned to not resent them for being human, or even sinful. “It was my shoulder and my strength you were to depend upon,” I was told.

I emerged from the experience with a new definition of what it means to be loved by GOD. When you have very few family, even fewer friends, no job, no savings, no income of any sort. Even my home suffered a massive water main break while I was in rehab. So I had no home, no clothes, no shoes, no health insurance. I had been self-employed. I had only the clothes I had taken into Rehab. I had reached the end of my ability. But, before I could begin to despair, the Lord begin to write within me a new awareness of grace.

I learned how even human disaster is a conversation with GOD. It is true, He uses all things for the benefit of those who love Him and keep His commandments. I could write a book about all the things that happened to me. All the ways the Lord ordered my steps. All I that I have learned and continue to learn. Let me say, as silly as it may sound; being helpless was the best thing that has ever happened to me!

My efforts, my most consistent efforts are towards keeping myself prostrate before the Lord. Keeping me, from blocking His plan for my life. Even that effort is ringed in simplicity. If I will “Let” that mind be in me, that is in Christ Jesus!

I am surfing the ocean of Grace and trusting Him to keep me balanced and upright. I find when I do so, I am a blessing to others. Even when they are not sure they like me. GOD’s grace identifies the need in me and others. It identifies where, when, and what the effort should be…

(SeanO) #19

@cer7 Thank you for sharing your testimony. It is amazing how God works both on the mountain tops and in the valleys - the Good Shepherd will always guide His sheep. In his book ‘A Shepherd’s Look at the 23rd Psalm’, Philip Keller (not Tim Keller…) shares how when a sheep gets turned over on its back it is not capable of turning itself upright. In fact, the sheep can die that way. When the Shepherd finds a sheep turned over on its back, the shepherd must slowly, carefully turn the sheep over and massage it back to life. Sometimes when we get turned over on our backs in life, the Good Shepherd comes and restores our soul. The book is definitely worth a read.

(Sandy) #20

Profound! Truly God’s Grace is so amazing…that as we abide in Christ, resting in all He’s already done, we find we don’t even need to be affected by others as before, since our trust is always in the LORD and our expectations are wrapped up in Him alone!

Jesus said: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” Jn 15:5. Simple enough, yes, agreed. Yet by no means easy, for we know it is a “fight of faith” this journey we are all on, isn’t it?

@cer7 thanks so much for sharing your story. I rejoice with you and praise God for where He’s brought you from and all He’s shown you and done in you! Keep up the good fight and may God bless you with much more! :slight_smile: