I have been a pastor now for over 20 years and have regularly counsel Christians who struggle to find balance and perspective regarding how salvation (my trusting in Christ for forgiveness of sin and the basis of my relationships with God, the Father), and sanctification should be seen in their life. In other words, how are they to mature as a Christian in light of what God has done and in light of what they now need to do? Is this maturing process based on a “letting go and letting God” approach or is it based on discipline and hard work, saying “no” to the things that displease God? Where is the balance? How will I know when I have a balanced view?
God’s grace in the life of a believer to be as vast and varied as an ocean. When a person becomes a follower of Jesus (through trusting in the merit of Jesus on their behalf), they are plunged into the amazing expanse of God’s grace. The ocean of God’s grace has no boundary by which we would be limited nor is this ocean able to be fully comprehended. Similarly, the grace of God provided by the merit of Christ is limitless and we are unable to fully understand it in all of the ways it is working in our lives. Grace received through the merit of Christ is complete. We simply do not need any more favor from God we have a boundless supply. In short, God has justified us based on what Christ accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection. We are now spiritually in tune with our heavenly Father and we cannot be anymore accepted. We have been immersed in God’s favor due to Jesus.
After a person has been placed in the ocean of God’s grace then comes the need to work hard to enjoy God’s grace. This is not to say we merit anything more than we already have obtained, it is our struggle to enjoy what we already have. Let’s say, for example, that a person becomes a follower of Jesus on a Tuesday. This individual will then need to begin to swim in that trust on Wednesday. Trusting God is not simply wishing for God to change self-oriented habits, emotions, etc., but entering into the war-zone of fighting against our inclinations to not trust God as evidenced by the choices we make in life. If God’s grace is the ocean then our maturing or trusting in God is analogous to swimming in that ocean. I cannot enjoy the grace of God unless I experience the grace of God through my life and in the fighting against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Simply put, the Christian life is not about being passive. I need to swim in the grace that God has provided and this means I have to fight against the currents of self-interest in order to plumb the depth and beauty of the ocean that is God’s grace. The more I experience the grace of God, the more I will see change in my life and want more of it.
Notice the emphasis of justification and then sanctification. Notice the distinct role of God and the distinct role of the individual follower of Jesus. While our maturing is dependent on God’s working, it is also seen as something we have to work hard at. I will separate the roles by italicizing concepts that relate to justification and embolden concepts that relate to what we are required to do in sanctification, to mature in the faith.
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 2:1-8
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ,
the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.
1 Co 6:11-12.
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, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world … Phil. 2:12-15
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Ro 6:12-14.
So, there is the already aspects of what has occurred and is based on what Jesus accomplished and there are the “fight for it!” aspects of daily disciplines. Both are legitimate and both should occupy mental space in the life of a believer.
So, the two questions posed at the beginning. First, where is the balance? The balance is achieved by being reminded every day of what Jesus has done in the Gospel and then using that overflowing gratitude to live as a follower of Jesus in the choices I make. Second, how will I know when I have a balanced view? Are you simulating the life of Jesus in how you think and how you act? Does it bother you when injustice occurs? Does it bother you when people misuse the name of God? Is God’s Word important to you? etc. etc. Maturing as a Christian demands both introspection from ourselves and counsel from others. This is exactly why the body of believers (a.k.a. “the church”) is essential to a person’s maturity in the faith. However, that is another blog entirely …