Every pastor wants his congregation to be holy, obey the Scriptures, and live for the glory of God. That’s his job, according to 2 Timothy 4:1-2. The pastor wants that for himself and others. That’s what every good church member wants: for the whole church to pursue godliness according to the commands and precepts. But the real question is how. How can Christians mortify the flesh, put off sin, and pursue godliness?
In his sermon, The Man of One Subject, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “If you hear preaching about duty and command, it is very proper, but if it be the one sole theme the teaching becomes very legal in the long run; and after a while the true gospel which has the power to make us keep the precept gets flung into the background, and the precept is not kept after all. Do, do, do, generally ends in nothing being done.”
God’s design for His people is our sanctification, our holiness. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, “this is the will of God, even your sanctification.” There are two ways the Bible speaks of sanctification. One is definitive sanctification, where God sets His people apart, once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). Progressive sanctification is God’s continuous, gracious work in the believer’s life, conforming us to the image of Christ. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism put it, “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”
Legal preachers end up with congregants who are bitter, self-righteous, or doubtful people because the law condemns and the law guides. It’s the gospel of Christ that motivates. It’s the assurance of salvation in Christ that stirs up holy affections. It’s not the sinner is saved by faith, and the just shall live by working really hard. But Paul said the just shall live by faith. If you read Colossians 3:1-5, Paul first urges us to seek the things above and set our affections on things above, not on the earth. We are dead to sin, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. Only then does Paul say to “mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.” Christ is the engine that powers our godliness.
Like in all aspects of salvation, sanctification is the work of God’s grace. The commandments are the GPS of the Christian’s journey. They guide the believer in where to go and where not to go. But the commandments are not the engine of the Christian life. The grace of God is the engine that drives Christianity. God’s will is your sanctification and that should give you cause for joy. The Christian wants to do right and wants to not sin. Praise God; His will is your sanctification. Christ is in you. Christ is for you. Christ for us, the Spirit in us. Christ for pardon, Christ for power.