Let’s review a few key points that relate to progressive sanctification:
The goal of this study
Our goal in this study is to answer two very important questions that elbow their way into our thinking.
Most of us have grappled with both of these questions. Let us seek a few answers from the word of God that will help answer them.
Obedience now brings eternal rewards.
We are saved by faith without works.1# Yet good works will be rewarded, not only in this life, but in the life to come. Those of us who have come from a legalistic background often unconsciously read the many "reward texts" in the light of earning or deserving salvation. However, when we fully understand the simple gospel—that we are saved by faith in Christ plus nothing—then these "reward texts" have a new, even exciting meaning. We can enjoy learning to be obedient without any accompanying guilt or condemnation even if we have not yet fully achieved because now we are working from victory instead of toward victory.
For example, after church on Easter Sunday, Carolyn and I drove up to Mt. Lemon near Tucson. We took several short hikes in the thin air above 8,000 feet of elevation. True, we are not in the shape we used to be when we went on a number of 50 mile hikes in the Sierras. But we were encouraged that even at our age we can still enjoy a short hike without feeling guilty for not measuring up to our old speed and endurance. We did not have to prove that we could hike, nor was our reward that we were acknowledged as worthy hikers; rather, we could hike for the sheer pleasure of enjoying the mountains God has made.
Most "reward texts" in the Bible do not refer to salvation. Rather, rewards are generally referred to as being given for the work we do for the Lord Jesus after we are saved. These works do not contribute either to our being saved or to our staying saved.
Following are several "reward texts":
For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward (Mk. 9:41).
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men (Lk. 6:35).
Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor (1 Cor. 3:8).
If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:14-15).
Can you imagine the exciting reward in store for the Apostle Paul in the next life as millions of Christians come up to him and say, "Thank you, Thank you, Paul, for enduring the hardship of suffering, imprisonment, misunderstanding, and martyrdom so that I could understand the simple gospel of justification by faith!"
As Paul spent many a lonely day in prison, I imagine the thought of future reward was often on his mind. Here are some of his final words to Timothy, his son in the faith:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
The thought of future rewards should be a contributing factor in our striving for holiness. It was a motivating factor even for Jesus. Thus the writer of Hebrews states, "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2).
Our good works bring glory to God
Good works are those we do when we are submitting to the Lord Jesus for His purpose and glory. For example,
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Mat. 5:16).
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).
Even life teaches this lesson. What parents do not beam with pride when they see their child excelling by winning the spelling bee or playing in the band? I think that is how God feels when His kids honor Him by their integrity, love, and commitment to Him.
Even though Job doubted God's justice in allowing Satan to test him beyond measure, He never cursed God, and we have the record that God was, to paraphrase, so proud of him that He had to show him off. To Job's miserable comforters, God said that they had "not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has" (Job 42:7). Of Jesus who always did His Father's will, we hear the Father speak from heaven—a rare occasion indeed—"…a voice out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!'" (Mt. 17:5).
Moreover, our obedient living not only brings personal pleasure to God, but it also serves as a witness to others.
Obedience to God's word brings intimacy with God
Several verses from the latter chapters of John bring us to the door of the most holy place—the presence of God.
He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him" (Jn. 14:2). Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him (Jn. 14:23).
It's important to remember that the "commandments" in these verses are the Greek entole which, in the context of John's writings, refers not to the law (nomos or torah) but to the teachings of Jesus. The primary commandment is to believe in Jesus and thus be saved. Once we are saved, born of the Spirit, it then becomes possible to obey God's Word which includes all of Jesus' teachings and commands for holy living. This obedience, as we stated at the beginning, is not meritorious: it does not "keep us saved". Rather, this obedience is how we experience spiritual growth and maturity. It is the result of having God's spirit in us, not the cause of His indwelling.
How easy it is, however, for us to get so caught up in the rush of daily activities that we don't experience what these verses proclaim. That the eternal, holy God can say, "We will come and live with you" is a promise of intimacy and is a huge promise to those who love and obey Jesus. Intimacy with God should be at the top of our list as to why we submit to His word and obey His eternal principles for holy living when we have been born again.
Obedience brings blessing; disobedience brings sorrow and pain
Obedience to God's word brings blessings, and when we disobey we can expect chastening.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap (Gal 6:7).
Sometimes the pull of our flesh toward sin seems of greater value than living by the Spirit in obedience. But be sure our sins will find us out.2 The blessings of a clear conscience cannot be diminished by hardships that may come from obedience.
Obedience brings joy to our parents, our mentors, and thus to us
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full (Jn. 15:10-11).
In the shortest letter of the Bible, the apostle John wrote,
I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth (3 Jn. 1:4).
Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Heb. 13:17).
Listing all the reasons for obedient living would be like counting the rocks in Arizona. Inventorying each individual blessing—a task beyond the scope of this article—would be like counting the grains of sand in Casa Grande. We now turn our attention to the next pressing question. How can we be more holy?
How can we become more holy?
One of the most insightful passages relating to personal holiness is 2 Peter 1:2-10. Peter ends this section by stating, "For as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble." For Peter to say these words is significant. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that Peter was far from perfect and needed a lot more personal holiness. Most of us can relate to Peter; I have certainly made more than my share of mistakes and foolish statements. Let's read the whole passage in context and then go back and uncover the deeper meaning verse by verse.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.
To fully grasp the intended meaning of the above verses requires that we understand each statement in its isolation and also see each statement in its contextual setting. Like putting the individual parts of a 500 piece puzzle together, the Greek language here adds idea to idea, meaning to meaning3 until at last the whole picture of God's amazing grace is seen.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Grace always precedes peace.4 This was not only a common greeting in the New Testament church, but it remains a theological necessity. Not until we cast ourselves on the mercy of God and experience His saving grace can we have peace. How do we do this? When we know the character and love of God and the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ, receiving it as full payment for our sin, then we can experience this grace and peace. These gifts will be multiplied to us in proportion to our understanding.
…seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
Here is another one of the astonishing promises of God's grace. God's divine power has granted (or given, perfect tense—it is a done deal!) us everything pertaining to life and godliness (or virtue). According to this text, we should not wistfully look to some future time when we will be suddenly filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to make us holy. No, God's divine power has given us everything we need, including life (present and future) and godliness.
This text again directs us to the "true knowledge" of God. Legalism presents a false knowledge of God. It says that God can't save us as we are. It says we must demonstrate a measurable desire (who knows how to measure desire?) and effort (who knows how much effort is required?) before God's grace is given. This verse, however, says that God has given us (in the past but reaching to the present) everything we need provided we have a "true knowledge" of God. Moreover, God's calling is a high calling; we are for "His own glory and excellence".
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
"By these" include grace, peace, the true knowledge of God, and His divine power which all have been given to us. These are the vehicles by which we receive "His precious and magnificent promises".
Before we discover the deeper meaning of this verse, though, let us consider the many places the Old Testament invites us to meditate on the law.5 We must remember that "the law" included moral principles, ritual laws that in some way pointed forward to the gospel of Christ, and civil regulations for the nation of Israel. The law in its totality was a shadow6 pointing forward to Christ.7 It was a revelation of truth, but that revelation was fragmentary and incomplete.8 Now, from our new covenant perspective, we look back to the completed atonement.9 The righteousness that the Israelites strove for, never fully realizing, we have been given as a free gift when we believe. Meditating on the law was good for the Israelites as the law was the word of God to them and showed them their duty plus glimpses of forgiveness in Christ. Now, however, like Abraham,10 we are to see ourselves in the light of God's declaration. The completed atonement for sin has changed everything!
Peter is saying that we now have what the law foreshadowed: "His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." It is by focusing on these promises that we develop holiness and intimacy with God.
What are these promises? They are all the promises of the New Testament where God makes declarations about the believing Christian. Peter admonishes us to focus on these. Personalize them. Read them every day and see what happens. We will become like the kind of person God has already declared us to be in Christ! By beholding we become changed.11 Following are a few on which to begin meditating:
I am certain12 that I now have eternal life in Christ.13 I am now at peace with God14 because I have been reconciled to God though the death of Christ.15 My old sinful self was crucified with Christ,16 so now I consider myself to be dead to sin.17 I am now freed from sin.18 I am now dead to the law19 and have been released from the law!20 I no longer serve God according to the letter of the old law because now I serve God in the newness of the Spirit.21 I am no longer under any condemnation because I am in Christ Jesus!22 I have now received the spirit of adoption,23 and I am fully qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.24 I now overwhelmingly conquer through Christ!25 I have now been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise26 and saved by faith!27 I am now the dwelling of the Holy Spirit.28 I have been chosen in Christ29 and predestined to be like Him.30 I now have redemption through his blood.31 God is now at work in me to will and to do His good pleasure.32 I have now been transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son.33 I have received a spiritual gift,34 and the Spirit now helps my weaknesses.35
Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:5-8).
The truths outlined here by Peter echo Paul's listing of the fruit of the Spirit,36 for it is the Holy Spirit who develops in us progressive sanctification. Peter's listing is set forth as a method. We are to focus on one aspect at a time. Remember, in progressive sanctification there is cooperation between the person and the Holy Spirit. Why not make a list of these spiritual virtues and focus on one each week? Using a concordance or computer Bible program, look up the passages dealing with the virtue you are working on. Claim the promise, believe God's declaration. Then, move to the next and do the same.
For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble (2 Pet. 1:9-10).
We can feel the passion in Peter's heart. If we aren't developing these virtues in our lives, there is a problem—we have forgotten that we have been forgiven. We must live in these truths: Christ died for our sins. He was buried. He rose from the grave. He now sits triumphant over the forces of evil—and we by faith share His victory. He took all our sin and credits us with all his righteousness. He did it for us—and we did it in Him!
The last part of verse 10 listed above has often been misinterpreted. How does one "make certain about His calling and choosing [of] you"? It is not by trying to live a better life. It is not by seeking to obey every law you can find. No, it is by accepting the gift of God's grace!37 We all come to Christ as sinners.38 He accepts sinners while they are still sinners,39 and whoever comes to Him He will not cast out!40
Peter ends this section with a promise. "As long as you practice these things, you will never stumble."
Progressive sanctification is important. It brings us eternal rewards, intimacy with God, joy, and blessings. It glorifies God. To the disobedient, however, there come sorrow and pain.
According to Peter, we can progress in personal sanctification by focusing on God's abundant promises, not forgetting that Christ has won the battle for us, and we have won the battle in Him.
If anyone loves Me he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him (Jn. 14:23).
What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete (1 Jn. 1:4). †
Copyright 2011 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Casa Grande, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised July 27, 2011. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dale Ratzlaff is the founder of Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., and owns LAM Publications, LLC. He served as an Adventist pastor for 13 years, seven at Monterey Bay Academy where he taught Bible. He and his wife Carolyn left the Adventist church in 1981 when he realized he could no longer teach the investigative judgment in clear conscience. He has authored Sabbath in Christ, The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists, The Truth About Adventist "Truth", and Truth Led Me Out. These are available through his website, LifeAssuranceMinistries.com. The Ratzlaffs reside in Casa Grande, Arizona.
In the last issue of Proclamation!, we dealt with various meanings of sanctification. If you did not read part one of this study, you may find it HERE.