What about Sanctification?
It’s the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation today. Adrian Reynolds says while it’s right we have focused on the doctrine of justification in this anniversary year, we shouldn’t neglect the doctrine of sanctification.
It’s 500 years since young Martin nailed his 95 objections onto the church notice board at Wittenberg.
You may have noticed that some of us seem to be celebrating that seminal moment which changed the world and reasserted the gospel of Jesus Christ at the heart of church life. It’s no exaggeration to say that much of this revolution concerned the nature of what it means to be saved.
That’s why we’re all preaching on justification and talking about it. Good. As Tim Chester and Mike Reeves point out in their excellent 2016 book, Why the Reformation Still Matters, this is a key debate that has not gone away in half a millennia:
“We do not need the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation to speak to people of justification. Every day you will meet people who are trying to prove themselves. Some are trying to prove themselves to God. Many are trying to prove themselves to others to establish their own identity. All these futile attempts at self-justification are stretching people to the breaking point.”
However, in all the wild celebration, we must not set justification apart from other key doctrines as though it is the only one that matters (and Chester and Reeves do us a great service in their book in this regard).
It is the gospel that matters because it is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Justification is a part of the gospel but it is not the entirety of the gospel.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about justification’s younger brother – sanctification. US seminary president Al Mohler tells the story of his first pastorate when an elderly lady approached him and said, “Son, I’ve been without sin for 22 years.” Mohler says he immediately had two reactions. First, “No.” Second, “What did you do 22 years ago?”
It’s a funny story, but the truth is the so-called perfectionism of this lady is largely forgotten these days. And yet here’s the thing: we act as though it were still around. In other words, the desire to grow in grace and godliness is often absent or neglected. We’re silent perfectionists. We’re a pretty discontent generation in many ways, except when it comes to our own holiness where we’re calmness and tranquillity personified.
There’s little fighting for godliness; no striving after holiness; precious few prayers offered up as we wrestle to be more like Jesus.
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot recently, especially – but not only – using Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Tim 4:15, “Let everyone see your progress.” And I wonder how much time and energy we devote to growing to be more Christ-like? I wonder how much care we take to ensure – without boasting – that this progress is public?
Such public progress is costly. It requires us to admit to ourselves – and to others – what we are not. It means we have to seek help and counsel from others wiser and older than ourselves. It implies that our prayers should reflect a wrestling with God to see his grace worked out in our lives today – not simply as godly thankfulness for the grace which saved us.
That many of us lack this desire should alarm us. We begin to believe our own propaganda when people ask us how we’re doing. “Fine” we reply, and really mean it. Instead, I would suggest, a more honest answer should always be: “I long to be more godly in…”
How do you know where to begin? There are some categories in 1 Tim 4 that are helpful which I unpack a little in our latest FIEC Ministry Journeys book called Progress.
Here’s another idea: I heard this weekend of a pastor’s theory that whatever preachers use as their standard go-to application may well be an indication of the sin that they are in denial about or struggling with. Interesting idea. What would that say about you?
Progress by Adrian Reynolds is available for pre-order now at 10ofthose.com and will be available to buy at the FIEC Leaders’ Conference.