There seems to be a growing intramural discussion on the internet among those who say we must “try harder” to attain growth in holiness and those who say our growth in holiness comes from constantly returning to the Gospel — understanding that in Christ, it is finished. I’m with the latter camp; our standing is not based on our performance and our growth is based in His completed work.
Growth in holiness — progressive sanctification — is not a battle to be fought in the flesh but in the strength of the Holy Spirit () in light of the Cross.
Check out this clip from Josh Harris as he makes the case:
Justin Taylor brings our attention to an online dialogue between Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian on the effort we’re called to make in our sanctification. Since that ties in with our current series, Completed by the Spirit, I thought it would be good to visit the discussion as it stands so far:
The two pastors agree that the indicative of the gospel and our justification in Christ must be the basis of our sanctification. But I think the difference can be boiled down to the difference between action and ontology. At the risk of oversimplification, Kevin’s call is for us to “do” those things that are given to us as imperatives, while Tullian’s call is for us to “rest in” the indicatives so that the imperatives flow from them.
Our view — and the one that will be explained in further posts in the Completed by the Spirit series — is that Paul’s imperatives are calls for us to “be who we already are.” We can do things that look like sanctification but if those actions are done in the flesh, they are simply behavior modification. It’s a change in the heart that is desired, not simply an outward change in actions.
To grow in Christ’s image, we must engage in “the hard work of going back to the certainty of our already secured pardon in Christ and hitting the refresh button over and over,” as Tullian explains. It’s knowing who we now are in Christ that gives us the freedom to be that new creature.
I enjoy reading Tullian Tchividjian’s blog because of his unwavering commitment to the Gospel — not just in our justification but in our sanctification. Many in the “reformed camp” can focus too strongly on our own wretchedness and on law-based behavior modification in sanctification, while instead we should be relying on the finished work of Christ and growing in grace by beholding Christ. That sort of flesh-based attempt at sanctification leads to despair and a losing battle against sin — rather than the joy and victory we’re called to have — as I am arguing in my current series, Completed by the Spirit.
Today, Tchividjian writes about his new sermon series entitled “Pictures of Grace:”
What the Pharisee, the prostitute, and all of us need to remember every day is that Christ offers forgiveness full and free from both our self-righteous goodness and our unrighteous badness. This is the hardest thing for us to believe as Christians. We think it’s a mark of spiritual maturity to hang onto our guilt and shame. We’ve sickly concluded that the worse we feel, the better we actually are.
A friend refers to that feeling of guilt and shame as “Protestant penance.” Christ’s forgiveness removes that shame. Understanding that grows us in the knowledge and likeness of Him.