Who Does What in Sanctification?

Who does what in sanctification? Is is all God? Is it all me? Part God and part me? How am I to understand who does what? Well, I came across some passages today in my study that I think shed some helpful light in answering the question.

Check these out (I’ve underlined some key phrases):

  • Col. 1:28-29,28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
  • Phil 2:12-13,12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
  • 1 Cor. 15:9-10,9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of themyet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

Commenting on 1 Cor. 15:10, John Calvin says something that I find not just helpful, but flat out remarkable. I wish I had come across this years ago! Here it is (I have underlined his summary statement):

“For having said that something was applicable to himself, [Paul] corrects that and transfers it entirely to God; entirely, I insist, and not just part of it; for he affirms that whatever he may have seemed to do was in fact totally the work of grace. This is indeed a remarkable verse, not only for bringing down human pride to the dust, but also for making clear to us the way that the grace of God works in us. For, as though he were wrong in making himself the source of anything good, Paul corrects what he had said, and declares that the grace of God is the efficient cause of everything. We should not imagine that Paul is merely simulating humility here. He is speaking as he does from the heat, and because he knows that it is the truth. We should therefore learn that the only good we have is what the Lord has given us gratuitously; that the only good we do is what He does in us; that it is not that we do nothing ourselves, but that we act only when we have been acted upon, in other words under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit.”

Wow. That is an amazing statement! He does not qualify grace, saying, “Grace, but,” or “grace, and.” There is saving grace (justification, what God does for us) and there is enabling/empowering grace (sanctification, what God does in us). That is why we are not just saved by grace, but must live by grace as well. So, may we yield our hearts to this, emptying ourselves of ourselves, that we might live in the power of the Spirit as redeemed sons and daughters of God.