What role does grace play in our Christian growth and sanctification? It is difficult for many believers to come to grips with the tension between divine sovereignty (election, predestination, effectual calling, irresistible grace, etc.) and human responsibility (the necessity of repentance and faith) when it comes to our salvation. But the same tension exists in trying to grapple with God’s role and our role in the pursuit of holiness. If you ignore the mysterious sovereign working of God’s grace and strive for Christian maturity on the basis of self discipline and works you end up a frustrated legalist. On the other hand, the Christian walk is much more than simply “Let Go and Let God!”
Jerry Bridges wrestles with these dynamics:
“Grace is every bit as important for growing as a Christian as it is for becoming a Christian. The pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure. Grace is at the heart of the gospel, and without a clear understanding of the gospel and grace we can easily slip into a performance-based lifestyle that bears little resemblance to what the gospel offers us.”
“The Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us more and more into the likeness of Christ is called sanctification. Our involvement and cooperation with Him in His work is what I call the pursuit of holiness. . . The pursuit of holiness requires sustained and vigorous effort. . . Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand.”
Bridges calls believers back to the centrality of the simple, but all-powerful gospel message. This gospel is not just for unbelievers as the message to bring them into the kingdom. It should be the ongoing meditation of every believer in order to respond to the love and forgiveness of our God with the type of consecrated pursuit of holiness that relies on the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Preaching the gospel to ourselves every day addresses both the self-righteous Pharisee and the guilt-laden sinner that dwell in our hearts. Since the gospel is only for sinners, preaching it to ourselves every day reminds us that we are indeed sinners in need of God’s grace. It causes us to say to God, in the words of an old hymn, “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.’ It helps us to consciously renounce any confidence in our own goodness as a means of meriting God’s blessing on our lives.”
This approach reminds me of my favorite verse on Christian sanctification:
“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” – Colossians 2:6