25 February 2014

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Sanctification

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
The New Testament talks about justification, sanctification and glorification; those are the divisions of the term salvation. The New Testament talks about people being justified before God, which means that God regards these people in Christ as guiltless; he forgives them in Christ; they are justified by faith. However, sanctification is not that, but something different. It is that process which is going on within us, and which is making us perfect. Sanctification is continuous, whereas justification is God once for all regarding us as sinless; it is God clothing us with the righteousness of Christ and thereby regarding us as free from guilt. Sanctification is Christ being formed in us, our nature being purged and purified and cleansed and perfected. And then the ultimate state is that of glorification, the state in which you and I, and all Christian people, will be when, beyond this life and death and the grave, we shall stand face to face with God with a perfect resurrected body, entirely free from sin and evil and pollution. There we shall be glorified. . . .

. . . There are those who think that sanctification is something in which you and I are quite passive. There are people who teach that as you have been justified by just believing and doing nothing, so you must receive your sanctification in exactly the same way. They say that you are justified by faith, and that the big mistake that most Christian people make is that they strive and endeavor to improve and perfect themselves. That, they say, is an error; you have nothing to do but to stop and give in and receive this sanctification and then you will be held to be perfect. They put it sometimes in a phrase like this—'Let go and let God,' and they have based it upon this word that we are considering together. You have nothing to do but to let go and wait upon God and then you receive. And yet the answer is found in the Apostle's words here, which are an active commandment: 'work out,' do something, 'work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling.'

Now that is where the confusion of doctrine comes in. By all my efforts and working and striving I can never make myself a Christian, but because, and only by the grace of God, I have become a Christian, then I must work with all my might and with all the energy and effort that I can command. Once having been made a Christian I am in a position to work, and so the exhortation to me is to work out my salvation. Paul, then, exhorts us to work and to labour and to strive and fight the good fight of faith. He says in Romans 6:11 that we must reckon ourselves to be 'dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God.' Therefore, it does seem to me to be entirely contrary to the Apostle's doctrine to teach that we are to be sanctified in a passive manner and that we should do nothing but wait for God to do everything for us. . . .

. . . There are certain statements in the New Testament which appear to be contradictory, and yet are not contradictory at all; it is just that our finite minds are incapable of reconciling them logically. Here we have an example of that very thing. Let us approach it like this: our business is to submit ourselves to the revelation of what Scripture teaches us. No one can dispute that all the initiative in this matter of salvation is always with God. 'It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.'

We can summarize this great doctrine in this way. According to the Bible, man by nature is dead in trespasses and sins. If we read Ephesians 2 we see the background of this doctrine. According to the teaching of the Bible everywhere man by nature is spiritually dead, and can do nothing. We are told in Romans 8:7 that the natural mind is 'enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be.' And not only can man do nothing, he does not want to do anything. He is alienated in his mind against God; he cannot please God, nor does he want to. So why are we now at all interested in these things? Why are we not spending our time, and living our whole life, in utter unconcern about God? What has happened to us? What has made the difference? The answer of the Bible is this: 'But God … for his great love wherewith he loved us …' (Eph 2:4). Our salvation was God's initiating; it was God that did something. . . .

But the Apostle goes on to say something still more striking. God does not merely start this, he goes on with it, and continues it. This statement we are considering is one of the most striking that is to be found even in Scripture itself with regard to this matter. 'It is God,' says Paul, 'which worketh in you.' He does not merely present certain things to you from the outside. God, in Christ, in the New Testament doctrine of salvation, is doing something right within our nature. In us—we must not whittle down the meaning, it really does mean inside—in the vital depths of our being, God by the Holy Spirit is doing something. And what is he doing? This is how Paul puts it: he energizes us, he works in us, 'both to will and to do of his good pleasure.' Can anything be more radical than that? It means that every good desire, every Christian thought and aspiration which I have is something which has been produced in me by God. God controls my willing, it is God who energizes my very desires and hopes and aspirations and thoughts, he stimulates it all.

Now I wonder whether we always realize that as we should; that these desires for a fuller and better and more perfect Christian life are not self-generated or self-produced. When you have a desire to do something good, or a desire to pray, it is God who energizes it in your will, God working in us both to will and to do. . . .

And yet you and I are told to work it out, we are told to do something. Is this a contradiction? I suggest that it is not and we can put it like this. God carries on this work within us by placing these desires and powers in us. In other words, God is perfecting us, he is bringing his great purpose to pass in our Christian life, not by acting upon us in a passive state or condition, but by controlling our will, our desires, our thoughts and aspirations and everything. It is God who starts it and he makes us do it. I do not say that God forces our will. Rather, God does something more gracious: he persuades our will, and gives us holy desires, so that we will those things, and our desire and ambition is to work it out because it is 'God which worketh in us.' There is no essential contradiction in this, indeed there is not ultimately any contradiction at all, it is God's initiative.

– Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Joy: An Exposition of Philippians 1 and 2, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 165–170.

Further Reading
Trusting God in Trying Times
Blessed to be in the Body
Dedicated Pastors Produce Discerning Sheep

1 comment:

  1. When was the last time you heard anyone preach against sin? Many may complain that preaching against sin is for the lost only, and as Christians we have grown past that. Some are even bold enough to teach that 1 John 1:1-10 does not apply to believers (and yet it is believers that are the very target of the whole Book of 1 John). Not too long ago it was called the "second blessing" where one was "filled with the spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues" that passed for sanctification. It was a one time event, with instant and everlasting results that gave the believer "victory" that they could live the "victorious life" never more to be bothered with sin. Today is not a whole lot different. Gone is the battle against sin, especially on a daily basis. There is no more talk of mortifying our own sin, no more taking up of our own cross daily, repentance has become something that the other guy should do, after all, we are born again believers and above sin now (or so one easily gets that impression from hearing others talk of their "ministries" for the Lord).

    David was said to be a man after God's own heart. Why? Because he remained sinless in his walk with his Lord? Surely not! Was it not the same David who said: "Search me, oh God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" Psa. 139:23&24. And the same David who said "I have sinned against the Lord" when confronted by Nathan-2 Sam. 12:13? David did not hide his sin, but readily and willingly confessed his sin which was promptly forgiven. This is why David found much favor in the eyes of the Lord, not living a sinless life, but confessing and repenting of his sin as it became known to him.

    Wasn't repentance your friend when you first came to Christ? Seeing our sin should always be a gut-wrenching, humbling experience, followed by the sweet and peaceful assurance of forgiveness as repentance is once again granted us. Yet some are filled with pride, unwilling to even consider that sin plays an active role in their life as a Christian. If current sin does not bother a person, it is highly likely that they are not saved in the first place. Here is the essence of sanctification: willing, constant, daily, as needed, confession of sin and repentance therefrom (1 John 1:10). May the Lord open our eyes.


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