Salvation belongs to God (Ps 3:8; Jon 2:9; Rev 19:1). It is His will (1 Thess 4:3) and His work (1 Pet 1:2) to sanctify His people, that is, to set them apart (Ps 4:3), and make them holy unto the Lord.
People who do not understand sanctification invariably place added burdens on believers, thinking they are serving God, in demanding performance from God’s sheep. Sheep and sanctification are a helpful combination for us to picture. Does anyone put a heavy load on a sheep and expect anything but a bitter sheep?
Sheep are a reflection of their shepherd. If a sheep has a good shepherd, she will graze quietly and safely, in the pasture of the shepherd’s choosing. The shepherd will handle her with care, especially during times of sickness (sin) and seasons of pest infestation (trouble in the world). He will relieve her of the heavy burden of her winter coat (cares of this world). He is near, and that is all that matters.
Some pastors imagine Christ’s sheep as beasts of burden or performance race animals. They put the law of Moses, or even the intensified interpretation of the law of Moses, the Sermon on the Mount, before God’s people with an attitude of, “jump higher!” They may even chastise God’s saints with the truth that they have received the Holy Spirit, “God has given gifts to men! Why have you not opened your gift?! What is wrong with you? You should be obedient to all He has commanded!”
This sentiment misses the point. Our sinful flesh has failed us, before we received Christ, and it will fail us for the rest of our lives. Our willingness and ability to be compliant to God’s Law has certainly shifted in our minds and hearts; but performance is endlessly deficient (see Rom 7).
Why do pastors love to burden Christians? First, many are ignorant of God’s Spirit. They think God has given Christians the enabling power to gain victory over sin, in a sort of deistic fashion. God has not removed Himself from the believer; in fact, He has taken up permanent residence in her. It is true that the indwelling Spirit of Christ is at work; but who knows the divine course of sanctification, prescribed for each individual child of God? Every parent knows that each of their children is different, and requires his or her unique nurture and admonition, even if the rules of the house are the same for everyone.
Pastors who issue statements of Law, without proper explanation of grace and monergistic sanctification, are merely Egyptian taskmasters, enslaving God’s beloved. Christ is the fulfillment of the Law for both justification and sanctification. He has begun a good work in each Christian, and He will bring His good work to completion. That is His promise. His Spirit is the agent of change, every step of the way, all the way through the Christian walk.
Believers in Jesus walk by the Spirit, who inspires them, gives them the mind of Christ, and guides each sheep to safe pasture. The confusion over good works and obedience to the Law only enslaves God’s children. These cause His flock to worry about performance, which is regression into religion. Failure to keep the Law piles on unnecessary guilt and shame. It is also a denial of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Simply put, Christ is our sufficiency, as He works grace in our lives.
Christ in me is the hope of glory because obedience and performance have been worked and finished by Christ alone. Now, the Spirit does His work of conforming the saint to his or her proper identity in Christ. Sanctification is a work of God’s Spirit, who cannot fail to bring the right teaching at the right time. The Spirit leads Christ’s sheep through circumstances, situations, even sufferings to humble the saint and increase her faith.
The next time your pastor explicitly or implicitly tells you that you are under-performing or disobedient, ask him to pray to God for you, that the Holy Spirit will continue His perfect work in you, and remember to pray for your pastor that God will reveal sanctification, as a work of God’s grace to him. We must believe our gracious God, who has willed each believer’s sanctification, that He is at work, and that He will bring His work to its intended end — increased holiness until glory. He is willing; and He is able; and He does all His holy will with perfection. This is the absolute certainty of sanctification.
Spokane Valley, Washington
July 26, 2021