Archives For Sanctification

Sunday (D.V.), I am preaching on 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, and the pattern of sanctification. Below are some of my favorite passages on sanctification as well as key quotes that summarize what we believe about how Christians are sanctified or increasingly conformed to the image of Christ. It took me over 20 years to collect these. . .

“We try to change ourselves. We take what we think are the tools of spiritual transformation into our own hands and try to sculpt ourselves into robust Christlike specimens. But spiritual transformation is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Master Sculptor . . . Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.” (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, Colorado Springs (NavPress, 1994), 11,13).

“The root meaning of the word ‘character’ refers to something cut or engraved into an object, that marks its unmistakably for what is. So it is with moral character: it persists day aft day whatever happens. It is not just a collection of occasional behaviors or of good intentions that never get implemented, but it is what I am solidly through and through, a matter of the heart . . . someone who is ‘true blue,’ solid all the way through, all the time, inwardly and outwardly alike, we say has moral character, a moral identity of his own. But character does not just grow like Topsy; it must be carefully, painstakingly cultivated (Holmes, Shaping Character, 59).”

“We believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means–especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer (“THE NEW HAMPSHIRE BAPTIST CONFESSION, (1833), DECLARATION OF FAITH, X. OF SANCTIFICATION” Grudem, 1198).

The New Testament does not suggest any short-cuts by which we can grow in sanctification, but simply encourages us repeatedly to give ourselves to the old-fashioned, time-honored means for Bible reading and meditation (Ps. 1:3; Matt. 4:4, 17:17), prayer (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6), worship (Eph. 5:18-20), witnessing (Matt 28:19-20), Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24-25), and self-discipline or self-control (Gal. 5:23; Titus 1:8). (Grudem, 755).

“We may define sanctification as that gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, involving our responsible participation, by which he delivers us from the pollution of sin, renews our entire nature according to the image of God, and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to him (Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 192).”

“Sanctification, says the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.35), is ‘the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.’ The concept is not of sin being totally eradicated (that is to claim too much) or merely counteracted (that is to say too little), but of a divinely wrought character change freeing us from sinful habits and forming in us Christlike affections, dispositions, and virtues (Packer, 169, Concise Theology).”

“Although the work of strengthening holy dispositions is chiefly a divine and not a human work, believers must cooperate with grace by the proper use of spiritual means. These include the Word of God, the sacraments, prayer, the constant exercise of faith, confession of sins, and providential discipline (Lewis and Demarest, Vol. 3, 187).”

“…God effects the work [of the Holy Spirit] in part through the instrumentality of man as a rational being, by requiring of him prayerful and intelligent co-operation with the Spirit. That man must co-operate with the Spirit of God follows: (a) from the repeated warnings against evils and temptations…and (b) from the constant exhortations to holy living (Berkhof, 534).”

“Sanctification takes place partly in the subconscious life, and as such is an immediate operation of the Holy Spirit; but also partly in the conscious life, and then depends on the use of certain means, such as the constant exercise of faith, the study of God’s Word, prayer and association with other believers (Berkhof, 534).”

“And, indeed, this restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year; but through continual and sometimes even slow advances God wipes out in his elect the corruptions of the flesh, cleanses them of guilt, consecrates them to himself as temples renewing all their minds to true purity that they may practice repentance through their lives and know that this warfare will end only at death (Calvin, Institutes., 3.3.9, page 601).”

“All true knowledge of God is born out of obedience.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, quoted in CT, 1/10/2000, page 78).

“It is the grace of God only that will secure us, and that grace is to be expected only in the use of the means of grace. (Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997).

But we have no reason to be afraid if we are on the Lord’s side. Appropriation of that strength comes through the means of grace (MacArthur, John F., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press) 1983).

The great theologian John Murray explained that an unwillingness to preach judgment inevitably leads to a lack of biblical joy. 

Many Christians would agree with the assessment that there is a lack of joy amongst Christians. But fewer would agree with John Murray’s explanation of why we often lack joy. Murray argued that when the judgment of God is not preached the joy of grace will be lost. Quoting Murray:

There is an amazing and distressing paucity of the agonizing question which is, after all, the basic religious question: how can a man be just with God? And there is likewise, and inevitably as a consequence, a paucity of the exultant joy which comes with the realization of complete and irrevocable justification by free grace through faith. The root from which all such impoverishment proceeds is the absence of from our thinking and from our preaching of the divine judgment upon sin. Without the ministry of judgment and condemnation the foundation is not laid in the conviction which gives meaning and appeal to the gospel of free and sovereign grace. Collected Writings of John Murray: Claims of Truth (His Collected Writings of John Murray; V. 1) (His Collected Writings of John Murray; V. 1), “Some Necessary Emphases in Preaching,” page 145. 

Murray’s logic:

  1. God’s righteous judgment is preached.
  2. Hearers ask, “How can a person be right with God?”
  3. The question is answered, “Through the grace of God.” (Eph 2:8-9).
  4. Those who turn in repentance and receive by faith the gift of eternal life are filled with joy (1 Peter 1:8, Jude 24-25). 

The sequence must begin with point 1. 

See also:

What Do Christians Mean When They Reference the Gospel or Good News

Plugging Into God’s Power

Chris —  February 17, 2017

In Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines David Mathis helps Christians understand how they can grow by God’s grace rather than wearing out in their own strength.

The key to growing as a Christians is to understand how to grow through God’s strength rather than by merely “white-knuckling” the Christian life through sheer force of will. 

David Mathis illustrates the idea cooperating or receiving God’s grace. He is careful to show that God supplies the power, but that we need to receive God’s grace. 

I can flip a switch, but I don’t provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don’t make the water flow. There be no light and no liquid refreshment without some else providing it. And so it is with the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don’t control the supply. We can’t make the favor of God flow, but he has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly. There are paths along which he has promised his favor.

Mathis’ book, then, is about how we open the “pipes” and wait expectantly for God’s grace to flow into our lives.

In brief, the way that open the pipes or plug into the power is through God’s appointed means of grace: hearing from God in His Word, praying, and growing together in community. There are vast riches to be discovered on this topic. I highly recommend Mathis’ book.

You hear more in the below video where Justin Taylor interviews David Mathis:

Crossway provided time-stamps of the conversation

00:00 – What do the endorsements for the book tell us about what you were trying to do in Habits of Grace?
02:21 – What are you getting at when you talk about “habits of grace”?
04:39 – In your experience, what are some of the main challenges that Christians face with respect to the “habits of grace”?
07:48 – When it comes to our intake of God’s Word, why is it important to emphasize both breadth and depth?
09:51 – How do we ensure that our understanding and practice of the spiritual disciplines is biblical and not unduly shaped by non-Christian influences?
13:04 – Where and how is the Holy Spirit present in your understanding of living the Christian life?
16:30 – With the multitude of books already in print related to the spiritual disciplines, why did you feel the need to write another one?

For more see:

Is Growing as a Christian a Result of God’s Grace or My Strength?  

The Spiritual Disciplines are for Enjoying Jesus: A Review of Habits of Grace by Joe Harrod 


This morning, as we conclude our time in 2 Peter by considering Peter’s admonition to grow in grace, I am recommending to our flock that they consider reading the book, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

I hope to post more on this book in the near future, but for now I will simply point to it as an excellent resource for growing in the Christian life.

Easily, my most important educational choice was deciding 25 years ago to systematically memorize Scripture.

The first principle of Scripture memory is to "repeat to remember." Wear a rut in your mind with the words of Scripture. Here is a brief summary of the system I use for memorizing Scripture. I originally learned this approach from Jim Jeffery in the Fall of 1990, though I have adapted it over the years. My system shares similarities with An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture.

Repeat to Remember

My system for Scripture memorization is divided into two parts. First, I repeat to remember.

After identifying a verse to memorize, I say it aloud. Ideally, I interpret the verse with the inflection of my voice and attitude of my heart as I say it. But there is some “chanting” involved. The idea is to wear a rut in my mind with God’s Word. My goal is to to say the words of a verse so many times that they are as second nature as a phone number or address.

I “repeat to remember” using the following regiment for each verse I memorize:

  • Day 1- 25 times
  • Day 2 – 20 times
  • Day 3 – 15 times
  • Day 4 – 10 times
  • Day 5 – 5 times

So by the end of the 5th day I have repeated a given verse 75 times. As can be seen from the image to the right, there is nothing fancy about my system. I write the verse out and tally each repetition. The image shows that in July of 1991 I was memorizing Matthew 20:37-40 followed by the 10 Commandments.

On the first day, I often look at the verse while quoting it. If it is a longer verse, I memorize it one phrase at a time. I also look closely at it on the page and form a mental snapshot of the verse. I don’t mean to imply I have a “photographic memory.” I don’t. But the combination of repeatedly vocalizing the words of the verse, hearing it as I say it, and picturing it in my mind, all serve to engrave the words on my memory.

On days 2-5, I still need to look at the verse again. But it grows easier to remember each day. If I struggle to remember a verse when reviewing it, I may quote it additional times.

Saying it aloud is important. The discipline of vocalizing each word aloud means that I also hear it.

When I am memorizing verses, I also incorporate quoting the texts into the fabric of ministry. For example, I have recently been memorizing Paul’s wonderful prayer in Colossians 1:9-14. So even as I followed the formal regiment for memorizing those verses, I have repeated or paraphrased it many additional times during my own times of prayer and counseling sessions.

ScripturememoryfrontAt other times, I incorporate verses I am memorizing into conversations or counseling sessions. I simply say something like, “Recently, I have been memorizing Colossians 1:9-14. In those verses, Paul prays . . .” Sharing verses in conversation models a commitment to God’s Word and shares the content of particular passages.

Review to Retain

Second, having repeated to remember, I review to retain.

After I have completed the sequence of saying the verse 25-20-15-10-5 times across consecutive days, I write the verse on a 3×5 card and review it daily. Ideally, I review a particular verse:

  • Daily for 45-60 days
  • Weekly for a year
  • Monthly for 2-3 years
  • 2-3 times per year for life

This is the back of a Scripture memory card.When I make a mistake in reviewing a verse, which I often do, I correct the mistake and say it the right way more than once. If I really struggle quoting a particular verse, then I put it through the “repeat to remember” sequence again.

Of course, there are many other memory techniques that can be employed including using music or association techniques. But in my experience, long term Scripture memorization comes down to repetition. Intentionally repeat a verse 4-500 times across several years and you will remember it.

Systematic long term memorization of Scripture requires only minutes on any given day. I took a break while writing this to review 10 verses. It took me one minute and twenty-two seconds to recite them. It was a minute and twenty-two seconds well spent.

See also:

Memorize a Psalm in Order to Be Moved

“Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).”

Nothing is more practical to the Christian than considering the dynamic by which we grow as believers. The Christian understands that he or she is to become more like Jesus? But how exactly does that take place? How is it that we make progress as Christians?

  • How can we truly have victory over pornography?
  • How can we finally show self-control with the things we say?
  • How can we learn to be more patient with family members?

In his beautiful essay, “The Pattern of Sanctification,” John Murray explains that the basic dynamic by which the Christian grows is to give focused attention to Christ as He is revealed in Scripture. In so doing, our hearts are graciously warmed and softened towards Christ by the power of the Spirit, and we become more like Jesus.

Murray says it far more profoundly than I do:

“. . . the import is that, as we come into intelligent, believing, and adoring encounter with the glory of Christ, we take on the characters which belong to him.  We must remember, of course, that supernatural agency is at work in this process.  But the means by which this work of grace is wrought are clearly indicated. The glory of Christ is portrayed and exhibited to us in the pages of Scripture. The Holy Spirit illumines our minds and quickens our hearts to behold the glory; he takes the things of Christ and shows them to us. He thus glorifies Christ . . . This process of conformation to the image of Christ does not take place by quiescent passivity on our part.  It is only by concentrated application to the data of revelation that we come into this encounter with the glory of the Lord. And all the energies of our being are enlisted in the exercise of adoration, love, obedience, and fellowship (John Murray, Banner of Truth, Collected Writings Vol. 2, 311-312).””

The beauty of growing in this way as a Christian is that when we are increasingly conformed by the power of the Spirit to look like Jesus Christ-like behavior begins to burst forth in many areas of life. To the extent that we are like Jesus, we manifest the fruit of the Spirit.

The action steps that follow are obvious. Christians should meditate in an ongoing way on Christ as He is revealed in the Bible. This means, especially, being under the preaching of the Word, sharing the ordinances / sacraments together, meditating on and memorizing the Word, praying, and sharing life with the community of the redeemed.

More from Jerry Bridges:

As I have said, one of the first 5 books I would recommend any believer read is The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. This book shows how grace and personal effort go hand in hand:

To behold the glory of Christ in the gospel is a discipline. It is a habit we must develop by practice as we learn to preach the gospel to ourselves. As I have repeatedly said, although sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is a work which involves us.

For a longer explanation, See Is Growing as a Christian a Result of Our Effort or God’s Grace

See also Jerry Bridges on Dependent Responsibility

One of the first 5 books I would recommend any believer read is The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. This book shows how grace and personal effort go hand in hand:

Grace the personal discipline require to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.

For a longer explanation, See Is Growing as a Christian a Result of Our Effort or God’s Grace

See also Jerry Bridges on Dependent Responsibility

Avoiding Mirrors

Chris —  January 17, 2014

Yesterday, when I was getting ready for the day, I noticed a spot on my sweater. The stain wasn’t real bad. There wasn’t actual food debris.  Rather my sweater was discolored in an area about the size of a nickel.

The spot on my sweater bothered me while I combed my hair (17 seconds) and brushed my teeth (118 seconds).

I contemplated changing sweaters which would have required  38 seconds. This being the winter months, what with static electricity and all, I might have needed to do hair maintenance (4 second) and I was reluctant to invest that sort of time. So throughout brushing my teeth I wrestled with whether or not to change my sweater given that it was bothering me but realizing the kind of commitment a change of clothes would require.

Then a great realization hit me about my internal turmoil over looking at the spot on my sweaters. If I avoided mirrors the rest of the day, the spot on my sweater wouldn’t bother me at all.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25 ESV)

Dig for Wisdom Like It’s 1849

Chris —  June 17, 2013

While those who rushed to California may not have had the right goal, there is something we can learn from their zeal. Scripture tells us to seek wisdom like we are panning for gold:

If you seek [wisdom] like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,

then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:4-5.

One of the fascinating events of our country’s history was the California Gold Rush. If you remember your history, you know that a man named Sutter found gold in the late 1840’s which led to a stampede to Northern California.

People ran for California like lemmings. But it was no easy trip to the cliffs. We can get anywhere in the world easier today than people could get to the gold fields.

Those with gold fever had two options for making it to California. They could cross the continent in a covered wagon facing disease, Indians, and the weather. Or, they could sail 13,000 miles  around South America. In the month of February of 1849, over 50 ships left New York for the gold fields.

People were so eager for gold that when they got to San Francisco they didn’t even take time to unload the ships. By the mid 1850’s San Francisco harbor was filled with more than 500 rotting ships still full of cargo that no one had taken time to unload.

California Gold Rush Pictures: Judge Lynch - California Vigilantes, 1848Treasure hunters fought for their claims. After a claim dispute, a group of Frenchmen and Americans agreed to have two of their own slug it out for a claim. The two individuals went at it for 3.5 hours. Finally, the Frenchman could no longer get up and they went somewhere else. The disputed claim turned out to be the richest in the area.

Proverbs tells us that we are to search for wisdom with the tenacity of those panning for gold. How hard are we digging for wisdom?

For those who counter that this sounds like growing through work rather than grace, Proverbs 2:1-6 is yet another area where Dan Phillips’ oft recommended God’s Wisdom in Proverbs is a “gold mine.” He writes:

God works through means. He does not make bread appear in our mouth–and He does not make wisdom appear in our head. In both areas we must pray, and we must work (page 109, emphasis his).

Of course, our “digging” for wisdom must be in the Word of God which makes wise the simple (Psalm 19:7). Regarding the need to dig for wisdom in Scripture, Kitchen adds:

The humanistic notion that all I must do is look within myself is worse than nonsense; it is demonic (James 3:15). This first conditional statement teaches me who I am – – I am a person who needs God’s counsel (Prov 10:8; Prov 13:10), page 57.


On the relationship between our effort in searching for wisdom and God’s grace, see Is Growing in Grace a Result of Our Effort or God’s Grace?