Growth in the Sanctification of a Believer
by: John Njoroge
In this paper we are going to see together how growth into Christ-likeness look like and ask ourselves, how do we grow? What’s the nature of this growth? And what does it take for God and the believer to complete the task? My goal is to show that God sanctifies a believer by beginning at regeneration a lifelong battle with sin, and a process of an inevitable growth into Christ-likeness which takes endurance and total dependence on God. Based on Christ’s personality of perfectness, sinlessness, holiness, and all that He is contrasted with our sinfulness, believers are called to a life of daily striving to be like Him.
From the time of regeneration, growth starts as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Bible teaches that we have been renewed (Titus 3:5). Once we are saved, we leave a life of sin and start striving to be like Christ our Lord (1John 3:9). The spirit of God in us keeps us from yielding to a life of sin and guides us to yielding life in Christ. Grudem says that, as a first stage in our sanctification, which is after regeneration, we grow morally (p. 746). We get a new sensitivity to sin and to God. We do not become sinless, but we are free from sin’s dominion because sin can never have dominion on us any more (Romans 6:11-14).
As a seed planted in the garden dies to start a new life, so we die to sin and start a new life in Christ. A seed cannot grow unless it dies first. It would otherwise remain in the stockroom forever. The seed must grow after dying. If it doesn’t grow, we have a problem with the seed itself. A Christian in the same way after death to sin should start growing in new life and keep growing in the same nature, with different needs and desires from those of “a seed in the stockroom”, a non believer. This is a nature that a plant starts and has to be in it to keep growing for the best yields. In a similar manner, Romans 6:17-18 teaches that one becomes a slave to righteousness and ought to be in that slavery for life. This is the new nature we ought to grow into. Packer quotes Arthur Pink who once said, “It brings no glory to God that His children should remain dwarfs” (p. 100). Packer’s point is that Christians should grow in grace as this is what the Scriptures teach (2 Peter 3:18), (p. 101-03) We also grow all throughout our life time until death or Christ returns (Phil. 3:21, 1 Cor. 15:23). At his coming, our bodies shall be changed into glorious bodies that will enter heaven (Rev 21:27). We shall be like Him at His coming (1 Cor. 15:49). This tells us that in the meantime, we ought to be growing in our faith. Growth is not as smooth as silk. It steadily progresses upwards in this present life just because there is sin that brings us down every now and then, but growth is progressive however in one direction. To one who does not grow normally, it may take a long time to get to maturity but with some it is a steady growth and fruits are often visible in his life. Slow growth is not the expected thing but it is still growth if it doesn’t die off in the process.
This growth is possible by two facts: the fact that God grows us, and the fact that we need to endure in sanctification. In the first one, Paul in his letter to the Corinthians taught them that they were being transformed in their lives (2 Cor. 3:18), (Packer 103). This meant that for them to grow to whatever level, God was to grow them. God is transforming us from one glory to the other that perhaps we don’t know its nature. It’s God who knows our next glory into which he is going to transform us into. We have no idea what it looks like. This is growth from one stature to another better than the current one, and it ought to be better for it to be said to be growth. The work of sanctification is primarily God’s (1 Thess. 5:23). This is taught in several Scriptures. He grows us by disciplining us (Hebrews 12: 5-11). Phil 2:13 says that God is at work in us, causing us to “will” and giving us the power “to do” his will (Grudem 753). He also equips us for the process of growth (Hebrews 13: 20-21), (McCune 59). The Holy Spirit works in people (1 Peter 1:2, 2 Thess.2:13, Gal. 5:22-23), to bring about sanctification to those who love God. All these passages speak of the Holy Spirit working in us towards holiness everyday as He is holy (Grudem 753). Hodge says that “the Spirit of God is our Sanctifier”, commenting on the role of the Holy Spirit in his book (1:525). McCune also clearly illustrates how “God causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)” in a regenerate person for He is the author of regeneration (3:57).
In the second fact of how this growth is possible is that growth in sanctification takes endurance. As we already know, sanctification is for one who on one hand depends fully on God for sanctification, but also on the other hand must show endurance in his entire life as he grows in this process. It is the plant that endures the strong winds and storms, worms and pests, which produces fruit at the end. Parallel to this analogy, a Christian should endure in his sanctification process in the present life because there are many challenges as pilgrims in our lives. (1 Peter 2:11)
Endurance in a Christian life is by two means: passive and active work towards growth. In the passive one, one endures as he depends totally on God for growth. That means, God knows what is best for a Christian and He will allow him to be subjected to all that will make him grow. Therefore, on his part, that calls for endurance in many circumstances. In this he is encouraged to trust God with all his heart and grow in Him. Romans 8:13 says that it is “by the spirit” that we put to death sin, not by our might or strength. We should trust Him to “will and to work…” in us (Phil. 2:13). This passive part of our growth as mentioned earlier should not by any means be elevated as primary to undermine the active part that calls us for endurance too. We have an active role in our sanctification; we are not just passively waiting for growth to be induced in us. Some people sadly, have been taught to “just wait upon God for growth”, and that they have nothing to do towards their growth. This is unscriptural because it emphasizes one important side of sanctification and de-emphasizes another equally important part of this process. Many people say things like, “Let Go and Let God!” to explain their sanctification. Letting go only makes one lazy and disobedient to Scripture that commands us to actively play our role in sanctification.
In the second means of endurance in Christian life, that is active work towards our growth, we learn from Romans 8: 13, that it is “by the Spirit” that we are to put to death the deeds of the body. Paul recognizes it is “by the Spirit”, but it also depends on us to actually do the “killing” of the deeds of the body. In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul commands his audience to “work out your salvation”. The “work out” command calls for several activities in the life of a Christian. For example, we are to pursue holiness (Heb. 12:14), and to abstain from immorality (1 Thess. 4:3). In short there are no shortcuts. It is endurance through the process and self control (1 Thess. 5: 23, Titus 1:8). John Piper in his book, The Roots of Endurance, points out endurance as key in the life of a Christian. He says that, “Christians are called to endure (Rev. 14:12)” (p. 20). It is also in Christ’s words that we hear that the one “who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt.24:13). “If we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim.2:12). Piper also adds that the Scriptures teach that we are called to endure and “stand in the face of opposition (Eph. 6:13)” (p. 21).
It is very clear from the scriptures that endurance has an eternal reward. In athletics, the athlete who endures through the race gets a reward unlike the one who quits the race and goes to sleep. This is not different in the Christian life. There is a reward given to the one who endures to the end. That means, to those who will not endure, there will be no reward. In James 1:12, there is a crown that is given as a gift by God to the one who has endured to the end. This person has life and he has endured temptations and afflictions of this life, now he has a gift from God in heaven. If one does not endure, the crown which is a gift from God will not be given to him although he has life. Also, if one does not endure, there is a question of regeneration, if it really happened. Hebrews 3:14 implies that if one doesn’t endure, he did not have the beginning of confidence in Christ. There was probably, no true regeneration at all, and therefore he didn’t have anything to hold fast in reality.
We see as illustrated with the battles of Israelites that, “although God had won the victory, the Israelites had to cross the Jordan and fight the Canaanites in deadly battle. Christ has also won the battle for sin but we must fight the sin that continues to fight and resist in our lives and ‘kill’ it completely claiming Christ’s victory… (Berg 318)” Christians are called to endure in their Christian walk.
Finally, as we look at the nature of this growth in our lives, one thing needs not to be left unmentioned. A believer must show growth. “Dwarfness” in Christianity is should never exist as Packer once said. There are Scriptures that record authors as they urge their audience to grow and others praising God for the growth of some members that is visible and they are bearing fruit (Acts 2:40-47, Ephesians 2: 15-23, Philippians 1: 3-11, Colossians 1:3-8, 1 Thessalonians 1).
Growth means increase: increase in stature, height, roots and number of leaves in a plant. In sanctification, growth is increase throughout life (Grudem 748). A believer is referred to as one who is dead to sin (Rom 6: 11). However, there is sin that resides in him that should daily be eliminated. Growth in light to this means that we are not yielding to sin (Rom. 6: 12-13). There should be growth in the knowledge of sin that helps one to keep away from yielding to it. There should be a clear distinction of lifestyle and beliefs in a life of a believer as opposed to the unbeliever’s. Our desires, values, struggles, likes, and masters of life should be different from what we had before. Hebrews 12:1 calls us to “lay aside weights” as we grow in our faith (229-239).
If a person professes conversion but does not grow, there are consequences that follow. To start with, the person is truly converted and safe in God’s hands (1Peter 1:1-9), but will be chastened by God and perhaps his life here on earth be cut short. If a mango tree in a farm does not bear fruit in its season, it doesn’t stop being a mango tree. It is still a mango tree while it is in the farm until the farmer decides to use it in other ways that pleases him. He can leave it for his own pleasure in the farm or cut it. The same may happen to a believer who does not grow and the seemingly good works be turned to nothing (John 15). Show your growth and “don’t be children, tossed to and fro… (Ephesians 4:14)”. In Galatians, growth means that we walk in the spirit, progressively influenced by the Spirit (5: 16-17). Our lives should not be like those of the Corinthians who remained in the same state showing no growth at all (1Cor. 3: 1-3). Growth must be seen in the life of a believer who is being sanctified by God for this is God’s will, and a steady growth into Christlikeness is an inevitable outcome of regeneration.
“Let go, let God” Sounds so promising whereas all the other views of sanctification are appealing to the sense of desperateness and hopelessness. The main problem is that God’s work in lives of the people under sanctification is limited to a certain point of life after they do something or a crisis has struck. This is faulty understanding of Biblical Sanctification that does not depend on what man can do, but it is God sanctifying a believer by beginning at regeneration, a lifelong battle with sin and a process of growth into Christlikeness. Regeneration and a steady growth that takes endurance and total dependence on God towards Christlikeness must be the life of one being sanctified by God.
John Njorge is a third year student at CABC
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