Yesterday I was talking with Pastor Ryan Huguley about the doctrine of sanctification. One of his concerns is the over generalized way many are talking about our growth in Christ with little emphasis on the role and work of the Holy Spirit in the process. Kevin DeYoung also seeks to address what he perceives to be a lack of clarity on the issue in his new book, The Hole in Our Holiness. I agree there does seem to be a kind of gospel-reductionism that looses sight of some of the critical details of theology as it relates to sanctification. Of course, I am an advocate for gospel centrality in all things, but merely invoking word (gospel) does bring sufficient clarity or help to the one seeking to understand and experience growth in grace. I was converted as an 18 yr old and quickly found my way to Systematic Theology. It was the easiest way to find my way around the truths of Scripture that were all very foreign to me. My first Systematic Theology was the three volume classic by Charles Hodge. I returned to it this morning to read him on Sanctification (volume 3).
Hodge is clear explaining that our growth in Christ is not merely spiritual works on our part, but a change of the soul that produces such work. "Sanctification in its essential nature is not holy acts, but such a change in the state of the soul, that sinful acts become more infrequent, and holy acts more and more habitual and controlling."
Hodge says that our efforts play a vital role in our sanctification, though all of it remains the supernatural work of God.
...although sanctification does not exclude all cooperation on the part of its subjects, but, on the contrary, calls for their unremitting and strenuous exertion, it is nevertheless the work of God. It is not carried on as a mere process of moral culture by moral means; it is as truly supernatural in its method as in its nature.
He finishes this chapter with six methods of our sanctification. I summarize below.
1. The Soul is led to Exercise Faith
A person is led by the Holy Spirit to believe in Jesus Christ, "to receive Him as [his] Saviour, committing [himself] to Him to be by his merit and grace delivered from the guilt and power of sin. This is the first step, and secures all the rest..." There is no sanctification apart from faith.
2. The Effect of Union with Christ
By faith in Jesus we are united to him. Through this spiritual union we 1) participate in Christ's merits and are justified and readied for sabctification, and are 2) indwelled by the Holy Spirit who does the work of sanctification. "Where the Spirit is, there Christ is; so that, the Spirit being with us, Christ is with us; and if the Spirit dwells in us, Christ dwells in us. (Rom. viii. 9-11.) In partaking, therefore, of the Holy Ghost, believers are partakers of the life of Christ. The Spirit was given to Him without measure, and from him flows down to all his members."
3. The Inward Work of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the source of our new spiritual life, and helps a man "to see the glory of God as revealed in his works and in his word; the holiness and spirituality of the law; the exceeding sinfulness of sin; his own guilt, pollution, and helplessness; the length and breadth, the height and depth of the economy of redemption; and the reality glory, and infinite importance of the things unseen and eternal." This "apprehension of Christ" is transformative.
4. God calls the Graces of his People into Exercise
Also, by our constant exercise, born of love for Jesus, we grow in the grace and knowledge of God. "The work of sanctification is carried on by God’s giving constant occasion for the exercise of all the graces of the Spirit. Submission, confidence, self-denial, patience, and meekness, as well as faith, hope, and love, are called forth, or put to the test, more or less effectually every day the believer passes on earth."
5. The Church and Sacraments as means of Grace
One of the great purposes of the church is the edification of the saints. Spiritual growth doesn't happen in isolation, but in the fertile soil of the God's covenant community. "Thus also it is by the Church-life of believers, by their communion in the worship and service of God, and by their mutual good offices and fellowship, that the spiritual life of the soul is developed. Therefore the Apostle says, 'Let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so 231much the more as ye see the day approaching.'" And it is the Holy Spirit that uses the word and sacraments as "effectual means of promoting the sanctification of his people."
6. The Kingly Office of Christ
Ultimately we can be sanctified because Jesus is our conquering King. Our enemies are defeated and in Christ we are victorious. "[Jesus] not only reigns over his people, but He subdues them to Himself, rules and defends them, and restrains and conquers all his and their enemies. These enemies are both inward and outward, both seen and unseen; they are the world, the flesh, and the devil."