How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison, Free for CAPC Members
David Powlison dispels the myth that there is a “key to sanctification” and then lays the biblical groundwork for spiritual growth.
It’s time for everyone’s favorite game: fill-in-the-blank. You finish this sentence: “This year I am going to ________” or perhaps this one, “This year I am going to be a better ______” or, finally, “This year I am going to stop ______.” Perhaps you’ve made that statement recently, or at least heard it made by others. It’s the time for “New Years Resolutions.” That time of the year when we all make promises we know we won’t keep. We make a good show of it though, don’t we? We go to the gym for at least two weeks. That diet sticks for almost a month. The nail-biting disappears, until the stress level is kicked up just a bit. Why do we make New Years Resolutions? What are they for in the first place? I propose that your New Years Resolution should be “To Make No More New Years Resolutions.”
The New Years Resolution is that one time of the year when we willingly admit that there is something, at least one thing, wrong with us and we aim to start off the new year with a stronger effort to do or not do whatever will make us into “better people.” The qualm I have with The New Years Resolution, however, stems from its trivial nature. Resolutions are not bad things, (just ask Jonathan Edwards who had something like 71, and was also a devout man of God). But New Years Resolutions are often associated with the trite and inane. Bad habits, overeating, and poor physique, while not being entirely foolish matters to worry about, pale in comparison to man’s bigger issues. Why is it that our New Years Resolutions often center around the minute matters of existence and rarely, if ever, direct themselves towards the things of godliness. Why do men not make “New Years Resolutions” to pursue the Lord with greater ardor? Why do men not make Resolutions to fast once a week? The answer is of course connected to our own sinfulness, which continually fights against the pursuit of godliness and strives to reform man’s behavior with will-power and human exertion.
The most discussed feature of New Years Resolutions, however, has to be their short-lived nature. Few resolutions make it to three months, and some don’t even survive 30 days. What starts out as a heart-felt (or at least heart-feigned) desire to reform quickly crashes and burns like a plane without an engine. The reason is both a lack of motivation and a lack of God-empowered grace. The relationship between The New Years Resolution and Humanism is well-noted and does not need to be discussed yet again here. I want instead to turn to another faulty aspect of The New Years Resolution: its’ Narrow Focus.
What the New Years Resolution lacks is not just longevity, but a larger focus that takes into consideration the whole of life. When one considers what it will mean to “stop biting my nails” one can’t imagine much more effect that a change in cuticle appearance and perhaps re-directing our nervousness to a different outlet. The great difference between our “New Years Resolutions” and the Resolutions of great Christian men of old is that they seemed to make Resolutions that were both fueled by the grace of God and interested in bearing fruit in the whole of life. And in fact it was because their focus was broader that God’s grace was so applied. God doesn’t want men to simply be concerned about the minute, simplistic changes to their appearance and behavior; he wants men and women who will commit to bringing real reforms to the whole of their lives and for the length of those lives. New Years Resolutions come and go. You make a new one every year. But Godly-Life Resolutions are forever resolutions!
So this year take time to “shed those pounds,” but take more interest in pursuing godliness and you’ll find greater grace, greater value, and greater effects on your life.
Just for you own benefit here are some of my favorite “Resolutions” from Christian men of old:
Endeavor to rejoice in every loss and suffering for Christ’s sake, remembering that though, like death, they are not to be willfully incurred yet, like death, they are of great gain. – Adoniram Judson (Adopted in 1842)
Resolved, To strive every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before. – Jonathan Edwards (Adopted 1722)
I judged myself bound to be the servant of the Church of Christ, in the particular point on which I had obtained mercy: namely in being able to take God at His word and to rely upon it. – George Mueller
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