“And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.”
The words of grace are to stir me to pray that others would continue the good fight of faith. The message is to go on to sanctification in the Lord. But some may think that even the words, “the good fight of faith” may be in conflict with the grace that is commended.
Someone told me that if they hear too much of obedience or duty in my sermons, people will think that I am guilty of legalism. That may be true, but my friend was wrong about whether I should urge my loved ones to recognize that they are in a spiritual warfare and that part of this war comes from their own flesh. The Bible urges us to do so and even warns us to do so.
“Since therefore Christ hath suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, because he who hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sins, to the end that no longer should he live the rest of the time in the flesh to the lusts of men but to the will of God” (I Pet. 4:1, 2).
We are sanctified, to use the teaching of John Murray, both definitely, once and for all in Christ, and progressively, as we exercise the means of grace—Word, Sacrament, and Prayer—to grow in Christ-likeness.
“Indeed, the more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God. The deeper his apprehension of the majesty of God, the greater the intensity of his love to God, the more persistent his yearning for the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, the more conscious will he be of the gravity of the sin that remains and the more poignant will be his detestation of it….Was this not the effect in all the people of God as they came into closer proximity to the revelation of God’s holiness.”
This teaching is summed up so well in the Westminster Confession of Faith:
I. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
II. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence arises a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
III. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part does overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Several things should be emphasized:
1. Sanctification is dynamic. We cannot grow in grace by only looking back at our justification. While the blessedness of what Christ has done should work within us gratitude, a love, and a joy to follow the Lord, we must show that love in obedience. Yet as a man loves his wife and desires to serve her and wants to please her as his own, so, too, a believer, out of love, desires to please the Savior of his soul. There can be no true holiness without grace. The Ten Commandments follows the prelude in which God reminded the Hebrew children that He is the God who delivered them from bondage. Only after that gracious act is established, does the Lord move to give them His commandments. Love precedes law and empowers obedience. Yet, sanctification is not wholly passive, but also active. Justification is an act of free grace whereby God pardons us for our sins through His Son Jesus Christ and accepts us in His Beloved. It is altogether the work of the Lord. Sanctification most assuredly is through Jesus Christ as well, but it is Christ working in us to do His will as we come to Him and follow Him (out of love, out of His grace, to which Paul will commend his readers). We obey from the indwelling power of grace, out of love, out of gratitude, but the point is that we are called upon to follow, to read the Word, to present ourselves to Christ at the Table, and to be keeping in step with the Spirit in our lives.
2. Sanctification is militant. When Charles Wesley (who professed Arminianism but seemed to preach and write hymns like a Calvinist) wrote “Soldiers of Christ Arise” he composed a great hymn that spoke to the sanctifying ministry that we must embrace. “Wrestle and fight and pray” is a pure expression of the militancy that every believer must face in sanctification. The world despises the work of Christ in the Great Commission and in preaching Christ. The devil is actively engaged in disrupting the plans of God in your life and mine and in the work of the Church. The flesh cannot stand the invasive work of the Holy Spirit through prayer.
3. Sanctification is practical. This glorious work is about a regular, active, urgent, ongoing, and goal-centered work of the Holy Spirit as we exercise the “means of grace” (Word, Sacrament, and Prayer). And the goal? According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, echoing the fullness of Biblical revelation, we are on our way to holiness of life and finally glorification in heaven.
J.C. Ryle, in his classic work on sanctification, Holiness, wrote,
“In justification the word to address to man is believe–only believe; in sanctification the word must be ‘”watch, pray, and fight.’”
My beloved in Christ, the world, the flesh and the devil press to rob of us of effectiveness, of joy, and of advancing the redemptive plans of God for this earth. Our response is to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, to love Him more and more, and through grace at work in our lives through the ordinary means, we shall be strengthened to go on.
“I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10).
And with these thoughts today, I commend you to Christ and to the Word of His grace and to the power of all of His promises which will strengthen you to serve Him in obedience.
Chapell, Bryan. Holiness by Grace : Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2001.
The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in America : Together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism, with the Scripture Proofs. [Atlanta?]: Committee for Christian Education and Publications of the Presbyterian Church in America, 1983
Murray, John. Redemption, Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids,: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1955.
Ryle, J.C. Holiness: Sovereign Grace Publishers, Incorporated, 2001
 See John Murray, Redemption, Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids,: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1955). 141ff.
 The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in America : Together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism, with the Scripture Proofs, ([Atlanta?]: Committee for Christian Education and Publications of the Presbyterian Church in America, 1983).
 “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13 ESV).
 And I deeply appreciate Bryan Chapell, Holiness by Grace : Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2001).
 J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Sovereign Grace Publishers, Incorporated, 2001).ix.