Sanctification: to struggle or to surrender?

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” 2 Peter 1: 5-7

If we are truly believers, then we realize that our position in Christ automatically separates us from the world (1 Peter 2:9-12). After all, we have a relationship with the living God! Then, of course, we must live a good life every day, not trying to “mingle in” with the world, but living according to God’s Word when we study the Bible and grow in it. This sanctification process requires our efforts, as it does not happen automatically. Aren’t you sure about this?

Commenting on the above verse Calvin once said: Since it is hard work and hard work to remove the corruption that is upon us, Peter asks us to strive and make every effort for this purpose. He intimated that in this matter no place was to be given to laziness, and that we were to obey God who called us, not slowly or carelessly, but alertness required; as if he had said, “Make all efforts, and manifest your efforts upon all people.”

For Calvin, growing in godliness (sanctification) is hard work. There is no place for laziness. We must exert ourselves for obedience with speed and perseverance. Believers are absolutely not to be passive in sanctification. But later, while commenting on the same verse, Calvin also warns against the idea that it is we who make the moves of God within us effective, as if God’s work cannot be done unless we allow it to do so. On the other hand, “right feelings are formed in us by God, and are embodied by Him in an effective way.” That’s because all that is good comes from God.

Wisdom, patience, love — these are all gifts of God and the Spirit. So when Peter tells us to make every effort, he is by no means affirming that this [virtue] is within our strength, but only pointing out what we should have, and what to do. While this is obvious, in practice we can run into many of the problems raised by the two teachings. What are they?

Two heresies that have plagued the church on the subject of sanctification for centuries are the heresies of Activism and Quietism . These twin distortions are guilty of removing one of the poles of the paradox regarding God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. In Activism, God’s work is swallowed up by human self-righteousness. In the teachings of Quietism, human struggle is completely surrendered to a divine process which is considered to automatically run after God’s absolute gift of salvation.

The teachings of Activism (different from striving for good works) are the beliefs of self-righteous people. He does not need divine assistance to achieve perfection. God’s grace is neglected, and the activist can self-proclaim. His faith is in himself and his moral abilities. Perhaps the most arrogant statement a person can make is this: “I no longer need Christ” or “This is purely human work”. Or maybe something that sounds good: “I have been gifted with self-survival abilities from God.”

The teachings of Quietism have their roots in the 17th century Roman Catholic movement. It is most associated with a Spanish priest named Miguel de Molinos, a French mystic named Madame Guyon, and a French Archbishop and writer named Francois Fenelon. They are associated with the idea that the sanctification of Christians is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, as far as your personal godliness is concerned, there is nothing you can do except step aside, and let God do all the work. This of course has something to do with the ideas of determinism and fatalism, which believe that everything, good or bad, has been ordained by God from the beginning.

The Quietism Teachings insult the Holy Spirit by insisting that God is solely responsible for the progress or lack of holiness of Christians. If the follower of the teachings still continues to live in sin, the unspoken assumption is that God is not very active in His work or He does not mind his sin. The Christian credo of this kind is, “Let go, let God” . No struggle required; no resistance to temptation is required. Sanctification is God’s work, from beginning to end. Is He not fully sovereign? Didn’t God choose me as I am?

This passive and unsatisfying Quietism teaching is more popular than Activism teaching today, more so than you might think. This is due to the emergence of churches that use high Reformed doctrines (Hyper-Calvinism). They say there is nothing you can do to further your sanctification. God is doing the work within you, so you must wait quietly and be passive in the process. It is because you are unable to do what is good before God.

Apparently, the teachings of Quietism grew up as a reaction against the teachings of Activism. It made sense because what was extreme would elicit an extreme reaction. In response to what they see as legalism or moralism – the call to “do more, try harder” in Christian living – some pastors and teachers have changed direction (changed churches or changed doctrine) so that they are effectively teaching their congregations that there is no need for one Christian to do anything at all. That is because everything has been ordained by God and man is unable to choose what is good. In short, their message is: “stop thinking about what you should do, and meditate only on what Jesus has done for you”. Therefore, they tend to be antinomian (a tendency to ignore God’s commands to live well), because they feel it is unnecessary and impossible to choose what is good.

Today, God is calling us to pursue holiness in a world of turmoil. The pursuit must be carried out with strength and determination. We must fight to the last drop of blood, struggle with strength, beat our bodies, while rejoicing because there is certainty that the Holy Spirit is within us to help, organize, convince, and encourage. Nevertheless, most of us tend to fall for one teaching or another. Are you more likely to be aligned with Quietism or Activism? The Scriptures condemn both. Both are wrong and perverted.

To pick up a verse that can strengthen us, meditate on what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 2: 12.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12

Thus, we must work out our own salvation (advance in holiness). Then, doesn’t this mean Activism? Don’t be too hasty, Paul continues: “ …for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. ” (Philippians 2:13).

This morning, the Bible gives us a broader view of how we should understand the Christian life. We must work, and toil, for holiness; but when we do, we do it with the knowledge that it is God working in us to make us more and more like Christ. And actually, according to Paul, the reason we keep striving for holiness is precisely because we know that God is working in us when we do. If you know that God will work in you when you are working, won’t that motivate you to work even harder?

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