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God and sanctification

This post was written in response to several questions posed by my Principles of Theology professor. Those questions are:

What role does God play in our sanctification? What responsibility do we have? In what ways will you intentionally foster the development of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5) and holiness in your own life in the coming days?

My response is below. What do you think?


God’s role in sanctification is that he does the work. We can do nothing to make ourselves sanctified or holy. God works and we cooperate. Grudem states, “sanctification is primarily a work of God…” [1] The Father disciplines us (see Heb 12:5-11). Christ is “our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor1:30) because he earned this for us. He is also our example, “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).

The Holy Spirit has the major role in the sanctification of the saints.

The Holy Spirit must always work in us through the Word, granting us daily forgiveness until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness… All this, then, is the office and work of the Holy Spirit, to begin and daily increase holiness on earth through these two means, the Christian church and the forgiveness of sins. [2]

We can therefore, see that Luther and his associates also agreed that the work was God’s, but God’s people worked together with God to sanctify believers.

Our responsibility in the sanctification process is to work together with God and be open to him. God does not force himself on is and will not make us holy and sanctified if we do not desire it. Numerous places throughout the New Testament our part is taught. We are exhorted to “be holy” in 1 Pet 1:15). 2 Corinthians 7:1 directs us to perfect holiness. Paul told Timothy, “train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim 4:7). There are many other passages as well that encourage us to cooperate with God. Charles Spurgeon said regarding sanctification, “If it is possible, I will attain it.” [3]

Recognizing our struggles in this life, “Now, however, we remain only halfway pure and holy,” [4] and as Paul declared, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Rom 7: 18, 24), I will continue to spend more intentional time in God’s presence. No self effort can sanctify me, but by his grace, I will continue with the spiritual disciplines of daily journaling and lectio divina. This week I began practicing the discipline of the divine hours or daily office. Periodically, I will make use of this discipline.

I have started relating to a spiritual director/mentor. We will primarily connect by phone and occasionally face to face. Once the candidacy process begins through the synod (which should be sometime within the next month or so), I will be assigned a mentor, but that will primarily be for vocational discernment and to assist in the process.

The bottom line is the more time we spend in God’s presence, with open hearts, the more we become like him. Since taking Spiritual Formation earlier this year, my goal has been to more intentionally fellowship daily with the Lord. This has enabled me to handle difficult situations with grace and a greater sense of God’s presence.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 753.

[2] Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2000), 438-439.

[3] David J. Massey, Principles of Theology excerpts of flash lecture by author, 2004. Online:,user_id_pk1=46749,user_id_sos_id_pk2=1,one_time_token=[1 June 2007].

[4] Kolb and Wengert, eds., 438.

The Bible. New International Version.


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