Sanctification Part 2: Working Out Your Salvation
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13 NKJ
Question 75 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What is sanctification?” It gives the answer, “Sanctification is a work of God's grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.” Last week we saw how sanctification was the end for which God chose us and the purpose of our lives. This week we consider how the sanctification process is actually worked out in your life.
The first part of the Catechism’s answer is that sanctification is a work of God’s grace. As we saw last time this refers both to sanctification’s divine origin as well as to its continual nature. Since sanctification is a work of God’s grace, it was purchased for us by Jesus Christ when He earned our righteousness and paid for our sins. By definition all grace is free to us, but only because it was purchased for us by the life and death of Christ. Furthermore, Christ’s life and mission were all predestined by God from before the foundation of the earth, as were all those to whom God would apply His work: the elect. To paraphrase the Catechism: in time, through the powerful work of the Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ to the elect, they are renewed in the whole man.
The Catechism indicates that the way in which the whole man is renewed in the sanctification process is by the Spirit putting into the hearts of the elect the “seeds” of repentance unto life as well as the seeds of all other saving graces. Saving graces are so described in order to be distinguished from common graces. Only the elect receive saving graces from God, who through these saving graces, saves His people. The Westminster documents list both faith and repentance as saving graces. In sanctification God not only implants the seeds of these graces into the hearts of His elect, but He sovereignly stirs up, increases, and strengthens those graces so that they more and more hold sway in the life of the believer. As the Catechism describes it, the believer more and more dies to sin and rises to newness of life. This means that in the sanctification process, the Holy Spirit continually stirs up and strengthens the faith and repentance of the believer, so that he sins less and obeys God more throughout his life. When our faith grows we trust God more and turn away from Him less. Likewise, when repentance grows we turn from sin more often and more completely and we turn to obedience more fully and more readily. Sin becomes uglier to us and obedience becomes lovelier.
Thus, we can see how we are active and working in the sanctification process, and yet at the same time it is all by the grace of God that we do anything at all. God works within us to implant and strengthen the saving graces, and we work out the obedience and repentance that He is working into us. God works and we work. Our work is entirely born and quickened by the grace of God, so that all of the glory in the work goes to God who alone empowers and moves us. Yet our work is absolutely necessary, so that if we do not work, we cannot be sanctified. Are you working out your salvation in fear and trembling, knowing that God Himself is at work within you? If you are a Christian you must answer yes to this question! The man who says he is waiting on God to stir him up before he does anything, by definition is admitting that God is not currently at work within him, and therefore he is admitting that he is not a Christian. If you are a Christian, God is in you working to sanctify you right now. Are you listening to Him? Be active in the sanctification process! Seek God in those places where He promised you He may be found, and be quick to respond when He prompts you in your heart.