Christians tend to be encouraged about their justification (if they understand it), but sometimes discouraged about their sanctification (or seeming lack thereof). Consequently, they miss out of something that is intended to be a blessing from God for them for their good and His glory.
There are also some bad slogans about and approaches to sanctification on the market out there (perhaps because of the above-mentioned discouragements associated with it). Sometimes preaching that wants to avoid being antinomian, ends up using so many imperatives and failing to root Christian effort in God’s grace work in us and especially our union with Christ that that preaching ends up sounding like: “be good, do better, try harder.” Sometimes preaching that wants to avoid being legalistic, ends up scared to death of imperatives, and seems to explain them all away in broken record sermons that treat every exhortation in the Bible as something designed to teach us that we can’t do it (The Bible says for you to do x, but you can’t do x because you are a sinner, but praise God Jesus did x for you, so stop trying to do what you can’t do and rest in his grace). Both those approaches are wrong and unbiblical.
In sanctification, it’s neither “try harder” nor “stop trying” but “by grace, grow,” or to put it another way “by grace, become who God created/redeemed you to be.” And the grace exhortations of sanctification are based on really good news. “You can’t change, so stop trying” is NOT good news. “You are on your own in sanctification, so just make a better effort” is NOT good news. But “your progress in sanctification, your growth in godliness is just as much God’s work in you as is his freely justifying, pardoning and accepting of you on the basis of Christ’s work” is REALLY, REALLY good news.” Let’s recount some of the theological truths that undergird the good news of progressive sanctification:
(1) God cares more about your sanctification than you do and is always working on it (Philippians 2:13 ESV).
(2) Sanctification is first and foremost God’s work. Justification=God’s work FOR us. Sanctification=God’s work IN us.
(3) Sanctification means you WILL grow, you WILL progress, because God’s grace work is always efficacious (Philippians 2:13 ESV).
(4) The Christian life is a life of freedom. When Jesus saves us, he frees us, and thus in the Christian life we are and must and will be FREE. Not free FROM obedience but TO it. You will WANT to do what you OUGHT to do. That is, the only kind of true Christian freedom that exists is the freedom to be and do what God created and redeemed us to be and do. Thus, Christian freedom is not freedom FROM obedience, but freedom TO and FOR it. Any other thing that purports to be freedom is a sham. Freedom to sin is, in fact, bondage.
(5) In progressive sanctification we are set free from the bondage of sin’s dominion, not to hopeLESS passivity but hopeFUL activity.
(6) The glorious truth of progressive sanctification means God will NEVER give up on us and our growth, even when we feel like giving up on ourselves and it (Philippians 1:6 ESV).
(7) God’s GRACE is just as powerfully demonstrated in our sanctification as our justification.
(8) Progressive sanctification is ultimately ENCOURAGING even when we are discouraged by ongoing sin/lack of progress. WHY? Why is it encouraging even in our failures/frustrations? Because IT and WE are God’s work.
(9) In progressive sanctification we celebrate the truth that “…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).
(10) In progressive sanctification we learn that “we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).
(11) In progressive sanctification we come to appreciate “For freedom Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV) But the freedom that Christ came, and died for, and was raised again from the dead to give is a freedom that does NOT give “opportunity to the flesh” but empowers us “through love [to] serve one another” (Galatians 5:13-14 ESV).
(12) Progressive sanctification encourages us to remember that “it is God who works in you, both to will & to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 ESV).
(13) In progressive sanctification we realize that God has in view the full restoration of His image in you. That is why Paul prays “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19 ESV).
(14) Progressive sanctification is how God makes us to be like Jesus “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29 ESV).
(15) Because of progressive sanctification, we can pray, “O Lord, everything good in me is due to you. The rest is my fault.” Augustine
(16) Progressive sanctification is what God does in us so we can obey Jesus’ new commandment. (John 13:34 ESV) Progressive sanctification is how we are able to “love one another: just as I [Jesus] have loved you.” By God’s work in us, we can at least make a start at obeying that colossal directive, rather than being crushed under its weight.
(17) Progressive sanctification is how Christians respond to hundreds of imperatives in the NT without becoming legalists.
(18) The good news of progressive sanctification is that it is a divine grace-work designed to give us hope, as John Newton understood. Newton said: “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be… ; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”
(19) The truth of progressive sanctification shows how God’s sovereignty and our responsibility work together in the Christian life.
(20) Progressive sanctification is a joy-producing, happiness-increasing Bible truth. That’s why we sing “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, To be HAPPY in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
(21) The good news of progressive sanctification reminds us of the astonishing truth that God was working on our sanctification from eternity past, long before creation, ere we existed. That’s why Paul says we were created for “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV). To put it provocatively, trillions of years ago, God was already preparing your progress in sanctification in the Christian life. Now that’s good news.