Tuesday, March 22, 2011

God's Work in Ours

In our time one of the most contentious questions, especially within Reformed theological communities, is the nature and process of sanctification. There have been many debates about the necessity of personal holiness and its relation to ultimate salvation. Some are hesitant to argue that works of righteousness are necessary to salvation and others insist upon it. It seems to me that part of the issue in the modern debate is due to the failure to make appropriate distinctions with regard to the cause, means, and effect of sanctification. The following passage from Abraham Kuyper’s The Work of the Holy Spirit provides a helpful perspective on the biblical teaching. He shows that personal holiness is a necessary effect in our lives that originates wholly from God’s gracious work in us.

“The difference between sanctification and good works should be well understood. Many confound the two, and believe that sanctification means to lead an honorable and virtuous life; and, since this is equal to good works, sanctification, without which no man shall see God, is made to consist in the earnest and diligent effort to do good works.

But this reasoning is false. The grape should not be confounded with the vine, lightning with thunder, the birth with the conception, any more than sanctification with good works. Sanctification is the kernel from which the blade and full ear of good works shall spring; but this does not identify the kernel with the blade. The former lies in the ground and by its fibers attaches itself to the furrow internally. The latter shoots from the ground externally and visibly. So is sanctification the implanting of the germ, of the disposition, and inclination which shall produce the blossom and fruit of a good work.

Sanctification is God’s work in us, whereby He imparts to our members a holy disposition, inwardly filling us with delight in His law and with repugnance to sin. But good works are acts of man, which spring from this holy disposition. Hence sanctification is the source of good works, the lamp that shall shine with their light, the capital of which they are the interest. Allow us to repeat it: “sanctification“ is a work of God; “Good works” are of men. “Sanctification” works internally; “good works” are external. “Sanctification“ imparts something to man; “good works” take something out of him. “Sanctification” forces the root into the ground; to do “good works” forces the fruit out of the fruitful tree.

To confound these two leads the people astray. The Pietist says: “Sanctification is man’s work; it can not be insisted upon with sufficient emphasis. It is our best effort to be godly.” And the Mystic maintains: “We can not do good works, and may not insist upon them for man is unable; God alone works them in him independently of him.” Of course, both are equally wrong and unscriptural. The former, in reducing sanctification to good works, takes it out of God’s hand and lays it upon man, who never can perform it; and the latter, in making good works take the place of sanctification, releases man from the task laid on him and claims that God will perform it. Both errors must be opposed.

Both sanctification and good works should receive recognition. Ministers of the Word, and through them the people of God, should understand that sanctification is an act of God that He performs in man; and that God has commanded man to do good works to the glory of His name. And this will have twofold effect: (1) God’s people will acknowledge their complete inability to receive a holy disposition otherwise than as a gift of free grace, and then they will earnestly pray for this grace. (2) They will pray that His elect, in whom this work is already wrought, may show it forth in God-glorifying works: “Chosen in Christ Jesus, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephes. i. 4).

                                                                                                            -Abraham Kuyper

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