One of the age-old questions that Christians have attempted to settle in their minds is this: what role does the believer take in sanctification? Is defeating sin something God does in you, or do you defeat it by obeying the commands of Scripture? The core of the question is this - is Christian life an exercise in passive trust or active obedience? Is it all God’s doing, all the believer’s doing, or a combination of both?
On one side of the argument, you have what is called ‘quietism’, and it’s where Christians that say we are to have a hands-off approach to dealing with sin, a ‘let go and let God’ kind of approach. An over-emphasis on this can lead to a focus on personal feelings and experiences, and take an almost mystic approach to overcoming sin. The other perspective is known as ‘pietism’, and would say that we as Christians are to overcome sin with our own ability. Pietism places strong emphasis on Bible study, holy living, self-discipline, and practical Christianity. But again, if this is unbalanced, it can often lead to a greater dependence on self to the virtual exclusion of dependence on divine power.
So where are we to stand? How do we reconcile these two views? Are we to hold to one over the other? Paul gives us the answer in Philippians 2:12-13 – “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Paul here, simply states both as truths, saying on the one hand, sanctification is of believers (Philippians 2:12), and on the other hand, it is of God (Philippians 2:13). Sanctification is God’s work, but He performs it through the diligent, self-discipline and righteous pursuits of His people, not in spite of them. God’s sovereign work does not absolve believers from the need for obedience; it means their obedience is itself a Spirit-empowered work of God. Focusing on one or the other only is dangerous and to be avoided, a balance of both is where we are to stand.
Contributed by Alex Townsend