Sanctification — Its Effects
. . . that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. — 2 Tim. 3:17.
Strictly speaking, good works are not sanctification, but the fruit of sanctification. God imparts His Spirit to the believer and, through His Spirit, the principles and attributes of the divine character. The gospel inspires and motivates. The law guides and directs. God empowers. The believer enlists his energies and faculties to cooperate with divine aid. The result is good works — works that are in harmony with the law of God.
We have already spoken about the value and necessity of good works. Now we want to consider the nature of them.
When Luther was a monk drowned in superstitious darkness, he earnestly wished that he could meet one of the holy and famous saints of the church. He conceived that their good works would consist in rare exploits that ordinary Christians would know nothing about. To wander about in bare feet, to meditate on a pole, to go on fantastic pilgrimages, to say many long prayers, to leave kindred, home, wife and children, to deny the natural desire to be married—in short, to do things that ordinary folk could not do — this was regarded as the essence of good works. After Luther's enlightenment he declared that the greatest sinners on earth were such 'holy men" as he once wished he could meet. In his commentary on Galatians he flayed this false piety unmercifully. He showed that the medieval church had made a caricature of the Christian life. Said the Reformer:
The Reformation restored to the church and to Western man a sound, Biblical work ethic. The common duties of common people were seen as sacred callings. This sense of vocation greatly stimulated Western society. Those countries which accepted the Reformation became the most enlightened, advanced and prosperous. Men saw that they could work diligently in their trades and businesses to the glory of God. Said Luther:
We did not learn in the Papacy what constitutes a good work. Before the Gospel came, we were told that the works which we ourselves devised and chose were good works, such as making a pilgrimage to St. James or some other place, giving money to the monks in the cloisters for the reading of many Masses, burning candles, fasting with but bread and water, praying a certain number of rosaries, etc. But now that the Gospel is come, we preach thus: Good works are not those which we choose of ourselves, but those which God has commanded, those which our vocation calls for. A servant does good works when he fears God, believes in Christ, and obeys his master. First he is justified by faith in Christ, then he walks in faith, leads a godly life, is temperate and well-behaved, serves his neighbor, cleanses the stable, feeds the horses, etc. In performing such tasks he does better works than any Carthusian monk. For since he is baptized, believes in Christ, and in assured hope is waiting for eternal life, he goes on and obeys his master and knows that what he does in his calling pleases God. Therefore everything that he does in his occupation is a good and precious work. It does not look like a great, fine work when he rides out on the field, drives to the mill, etc., but since he has God's command and directive for it, such works, mean as they seem, are nothing else than good works and a service rendered to the Lord. In like manner also a maidservant does good works when she performs her calling in faith, obeys her mistress, sweeps the house, washes and cooks in the kitchen, etc. Though these works are not as glamorous as the works of the Carthusian who hides behind a mask and has people gaping at him, still such works are much better and more precious before God than those of the Carthusian who wears a hair shirt, keeps his vigils, gets up at night and chants for five hours, eats no meat, etc. He does them without God's command and order; how, then, can they please God? Likewise when a burgher or a farmer helps his neighbor, warns him of the danger threatening his body, wife, child, servant, cattle, and goods, etc., such works do not make a great show, but they are nevertheless good and precious works. When the civil government punishes the wicked and protects the virtuous, and when citizens yield obedience to the government and do so from faith and the hope of eternal life, they are performing good works, though they do not shine and glitter in the sight of reason. . . .
If you ask reason, the works of a servant, a maid, a master, a mistress, a mayor, and a judge are common, lowly works compared with the Carthusian's keeping his vigil, fasting, praying, abstaining from meat; but if you ask God's Word, the works of all Carthusians and all monks, melted together in one mass, are not as good as the work of a single poor servantmaid, who by Baptism has been brought into the kingdom of God, believes in Christ, and in faith is looking for the blessed hope. These two articles St. Paul would keep alive among Christians: the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Savior, who has called us by Baptism and the Gospel as heirs of eternal life, waiting for that blessed hope and the glorious appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the knowledge that everything we do in our Christian calling and station by faith is altogether a good and precious work; on which account we should be zealous unto good works; . . . Now, therefore, since we have heard what blessed hope we should look for, we should also learn that the works which we do by faith in our appointed calling according to God's command and order are good works. Though such works do not glitter in the sight of reason, they are nevertheless precious before God, while the Carthusian and the monk cannot see and understand these things. For example, I am a preacher; that is my office; if now I believe in Christ and look for the blessed hope and then go and tend to my preaching and perform my calling, even though men hold my office in low esteem, I would not trade my office for all the works that all the monks and nuns do in the cloister. — Likewise also that wife is a living saint who believes in Christ, looks for the blessed hope and appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ and in such a faith goes and does what belongs to the calling of a wife. — As reason knows nothing of the blessed hope of eternal life, so, too, it does not understand what constitutes truly good works. It reasons thus: This maid milks the cow, this farmer plows the field, they are performing common, lowly works, which also the heathen perform; how, then, can they be good works? But this man becomes a monk, this woman a nun, they look sour, put on a cowl, wear a rough garment: these are exceptional works, they are not performed by the common people; therefore they must be good. Thus reason argues. Thus reason leads us away from the true knowledge of both the blessed hope and the good works.
Every Christian should accustom himself from his youth to become certain that he is in a God-pleasing calling. He who does that, though he fall down the stairs and die, can nevertheless say: My father, my mother, my master, my mistress, told me to go down; therefore I die in a blessed calling, in the performance of a work that is pleasing to God. (St. L. XII 1:2218.) — Cited by F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol.3, pp.40-42.
Your work is a very sacred matter. God delights in it, and through it He wants to bestow His blessing on you. This praise of work should be inscribed on all tools, on the forehead and the face that sweat from toiling. For the world does not consider labor a blessing. Therefore, it flees and hates it. . . . But the pious, who fear the Lord, labor with a ready and cheerful heart; for they know God's command and will. Thus a pious farmer sees this verse written on his wagon and plow, a cobbler sees it on his leather and awl, a laborer sees it on wood and iron. — What Luther Says, ed. E. Plass, Vol.3, p.1493.
There is much more to sanctification than attending some religious meetings or engaging in some religious devotions. What good is a "sanctification" that lasts no longer than when we are in a religious meeting? Sanctification consists in the cheerful, faithful and grateful performance of daily duties, of the work that lies nearest. These tasks may seem menial. They may pass unnoticed by human eyes. But God sees the spirit in the work. and He values faithfulness in that which is least. In fact, it takes far more sanctification to be faithful in things smaller than in things great.
We are not to fret or complain in our humble lot, but trust the wise disposition of Providence. Joseph worked faithfully as a despised slave and when he was rewarded with a prison sentence, he was faithful to his work in the prison Though he know it not, God was training him for a place beside the throne of Egypt. Your faithfulness in the common duties of life may not be rewarded with being adviser to the President, but with a much better destiny — to sit with Christ on the throne of the universe.
Therefore, take up your daily work as God's work and do it as unto the Lord. Put your heart into it. Do it diligently. Seek ways to improve. Remember that Jesus was as perfect a workman as He was in character. He spent more time at a lowly trade than preaching the gospel. Do not spend your time dreaming of how you could do a grander work for God if only you were not bound by present circumstances and responsibilities. "Wisdom [and duty] is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth." Prov. 17:24.
Do not envy another person's place or lot. God gives to every one his work, and no one is more qualified to do that work God has assigned to you than you. Even the different races have their special gifts — the drama and "soul" of the African, the fascinating subtlety of the Oriental, and the pragmatism of the Caucasian.
Gifts — natural or supernatural—are no sign of the possessor's special holiness. Some people are more naturally gracious, affectionate and outgoing. Their talents are sometimes lauded as evidence of their wonderful Christian experience. These gifts, however, are not character, but talents; and unto whom much is given, much shall be required. There are healthy, happy pagans who have well-ordered personalities too. Culture, refinement and morality are good and beneficial, but they are not sanctification.
Supernatural gifts are no sign that a person's heart is filled with the Holy Spirit. King Saul and Balaam prophesied the Word of the Lord; Judas cast out devils and healed the sick; and the "carnal," factious Corinthians were blessed with many gifts. The effects of sanctification are not measured by what we have, but by how we use what we have. The Corinthians used their gifts to edify themselves, to win status before God and before others. But a man who knows the gospel realizes that status, justification and salvation are freely bestowed. They cannot be won. He cannot work to secure blessings for himself, for God has already secured them for him in Jesus Christ. Thus, both hands are freed to work for the good of others in faith, humility and gratitude. These are the "good works" which none but Christians can do.
The Nonpersonal Benefits of Good Works
A holy life does not lead to the praise of men, but of God (Rom. 2:29).
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. — Matt. 5:16.
Paul declared that the faith, charity and endurance of the Thessalonians in all their persecutions and tribulations were "a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God." 2 Thess. 1:5. That is to say, the holy lives of God's people vindicate His way of saving sinners by grace. It answers the charge of the enemies of the gospel who declare that justification by faith alone leads to a low estimate of the importance of sanctification. Only those who are dedicated to a life of holy obedience to God's commandments can praise and vindicate the message of salvation by free grace. A golden ring in a pig's snout is more becoming than talk of salvation by grace on the tongue of those who disdain to obey God's commandments. To them it may be said, "For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you . . ." Rom. 2:24.
Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples. — John 15:8.
Although the sanctified obedience of the believer is said to glorify, honor and vindicate the justice of God, it must not be imagined for a moment that it does this in the same degree as it was done by the holy Son of God. His work of atonement was a once-and-for-all-time vindication of God's law, government and righteous character. The work of Jesus in life and death was final and all-sufficient. His vindication of God's law needs no repetition. This was an infinite work performed by an infinite Person.
A candle has its proper use in shedding light in a dark place, but put up against the sun, it can only cast a shadow. "If the stars which seem so very bright at night lose their brilliance in the light of the sun, what will happen to the rarest innocence of man when it is compared with God's purity." — Calvin.
Let us therefore keep the effects of sanctification in Biblical perspective. The holy lives of God's people are a testimony given to men of the truth of the gospel.
The apostle Paul says to the believers:
Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world . . . — Phil. 2:14,15.
Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. — 2 Cor. 3:2, 3.
Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the Word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, when they see your reverent and chaste behavior. — 1 Pet. 3:1, 2, R.S.V.
We have all heard it said, "I'd rather see a sermon than hear one. Some have therefore advocated winning the world to Christ by the sheer magnetism of a Christ-like personality or life style. We would not underestimate the importance of a consistent Christian life, which testifies to the truth of the gospel. The problem arises when this particular phase of truth becomes distorted. Heresy is a truth carried to an unwarranted extreme. In some sections of the church the place of "Christ in you" as the means of witnessing has been blown up to such proportions that the Christian's life of victory and piety has virtually become the "gospel." The gospel which changes lives has been superseded by the "gospel" of the changed life. This is treachery to Jesus Christ. It puts the candle in the place of the sun and uses God's gifts to rob Him of His glory. Furthermore, this ensnaring, gospel-denying philosophy of sharing the "Christ in you" is an excuse for sloppy handling of the Word of God. Careful exegesis and faithfulness to the Biblical text is patronizingly passed off as the way of those "who have a religion of the head," but not the way of those "who have a religion of the heart." Yet the preaching which honors God most is that which lies closest to the Biblical norm.
The Spirit-filled life of the believer must not be made a substitute for preaching about the one acceptable Life, which was filled with all the fullness of God (Col. 2:9). The apostles proclaimed only one victorious Life. Their burning passion must be ours. Of course we must "live the life" before our fellow men! But that is not preaching the message of Christ. The gospel is the good news, not about what God is doing or is able to do in us, but about what He has done effectively and gloriously in Jesus Christ. When Paul exhorts the Philippians to "shine as lights in the world," he significantly adds, ". . . holding forth the Word of life. . ." Phil. 2:15, 16.
In politics the extreme right is not so far from the extreme left. The same thing is often true in religion. A distorted and exaggerated emphasis on this "gospel" of the radiant Christian life, although often held by the most conservative Christians, has the same religious philosophy as liberal humanism and "the social gospel." Being a good neighbor and citizen becomes the essence of the Christian message, and Christianity becomes like everything else which is offering the same thing. Christianity has produced some wonderful enterprises of good works for human betterment. Yet just doing these things is not Christianity.