Is sanctification (the making of our holiness) a work of God or is it our own effort of obeying God’s commands? The bible teaches that it’s both. Though, it’s easy to over-emphasis one or the other. Today I’ll just say something about our own effort.
God uses the means of your effort to accomplish your sanctification. And it’s by God’s grace that you enjoy and benefit from those means.
Some ask: If God can change our hearts, why doesn’t he just automatically make us live holy lives? I think the answer is: Because we don’t live in a cartoon world… where spaghetti and meatballs rain from the sky and money grows on trees. Scottish theologian Henry Scougal says:
All the art and industry of man cannot form the smallest herb, or make a stalk of corn to grow in the field; it is the energy of nature, and the influences of Heaven, which produce this effect. It is God “who causeth the grass to grow, and herb for the service of man;” and yet nobody will say, that the labours of the husbandman (or farmer) are useless or unnecessary.
It’s true. We never deny the work of those who prepare our food. When we pray to God over our meals, we thank God for providing it all, for we know all food is ultimately created by him. But we also thank God for using the cooks to prepare the meal. We recognize that someone had to not only cook the food, but go to the store and buy the ingredients. Someone had to harvest and plant or raise the raw ingredients. It all amounts to a lot of work and effort that God used as a means to providing your meal.
Therefore, we should not be surprised that God uses our own effort of obedience to God’s laws and commands to grow in holiness. Obedience to scripture is the means God uses to affect our holiness.
God doesn’t control our bodies like puppets or manipulate our minds with hypnosis. Nor is it impossible or pointless to strive for holiness. God uses our actual effort to accomplish his plan of our sanctification.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling –Philippians 2:12