Thomas Chalmers wrote a treatise called The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. The title of this treatise sums up the difficulty of the sanctification process in a quick and accessible way.
“So to tear away an affection from the heart, as to leave it bare of all its regards and of all its preferences, were a hard and hopeless undertaking – and it would appear, as if the alone powerful engine of dispossession were to bring the mastery of another affection to bear upon it.”
Chalmers writes with depth about how casting off the burden of an old affection or sin cannot be done without the help of a new one. Article X of The New Hampshire Baptist Confession provides a complete definition of sanctification;
“We believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means—especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer.”
The heart of believers is the battlefield that the process of sanctification is fought. All three aspects of the dynamic heart can be used to relate this doctrine to everyday life. God is the primary actor in sanctification in the person of the Holy Spirit. However, humans have a role as well, a passive and an active role. Each role will be examined and considered using this understanding of sanctification.
“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Prov 21:3).
There are three main actors in the sanctification process displayed in the New Testament. “Sanctified by God the Father” (Jude 1). “Sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2). “Through sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Peter 1:2). Each person of the Trinity serve in changing believers to become more holy. God the Father has the role of disciplining His children for them to become more holy (Heb 12:5-11). He provides the desire to want to do His will. “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). God the Son that earns our sanctification. He is also our example (1 Pet 2:21). God the Holy Spirit is the one who works within us to change us and sanctify us to greater holiness (2 Thess 2:13, Gal 5:22-23). Therefore, we read Proverbs 21:3 seeing that we are to ready ourselves for battle but only the work of God can truly win the victory over sin, since He works inside us and outside us to greater holiness.
Human’s Passive Role
The passive role can be considered one of trust, or surrender. Thomas Chalmers makes this clear by describing what he calls the ‘moralist’ who attempts to either use knowledge to expulse an affection or to attempt to withdraw attention to that affection that is unwanted. Chalmers calls the moralist’s approach ineffectual due to our constitution as humans. The only way to remove an old love is by looking on a new and better object to desire. The only object that can be greater than the world is He who created the world (1 John 5:4-5). Our first step is to walk by faith through the mediation of Christ Jesus. We are to yield to God in prayer asking to be sanctified in Him (Rom 6:13). We are to remain dependent on Him “to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
To enjoy this truth practically there can be no better writer than Richard Baxter in his Christian Directory. Baxter lays out what he calls ‘contemplative’ and ‘active’ duties for life. A person that is seeking sanctification in the passive role should follow many of these directions as expressed by Baxter. To start a posture of humility and learning should be foremost in the life of a Christian. The more mature a Christian is in life the humbler he is, because he knows how little he knows. Expect trials to come and do not be discouraged by them. Endure through them, trials build holiness (1 Peter 4:12-13, Rom 5:3-5). While in these trials it is helpful to meditate on this verse; “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Co 12:8–9). Paul suffered many trials and imprisonment, yet his comfort was in Christ.
The hope gained through the endurance of trials is vital to the process of sanctification. When in a time of suffering or trials follow the lead of David in Psalm 77:2 “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.” Yet David was not abandoned and remained a man after God’s own heart. Passive sanctification is trust in the goodness of God.
Human’s Active Role
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). This passage encourages us to actively pursue holiness. There are numerous passages in the New Testament that provide information on specific aspects of holiness (Rom 12: 1– 13: 14; Eph 4: 17– 6: 20; Phil 4: 4– 9; Col 3: 5– 4: 6; 1 Peter 2: 11– 5: 11). A careful inquiry into these passages provide specific actions to take in the quest for sanctification. While it is true we can prepare, and work actively it is only through the work of the Triune God that any change occurs. The three functional areas in the dynamic heart are highlighted.
Romans 12:1-13 contains all three aspects. In verse one we are encouraged to present(volition) our bodies as living sacrifices for spiritual worship. Worship is a key element in the human life, we are creatures that worship something, here we are encouraged to worship God. In verse two how this worship plays out in the heart comes into view. The renewal of the mind(cognitive) and discerning the will of God is stated. We are given the grace of the Triune God to make sober judgment and be humble. It is necessary to know and seek out our gifting in which to serve His purpose. In verses 9-12 Paul uses affective language to describe the marks of a Christian. Love is commanded to be genuine, abhorring evil, fervent in spirit to serve the Lord. Serving the Lord brings out the worship concept again.
Sanctification is a combined work of man and God. Only with God is it possible to become sanctified. Sanctification involves the whole heart both actively and passively. How a person orders their life in the passive sense influences the heart. When actively working for sanctification all three parts of the dynamic heart are involved. Knowing the process of sanctification aids the believer in becoming more like Christ.
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C. H. Spurgeon, “Threefold Sanctification,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 8 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1862), 85.
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Pierre, Jeremy. The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2016.
Chalmers, Thomas. “THE EXPULSIVE POWER OF A NEW AFFECTION.” Accessed July 12, 2018. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/Chalmers,%20Thomas%20-%20The%20Exlpulsive%20Power%20of%20a%20New%20Af.pdf
Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Sanctification,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1898.