Philippians 2:13, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
It is an absolute truth that salvation is completely a work of God by His grace, apart from any merit or work of a person. No one can earn salvation, or be good enough to merit it in any way. We herald the great Reformation cries that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
Sanctification is also God’s ongoing work of grace in our lives as Christians, but it is filled with personal responsibility on our part. In other words, while it is God who works in us, we are called upon to work for his good pleasure.
A basic truth regarding sanctification is this: No one can do it on his own.
No Christian can work for the pleasure of God in his own strength, by merely exerting more will power, or by being more disciplined. This is what makes sanctification frustrating for us. We cannot do it on our own, therefore we get frustrated and easily give up the fight.
So those issues of sanctification that we struggle with, such as anger, worry, deception, selfishness, pride, and so forth, all seem so overwhelming to a Christian. It is easy for us to just give up the cause of trying to be holy as God is holy. So how is this all supposed to work? How can we grow in our sanctification?
The answer involves at least these two things. First, we must recognize that it is God who desires our holiness even more than we do. Not only does He desire it, but He also knows how that can be accomplished in the best possible way. Therefore God seeks to help us pursue holiness in our personal lives in the way that He knows is best. This means that our reliance upon Him must grow, our yieldedness to Him must grow, and our submission to Him must grow.
Second, we must also recognize that God’s commands target our wills, and therefore demand obedience. In other words, every command confronts us with a dilemma: do we obey or do we disobey? First Peter 1:15 is a command to be holy, which we must obey. But too many Christians (and I find myself fighting this, too) believe that if they just try harder and do better (whatever those two things mean), then they will be pleasing to the Lord. But even our wills must be submitted to God, for sheer will power will never produce sanctification. It is God who works in us to both desire His good pleasure and do His good pleasure.
Sanctification is a process that takes place over time. No Christian can accomplish sanctification on his own. Apply this to every area of life in which you struggle. You cannot overcome those struggles with sin on your own, no matter how much will power you throw at it. You must realize that because God desires your holiness more than you do, you must allow Him to work in you and give you that same will. You must also actively subject your will to His and choose to do what He says.
It is like a parent who gives his child an instruction that they do not know how to do. The loving parent will come alongside and help the child perform the task, but the child has to yield himself to the parent’s instruction.
For us, we do not know how to do what God has asked us and so He helps us to both desire His will and do His will for His own pleasure. He is our loving Father.
In your pursuit of sanctification, realize that you cannot do it on your own; you desperately need the Lord’s help to desire His will, to do His will, and therefore to please Him. Therefore pursue more of Him today, and yield yourself in obedience, for the glory of God.