Sanctification Is Spirit-Powered
In Galatians 5, the commands to obey God are given in the context of faith in the Gospel and living by the Spirit. This signals two things: First, we dare not pursue sanctification apart from faith in the Gospel. Secondly, we dare not pursue sanctification apart from the Spirit’s power. If we are to daily put to death sin and model godly attitudes and behavior, we need the Spirit.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
(Galatians 5:16 ESV)
Paul goes on to say in the same section-
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)
“….let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
(Galatians 5:25 NIV )
Paul makes it clear, if you read chapters five and six — there is a way we ought to live and a way we ought not to live. There are things we ought not to do and things we ought, indeed must do. That said, here’s the key point. Don’t miss this. In order to live the way God has called us to live, we need the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit to empower us.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)
What Paul says here is that the Spirit continually illuminates the gospel to our hearts and as a result – we are changed.As I thought about this…(and I’m gonna stop the car analogy after this, because it only works so far)…the Holy Spirit is like the fuel pump. He takes the fuel of the Gospel and he gets it into the engine of the car to make it run.
So on Sunday, when we sing the Gospel, when the gospel is preached, we are counting on the Holy Spirit, the fuel pump, to transfer the gospel to our hearts, to get the car moving.
Commenting on the Spirit’s role in sanctification, Owen writes:
There is no good that we receive from God but it is brought to us and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. Nor is there in us any good towards God, any faith, love, obedience to his will, but what we are enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit. – John Owen
Similarly, Gordon Fee writes:
All truly Christian behavior is the result of being Spirit people, people filled with the Spirit of God, who live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit. – Gordon Fee
So from beginning to end, our sanctification is the Spirit’s work. Therefore, we are fools to depend on our own self-powered, self-sufficient – even fleshly- efforts to grow. We are fools to place our confidence in strategies for growth. I am not saying strategies can’t be helpful. I am saying, we shouldn’t place our faith in strategies, principles, good advice. Rather, our faith, our confidence needs to be oriented to the Gospel and the Spirit’s empowering presence. That’s what we must depend on.
This is why we must seek daily to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). If you go back and read Eph. 5:18 – you’ll see that command comes within the context of ethical exhortation, just as the command to walk by the Spirit in Galatians comes in a section of ethical commands.
Here’s the bottom line: To obey God, to grow in godliness – we desperately need the Holy Spirit. We desperately need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We absolutely cannot do the Christian life in our own strength. Have you been praying for God to fill you lately? Or have you been depending on your own efforts to grow?
We’ve seen – sanctification has a lot more to do with faith in the Gospel than at first we might realize. Now we’ve also seen – sanctification has a lot more to do with dependence on the Spirit than we could have imagined.