It’s impossible to be sanctified without pursuing both the negative and positive avenues of sanctification with faith-filled effort. With regards to the negative, listen to Rom. 8:12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
To put to death the deeds of the body encompasses denying your flesh that which it lusts after, whether that’s praise or pleasure or promotion or protection. In other words, sanctification involves saying no to your flesh and instead submitting your will to God’s will in the Scriptures.
Additionally, in the positive sense, sanctification involves seeking to grow in the grace of God. This is necessary because there’s no such thing as a stagnant Christian—either one is growing in love for Christ or growing in love for the world. Peter’s final words in 2 Peter include the exhortation for the proper growth—3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
How will someone be kept from falling into false teaching or falling away from steadfastness?—by growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. But how can we grow in something that is, by definition, a gift?
It’s true that grace cannot be earned, but the Bible teaches that there are prescribed means and a disposition of receiving it. Let’s begin with the disposition. According to Scripture, who does God give grace to?—the humble. The humble are those who perceive themselves rightly or truthfully, which is derived from knowing God rightfully or truthfully. The humble are those who acknowledge they are poor in spirit or bankrupt spiritually in themselves and thus they are needy and can easily go astray like wandering sheep.
This humility causes them to pursue the prescribed means of grace as they should. We saw one of these means of grace last week in John 17:17-19, in that God’s people are sanctified in the truth, whether that is through the vehicle of preaching or personal study. When received humbly in faith, the truth renews the mind, whereby we develop convictions and walk in a worthy manner of Christ. A life of obedience is a life of grace. Other means of grace that are pursued as a result of humility are prayer (which is itself an act of humble dependence on God), corporate worship (which entails much more than listening to a sermon, but encouraging one another and teaching and admonishing one another through song); linked to that one are the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper (the unique encouragement that comes from these practices in the life of the church is unmatched and incomparable); practicing the one another’s in body life, which finds its primary expression in sacrificial love and also includes discipleship. The only description of someone in the Bible who does not sacrificially love others and is not involved in some way in discipleship is one who neither knows God nor loves God.
All that to say, the main question to ask ourselves at this point is this: Does our humble, self-assessment lead us to pursue the means of grace or does pride cause us to neglect what God clearly says we need?