Today's Broadcast

The Spirit's Work of Sanctification

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Who is the Holy Spirit and what is His role in redemption? These questions have been especially important since the rise of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements in the last century. Along with a renewed interest in the person and work of the Holy Spirit has come increased confusion. In this series, R.C. Sproul cuts through the complexity, getting to the heart of the Bible's teaching regarding the third person of the Trinity.

From the series: The Holy Spirit

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Fruit of the Spirit

  2. blog-post

    Pushing Through Plateaus

  3. devotional

    Debtors to the Spirit

The Fruit of the Spirit

Human beings love the unusual and the extraordinary. That helps to explain the fascination with tongues-speaking and with those who claim to have the gifts of healing and prophecy in our day. No one wants to be absent when something fantastic occurs, and no one wants to miss the opportunity to be more spiritual if all that it takes is a one-time infusion of the Holy Spirit's power.

What we do not often see, however, is many people asking how they can be more righteous or more holy. That is actually the question that they should be asking, for the Bible tells us again and again that one of the key jobs of the Spirit in applying the work of Christ to our souls is our sanctification, our growth in holiness (1 Peter 1:1–2). Dr. R.C. Sproul has noted how important it is that Scripture gives the third person of the Trinity the title Holy Spirit. Although the Bible certainly understands the Father and the Son to be holy, they are not given the titles Holy Father or Holy Son. This difference points to the special role of the Spirit in helping us become holy in practice.

By His sanctifying power, we begin to bear spiritual fruit in our lives, and the pursuit of this fruit is to be our focus, not the pursuit of spiritual gifts in themselves. The goal of such gifts, rather, is to help others and ourselves grow into spiritual fruitfulness. Paul teaches us as much in today's passage, explaining that as we walk in the Spirit we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16–17). The contrast the Apostle makes between flesh and Spirit is not a contrast between the physical and the spiritual, but between our fallenness and our new hearts and minds granted by the Holy Spirit of God. Yes, we are declared righteous in Christ and forgiven, the power of sin having been broken. But the presence of sin remains, and it will be present until our deaths or the return of Christ, whichever comes first. By admonishing us to bear spiritual fruit, the Apostle indicates that the struggle against the flesh is ongoing, for if it were not, there would be no need to command us to walk in the Spirit. Other passages, such as Romans 7 and 1 John 1:8–9, tell us explicitly that we will struggle against sin until we are glorified.

No Christian can manifest all the gifts of the Spirit, for no one believer has been granted all of His gifts (1 Cor. 12:1–11). However, bearing every fruit of the Spirit is not an option. We should see all of the fruit listed in Galatians 5:22–24 in our lives.

Pushing Through Plateaus

R.C. Sproul

Many of us are satisfied with echoing Christian jargon and subsisting on a spiritual diet of milk instead of growing spiritually. Strong growth requires a healthy diet. It requires what the apostle Paul called “meat.” We need the discipline of study, the discipline of prayer, the discipline of service.

Most of us require being disciplined under the authority or tutelage of another. Self-discipline is merely the extension of discipline learned under another. It does not come by magic. If you desire to break out of the plateau on which you are paralyzed, then it is imperative that you get under the discipline of someone qualified to take you further and deeper into the Christian life. Your pastor is the most obvious person to help.

Refuse to be satisfied with milk. It is possible to break out of stagnation and move ahead into a growing, enriching development. We are called to be disciples, not for one year but for our lives. It is ultimately impossible for the Christian to quit his growth lessons. Our master teacher is God the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit dwells in us, He will not allow us to remain stagnant in our growth.

We must remember, however, that sanctification is a cooperative process. The Spirit is at work within us, yet we are called to work diligently under His divine supervision. The degree of our growth is dependent in large measure on our practice in godly discipline. We still may experience the frustration of getting stuck at various plateaus of spiritual growth. In order to progress beyond them, we need meat and practice, practice, practice.

Coram Deo: What steps can you take to institute a personal program of spiritual growth?

1 Thessalonians 5:23: "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

John 17:17: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth."

Hebrews 10:10: "And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

Debtors to the Spirit

Passivity is not an option in the Christian life. Though we are eternally free from condemnation in Christ (Rom. 8:1), the New Testament gives us no warrant for inactivity after we put our faith in Jesus. In fact, our work for the Lord begins at the point of conversion, though it does not earn our salvation. Christ merited redemption for us, and we receive His benefits by trusting in Him only (3:21-26). Our spiritual effort is the fruit of the justifying declaration that we are righteous in Christ. God has imputed Christ's righteousness to us through faith alone, and He declares us righteous in Him. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in those who have been justified, and once He has moved in, we work with Him to grow in personal holiness (8:9-11; see Gal. 5:16-26). This is the point of today's passage.˜

Paul's message in Romans 8:12-13 may seem disturbing at first. Is this passage stating that eternal life rests finally on our sanctification, our growth in holiness? This cannot be, for Paul assures us that everyone justified will be glorified (vv. 29-30). Justification, not our sanctification, secures our glorification, our eternal life in God's presence. Nevertheless, eternal life and sanctification are connected. John Murray, the famous twentieth-century Reformed theologian, explains this in his commentary Romans: "Here is an inevitable and invariable sequence, a sequence which God himself does not and cannot violate. To make [everlasting] life the [end] of life [according to] the flesh would be an inherent contradiction. God saves from the flesh but not in it." In other words, the Lord applies salvation to the believer in an unalterable order. Justification secures our glorification, but sanctification is the road we travel between the two. It would not be fitting to bring people into glory, where they will be perfectly holy, if at their deaths they were still controlled by the flesh—by all that is opposed to God. Thus, although we will not be fully sanctified in this life, the Lord liberates us from the flesh's dominion and sends His Spirit to reside with us and sanctify us in preparation for heaven.˜

Those ruled by the flesh hate God, having no desire to please Him (vv. 7-8). The last place such people want to be is in His presence. But Christians are no longer bound to the flesh; we are debtors to the Spirit (vv. 12). We want to see the Lord in His holiness. God brings into heaven those who want to be there, and He overcomes our fleshly bondage in regeneration, eliminating our resistance and giving us a desire for Him. Because of that work that is His alone, we are free to work with the Spirit to be readied for life in His presence.˜

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