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One Degree of Glory to Another: Andy Davis on Growing Toward Christ

Photo by Daniel Hjalmarsson on Unsplash

God saves us for his glory and then calls us to live for his glory.

Okay, but how? What does a God-pleasing life look like? Is he happy because of what we do, or is he happy because of what Jesus has done? What’s the relationship between justification and sanctification, and why does it practically matter?

In his thick new book, An Infinite Journey: Growing toward Christikeness, Andrew Davis explores our growth in grace from a wide array of angles. The result is a lucid, compelling survey of Scripture’s teaching on an all-embracing, all-important topic.

I corresponded with Davis, a Council member of The Gospel Coalition and pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, about the Christian journey, lopsided emphases, introspection, and more.


“The modern evangelical movement has been far more concerned about evangelism than about discipleship,” you observe. What’s been the practical fallout of such an unequal emphasis?

God has set before the church two infinite journeys—the internal journey of sanctification (by discipleship), and the external journey of evangelism/missions. These two journeys are completely interdependent—symbiotic. We grow most in sanctification when we’re actively involved in evangelism/missions, and we’re increasingly effective in evangelism/missions the more conformed we are to Christ. So no Christian or church can focus on one over the other and remain healthy for long.

The long-term effects of evangelical churches being numbers-driven and focused on immediate decisions has been the immaturity and the susceptibility of many to worldliness, the lack of perseverance in evangelism/missions when trials come, and the intolerance for the meat of the Word. If not corrected, this immaturity will ironically result in these same churches forsaking both journeys—neither growing in spiritual maturity, nor winning souls to Christ.

Is justification more dependent on grace than sanctification?

God has ordained a full salvation from sin that passes through stages—regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. The entire salvation is by grace alone, all of it blood-bought by our Savior. Both justification and sanctification are all of grace, but that grace produces different effects in those being saved. In justification, grace produces faith and repentance, but no works. In sanctification, this grace produces faith and repentance, and Spirit-empowered works. But the works of sanctification, though done by the Christian, are wrought ultimately by Christ through the Spirit—which is to say, 100 percent by grace. Paul says powerfully, “I worked harder than everyone; yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5). God works in us to will and do his good purpose (Phil. 2:13). God set up salvation both to humble us and also to bring us endless joy.  So justification and sanctification are ultimately equally by grace.

What’s the relationship between justification and sanctification/Christian living? 

Understanding the differences between justification and sanctification is vital to Christian maturity. In justification, we must not work, only believe (Rom. 4:5). In sanctification, our works are essential to our progress (Phil. 2:12-13; Rom. 8:13-14). A lot of this answer comes down to skill in teaching/preaching. We have to continue laying a foundation of Christ’s finished work on the cross as the ground under our feet for making daily progress, for pressing on to perfection as Paul says (Phil. 3:12). To forget the one results in legalism, trying to finish by the flesh what was begun by the Spirit (Gal. 3:3). To forget the other results in license, neglecting the clear commands to grow in holiness. Ultimately, we much teach a sequence of our perfect standing in imputed righteousness (Rom. 4:5, Phil. 3:9) followed by a practical righteousness that comes gradually by grace-empowered habitual obedience (Rom. 6:19).

I know I must be holy in order to go to heaven, but isn’t Jesus my holiness? Isn’t his obedience enough for both of us?

Perfect righteousness is required for entrance into heaven (Matt. 5:48), and that righteousness is credited as a gift by faith in Christ alone. When we are lying in the ICU, laboring to breathe on our final day, we will cling by faith to Christ’s righteousness alone. We will be clothed then (as we are now) in a perfect righteousness given by God, a righteousness Jesus earned by every moment he lived perfectly in the body under the law of God (Gal. 4:4). Our best day of sanctification is insufficient for the pure and holy eyes of God (Hab. 1:13). In everything we do for the Lord there is, as Richard Sibbes put it in his classic The Bruised Reed, a mixture of both smoke (imperfection) and fire (grace). Everything must be purified. Christ’s imputed righteousness is necessary and sufficient for judgment day. It’s a gift of grace.

Nevertheless, Romans 6-8 make it plain that every genuine Christian, having been justified by grace through faith, then receives the gift of the indwelling Spirit and is led into battle against the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13-14). If we are not led into that battle, we are not justified. But justification righteousness is our perfection, and in that we will stand on judgment day.

What’s the difference between introspection and self-examination, and what’s dangerous about getting the two confused?

Paul commanded the Corinthians to examine themselves to be certain they were in Christ (2 Cor. 13:5). Hebrews 12:2 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Both are essential to a healthy walk with Christ. We must continually look to our Savior, and not lean on our own righteousness. But we need to make certain the Spirit is producing fruit in our lives. John 15:1-8 makes it plain that, without fruit, we aren’t truly grafted into the vine (Christ) and therefore aren’t truly his disciples.

Our ultimate focus must be on Jesus. If we’re too focused inwardly, it’s easy to become arrogant (if we like what we see) or depressed (if we don’t). We need to see ourselves clearly and biblically—positionally righteous, but still in need of much growth to be conformed to Christ.

The Bible includes exhortations that appeal to a wide range of motivations. As a pastor, how do you determine when it’s time to counsel someone to particularly (not exclusively) (1) run to the cross; (2) run away from sin; or (3) run for the crown? 

The commands of God are wide-ranging, complex, and crafted for every circumstance the universal body of Christ will ever experience throughout redemptive history. Not every command applies to every person at every moment. Pastors need special wisdom not to misdiagnose the spiritual condition of their sheep. If one must “run to the cross” because she’s unconverted, then the pastor must clearly proclaim Christ crucified and resurrected. If one is already converted but struggling with besetting sin, the pastor must diagnose that spiritual condition and apply exhortations (say, from Romans 6-8) to put sin to death by the Spirit. If one is converted and not living in sin, he must be exhorted to run the race for the glory of God, storing up treasure in heaven by good works. A skillful pastor will know the “marks” of each of these conditions and make them plain to the sheep. I like to use a “if the shoe fits, wear it” approach, describing various heart states and their dangers/remedies so that believers can take the best medicine.

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