There are few people whose writing on sanctification I find more valuable and insightful than David Powlison’s. His latest essay for The Journal of Biblical Counseling (27:1), “How Does Sanctification Work? Part 1” is no exception.

Here’s the takeaway. I dare not extrapolate my exact experience of God’s mercies to everyone else. Similarly, those who have had their Christian life revolutionized by awakening to the significance of justification by faith dare not extrapolate that to everyone else. One pattern of Christ’s working (even a pattern common to many people) should not overshadow all the other patterns. A rightly “unbalanced” message is fresh, refreshing, joyous, full of song, life-transforming. But eventually, if it is oversold, it becomes a one-string harp, played by one finger, sounding one note. It drones. Scripture and the Holy Spirit play a 47-string concert harp, using all ten fingers, and sounding all the notes of human experience. Wise ministry, like growth in wisdom, means learning to play on all the strings, not harping on one note.

I am certain that those who teach “sanctification by revisiting justification” have heard that message as a new and joyous song that sanctifies them. May Jesus Christ be praised! Perhaps God has been liberating them from a ponderous Christianity that seemed to breed a weight of failure to perform, of failure to live up to expectations, of failure to accomplish all that needs doing, and of judgmentalism toward others who fail. May the God of mercies be praised! But let’s not forget to learn all the other sweet and joyous songs. And let’s learn the darker notes of lamentation and the blues. Let’s learn the call to action in work songs and marching music. And let’s learn everything else that comports with and nourishes life in Christ.

In an article planned for the next issue of the journal, Powlison plans to look at several related questions:

  • Is sanctification essentially the activity of remembering and rebelieving that Jesus died for your sins?
  • Is self-justification by your own performance the chief problem that sanctification must deal with?
  • When the Bible says to “make every effort,” is the hard work chiefly the struggle to remember and believe again that we are saved by the achievement of our Savior?

“In each case,” he writes, “I will say No, and will seek to widen both our personal approach to sanctification and the scope of ministry to others.”

You can read another excerpt from the first essay here or purchase it here.

Articles from the latest issue now cost $1.50 each (or you can get the current issue for $5, or three full issues a year for only $10). But they also provide free author bundles from their archives. So you can download nice PDF sets of articles by Paul Tripp, Tim Keller, and John Piper.