What Does the Gospel Say About Sanctification

As a test, I frequently ask people “What does the Gospel say to that?”

For example, if the topic is gender confusion, I try to help people formulate a broader response in light of the Gospel. But people typically respond with law of some kind:

  • Genesis says God created man male and female
  • You should not lie with a man as you would lie with a woman
  • They exchanged the glory of God for a creature

All of these are some form of “just stop it.” They are true, and are legitimate expressions of God’s will for us in the area of gender identity. But they don’t get to the heart. The Gospel provides a more comprehensive response — including law — that addresses what has happened to distort the heart’s desires.

But in the last few years I noticed that in relation to a believer’s sanctification, not only in the area of mortifying certain sin but also in general spiritual growth, there is an increasingly tendency to tell people things like “just remember the Gospel.”

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A Different Kind of Happiness (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016)

Larry Crabb’s book is subtitled “Discovering the Joy that Comes from Sacrificial Love” and suggests an understanding of “true happiness” that comes from “true relationship.”

This description from the title and dust cover hits all those significant terms we might expect to generate book sales: joy, love, happiness, relationship.

First Thing versus Second Thing Happiness

Crabb begins with a good contrast of the kinds of happiness that vie for our attention, capture our imagination, and drive our actions: “first thing happiness” and “second thing happiness.” Crabb describes second thing happiness as when

We prefer to enjoy the good feelings that rise up within us when we are noticed, wanted, and respected by others, when things go well in our lives, according to our plans; and when we do fun things. We then often demand whatever produces the good feelings we want and feel bad when our demands go unmet.

By contrast, Crabb says, the Christian should strive for first thing happiness, which is “is entirely different”, and

develops when we struggle to love others with a costly love that is possible only if we have a life-giving relationship with Jesus that is grounded entirely in His love for us. … If we think we’re loving others and don’t experience something identifiable as joy, it would be good to wonder if we’re really loving anybody.

As with much of secular wisdom, particularly in the area of mental health, this demonstrates the truism that it might be adept at describing effects — behaviors, neuroses, attitudes, etc — but is dreadful at evaluating causes and prescribing remedies.

A Praying Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2009)

Judging by the number of books on Christian prayer, we’re pretty bad at it.

This is not surprising, since even the disciples had to ask Jesus for help (Luke 11:1).

Paul Miller attempts to help believers pray by reminding us that prayer is difficult when we focus on the process, rather than on the result. He likens this to gathering with friends and family after a meal to talk, and being more concerned with the mechanics of conversational protocol than with enjoying the people we’re with.

Praying Together (Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2016)

Prayer is a constant struggle for most Christians, and is consistently absent from the life of the church.

Megan Hill tries to show believers that this ought not be so, and persuades us of the need for corporate prayer be explaining its foundations, fruits, and practices.

I recommend this, but see a fuller treatment here.


Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart (Nashville: Broadman Holman, 2013)

The common understanding of salvation as “asking Jesus into your heart” is problematic for those who lack assurance that they “asked” enough or Jesus left, as well as for those who have a false sense of security, believing that because they “asked,” Jesus was obliged to enter and remain.

J.D. Greear addresses this issue, and hints that we are not left with either false insecurity or false security in his subtitle: How to know for sure you are saved.

From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible (East Peoria IL: Versa Press, 2014)

As the subtitle suggests, Sinclair Ferguson here gives a three-part encouragement for Christians to follow Christ by knowing and obeying the Bible.

In Part One, Ferguson gives an explanation of how one can know that the Bible’s writings are God’s revelation, and not merely the product of human imaginings. He also demonstrates why the Bible consists of the books it does, and not other writings.

A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: the legacy of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2004)

J.I. Packer declares in various articles and essays a biblical view of revival and restoration in the church.

I had found a few of these in a collection of his shorter writings, and then kept seeing hints and references to other resources, which I could never find. Then someone provided me a link to a column about revival that referenced Packer’s contribution to this book, so I had to have it.

Contributions by other authors initially held no interest for me, but I found a few other nuggets. John Piper reminds us why we still need Jonathan Edwards, and provides an “Edwardsean sermon”, as well.

Mark Dever explains how Edwards got fired, and what we can learn from that episode. Don Whitney describes how Edwards made us of the spiritual disciplines.

But by far the most interest for me was Packer’s article on revival, “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion: A Study in the Mind of Jonathan Edwards.” If you are familiar with Packer’s other work on the nature and meaning of revival, you should obtain a copy of this book to complete those materials.

If you are unfamiliar with Jonathan Edwards, and would like a good introduction to his significance to the church, his brilliant theological contribution, and his practical religion, this will serve well.