Ordo Salutis: Progressive Sanctification
Mildred Wynkoop wrote, “What one believes about human nature and God’s grace will have a direct bearing on the kind of Christian life one experiences” (qtd. in Harper, The Way to Heaven, p. 65). I think we’re finding that out already in our study of how God changes us. Knowing the way God desires to work in us, and believing He will, has great bearing on our further growth in Christ.
The Wesleyan doctrine of progressive sanctification basically says that as we are Christians, we continue to receive more of God’s grace, enabling us to grow. Thomas Oden writes, “During the entire time that sanctifying grace is continuing to work—throughout life—the believer is daily called upon to confess, repent, and pray for forgiveness. The new birth begins a life that grows in responsiveness to unmerited grace and presses on in the way of holiness” (Classic Christianity, 657).
This is an important topic–we grow in grace. Normally, when we talk about spiritual growth, believers assume we mean taking another class to grow in knowledge. And yet knowledge is only part of the equation, and knowledge without grace means nothing. Now is probably a good time to explain grace a bit.
Grace has to do with at least two things:
- God’s unmerited favor given to us as a gift. This is the grace we speak of at conversion/salvation.
- God’s power enabling us to live the Christian life. This is the grace we speak of afterward.
John Wesley taught that we grow in grace out of a sense of assurance. Romans 8:16-17 says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (TNIV). Assurance is possible that we are indeed God’s children, saved for a glorious inheritance. Satan would try to make us doubt and fear God’s love for us and our standing with Him. Assurance is not a rest-on-your-laurels kind of thing, as if God’s assurance means we sit back and wait for heaven one day. For John Wesley, assurance only dealt with one’s present relationship; it was not a guarantee for the future. Only continued obedience and faithfulness could take care of the future. Assurance says, “How amazing is my Savior, Jesus!” He has made His home in me and He intends to stay.
Progressive sanctification really is simply what we’ve been talking about all along–renewal of the mind and of the heart/will, changing our narratives, etc. And it encompasses things we’ll talk about in future posts. The point of understanding that what we’re experiencing now is “progressive sanctification” is that we understand that all of our work to partner with God in response to His grace is both a necessary and natural step for us to take. To take a class and gain knowledge is necessary and natural. To read blog posts is nice. To surrender your will to God is necessary and natural, and only enabled by grace. And so on and so on.