Do you have any idea what the following verses ought to mean to you?
Revelation 2:5; 2 Peter 1:5; James 1:23; Hebrews 13:21; James 6:1; 2 Timothy 3:22; 1 Timothy 6:11; John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Colossians 1:10; Galatians 1:6-9; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10? Each, in its own way, has something to do with your spiritual growth (or, as the theologians call it, sanctification). Do you see it? OK, you see they are connected—but now, look again, and answer this question: How? What factor is common to all? The answer is that they all emphasize that one must put forth effort in order to grow more like Christ.
Now, there is a strange teaching that is traveling in today’s biblical counseling circuits. Strange, I say, because it seems to set forth the opposite. But strange, also because it is ill-defined, and hard for those who don’t believe it to express it in words.
People are confused by it, and have begun to ask questions; this is understandable, in light of the verses above. The problem with the teaching is that it tends to confuse justification with sanctification. While properly emphasizing the cross of Christ as central to our Christian faith, it goes on in one way or another to suggest that contemplation of what Jesus did on the cross is the way to spiritual growth. One is sanctified, according to this view, by contemplating, remembering and meditating on the sacrificial death of the Savior for His people. Certainly, that is fine to do; but is it the way for a believer to grow? Will this seemingly Romish quietistic mysticism—or, at least, what borders on it help one to grow?
Of course, the cross ought always to motivate us to action in loving response to the One Who died for us. But it isn’t motivation that’s in view. Rather, this method of sanctification seems to be a substitute for effort extended in the process of growth. I add words like “seems” because all forms of mysticism and Romish pietism are difficult to get your mind around. After all, the mystic experiencing the event, will himself use such words as “sort of,” or “it’s something like . . .” when attempting to describe it. It is troublesome for a counselee to be told to engage in such vague contemplative exercises only to find that, contrary to what he has been told, they don’t help him become a better Christian husband, factory worker, or whatever. Something more—indeed, something other—must be done: namely, that which every verse above, in one way or another, says. He must pursue righteousness, make every effort to please God by obeying His commands. If we love Him, He, himself, says, we will keep His commandments. Motivated by the cross (here is where the Gospel—the death and resurrection of Jesus fits in),but so motivated, one must leave the elementary aspects of the faith and go on to maturity.
And the same thing is true of the believer whose faith has grown cold, who had ceased to make spiritual progress; indeed, who may even regress. He is, as Revelation 2:5 says, to remember from where he has fallen, and do the first works. The contemplation must lead to action. That is the way to sanctification.