Book Brief: “How Does Sanctification Work?”
My favorite way to drink coffee is as plain as plain can be. But occasionally I enjoy adding a good hazelnut creamer, a couple raw sugar packets, and some whipped cream on top. Mmmm. Maybe you like coffee that way too. We have the option of adding cream, sugar or any other array of sweetener alternatives and flavor boosters. We add all this to our coffee in pursuit of a perfectly balanced taste. Nothing can top that perfect cup of coffee. But perfect coffee can take on a variety of forms—the various forms of “coffee + something else” is endless!
When the Holy Spirit enters our lives, we are not so unlike the varieties of coffee whenever something else is added. In the book How Does Sanctification Work?, David Powlison argues similarly that when the Spirit of God is added to our lives, there is just as much variety in how the Spirit sanctifies us into Christ’s image. Powlison summarizes, “This book will revel in the variety of how Jesus Christ works to change lives” (15).
Sanctification is Multi-faceted
Powlison begins by highlighting the unique part of John’s Gospel where he says that if everything was written down about Jesus’s life, there would be too many books for the world to contain them (John 21:25). Powlison then asks the question, “Why are there so many possible books?”
He finds the answer in the details, “The world cannot contain life stories of events more numerous than grains of sand on the seashore. The details matter. Every person, in every circumstance, in every moment displays never-to-be-repeated specifics. God considers them all—every careless word, every hair on your head, every tear” (12). You will not experience sanctification the same way I will because the details of your life are different than the details of my life—and the details matter. The details matter because they determine how you will be sanctified.
The “Just…” Fallacy
There is no one one-size-fits-all key to sanctification, so we must be careful to not be receiving or giving the same pre-packaged answers to people in different life trials or struggles. Powlison identifies this false notion as the “Just…” solution.
You’ve heard this. You might have even given this solution to someone. I know I have done it. “You need to just remember…” or “Just do more…” Powlison helpfully states, “There are no ‘Just [do x, y, or z]’ solutions to the puzzles of our sanctification” (24). When we practice or preach pre-packaged solutions like, You are sanctified by remembering and rehearsing afresh the gospel that Jesus died that you would be justified, we are falling into the “Just…” fallacy, and probably not giving helpful counsel.
Don’t Be Monochromatic
Powlison gives a metaphor that describes the dynamics of sanctification in such a beneficial way:
“Scripture portrays the transformation of our lives in a range of colors and shades. There are reds, yellows, and blues—with 16.8 million shades in between. So any monochromatic view of sanctification is like saying, ‘You are changed by the color red.’ For some Christians, some of the time, amid some life struggles, to remember the color red…proves pivotal. For other Christians…other colors prove pivotal” (27).
Maybe you are trying to remember or recall the same truth in your heart over and over, and you’re not finding a transformed heart on the other side of trials or struggles. Maybe there are other truths or Scriptures that would be more helpful, and maybe someone else can help you find those. And to ministers, counselors, and friends, he urges, “Ministry electrifies when it connects something to someone rather than trying to say everything to no one in particular” (42). Speak to people, not at people.
God is For Your Sanctification
Baristas know that as soon as a customer goes off-menu, the varieties are endless. God created humans to need different solutions for different circumstances. The variety of solutions given to us in his Word meet every circumstance we will face.
I cannot recommend this short book enough! It brought about a paradigm shift in my life— confronting and convicting me regarding how I view my own sanctification and how I help others in theirs. If you are looking for encouragement that God is for you in your justification, forgiveness, adoption, sanctification, and glorification, this book is a must-read. It will show you how God is at work in the nitty gritty details of your life to bring about your sanctification.