Is the spiritual life lived by the follower of Jesus alone or by God alone?
When I first became a follower of Jesus, a more experienced believer taught that the spiritual life called for believers to “Let go and let God.” Although he was trying to emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit, this led to a passivity on my part. I believed that if I just “rested in Jesus” it would lead to instant godliness.
As time passed, I became convinced that Scripture teaches something different. Our spiritual growth is achieved by God working in us, as well as our own effort. Spiritual growth involves the work of the Triune God. Paul prayed, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely” (1 Thess. 5:23). The word “sanctify” means “to set apart,” and this passage indicates that God Himself will set us apart from sin and for His service. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to put to death, separate themselves from the behavior of their pre-faith lives. As we are controlled by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), we will be transformed by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together to produce our spiritual growth. Though sanctification is under God’s control, Paul says that God’s people are to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). “Cleansing” refers to our decision to separate from sinful behavior so we may mature in holiness.
We are not passive agents (letting go and letting God do all the work), but we participate by obeying God and living according to His standards. Growing in our walk with the Lord takes the balance of a tightrope walker. If we lean too far in one direction or the other, we’re bound to slip. Only by living with the balance of God’s 100 percent of empowerment and enablement and our own 100 percent of diligence and discipline will we achieve mature, spiritual lives.
*All Scripture references in this column are taken from the New American Standard Bible.