Sanctification – More than Behavior Modification

by Mike Ratliff

I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (Romans 6:19 ESV)

Sanctification: “The work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” – The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.35)

This post came about from a discussion among our discernment group today about this article/video by John Piper. My initial response went something like, “isn’t what Piper and Warren and these guys doing is substituting Transformational stuff for Biblical Sanctification. In other words, we become more and more self-able, self-sufficient instead of more and more humble and dependent upon the grace of God, which is what Christian maturity is all about.” From that I began working out how to build this post around contrasting real, Biblical Sanctification with this manmade, self-made stuff that Rick Warren and the behavior modification gurus that follow him teach. What I came up with is that you should go to John Piper’s link and watch his video and/or read the post there then read the technical stuff below that I have condensed from a Theology manual. Then at the end, I will give you three links to articles I posted back in September on Sanctification. I think you will see that Biblical Sanctification is quite different than what these people are teaching. 

The Biblical concept of Sanctification is not of sin being totally eradicated, but neither is it that it is merely counteracted. Instead it is the result of God divinely working within the Christian a character change freeing him or her from sinful habits and forming in them Christlike affections, dispositions, and virtues. It is an ongoing transformation within a maintained consecration, and it engenders real righteousness within the frame of relational holiness. This relational sanctification, the state of being permanently set apart for God, flows from the cross, where God through Christ purchased and claimed us for Himself (Acts 20:28; 26:18; Hebrews 10:10).

Moral renovation, whereby we are increasingly changed from what we once were, flows from the agency of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13; 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:11, 1-20; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:22-24; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 13:20-21). God calls his children to sanctity and graciously gives what he commands (1 Thessalonians 4:4; 5:23).

Regeneration is birth; sanctification is growth. In regeneration, God implants desires that were not there before: desire for God, for holiness, and for the hallowing and glorifying of God’s name in this world; desire to pray, worship, love, serve, honor, and please God; desire to show love and bring benefit to others. In sanctification, the Holy Spirit “works in you to will and to act” according to God’s purposes; what he does is prompt you to “work out your salvation” (i.e., express it in action) by fulfilling these new desires (Philippians 2:12-13). Christians become increasingly Christlike as the moral profile of Jesus (the “fruit of the Spirit”)is progressively formed in them (2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19; 5:22-25). Paul’s use of glory in 2 Corinthians 3:18 shows that for him sanctification of character is glorification begun. Then the physical transformation that gives us a body like Christ’s, one that will match our totally transformed character and be a perfect means of expressing it, will be glorification completed (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:49-53).

Regeneration was a momentary monergistic act of quickening the spiritually dead. As such, it was God’s word alone. Sanctification, however, is in one sense synergistic—it is an ongoing cooperative process in which regenerate persons, alive to God and freed from sin’s dominion (Romans 6:11, 14-18), are required to exert themselves in sustained obedience. God’s method of sanctification is neither activism (self-reliant activity) nor apathy (God-reliant passivity), but God-dependent effort (2 Corinthians 7:1’ Philippians 3:10-14; Hebrews 12:14). Knowing that without Christ’s enabling we can do nothing, morally speaking, as we should, and that he is ready to strengthen us for all that we have to do (Philippians 4:13), we “stay put” (remain, abide) in Christ, asking for his help constantly—and we receive it (Colossians 1:11; 1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:7; 2:1).

The standard to which God’s work of sanctifying His saints is directed is his own revealed moral law, as expounded and modeled by Christ Himself. Christ’s love, humility, and patience under pressure are to be consciously imitated (Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:21), for a Christlike spirit and attitude are part of what law-keeping involves.

Believers find within themselves contrary urgings The Spirit sustains their regenerate desires and purposes; their fallen, Adamic instincts (the “flesh”) which, though dethroned, are not yet destroyed, constantly distract them from doing God’s will and allure them along paths that lead to death (Galatians 5:16-17; James 1:14-15). To clarify the relationship between the law and sin, Paul analyzes in a personal and dramatic way the sense of impotence for complete law-keeping, and the enslavement to behavior one dislikes, that the Spirit-flesh tension produces (Romans 7:14-25). This conflict and frustration will be with Christians as long as they are in the body. Yet by watching and praying against temptation, and cultivating opposite virtues, they may through the Spirit’s help “mortify” (i.e., draining the life out of, weaken as means of killing) particular bad habits, and in that sense more and more die unto sin (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). They will experience many particular deliverances and victories in their unending battle with sin, while never being expose to temptations that are impossible to resist (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Here are the three articles on Sanctification I posted in September 2010.

Sanctification: The Triumph of Grace Over the Power of Sin

Sanctification: Though the Justified are Released From the Law The Sin Nature Remains

Sanctification: The Law of the Spirit

Soli Deo Gloria

19 thoughts on “Sanctification – More than Behavior Modification

  1. Daily, and with abject humility, and deep gratitude, With “fear and trembling”,
    I am watching how my Faithful God is working in me
    the sanctification only He can work! Especially when I find
    how tenaciously old wickedness clings to hidden corners of my
    inner man!


  2. Mike thank you so much for this post, and the links to the other ones. This has been on my mind in a personal way for a few weeks and these really helped to encourage me and study scripture on this topic. It’s so hard to get caught up in beating yourself up or doubting yourself when you get your nose out of God’s word. I am learning that no matter my stumbling God is in control and He’s promised to get me where He needs me to be, for His glory. Thank you again, I loved these so much I am going to repost on my blog if that’s ok and link back to yours. God bless you Mike, your hard work is appreciated!


  3. Pingback: Sanctification, Justification and Peace with God | Music from Broken Chords

  4. Mike to me Sancification more about God than us.

    Piper’s formula for success over his problem is something any non-Christian would be able to do. It’s another 5 step program.

    The reason why people get into psychology and counseling is because we really do have overwhelming problems, dire circumstances and problematic temperaments.

    God has us in these situational fiery trials because he has a purpose in them: to refine our faith and destroy our self dependence. We cannot fix ourselves.

    Piper’s idea of working out our salvation is a joint effort between him and God. At least that’s what I got from what he said. That is works…he has a plan and he does his part.

    To me we are working out our salvation through sanctification, where the Spirit is teaching us to walk out what we have just experienced in Justification; when we were justified, we submitted to Christ, received his grace and experienced the joy of salvation. We saw that He is the solution.

    But when we are tested by troublesome circumstances, we naturally feel we must deal with them in our own strength. And God allows us to go that way until we get serious with Him. He is the deliverer still. He is the provider still but our faith is tested so that it may be proved genuinely dependent and submitted to Him.

    It’s no formula, no set of rules. It is meeting the fiery trials as Christ did in Gethsemane. When we are between a rock and a hard place, hemmed in before and behind, we get serious with the eternal God!

    We should come out with amazement at how small our faith and how great is our God! And we should have a renewed disdain for our works that are as filthy rags in the sight of our Lord.

    BTW – read all your posts on Sanctification…good stuff! Thanks for staying true to the Word.


  5. I needed to hear this Mike. Oh, how do I need to remember this more often and practice it! Please pray for me that I may grow in sanctification and assurance of salvation.

    Thank you brother for the article!

    Btw, I am at the hospital right now, my wife is having our first baby and is not yet in labor, but she will be soon. We are excited about it. His name will be Thomas Lee Fandino. 🙂 We covet your prayers too!


  6. Here is a quote from my favorite Spurgeon sermon I thought you might enjoy.

    In this world of Grace, wherever we live, we are a creation. Our new life is as truly created out of nothing as were the
    first heavens and the first earth. This ought to be particularly noticed, for there are some who think that the Grace of God improves the old nature into the new. It does nothing of the sort! That which we possess since the Fall is corrupt and dead and to be buried—of which our Baptism is the type and the testimony. That which is of God within us is a new birth, a Divine principle, a living seed, a quickening Spirit! In fact, it is a creation—we are new creatures in Christ Jesus.


  7. Trevor, that was powerful. Most of the time we habitually “manage our mess” or we manage the old nature. Instead we should consider the old nature dead and seek the living God, humbly and passionately as our life is now in Him.

    It’s so hard to get past our head…the five step program. And it does help temporarily, but there is “me” still doing its thing. I believe that our success will be in how we see God…
    Psalm 121
    where does my help come from?
    2 My help comes from the LORD,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
    3 He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;


  8. This topic has been near and dear to my heart lately and i have found the Lord to be faithful and help me to stumble upon your blog a few weeks ago when i did a search on the mortification of sin. I grew up in the church, knowing some religious things but I learned what it was to mortify sin. I heard the big terms but it was always so ambigious and sounding like it should be much more natural than it really is. I feel so unconfident that I am even understanding because it IS so easy to try to operate in the flesh and under your own will power or to claim that your own will power is powered by the Lord. I am trying to fix my eyes on the Lord through prayer and His Word. I find myself repenting for being so worried that I will sin and I don’t want that to distract me from growing with the Lord.

    Have you read the recent blog series on on slaying sin? Is this in the right (God’s) direction versus Piper’s self-driven will power message?


  9. Carolyn,
    that qoute is from sermon 1829 The Singular Origin of a Christian man, which is my favorite sermon of his. everybody should read it, or listen to it on sermon audio.
    I have read another sermon where Spurgeon talked about another thing in his day where it was popular for some to say “I am out of Romans chap. 7 I am in Romans 8” and he very much rebuked this type of boasting. I find though that I much agree with John Bunyon when he compared santification to cleaning a room. that when you first start to clean the major mess it looks pretty clean but to more you clean you discover that it is filthy even in the corners and under things. the more we are santified the more we see that the work is not done yet.


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