This is a longish series of quotes (in order, but not consecutive), but IMO it is worth hearing in the modern day discussion about sanctification. They are from pp. xi-xv in the introduction to Ryle’s Holiness (which is Logos’ free book of the month this month).
I ask, in the first place, whether it is wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do now-a-days in handling the doctrine of sanctification?—Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified a way as many do, that the holiness of converted people is by faith only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.
But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith. The very same Apostle who says in one place, “The life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,” says in another place, “I fight,—I run,—I keep under my body;” and in other places, “Let us cleanse ourselves,—let us labour,—let us lay aside every weight.” (Gal. 2:20; 1 Cor. 9:26; 2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 4:11; 12:1.) Moreover, the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith sanctifies us in the same sense, and in the same manner, that faith justifies us! Justifying faith is a grace that “worketh not,” but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ. (Rom. 4:5.) Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it “worketh by love,” and, like a main-spring, moves the whole inward man. (Gal. 5:6.)
But surely the New Testament teaches us that we want something more than generalities about holy living, which often prick no conscience and give no offence. The details and particular ingredients of which holiness is composed in daily life, ought to be fully set forth and pressed on believers by all who profess to handle the subject. True holiness does not consist merely of believing and feeling, but of doing and bearing, and a practical exhibition of active and passive grace. Our tongues, our tempers, our natural passions and inclinations,—our conduct as parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, rulers and subjects,—our dress, our employment of time, our behaviour in business, our demeanour in sickness and health, in riches and in poverty,—all, all these are matters which are fully treated by inspired writers. They are not content with a general statement of what we should believe and feel, and how we are to have the roots of holiness planted in our hearts. They dig down lower. They go into particulars. They specify minutely what a holy man ought to do and be in his own family, and by his own fireside, if he abides in Christ. I doubt whether this sort of teaching is sufficiently attended to in the movement of the present day.
1. Ryle is surely right that the faith which justifies does not work the same way as the faith which sanctifies. Remembering the work of Jesus is no substitute for “discipline yourselves for the purpose of godliness.” These two must not be set in opposition.
2. Ryle is surely right that preaching and teaching about personal holiness is about more than generalities which prick no conscience and give no offense. The Bible is specific, and it does not address only what we believe about Jesus and his cross work. It also specifies what we must do, and the NT makes it plain that it will not be easy and will not be without sacrifice.
3. Ryle is surely right that this sort of teaching is not sufficiently attended to in our day. There is a great fear of legalism and extra-biblical rules. And it is wise, nay, it is biblical to be concerned about legalism and extra-biblical rules. But today, there are a lot of babies flowing in the waste-water because people have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. There is a fear of clear proclamation of the Scriptures on matters of personal holiness. There is a fear of being grace killers. We just need to get over that. Yes, be cautious, but don’t be fearful of saying what God has already said.