Acting the Miracle: God's Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification

Acting the Miracle: God's Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification


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We all struggle with sin, whether its pride, lust, anger, or something else. In this gospel-centered resource, five church leaders offer practical advice for “acting” the miracle of sanctification God has already worked within us.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433537875
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 09/30/2013
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 273,816
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring GodDon’t Waste Your LifeThis Momentary MarriageA Peculiar Glory; and Reading the Bible Supernaturally.

David Mathis serves as the executive editor at, pastor at Cities Church, and adjunct professor at Bethlehem College & Seminary. He writes regularly at, and he and his wife, Megan, have four children.

Kevin DeYoung (PhD, University of Leicester) is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, and assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). He serves as board chairman of the Gospel Coalition and blogs at DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed. He is the author of several books, including Just Do Something; Crazy Busy; and The Biggest Story. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have eight children.

Russell Moore (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the eighth president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation's largest Protestant denomination. A widely-sought commentator, Dr. Moore has been called "vigorous, cheerful, and fiercely articulate" by the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of several books, including Onward, The Kingdom of ChristAdopted for Life, and Tempted and Tried, and he blogs regularly at and tweets at @drmoore. He and his wife, Maria, have five sons.

Edward T. Welch (PhD, University of Utah) is a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He has been counseling for more than 35 years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear, and addictions. His books include When People Are Big and God Is SmallCrossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away From AddictionRunning Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of RestShame Interrupted, and Side by Side. He blogs regularly at

Read an Excerpt


Prelude to Acting the Miracle

Putting Sanctification in Its Place

John Piper

This chapter has two parts. In the first part, I try to define sanctification. In the second part, I try to put it in its place in the process of salvation. In this way, I hope to set the stage for the other chapters to come in this book.

1) What Is Sanctification?

The English word sanctify or sanctification is built on the Latin word sanctus, which means "holy." In English, we don't turn the adjective holy into a verb. The world holify does not exist. But in the Greek language of the New Testament, the adjective holy (hagios) can be made into a verb (hagiazo), that means "to make holy" or to "treat as holy." In Greek, that same adjective for holy (hagios) can be made into three different nouns (hagiosmos, hagiosune, hagiotes), which sometimes mean "the condition of being holy" ("holiness") or "the process of becoming holy" — which would be "holification" if such a word existed in English, but since it doesn't, we use "sanctification."

Here's the crucial point: any time you read in the New Testament any form of the word "sanctify," you know you are reading about holiness. So a book like this on sanctification is a book on being or becoming holy. And the reason I use the terms "being" or "becoming" holy is that the New Testament refers to our holiness in both of those senses — a condition of being holy and a process of becoming holy.

Being Holy

The clearest place to see both of these in one chapter is Hebrews 10. Hebrews 10:10 says, "By [God's] will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." So there is a sense in which all those who believe in Jesus "have been sanctified." They are holy. And then four verses later (v. 14) we read, "By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." So there is a sense in which Christians are both perfected already (are perfectly holy) and are being sanctified (being made holy).

Both the condition of being holy and the process of becoming holy are prominent in the New Testament. Neither is minimized. The most obvious way to see the prominence of the Christian condition or state of holiness is to see that Paul calls Christians "saints" forty times in his thirteen letters. Paul's favorite name for Christians is saints. The New Testament word behind the English "saint" is simply the adjective for "holy" turned into a noun — "holy ones" (hagioi). You can see the connection between the condition of being sanctified and the name "saints" in 1 Corinthians 1:2: "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified (hegiasmenois) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints (kletois hagiois)." So the picture is that God calls us, and unites us by faith to Jesus, so that "in Christ Jesus," we are holy, sanctified, and the name that we get, therefore, is "saints" or "holy ones."

Becoming Holy

But the process of becoming holy (sanctification) is also prominent in the New Testament. We saw Hebrews 10:14, "By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." We see it in 2 Corinthians 7:1: "Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." So if we are bringing holiness to completion, there is a process of becoming fully holy. We are not there yet. Or 1 Thessalonians 5:23: "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely." This prayer shows that our becoming holy is not yet complete. So Paul asks God to complete it. Or Hebrews 12:10: "[Our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness." So a fuller holiness is coming through God's discipline.

The upshot of all this so far is that whenever the New Testament talks about sanctification, it is talking about holiness. And when it is talking about our holiness, it is either talking about the condition of our being holy (because we are in Christ Jesus — and thus saints), or it is talking about the process of our becoming holy through God's work in our lives.

Holiness as a Family Trait

That's the first part of our answer to the question, What is sanctification? But notice what we've done. We have pushed the question back to another question, What is holiness? Or what does it mean to be holy and become holy? And it seems to me that the most important thing in defining our holiness is to notice its connection to God's holiness. For example, 1 Peter 1:14–16 says, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'"

So the basis of God's command that his people be holy is that he is holy. Peter explains this not as an arbitrary demand but as a family trait. "As obedient children ... be holy in all your conduct." Peter is thinking the same way the apostle John is in his first letter, when he says, "No one born of God [that is, who has God as his Father] makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God" (1 John 3:9–10). The command to "be holy" is a command to show that we are God's seed. We have his spiritual DNA, the genetic code of his holiness. That is, we are his childrens

This is exactly confirmed by the words of Hebrews 12:10 that we just looked at a moment ago: "[Our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God our heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness." It's not a contradiction to say, on the one hand, that we share in God's holiness because we are born of God (and have his spiritual DNA, as it were, his genetic code of holiness), and to say, on the other hand, that God must discipline us so that we share in his holiness. If a child is to grow into the fullest expression of his Father's character, he needs both the DNA by virtue of birth and the practice of that character with the help of his father's discipline. In other words, we need regeneration by God's seed, and we need sanctification by God's Spirit — in order to grow up into the full participation in his holiness.

Or here's the way Paul puts it. We need a "new self" — a new man, a new creation — "created after the likeness of God in true ... holiness"; and we need to "put on" that new holy self (Eph. 4:24). In other words, Christians are holy and must become holy. We have the seed of God's likeness (God's holiness) imparted to us when we are born again, and we must grow into that likeness (that holiness) to show who our Father really is. "By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God" (1 John 3:10). "As obedient children, ... 'be holy for I am holy'" (1 Pet. 1:14–16) "[Our Father] discipline[s] us for our good, that we may share his holiness" (Heb. 12:10). "If you are left without discipline ... then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Heb. 12:8).

So, in asking the question, What is holiness? and in seeing that the holiness we need is to share in God's holiness, the question now becomes, What is God's holiness?

The Holiness of God

The root meaning of the Old Testament word for holy (chadosh), where the biblical idea starts, is the idea of being separate — different and separated from something and devoted to something else. When applied to God, that meant God's holiness is his separateness, his being in a class by himself, and thus being supremely valuable in every way. You can see this meaning of holy in these illustrations:

When Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it the way God said, God said to him, "Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them." (Num. 20:12; see 27:14). In other words, Moses treated God not as separate from man, and thus supremely trustworthy, but as a mere man along with others whose word could be ignored.

Or in Isaiah 8:12–13, God says to Isaiah, "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread." In other words, don't lump God into the same group as all your other fears and dreads. Treat him as an utterly unique fear and dread and set apart from all the ordinary fears and dreads.

God's Transcendent Completeness and Self-Sufficiency

So here is how I conceive of the holiness of God. God is so separate, so above, and distinct from all else — all that is not God — that he is self-existent and self-sustaining and self-sufficient. Thus he is infinitely complete and full and perfect in himself. Since God is separate from, transcendent above, all that is not God, he was not brought into existence by anything outside himself. He is self-existent. He depends on nothing for his ongoing existence and so is self-sustaining. And therefore he is utterly self-sufficient. Complete, full, perfect.

The Bible makes plain that this self-existing, self-sustaining, self-sufficient God exists as three divine persons in one divine essence. Thus the Father knows and loves the Son perfectly, completely, infinitely; and the Son knows and loves the Father perfectly, completely, infinitely. And the Holy Spirit is the perfect, complete, infinite expression of the Father's and the Son's knowledge and love of each other. This perfect Trinitarian fellowship is essential to the fullness and perfection and completeness of God. There is no lack, no deficiency, no need — only perfect fullness and completeness and self-sufficiency.

But Something's Missing

This is the holiness of God: his transcendent completeness and self-sufficiency. But there is a missing dimension in that description of holiness. Because God is utterly unique and self-existent, there is nothing besides God except what God wills to create. Therefore, God is absolute value. He is absolute worth. His transcendent completeness makes him infinitely valuable. Of infinite worth. It's necessary to introduce this dimension of holiness into the definition because the Bible presents God's holiness in terms of morality as well as terms of transcendence. Holiness is not just otherness. It is good and pure and right.

Introducing God's infinite worth helps us conceive of God's holiness in moral categories. Before creation, there were no standards of goodness and righteousness outside of God that could be used to say, God is good or right according to these standards. All there was was God. So, when there is only God, how do you define good? How can there be holiness with a moral dimension, and not just a transcendent one?

My answer is this: the moral dimension of God's holiness is that every affection, every thought, and every act of God is consistent with the infinite worth of his transcendent fullness. In other words, I am defining holiness not only as the infinite worth of God's transcendent fullness but also as the harmony that exists between the worth of that transcendent fullness and all God's affections, thoughts, and acts. That harmony is the beauty of holiness.

In sum, then, God is transcendent in his self-existent completeness; and is, therefore, of infinite worth; and there is perfect harmony between the worth of his transcendent completeness and all his affections, thoughts, and acts. This is God's holiness. Or to shorten it even more: his holiness is his transcendent fullness, his worth, and the beautiful harmony of all his acts with that worth.

So when God says in 1 Peter 1:16, "Be holy, for I am holy," or when Hebrews 12:10 says, "He discipline[s] us ... that we may share his holiness," what aspects of his holiness do they mean? Not that we should be transcendent as God is transcendent. Nor that we should be self-existent as God is self-existent. But, rather, that in all our affections and thoughts and acts, we, like God, should be a beautiful harmony with the infinite worth of God.

Human Holiness

So I would define human holiness as feeling and thinking and doing only what is consistent with God being the supreme and infinite treasure of the universe. Our holiness is our conformity to the infinite worth of God. The opposite of holiness is sin, which is any feeling or thought or act that shows that for us God is not the beautiful treasure that he truly is.

This leads me then to define the process of sanctification as the action by which we bring our feelings and thoughts and acts into conformity to the infinite and all-satisfying worth of God. And I realize that I just said, "the action by which we bring our lives into conformity to the worth of God." No doubt, I could have said, "the action by which God brings our lives into conformity to the worth of God." Or better, both. That too is what this book is about. Who does it? And how is it done? We have much work to do.

2) What Is the Place of Sanctification in the Process of Salvation?

With that definition of sanctification before us, we now ask, What is the place of sanctification in relation to the other works of God in our salvation? To do so, we look at Romans 8:28–30:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

So here we have one great sequence of God's saving acts. Starting in verse 29, God foreknows, God predestines, God calls, God justifies, and God glorifies. The question is: Where is sanctification in that sequence, and how does it relate to the other works of God?

Where's Sanctification?

The answer is: it is in the beginning as the goal of predestination, and it is at the end as an essential part of glorification. And in between there are two works of God that make it possible for spiritually dead, wrath-deserving sinners to be sanctified — calling and justification. So let's look very briefly at the beginning and the end and these two works in the middle.

Verse 29: "Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." God predestines a group of people to be conformed to the image of his Son. In other words, he predestines our sanctification, our holiness. Here's the way Paul says it in Ephesians 1:4–5: "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy. ... He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ."

Our Destiny: Holiness

The reason God has chosen a people for himself is to give them a particular destiny, and that destiny is their holiness, their sanctification, their conformity to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The aim of this conformity to Christ (according to Romans 8:29) is "that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." This means two things. It means that our being changed into the likeness of Jesus is because we are brought into the family and given a family likeness with God as our Father and Jesus as our brother. The other thing it means is that Jesus is not just another brother but the unique "firstborn" who is exalted and worshiped by his brothers.

From the very beginning, God predestined that his people would be sanctified, that is, that they would be transformed into the likeness of his Son. Or, we can say, we were predestined to share the Son's holiness, and in that holiness be able to see him and celebrate him as we ought.


Excerpted from "Acting the Miracle"
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Table of Contents

Contributors 11

Introduction: The Search for Sanctification's Holy Grail David Mathis 13

1 Prelude to Acting the Miracle: Putting Sanctification in Its Place John Piper 29

2 Incentives for Acting the Miracle: Fear, Rewards, and the Multiplicity of Biblical Motivations Kevin DeYoung 43

3 Sinners Learning to Act the Miracle: Restoring Broken People and the Limits of Life in the Body Ed Welch 65

4 Acting the Miracle in the Everyday: Word of God, the Means of Grace, and the Practical Pursuit of Gospel Maturity Jarvis Williams 89

5 Acting the Miracle Together: Corporate Dynamics in Christian Sanctification Russell Moore 107

Conclusion: Act the Miracle: Future Grace, the Word of the Cross, and the Purifying Power of God's Promises John Piper 127

Appendix: Conversation with the Contributors 139

Acknowledgments 163

Subject Index 165

Name Index 169

Scripture Index 171

A Note on 175

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“I love this book. One meets real holiness here and it has real drawing power. C. S. Lewis said it well when he quipped, ‘How little people know who think holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.’ The content in these chapters awakened within me a deeper hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I pray it will cause those same hunger pangs to spread so that many more will taste and see that the Holy One Himself is an irresistible treasure.”
Jason C. Meyer, Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis

“The Reformed view of sanctification has resonated with me for a long time. More importantly, it is biblically rooted, realistic, hopeful, and doesn’t fall into the error of perfectionism. Now we have a wonderfully accessible presentation of the reformed view of sanctification. The scriptural support for a progressive view of sanctification is persuasively made. The realistic struggle that characterizes our lives is set forth, and the hope we have in Christ Jesus is proclaimed. I was encouraged and convicted in reading this work.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“A great combination of theological insight and practical advice on one of the most important of all Christian doctrines.”
Douglas J. Moo, Kenneth T. Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies, Wheaton College; Chair, Committee on Bible Translation for the NIV

“The Reformed and evangelical mind has recently concentrated much attention on the doctrines of justification and adoption, with many salutary effects. In some instances, however, concentration has degenerated into myopia, resulting in the distortion of the doctrine of sanctification. The present collection of essays is a helpful remedy to this situation. With chapters that are richly biblical, Christ-centered, and humane, Acting the Miracle refocuses our attention on the place and purpose of sanctification among the manifold works of the triune God. Readers will find this book both theologically and pastorally satisfying.”
Scott R. Swain, President and James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando; coauthor, Reformed Catholicity

“This book is theologically informed and pastorally wise. It helpfully distinguishes and defines definitive and progressive sanctification, and it shrewdly shows how to approach Christian living without being reductionistic.”
Andy Naselli, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and New Testament, Bethlehem College & Seminary

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