Who Is Responsible for Our Spiritual Transformation?

Who is responsible for this transformation? The Holy Spirit is. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that we are being transformed by “the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The verb being transformed is passive, that is, something is being done to us, not by us. This does not mean we have no responsibility in sanctification. It means that in the final analysis it is the Spirit of God who transforms us. He calls on us to cooperate and to do the part He assigns us to do, but He is the one who works deep within our character to change us.

The pursuit of holiness has been a major object of my thoughts and study for almost thirty-five years. Over that time, I have come to realize—both from personal study and observation of my life—that the deep work of spiritual transformation of my soul has been what the Holy Spirit has done, not what I have done. I can to some degree change my conduct, but only He can change my heart.

Several passages of Scripture emphasize the fact that sanctification is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 Paul said, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Note that it is God Himself who will sanctify us “through and through.” In other words, He will bring the process to completion.

Again Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Finally the writer of Hebrews prayed that God will “work in us what is pleasing to him” (Hebrews 13:21). Although these passages speak of God in a nonspecific sense, or use the pronoun he, we know from other Scriptures that the work of sanctification within the Trinity is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). This being true, we ought to pray daily for His work of sanctification within us. One of my favorite prayers is to take the words of Hebrews 13:21 and ask that He will work in me what is pleasing to Him. (We’ll look more at the place of prayer in sanctification in chapter 8.)

The Spirit of God has indeed given us certain responsibilities in the sanctifying process. In fact, the Bible is filled with exhortations, challenges, and commands to obey, as well as spiritual disciplines to be practiced. We will consider these beginning in chapter 7. However, I am now emphasizing the Spirit’s work because we tend to lose sight of the fact that He is the agent of sanctification.

The way the Spirit operates in our lives to sanctify us is shrouded in mystery. Paul said He works in us “to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13), but he never tells us just how the Holy Spirit interacts with, or works on, our human spirit. I like to know how things work, and I used to try to figure out how the Holy Spirit interacts with our spirit, but I finally realized it was a futile pursuit. On this subject the comments of John Murray are again helpful: “We do not know the mode of the Spirit’s indwelling nor the mode of his efficient working in the hearts and minds and wills of God’s people by which they are progressively cleansed from the defilement of sin and more and more transfigured after the image of Christ.”

We will often be conscious of the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives and will even be able to discern what He is doing to some extent, especially in those instances where He elicits a conscious response from us. But, to again use the words of John Murray, “we must not suppose that the measure of our understanding or experience is the measure of the Spirit’s working.”

Jerry Bridges

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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