Monday, July 3, 2017

Book Review: How Does Sanctification Work

How Does Sanctification Work. David Powlison. 2017. Crossway. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: At the close of his Gospel, John stands back and considers all that he has witnessed over a lifetime: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). I love the juxtaposition of those two sentences. The fact that John left out innumerable stories prompts a cosmic leap of insight and imagination. He has just finished a sixteen-thousand-word book—slightly shorter than the short book you are holding. But the whole earth could not hold all the other books that could be written about what Jesus did!

Premise/plot: David Powlison has written a practical book about sanctification. Doctrine concerns daily life, believers are to live out their beliefs. So Powlison sets out to answer the question: how does sanctification work?!

First, he defines sanctification for his readers:

"Sanctify has a past tense, a present tense, and future tense. In the past tense, your sanctification has already happened. You are a saint—an identity for which you get no credit! God decisively acted by making you his very own in Christ. You have been saved. In the present tense, your sanctification is now being worked out. God is working throughout your life—on a scale of days, years, and decades—to remake you into the likeness of Jesus. You are being progressively sanctified. You are being saved. In the future tense, your sanctification will be perfected. You will live. Your love will be perfected. You will see God’s face when he decisively acts to complete his work of conforming you to the image of Jesus. You will participate in the glory of God himself. You will be saved."

He continues, "To be sanctified is to have your faith simplified, clarified, and deepened. You need God. You know God. You love God. You see life, God, yourself, others more truly. And to grow as a saint is to grow in actually loving people. How other people are doing matters increasingly to you. You care. You help."

By the end of the book, he's super concise: "Sanctification means pointedly, freely, genuinely loving other people."

Some of the questions addressed in this book: "When you look closely at people’s lives, how do they actually change? Where do they get stuck? What does change—and what doesn’t change? What is the process like? What are the typical ups and downs? How do you explain the advances and the regressions? How do we help each other? How does Scripture actually function in altering people’s hearts and choices? How does trusting the God you need to trust connect to loving the people you need to love? What is the dynamic by which receiving grace becomes giving grace? How does the inworking hand and voice of the Spirit become expressed in the outworking of tangible fruit of the Spirit? And how do ministries of words, care, and action actually influence change in someone else?"

To answer these questions, you don't need abstract theology and textbook definitions. You need real stories too. He embraces the notion that believers are individuals, that details matter, and that there's no one-size-fit-all experience that is sanctification.

"We need stories and word pictures, both from Scripture and from the testimonies of daily life. We need to understand how Scripture illumines and connects to our current situation. We need practical help to work out the implications and applications for who we are, for where we struggle, for what we face. We need Jesus to be present—the Lord who is my Shepherd, the Lord who watches over my going out and my coming in. Scripture vividly and inductively demonstrates how these truths get traction and get personal. We need to get traction and get personal. We need other people. We need to hear and take to heart other people’s stories. We need God’s creation. We need to understand our times. We need honesty about ourselves. We need fresh object lessons. We need embodied faith and love. We need many different wisdoms to illumine the different parts of life."

Powlison advocates for unbalancing and rebalancing truths to answer some of these hard questions.
"Ministry “unbalances” truth for the sake of relevance; theology “rebalances” truth for the sake of comprehensiveness."
"The whole truth is as wide as human experience, as deep as the human heart, and as unfathomable as the God who weighs all things and intervenes in all things."
"This is how Jesus ministers. In the Gospels, he chooses to say and emphasize certain things, unbalancing the whole truth in order to say the relevant, timely word. When he talks with people, he is astonishingly concrete, direct, specific. He is not comprehensive or abstract. This is because the Gospels capture a series of ministry moments in which Jesus gives people what they need and can handle. By saying one thing, not everything, he is always challenging, always life rearranging, always nourishing those who are listening." 
"Ministry electrifies when it connects something to someone rather than trying to say everything to no one in particular."
So how does he ultimately answer the question?! He gives readers a framework for understanding the process of sanctification. The five factors for sanctification are: God changes you, the truth changes you, wise people change you, suffering and struggle change you, and finally you change you. These are super-inter-connected factors.

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. It is a very quick read. But it is not a waste of time. He packs a lot of rich insight into a short book. It is practical. It is biblical. He writes in a concise way to address real questions. I found it to be a very thought-provoking read.

Favorite quotes:
"God seems to love variety. You and I do not reduce to a category. Our Father is raising children, and every child I’ve ever known is unique. You cannot live someone else’s story."
"If your life is in fact a journey, then Psalm 23 maps the route and reminds you about the company you keep. Our companion is alert, amiable, generous, and strong. He willingly walks with us. He is looking out for us. We face troubles of many kinds. But he will never leave us or forsake us. We know from other Scripture that this Shepherd even laid down his life for his beloved sheep. And we know that we are his sheep because we recognize his voice speaking to us. We know he is taking us to his home. That is one kind of journey. But life can go other ways. Psalm 1 keys the entire book of Psalms by inviting each of us to ask, “How will my life turn out? What will happen to me?” Not all the answers are happy. Some ways of living come to be nothing but chaff and can be blown away into nothingness by a puff of wind." ~ John Newton
"Without a Good Shepherd, we script our lives to the opposite of Psalm 23, to an antipsalm of foolish hopes. Life is still a journey, and we still head toward a destination; the difficulties and threats along the way are identical. But everything else is different."
"Antipsalms build a life journey on the premise that the Lord is not present and active. Here are the premises that orient a popular contemporary version of the antipsalm. It starts out with a heady, self-confident affirmation of faith: • I can take care of myself. • I am basically a good person. • I can pursue and achieve my goals. • I am confident in myself and my abilities. • I say what I think and do what I want. But in the long run, like all the antipsalms, this faith betrays its believers. When the Lord is not your Shepherd, the outcome and destination are predictable: • I am alone. No one looks out for me or looks after me. • I am empty, needy, restless, and unsafe. • When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I have no protector. • I fear the bad things that can happen to me. • Other people let you down or hurt you. • In the end you lose every good thing you ever had. • Death is my shepherd."

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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