Conforming to Holiness: An Example of How God's Two Wills Align


An example of how God’s two wills align in the outcome of human actions is shown by how he conforms his children to his own holiness. In Leviticus 20:7–8, we read: “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” God commands his people Israel to be holy because he himself is holy. This is a call to act responsibly. It assumes that the recipients have a moral obligation to exercise their wills in obedience. Yet within the same breath by which God issues this injunction, he states, “I am the LORD who sanctifies you [makes you holy].” Israel is to exercise her will to be holy, and yet it is still God who causes her to be holy. This is a pattern that all believers need to absorb into their thinking. John MacArthur asks, “How do you overcome sin and live the Christian life? Is defeating sin something God does in you, or do you defeat it by obeying the commands of Scripture? In other words, is the Christian life an exercise in passive trust or active obedience?” The answer is that both are true. As believers actively commit themselves to God’s instruction for our obedience, we must in fact pray with confidence that God would grant that which he commands. Praying in such a way should be a model for all petitionary prayer. As Jesus taught us, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Paul lays out this tension between passive trust and active obedience: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). The apostle embraces the responsibility and reality of his efforts to labor in ministry and obedience to God’s call. Yet he also understands that it is not his own energy that empowers and motivates him, but the gracious action of God working in him: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29; cf. Eph. 3:20). This mind-set regarding the collusion of two actions—one human and one divine—is fueled by Paul’s confidence that the reconciliation of the believer is accomplished by Christ’s death, which results in our eventual glorification. Christ promises to “present” us one day as “holy and blameless and above reproach” in his very presence (Col. 1:22). And yet this promise, though certain, is predicated upon the fact that the believer must “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (v. 23). The ends are promised only by way of the prescribed means, and both the ends and the means are wholly directed by God. This principle is magnified in Philippians 2:12–13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (cf. Phil. 4:13; Heb. 13:20–21). Paul commands believers to “work out” their salvation, to labor hard “with fear and trembling” as blood, sweat, and tears roll down their weary bodies. But nothing of this intense work of sanctification is in vain, Paul stresses. To encourage our labor, he reminds us that it is simultaneously “God who works in you” (v. 13). The spiritual energy of sanctification that transpires “is discovered not by God’s grace trumping and erasing our effort but by fueling it.... Human striving does not compete with but completes the sovereign will of God.” Without the prior “work” of God within, there is no “will” in us to “to work for his good pleasure.” The New Living Translation captures Paul’s sentiment well: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.” The whole of the Christian life is a compatibilistic enterprise. Yet the important thing to note is that God is the lead actor in this unfolding drama. Although we seek to submit to the purposes of God, nonetheless it takes place only because his sovereign “will” works to accomplish “his good pleasure.” Paul reiterates an earlier divine promise: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). B. B. Warfield writes: “The Christian works out his own salvation under the energizing of God, to whose energizing is due every impulse to good that rises in him, every determination to good which he frames, every execution of a good purpose which he carries into effect.”

(The above was taken from the book, What about Free Will?: Reconciling Our Choices with God's Sovereignty by Scott Christensen (p. 94- 96). P&R Publishing)