Here at Grace, we have a saying we repeat often: “When we show up, God shows up.” To understand the full meaning of this phrase we have to understand the differences between what we’re responsible for and what God’s responsible for in our spiritual lives. This is a question that is asked often at Grace.

In order to understand the expression, it’s important to draw a line between two theological terms: justification and sanctification. Justification is a judicial concept. Imagine a court in heaven. God looks at sinners, and despite all the damning evidence against us, He declares us not guilty. We are credited with what theologians call “forensic righteousness,” which means a legal declaration of righteousness. We’re not actually innocent; the declaration has not changed our internal nature. Rather, despite our sinfulness, God declares us justified in His sight. Our guilt is laid on Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. 

That’s justification, and we play absolutely no part in it. Theologically speaking, it’s monergistic—completely the work of God. “When we show up, God shows up” doesn’t work for justification. Just like salvation, it’s a free gift. 

Sanctification, on the other hand, refers to spiritual growth. It’s everything that happens in us after justification until the time we see Jesus face-to-face. Sanctification is synergistic, meaning it’s a cooperative act between us and God to shape us into the people He wants us to be. 

In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul captures the synergistic nature of sanctification when he writes, “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.” Notice the duality of responsibility: We’re called to “work out” (or “live out”) our salvation, but we’re not striving on our own. The power comes from God who “works within” us. 

There are two ways we can err when it comes to understanding synergistic sanctification. The first is to cast all responsibility on ourselves. We try endlessly to better ourselves, to live up to God’s standard in our own strength. This is the theme of the entire book of Galatians, which is why Paul writes, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). Few endeavors are more discouraging—and doomed to failure—than becoming your own self-help project. 

On the other end of the spectrum, we can cast all responsibility on God. When we fall into this trap, we gravitate toward Scripture about the kindness and grace of God, but get really shifty the moment we’re called to action. The danger of passivity is stunted spiritual growth. Have you ever wondered why some Christians are spiritual rockstars and others seem spiritually impotent? The difference between effective Christians and lukewarm Christians is not that God loves one more than another. It’s that one is showing up and taking responsibility for their spiritual life and one isn’t.

Thankfully, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, it’s never too late to press in. Here are three practical ways you can begin showing up in your relationship with God:

Confession

I’m a major believer in confession. Historically, for 2000 years, it’s what God has used in the church to restore people and help them grow. Confession is a beautiful thing. It’s recognizing how we have become misaligned with God, and acknowledging that we want to realign ourselves with His will. If you, like the Galatians, are relying on your own strength for spiritual growth, confess your self-righteousness. If you’re a lukewarm Christian, like the believers at Laodicea, confess your apathy.

Accountability

Once you have confessed, go and look for some godly people. Tell them you’ve been self-righteous, or apathetic, in your spiritual life and ask them to hold you accountable. 

Action

Finally, do something. Becoming engaged in your sanctification is not a theoretical idea; it’s a practical idea. There’s a reason we talk about simple steps at Grace. Taking next steps toward Christ means taking action. It means becoming “doers of the Word and not hearers only,” lest we deceive ourselves (James 1:22).

2020 is a brand new year, ripe with possibility. What decisions will you make to actively participate in your spiritual growth? More importantly, how will you follow-through?