When it comes to sanctification, does God change us or do we change ourselves through discipline? Professor Mark Muska from the University of Northwestern tackles this important question.

“As far as our part and God’s part, there’s several passages in the Scripture that seem to point to this as being a cooperative effort between us and God. It’s not an either-or, it’s a both-and.”

He refers to Philippians 2:12-13,

“Paul talks about this tension. In verse 12 he says, ‘So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed not in my presence only but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ You got to do something here.”

“But then look at verse 13, ‘for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.’ So it’s a both-and. All of the commands of the New Testament are meant to be obeyed. We’ve got to have the determination and the commitment to live those out the best we can.”

“We’re not going to take the first step forward if God Spirit isn’t empowering us. It’s just going to be fake and it’s going to end up falling to pieces on us if God isn’t performing that work in us as well.”

Professor Brad Sickler shares his personal reflections from the book of Philippians and the process of sanctification.

“In Philippians 1:6 he says, ‘He who began this good work in you, will be faithful to complete it in the day of Christ Jesus.’”

“But Paul also tells us, ‘Walk in the spirit, and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)’”

“I think it might be a false dichotomy to say does God change us or do we change ourselves? It’s a cooperation. As we submit and walk in the Spirit, God does that work of transformation; we can’t really do it ourselves. If you tell somebody to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, what are they going to get leverage against?”

“We can’t make ourselves pure and we can’t change our character, but we can cooperate with God and walk with Him as He does that work in us, because it is His work, only He can do it. He’s the one who began it and wants to do it in the first place.”

As Christians, we are reminded to do our part so that God can complete His work in and through us. Professor Sickler expands,

“We’re called to present our bodies as living sacrifices, but of course the problem is that living sacrifices keep trying to crawl off the altar. If we can just stay on the altar and let God do that work in us that’s how it works. I think that we both have a role to play.”


Ask the Professor: On the third Thursday of every month we invite Bible professors from the University of Northwestern into the studio and open the phone lines for your questions on the Bible, faith, and the church. Call in during the live show, or submit your questions via email on Connecting Faith’s show page.

Ask the Professor

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