When it comes to sanctification, it is not possible to just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. While your effort is surely necessary, and is commanded in dozens of places in the New Testament, those efforts must necessarily fail if conducted apart from a total dependence upon the work of the Lord within us. The necessary work of sanctification can only be undertaken with a full dependence upon the power of God that is at work within us.
Work on the Washington Monument officially stopped in 1854 when the project ran out of cash. For the next 23 years, the giant marble stub stood unfinished until Congress—knowing that a half-finished monument doesn’t bestow any honor whatsoever—finally got around to raising the rest of the funds required to finish it. By that time, the original quarry contracted for the work was empty, and a new source of material had to be found. To this day, the Washington Monument stands in the National Mall with two distinct colors, marking the exact height where for decades the project sat unfinished.
Oftentimes, our Christian walk can feel sadly similar. We look at the lack of progress in our “progressive sanctification” and feel as though we’re simply stuck—our lives standing as half-finished monuments to the saving grace of God who began a good work within us, but seeming so far from completion. When we survey our spiritual walk and realize that we’re not making the kind of progress we so earnestly desire, how do we get things moving again?
The answer to this question can be found in 2 Peter 1. The author is a man who knew a thing or two about not growing as fast as he’d like. Just ask the rooster.
Peter was the living embodiment of Philippians 1:6, that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” He was well-qualified to speak to this question and definitively answer it for us.
In 2 Peter 1:2-10, Peter gives two halves of an equation for sanctification. Spiritual growth equals the work of God plus the work of the disciple. The apostle smashes those two halves together without much explanation. As Peter understood, the proper order of operations requires that the second half (human effort) be entirely dependent upon the first half (the work of God). In our limited understanding, we tend to focus exclusively on the second half (found in 2 Peter 1:5-10) where we’re commanded to go about actively “supplying” certain efforts, while often forgetting the foundational importance of the first half.