By by the grace of God I am what I am,
and His grace toward me did not prove
vain; but I labored even more than all of them,
yet, not I, but the grace of God with me.
I Corinthians 15:10
...sinners are moved from death to life, from passivity to activity, as they are enabled by the Spirit to participate in Christ. The new life of the Spirit in sanctification is received as a gift. But it activates our capacities. As we see in Jesus Christ, true humanity (in harmony with God) is active humanity--actively obedient to the Father, active in loving God and neighbor. While Christians receive participation in Christ as a gift, the result of this reception is an enlivening of our capacities by the Spirit. As Calvin says in the Bondage and Liberation of the Will, God does not "cause" faith or action in us without our assent. Yet "assent is properly called ours, but not in such a way that it should be understood to derive from us." Declaring that God deserves the credit for the fruit of the preaching of the gospel, Calvin warns that "this is not because in doing everything by the power of his own Spirit [God] excludes the ministry of his servants, but so as to secure for himself the entire praise for the action, just as the effectiveness derives from him alone, and whatever labour people do without him is empty and barren." Thus, communion with the Spirit is what makes our faith and action our own. Stated differently, God does use our will , our mind, our ministry, and our efforts to preach the gospel and to live faithful Christian lives. But wherever there is fruit, the credit should not be divided between God and us. When we pray and the prayer is answered, we should not congratulate ourselves for praying with wisdom and diligence. No. In all things, we should give praise to God, because even sanctification is a gift, first and foremost, that we receive from God.
At this point, in seeing not only justification but also sanctification as a gift received in union with Christ, we are at the heart of the issue on an experiential level for Christians. If sanctification is a matter of me drawing deeply on my self to do good things for God, then my own holiness--and my own effort--becomes an end in itself, and preaching should focus on Christ only to the extent that he is a moral exemplar who goads us to work harder. Why? Because in this way of thinking, since Christ's justifying work is done, it is up to us to achieve our sanctification.
J. Todd Billings
Union with Christ