The idea of Gospel driven sanctification (basically, sanctification means overcoming sin by growing in faith) is becoming more and more popular — and rightly so. Without the Gospel that so transforms the affections, change is impossible. Through responding in faith to the good news that Jesus both died for your transgressions and rose for your transgressions, we are saved, transformed and ultimately resurrected in a body that resembles the Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul can say, “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). But I do worry about how we understand Gospel driven sanctification.
A problem that I see with this movement towards Gospel driven sanctification is not the idea itself but a common misconception about it. What I mean is that we often try to change by simply focusing on the Gospel as an abstract thing. In other words, you find yourself lying, being lazy, or having lustful thoughts so you decide to remember the fact of the Gospel. “Remember, Wyatt, Jesus died for you so be better,” is something I could be tempted to think. But this thought would be dire to my spiritual life, since the Gospel is not only propositions but a rich and comprehensive story about what God has done though sending Jesus into the world.
The Gospel is so much more than a few propositional ideas that are true, though it is also that. It is a whole complex of centuries of human evil, God’s grace and ultimate forgiveness. Through reading the Scriptures, we can trace this history, noting God’s grace and mercy throughout it until the Gospels. Seeing the big picture produces gratitude toward God. It produces thankfulness. In fact, I would argue that this is the primary means by which we change (and have). The Spirit changes us through a robust knowledge of Scripture, since it is there we meet God.
It is true that some passages serve an already hot meal for us with reference to how to live out the Gospel (cf. Eph 5:25–27). But everyone must admit at some point, that the Bible does not address every specific issue in life. The reason that it doesn’t is because God reveals himself decisively in Scripture, to give us insight into our world and how to live in it (cf. 2 Pet 1:3).
Swim in the Scriptures to better grasp the Gospel, and become a Gospel addict full of thankfulness and gratitude to the Lord for what he has done for you. This is Gospel driven sanctification.