Who does the work of sanctification, the Christian or the Holy Spirit? As one who has struggled for years with anxiety, the question, “What is my role in overcoming this issue and where do I submit to God?” has often pressed on my mind. In seeking an answer together, we are going to explore this question through looking at daily Bible reading, local church membership, and prayer. God has used all three of these spiritual disciplines in my life, to help grow me in grace, especially in my struggle with anxiety. Specifically, the Lord has used daily Bible reading to renew my mind, the local church to encourage me, and prayer to bring me peace.
But where does God start and I begin in each of these? To begin answering this question, we must first realize that the death of Jesus in the place of sinners and for sin is what makes it possible for us to overcome sin. It is by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit that we mortify sin in our own lives. It is also only by the transforming power of the gospel that you and I can overcome sin and grow in righteousness. Due to our human nature and bent towards sin, we are incapable of doing it on our own. Instead, we need God’s divine help to grow and become more like Him. In my struggle with anxiety, I cannot stop the overwhelming fearful thoughts on my own. I need God’s Word to remind me of the truth I know, and God’s grace to give me the strength to trust Him and overcome worry.
The Holy Spirit, however, is not going allow us to simply coast and take no action while we think He protects us from all temptation. Instead, we need to use the various means of grace God has granted us such as reading Scripture, fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, and prayer to resist evil and grow in holiness.
This may seem like a tricky balancing act, so we are going to examine each of these means of grace together.
Daily Bible Reading
When we read the Bible, the Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to help His people defeat sin. The Scripture reveals sin and convict God’s people of sin through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Rather than justifying our sin, believers are to repent of sin daily. For example, consider how James 2:9 names the act of showing partiality a sin, or how 1 Corinthians 6:18-19 says to flee from the sin of sexual immorality because you were bought with a price so glorify God in your body.
The Bible also provides insight on how to address and overcome specific sins in our lives. For example, Philippians 4:6-7 explains that the cure to anxiety is bringing your concerns to God in prayer. Passages like this have been helpful for me in dealing with anxiety. When I read this, I not only see that God does not want me to worry but how He also wants me to take all those concerns to Him so that I can have peace. By daily bringing all of our cares to the Lord, we are coming to the One who sees all, knows all, and loves to give rest for those who are weary and heavy laden (Matthew 11:28-30).
All of this, of course, must be done in the power of the Holy Spirit, because He is the One who guides us in the truth, illuminating our hearts and minds to interpret and understand it. For this reason, it is important for Christians to begin their time in God’s Word with prayer, asking for understanding and the conviction of sin. Consider the Psalmist who cried to God, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Local Church Membership
Another way the Holy Spirit helps us to grow from sin to righteousness is by bringing fellow believers into our lives to give encouragement and accountability. Christianity is not meant to be done in private without any assistance. Instead, God has exhorted us to be in community as church members under godly qualified male elders and to one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Sometimes the Holy Spirit will bring people or a specific person into our lives to disciple us, while other times we will need to go and find someone to disciple us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, I encourage you to pray and ask our Chief Shepherd Jesus to bring someone into your life to disciple you and walk with you as you walk with Jesus. We should seek others who are strong in their faith to teach and guide us in the way of holiness since this is vital to a Christian’s growth in grace. After all, we need accountability and encouragement from our adopted family in Christ.
Personally, I have found great encouragement and guidance in my struggle with anxiety through biblical discipleship from fellow women in my church. They pray for me in times of weakness, exhort me when they see sin in my life and encourage me when I am at my lowest. All the while, their love, and care for me does not change; they never look down upon me as weaker or less than, but always seek to push me towards Christ-likeness. Above all, they direct me back to the Word of God and remind me how dependent I am upon Him.
This is why the local church membership and discipleship are so essential. If you do not have a solid, biblical church to attend, then you should find one. And please do not just sit at the back of the church each Sunday and run home as soon as the service is over. Get involved. Connect with fellow believers of all ages, and seek to be discipled by someone who is more mature in their faith. Please find ways to be serving your church family throughout the week and show the love of Christ to the world.
Prayer helps the believer resist sin and grow in grace. In prayer, you cry out to God for help to resist sin when tempted. Psalm 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” Christians have confidence that when they approach God in their time of need, He will not abandon them since He is their faithful and sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16). Too many believers become confident in their own strength and abilities, trying to muster up the willpower from within to overcome their sins. But that is not what God wants of us! He wants us to show utter dependence on Him.
In my struggle with anxiety, I am tempted to be dependent on my own strength and defeat worry in my own power. I used to forget to call out to God for help when anxiety hit and look for systems and tips to overcome anxiety in my own abilities. Then when I failed, I would avoid God in shame. I was sinfully self-sufficient and prideful. I wanted to be able to say in the end, “Look at me! I did it all on my own!” I also feared that in coming to God, He would be disappointed in me for failing again. However, I have learned that prayer is my ultimate weapon against anxiety because I am praying to the Almighty God who cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). I can come to God in my weakness confidently because it is His will that I depend on Him for strength, not on myself. I can also trust that God is compassionate, so the times when I do sin, He is ready to forgive (1 John 1:9).
Secondly, prayer helps the believer grow in aligning their will with God’s. Christians should pray, “Not my will but yours be done,” thus teaching them to seek what God wants instead of their own selfish or sinful wants. Instead of praying for God’s will to be done, we may more often than we like to admit pray prayers like the following: “God, please do this (selfish desire) for me, and don’t forget to do this (self-serving thing) tomorrow, and God remember to do this thing…” Thankfully, in the midst of such prayers, the Holy Spirit is interceding and praying for His people as their Advocate and High Priest. In reading His Word, we find out what God wants for us, so we can begin to pray according to His divine authoritative Word.
I began this article with a question, “Who does the work of sanctification, the Christian or the Holy Spirit?” that I will now answer: Both God and Christians work together in sanctification through the appointed means of Scripture, church membership, and prayer. Now your responsibility is to grow daily in God’s grace. Sanctification is the process by which we grow day by day for the rest of our lives up into our new identity in Christ. It is also a process that finds it’s power source in the faithful character of the Triune God. God convicts, we repent. We read the Word; God illuminates it. Do not fear; God is faithful; He will bring us each to completion (Philippians 1:6). He does not take a break, He does not get fed up or impatience, rather Christ continually, lovingly intercedes for His people.