Last time we saw the commands in the Bible to die to/rid yourself of sin and live to righteousness/clothe yourself with godliness. So that sounds like those things are our job to do. Yet, the Bible also uses the passive to talk about this, the idea of us ‘being renewed’ (see, for example Col 3:10). So, what’s the deal there: is it God’s work or ours?
Romans 8:11 answers, “God … gives life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit that lives in you.” This suggests that at least living to righteousness is God’s work. This is what you’d expect a Calvinist to say and indeed, quoting 1 Thess 5:23, Calvin takes it even further, saying, that ‘may God sanctify you entirely’ shows that God is the “sole author of this work.”
However, Calvin suggests that there’s more to it as well. Alongside his declarations of God’s work, he also characterises the person’s task as “warfare” and a “daily fight” that requires “continuous effort”. His commentary on Romans 6:14 highlights both our action and God’s: “we are enabled to conquer [sin] by the Spirit of God.” God is active as we “die to sin and live to righteousness”; mortification and vivification are his grace in the life of the believer. The deep mystery of how God works in our world is that there is a sense in which we co-operate with him in this work.
Next time, we’ll look at what John Owen thought we could do to participate in mortification and vivification.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.