Johnny one note, or a 47 string harpist?
David Powlison wrote in his latest essay for The Journal of Biblical Counseling (27:1), on “How Does Sanctification Work? Part 1”:
Here’s the takeaway. I dare not extrapolate my exact experience of God’s mercies to everyone else. Similarly, those who have had their Christian life revolutionized by awakening to the significance of justification by faith dare not extrapolate that to everyone else. One pattern of Christ’s working (even a pattern common to many people) should not overshadow all the other patterns. A rightly “unbalanced” message is fresh, refreshing, joyous, full of song, life-transforming. But eventually, if it is oversold, it becomes a one-string harp, played by one finger, sounding one note. It drones. Scripture and the Holy Spirit play a 47-string concert harp, using all ten fingers, and sounding all the notes of human experience. Wise ministry, like growth in wisdom, means learning to play on all the strings, not harping on one note.
I am certain that those who teach “sanctification by revisiting justification” have heard that message as a new and joyous song that sanctifies them. May Jesus Christ be praised! Perhaps God has been liberating them from a ponderous Christianity that seemed to breed a weight of failure to perform, of failure to live up to expectations, of failure to accomplish all that needs doing, and of judgmentalism toward others who fail. May the God of mercies be praised! But let’s not forget to learn all the other sweet and joyous songs. And let’s learn the darker notes of lamentation and the blues. Let’s learn the call to action in work songs and marching music. And let’s learn everything else that comports with and nourishes life in Christ.
When we look closely at what actually changes people—examples both from Scripture and from personal experience—we see how diversely relevant the Word and Spirit are to our human struggles. David Powlison challenges the popular views on sanctification that take one strand in Scripture and present it as the be all and end all of Christian growth. He specifically engages the strengths and weaknesses of the view that asserts, “You are sanctified by remembering that you are justified.