Puritan Thomas Watson says it well. “After the fall, the affections were misplaced on wrong objects; in sanctification, they are turned into a sweet order and harmony, the grief placed on sin, the love on God, the joy on heaven.”*
Regeneration is the awakening and enlivening of the spiritual heart, and sanctification is the ongoing work of recalibrating the affections to cherish what God cherishes. And because we are becoming like what we worship, this is a critical work of grace in our hearts.
Sanctification is more than saying “no” to sin. Sanctification says “yes” to holiness and glad obedience to Jesus. Sanctification says yes to loving God and what he loves. Sanctification is all about retraining our delights.
God’s holiness is reflected in his beauty and attractiveness. It is his “utterly unique divine essence” (Piper). God’s holiness is his drawing, pulling, tugging splendor (Psalms 29:2, 96:9). For the wicked, God’s holiness is revolting. For the awakened, the great works of regeneration and sanctification bring true spiritual delight to the holy. Piper writes, “The battle to be holy — the battle for sanctification — is a battle fought at the level of what we love, what we cherish and treasure and delight in.”**
The work of sanctification is rooted in the miracle of God who moves our affections from the sin that looks appealing to a delight in God’s will and sincere obedience (Psalms 1:2; 40:8, 112:1, 119:47). Sanctification is a miracle because it’s a matter of affections, and this is where the battle is fought.
Puritan John Flavel understood this point, and returned to the Garden of Eden, when he wrote, “What is sin but the corrupt and vitiated appetite of the creature, to things that are earthly and sensual, relishing more sweetness and delight in them, than in the blessed God? And what is sanctification, but the rectifying of these inordinate affections, and placing them on their proper object?”***
Progressive sanctification is the undoing in our lives of the tragic appetite for the forbidden that we inherited from Adam and Eve. At its root, sanctification is a miracle of God, an ongoing process of emptying sin of its pleasure and allurement, and of deepening our delight in holiness and obedience. And it’s an ongoing process and fight.
A sure mark of the Spirit’s work in our lives is evidenced when we rejoice in what God rejoices in. In fact, that’s why we are gathering in Minneapolis this weekend for the Pleasures of God seminar. We want hearts alive and awake to delight in what brings God delight. There is no higher purpose for our pursuit of holiness.
* Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 241.
** John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Crossway, 2006), 146.
*** John Flavel, Works of John Flavel, 6:53.