I first heard John Ortberg speak a number of years ago and I was immediately struck with his biblical, common-sensical approach to teaching God’s Word. Since them I have considered him to be a long-distance mentor, of sorts. While taking a few days of vacation in northern California in late August, I heard him speak in his home church in Menlo Park. It was a personal grace.
Some time ago, Ortberg asked the question of his audience, “Is spiritual growth (sanctification) God’s job or mine?” Some have taken the position that sanctification is solely God’s job, and say, “I can’t do anything at all. It’s not my responsibility to become sanctified.” At the other end of the spectrum are those Christians who take the drill instructor approach, evaluating spiritual growth as the end result of one’s commitment level and development of moral muscle.
The question is perplexing, one that many followers of Jesus wrestle with. Who’s responsible for whether I become more like Jesus—me or the Holy Spirit?
Ortberg’s wise response is tethered to Philippians 2:12-13 where Paul admonishes his friends, “Work out your salvation . . . for it is God who works in you . . .” We have a role to play, but we don’t control it. He illustrates it beautifully by pointing out the differences between a motorboat and a sailboat. In the speed boat, I’m in control, but in the sailboat, while I’m not passive, I have a role to play: sails need to be hoisted and the rudder needs to be steered, but I have to depend on the wind to blow to get anywhere.
Likewise, God has ordained a partnership when it comes to our spiritual growth. When God’s wind/Spirit blows it is my responsibility to trim the sails, catch the breeze, and keep my hand on the rudder. The responsibility for spiritual growth is not an either/or matter; it is both God and me.