These past three weeks we have been considering together the Bible’s blueprint for sanctification—the processes and mechanisms that are typical of spiritual growth.1 In the first article we examined the Spirit-empowered necessity of putting to death of indwelling sin lurking in the recesses of the Christian’s heart. Then, we looked at three implications of union with Christ for believers. In this final article, we are going to explore in detail the doctrine and implications vivification—the coming alive of the new man through God’s Spirit creating and inflaming new affections for Him in the heart of the Christian. If mortification is putting to death the old man, then vivification, by contrast, is the coming alive of the new man. Thus, mortification is only half the work and is incomplete without the coming alive of the new man in vivification. Like mortification, vivification, has a number of features. In this article we will look at four.
God-Dependent, Spirit-made Affections
First, the Scripture teaches that vivification is Spirit-wrought. The Holy Spirit is ultimately the only One who makes anyone come alive to God. Simply put, we do not have the resources to change our own hearts. As the puritan divine John Owen says, “internal operation of the Spirit of God is necessary…unto the producing of every holy act of our minds, wills and affection, in every duty whatsoever.”2 In this way, vivification is God-dependent. In speaking of his dependence on God in sanctification, Augustine famously said, “Command what you will,” but “Give what you command.”3 In short, the command to be holy should create in believers a deep dependence on God and sense that they are desperately in need of Him to do the work in them in order for them to be holy. And the tremendous promise of the Bible is that God will give what he commands. As Paul confidently proclaimed, “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
Replanting New Affections: The Unparalleled Loveliness of God
Second, the Bible teaches that the way vivification happens is by the Spirit focusing the heart on the superiorly loveliness of God in Christ. In his Expulsive Power of a New Affection, the Scottish divine Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847) famously argued that “the only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.”4 Simply put, an old love must be replaced by a new and superior love. Chalmers explains how in sanctification, God does not put forward merely any superior love. Rather, he presents to the soul the most superiorly lovely object in the universe, namely Himself. In short, Chalmers says, God “[sets] forth another object [namely Himself] as more worthy of its attachment, so that the heart shall be prevailed upon not to resign an old affection, which shall have nothing to succeed it, but to exchange an old affection for a new one.” 5 In this way, vivification causes the soul to delight in obedience. Happiness is holiness and holiness is happiness. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Augustine summarized it well when he prayed, “He loves you less who together with you loves something which he does not love for your sake.”6
Experiential Tasting of Divine Loveliness
Third, vivification is essentially experiential. The American puritan divine Jonathan Edwards (1703–58) explained that in vivification God gives the believer a “taste” of divine excellency. He said, “the first effect of the power of God in the heart in regeneration, is to give the heart a Divine taste or sense; to cause it to have a relish of the loveliness and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the Divine nature.”7 Likewise, John Owen said that the Spirit works “by supplying believers with the experiences of the truth and reality, and excellency, of the things that are believed. Experience is the food of all grace, which it grows and thrives upon. Every taste that faith obtains of divine love and grace, or how gracious the Lord is, adds to its measure and stature.”8 In short,
God providentially provides tangible opportunities in the everyday life of believers to connect their experiences in the world to the reality of who God is; the believer experientially does in fact “taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8).
Come Up Higher
Finally, the Bible teaches that vivification is always increasing. In his Some Thoughts Concerning Revival, Jonathan Edwards famously said “I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.”9 For the work of vivification in the heart is pervasive, for the effect of Christlikeness is to permeate the believer’s entire being. It is a life-long, joy-filled, life-pervasive process. As Thomas Watson wrote, “As wine put into a glass where water is, the wine runs into every part of the water, and changeth its colour and taste. So true Repentance doth not rest in one part, but diffuse and spread itself to every part.”10 Likewise, Owen points out that it is actually this quality of vivification that helps one determine whether a person’s affections for Christ are merely temporary impressions or lasting spiritual affections. For true lasting spiritual affection, Owen says, “extends itself out to the whole spirit soul and body.”11 Essentially, Owen is saying that the proof is in the pudding—that the believer who is truly experiencing the life-transforming power of the Spirit, will in fact have a transformed life.
1 This article is an expand and updated version of one section of Greg Salazar, “Growing in Christ-likeness,” in Joel R. Beeke, ed., Growing in Grace (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2020).
2 John Owen, The Works of John Owen, 16 vols., (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 3:529
3 Augustine, The Confessions, trans. and ed. Philip Burton (New York: Random House, 2001), 10.29.
4 Thomas Chalmers, “The Expulsive Power of the New Affection,” in the Protestant Pulpit: An Anthology of Master Sermons from Reformation to Our Own Day, comp, Andrew Blackwood (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1947), p.56.
5 Chalmers, “Expulsive Power,” p.50.
6 Augustine, Confessions, 10.29.
7 Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise on Grace, in Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith, Sang Hyun Lee, rev., ed., vol.21 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), p.174.
8 Owen, Works, 3: 390.
9 Jonathon Edwards, Some Thoughts Concerning Revival, in The Great Awakening, Vol. 4 in The works of Jonathon Edwards, ed. Harry S. Stout and C. C. Goheen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), p.387.
10 Thomas Watson, A Body of Practical Divinity (London: Thomas Parkhurst, 1692), p.402.
11 Owen, Works, 7:419.