Two Theories on How to Be Good

The majority of Christians believe that at some point a Christian should probably do something good. If not personally, they at least believe other Christians should be doing good!

Any common sense reading of the Bible should lead one to see that doing good is part of what being a Christian is about. The fruit of the Spirit, against which there is no law (see, cuz the fruit of the Spirit is good), should show up.

As is typical, Christians like to argue about how these good things show up. Although there are many theories about sanctification (how good stuff shows up in your life), you can boil them down to two main camps: the active and the passive.

Both camps have valid points and both camps have dangers. There are degrees of each camp as well. But again, they can be boiled down to passive and active.

Passive Sanctification:
People in this camp believe that sanctification, the appearance of good stuff in your life, is all God. “Let go and let God” is the rallying cry of this camp. Any attempt to include or encourage effort on our part is dangerously close to legalism and going back under the law. The sole responsibility of the believer is to YIELD. Anytime you see the word “yield” you are in passive camp.

There is some irony involved in this argument. Isn’t yielding doing something? What do we do while yielding? Usually waiting is a huge aspect as well. Since I can’t actively do anything, I must wait for God to do something. Waiting takes forever. I am not sure if it has ever dawned on these folks that maybe it wouldn’t take so long if you went ahead and did something! This belief is commonly referred to as Easy Believism.

Active Sanctification:
People in this camp believe that sanctification only shows up as a result of you doing something. Your growth is entirely up to you. If you are not showing the fruits of sanctification, you must not be trying hard enough. Worse case scenario, you may not even have faith. There are frequently dress codes involved. These people are primarily concerned with visible sins–adultery, divorce, homosexuality, cussing, smoking, etc.

There is some irony involved in this argument. Although God has the power to redeem my soul; He apparently has no power to help my soul in any way after salvation–It’s all your fault. This view focuses on the external, the stuff that can be easily judged/measured. Conformity is demanded by groups of these people. Most cult-like churches land in this area. This belief is commonly referred to as Legalism.

Although there are no doubt exceptions, Calvinism is usually held by those in the Passive group and Non-Calvinism is usually held be people in the Active group.

As I said, all people’s view of sanctification leans toward one of these sides. This does not mean that all on one side fall into the errors of each side. I have given a hardliners view of each side.

My view leans toward the Active side. I do think there are things we are to do to bring about growth, holiness, and sanctification.

At the same time, none of this is possible without the work of the Holy Spirit, the new birth in Christ, the active Word of God teaching us, and the chastening of our Father. But I believe all these things are working in us so that we might work with them to bring about growth.

Both camps have their favorite verses and ignore great swaths of Scripture. It is my opinion that the Passive side is the most destructive. If God is responsible for my spiritual growth, I can sin all I want because ultimately it’s God’s fault for not stopping me. This can lead to non-saved people feeling comfortably saved.

This is not to say Legalism doesn’t have its dangers. It certainly does. Many get burned out by the effort and give up and go for sin. I’ve seen it many times. But few of those who leave legalism to live in sin continue to believe they are saved! To me, that’s the big danger of the Passive side–convinced your saved whether sanctification shows up or not.

Sanctification is a huge subject. There is much debate about it. Figure it out for yourself based on God’s Word. Don’t take someone’s word for it here because a lot of someones’ words are wrong!


2 thoughts on “Two Theories on How to Be Good”

  1. Thanks Jeff for this provocative piece. I think Jesus wants us to be active. The churches attract passive people, render others passive. Pastors are paid to be active. But Jesus did not intend this state of affairs. He did not start churches. He began a relationship-centred movement, a wholly different way to live, not passive but at the same time, not active at all like this world—programs, enterprises, human kingdoms. He modelled a lifestyle before a watching world and especially before the most unlikely bunch of followers. He left them with a model and a humanly impossible commission. In no way can this be seen as passive! Yet he left them (and us) with no other option but to be engaged, but on HIS terms. The terms of his engagement are other-worldly, the job description, active, powerful, amply resourced with the indwelling Holy Spirit.
    Here is solid evidence that backs up your keen observation, Jeff, that we are all stupid and that we need a supernatural directive and that the Word of God is not of human origin. Jesus sent out the 70 into the world. When here, Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing. Relationship! As he, so us. He “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil for God was with him”. Acts 10:38. So there is loving cooperation, a relationship of partnership with God in the doing of his will, as it’s done in heaven. “As the Father sent me so . . . . .” We can do nothing without God and God will do nothing without us. Believe that, and passivity is dead in the water. How to do good? Obey Jesus.

  2. Well said. To firmly hold the passive side is to make all commands of God irrelevant. In fact, it would make the Bible irrelevant, other than the bits about how to get saved.

    But it is my belief that transformation into Christ IS salvation essentially, so to eliminate sanctification is to eliminate salvation–even though they are not the same thing–but sanctification is always the result of salvation. God guarantees this.

    Anyone with a true sense of what salvation is wants sanctification and will do whatever necessary to get it. Passivity is nothing more than laziness about the things of God, which I think says bad things about the implied understanding of salvation.

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