I know, you read that title and may be thinking to yourself: “What sort of friendship is passive?” I can explain, but first, let’s look at sanctification and active friendship.
Sanctification, as Wayne Grudem writes in Systematic Theology, is “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin, and more like Jesus in our actual lives.”
As most of us are painfully aware, God uses all things, including our relationships, in order to bring our sanctification about.
When I refer to "active friendship," I mean what you may expect – a friendship in which both parties actively seek to help each other grow in sanctification. This can be through the freedom to ask direct and probing questions, to call each other out on sin, to pray with each other, or to intentionally spend time together in growing your relationship. All of that takes action targeted toward the specific goal of sanctification.
These are the typical ways that people think about “Christian” friendships. However, this perspective overlooks a major way that God works through our friendships – not in active ways, but in passive ways.
If we strive for our own personal holiness, then spend time with each other as fellow believers, something might just happen as a “passive” side-effect: we begin to rub off on each other. I will see you running hard toward the goal of godliness and I will see the Holy Spirit at work in you. As I see you submitting to God in the process of killing sin, renewing your mind, and putting on righteousness (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:20-24), I will be motivated and inspired by the Holy Spirit to do the same.
Sometimes, we can inadvertently pressurize our relationships in an effort to move towards discipleship and accountability. While those things are good, I think the most fruitful friendships I have are the ones where there is no set agenda except being friends and where there is a clear individual agenda to grow in my walk with Christ. This leads to more conversations about God’s Word, gospel concepts, and sin struggles – all because we each are pursuing godliness in our own.
So, while we shouldn’t be passive in our own growth, perhaps more “passive” views on discipleship and accountability will help us grow more than we think.