One of the age old questions in church history (especially American Reformed church history) is what is the difference between the revived members of a congregation and the apparently less than revived folk.
Christian doctrine and especially Calvinistic doctrine is such that we believe those who have had a work of grace in their lives are a different type of people than those who haven't. Revivalists like Edwards and Whitfield felt a calling to lead everyone into this higher grace filled life. There are huge benefits and huge problems with this perspective. The benefit is that by saying being born again really makes a difference we uphold the bible and are saying that the life transformation by grace that we see in the bible is for us today. But two big problems emerge. One if you define the answer as something people can observe like "people who are born again don't drink and chew and go with girls who do", then you end to make the faith about not drinkin' and chewin'. This is a bad thing. Our religion becomes legalistic and superficial and everything we do not like about 'religion'. In the church this has been the 'holiness' approach. Another problem is we say the change is internal like 'you just know', people get very introspective and filled with doubt. This perspective has been the revivalist approach. Calvinism actually has been plagued with this in times of revival. The coming of Grace is a conscious thing and people try to figure out if they have it. The huge problem with this is that people often have a really self-loathing psyche. Some folks will always spin things in their head to being lost and damned. So a poorly defined subjective answer is not good.
I think the answer is a very difficult but necessary one. And here is the point.
I have had a lot of pastoral visits lately with very good people who want to be all they can be for the Lord. Such wonderful sweet gracious humble children of God. The problem is so many of us do not see ourselves this way. Therefore, it is hard for us to accept that we are of the people being wonderfully effected by grace. So here is the hard answer:
1. The answer is the Gospel of Grace. People need to understand a Gospel that is completely free. God accepts those who believe in the death and resurrection of Christ as their only hope for salvation: justification and sanctification. The key is the finished work of Christ. None of my personal history is even part of the equation. These are important beliefs. There is no external effect that is the evidence one can look at to know they are saved. Pure grace. BUT you say there are so many who seem to take advantage of this and simply confess belief and seem to not be transformed. Does not this simple grace lead to compromise and low expectations in life for transformation. Don't we see a church that is just like the world? We believe a gospel but it isn’t changing us? Divorce? Immorality? Dishonesty? Anger? Isn't the church filled with these things just like the world? And don't so many of us confess the gospel but are not delivered? Simple grace is not enough!! The temptation is then to add to the gospel and require some evidence in our history that is necessary to our salvation. NO NO NO. This is a huge blunder. The gospel is free and cannot be added to. Salvation is a free gift of grace to all who believe. So what do we do
2. We foll0w the lead of Luther!! Luther said sanctification is the process of getting used to our justification. This involves first separating justification from sanctification. Nothing in you history is necessary to be justified (i.e. at peace with God and reconciled) and secondly we say and if you learn to rest in your knowledge of your justification (i.e. if you get used to your justification, your affections will be transformed). So how do I get used to my justification or how do I live in grace. The desire to live daily in this grace "Drives us to prayer"!!! American Calvinistic revivalist answer to the question of Grace and Sanctification. If you do not know the love of God in a transforming way, do not doubt but believe. The key to this truth being reformed and not fanatical is that we base the transformation of our being in Knowledge (biblical knowledge) of the Gospel. The desire to have a knowledge of God's love that transforms us will drive us to prayer and worship until we live in joyful place of grace.