Friday, May 31, 2013

Sanctification: The Biblical View

Reformed View
The third view of sanctification that will be examined is the Reformed view. In this view, sanctification is “that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works.”[1] The Reformed view includes several different elements. First, sanctification is related to but distinct from justification, and is dependant upon “other steps [in the order of salvation] such as effectual calling, regeneration, justification, and adoption. All of these bear intimately upon sanctification.”[2] While justification is a one-time event, sanctification includes both a definitive and progressive aspect. Definitive sanctification is a moral change in which Christians are set free from the power of sin and have become new creatures, with new desires of the things of the Spirit rather than things of the flesh. Progressive sanctification is the process for the Christian of being renewed in the image of God and becoming more like Christ that continues throughout life, and is not completed until glorification. Since verses for these aspects have been given in the discussion of Lutheran sanctification, they will not be repeated here.  Secondly, union with Christ is an essential element. Ferguson notes, “Two features are central to sanctification: Jesus Christ himself is our sanctification or holiness; and it is through union with Christ that sanctification is accomplished in us” (48).” Without being in union with Christ, change (in the biblical sense) cannot occur. Thirdly, unlike justification, both God and man cooperate in sanctification, and the Christian’s responsibility is to use the means that God has given him or her, including Scripture, prayer, church community, and the ordinances. Murray explains, “God’s working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relationship strictly one of co-operation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction of co-ordination of both produced the required result. …the relationship is that because God works we work.”[3] Fourthly, justification looks the same for all Christians, but sanctification has different results in some than in others.[4]
One strength of the Reformed view of sanctification is that the imperatives and commands in Scripture are dealt with in a way that takes the text seriously. For example, Rom. 8:13 and Col. 3:5 speak of the putting to death the deeds of the body, while Col. 3:19 and Eph. 4:24 speak of putting on the new self. The Reformed view of sanctification does not see these verses as “remembering justification,” or waiting for a second experience of the Holy Spirit to help, but rather as what Christians are to actually be doing by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Matt. 5:29, where believers are to take radical measure in fighting sin such as, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away,” the Reformed view sees these verses as having real meaning (symbolic-not literal), and would call Christians to practical and active fight against sin rather than a passive waiting upon God. In Phil. 3:17 and 4:9, Paul has no problem with telling the Philippians to imitate and follow his example and teaching. Hansen points out here that, “Paul’s command [4:9], put into practice, challenges his readers to move beyond contemplation to action. The imperative calls for them to ‘bring about or accomplish something through activity. The time has come to get out of the chair of theoretical reflection about Christ and the Christian life and press on towards the goal.”[5] The Scripture then calls for believers to do more than “remember their justification.” The Christian and his or her whole being are actively involved in the change process.
A second strength of the Reformed view of sanctification is that sanctification is shown to affect the whole person, and not just a part. Colossians 3:10, Phil. 1:9, and Rom. 12:2 each speak of the mind and knowledge being renewed, a process rather than an instantaneous event. Related to these verses, 2 Cor. 10:5 also gives encouragement to take thoughts captive, which is an active rather than passive process. Besides the mind, other parts are to be sanctified as well, such as the emotions. Grudem writes, “growth in sanctification will affect our emotions. We will see increasingly in our lives emotions such as ‘love, joy, peace, patience.’”[6] The will (Phil. 2:13), spirit (2 Cor. 7:1), and physical body (Rom. 6:4; 1 Thess. 5:23) are all to be changed to be more like Christ.
A third strength is that the texts that speak of God’s work in sanctification and the texts that speak of the Christian’s work are both taken into account. The Reformed view of sanctification emphasizes that both God and man work together, so that texts that refer to both aspects are reconciled in a way that is most faithful to Scripture. Texts such as Heb. 13:20-21; 1 Thess. 5:23; and Phil. 2:13 emphasize God’s role in sanctification, while texts like Phil. 2:12; Rom. 12:1; Heb. 12:1, and Col. 1:29 show the Christian’s role. When both these aspects are properly understood, then there is no need to explain away passages for fear of undercutting grace. As a result, real change in the life of the Christian can happen because they are not neglecting the aspect of Scripture that shows God’s work, nor the aspect of Scripture that shows their part. In terms of the role that the Christian plays in sanctification, it is not a “grit it out by one’s own power” kind of role. Both a passive and active aspect is involved. In the passive role, Christians are to “trust God or to pray and ask that he sanctify us.”[7] This is not a “let go and let God” approach, but rather a diligent seeking of God’s grace and help to change and become more like Christ. In the active role, Christians specifically put off sinful actions, thoughts, etc. and put on righteous actions, thoughts, etc. Jesus does not obey for Christians, but rather Christians obeys Jesus by the grace that he has given them to do so. Philippians 2:12-13 shows this relationship, where Paul says “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” On this passage, Hansen notes:
            God’s working in believers precedes and empowers their work, but it does not obviate the
            need for their work. Paul is not telling Christians to ‘let go and let God’ or ‘get out of God’s
            way so God can do it.’ Such slogans for the Christian life express a passivism not
            consonant with Paul’s call to the persistent obedience of working out salvation in the life of
            the church. Nor is Paul advocating a God of the gaps: ‘Go as far as you can, then leave the
            rest for God’ or ‘God helps those who help themselves.’[8]

A fourth strength of the Reformed view of sanctification is the emphasis on the means that God uses in the sanctification process. Without community in the local church, God’s Word, prayer, and spiritual disciplines, the sanctification process will not be as effective or fruitful as it could be. Scripture is rich in describing these various aspects like prayer, reading God’s Word, and fellowship, and clearly calls God’s people to use these means (cf. Heb. 10:25).
From the practical aspect, the Reformed view of sanctification has the strength of helping Ernie truly change in his struggle of lustful thoughts. While Ernie would be reminded that he is a new creation, has been justified, and has been definitively sanctified so that he is no longer a slave to sin, Ernie would also be helped, in practical and specific ways, to deal with the lustful thoughts. For instance, Ernie would be helped to remember his position in Christ, but also to replace his lustful thoughts and desires with ones that glorify God instead. Ernie would be instructed to make changes in regards to the things he looks at or thinks about (“putting off”), repent where he has sinned against God, and helped to “put on” new thoughts, actions, and desires. For Ernie, this will be much more than simply praying that his lustful thoughts will be taken away by an “experience” or by a mere remembrance of his justification, although prayer will be involved. Sin will be called sin, and effort will be demanded of Ernie. In all this, Ernie will be pointed to the grace of Christ that enables him to follow and obey Christ. Ernie will also be reminded that sanctification is a lifetime process, and that he should not expect that his lustful heart will be changed instantly. In the change process, Ernie will be encouraged to participate in fellowship with a local church, meditate and feed on God’s Word, and pray for God’s grace to help him.
Despite the strengths of the Reformed view of sanctification, it is not without challenges or supposed weaknesses. Many challenges have been made against the Reformed position, and some of these have been addressed throughout the paper under the weaknesses of the Lutheran and Wesleyan views of sanctification. They will not be repeated in this section since they have been addressed earlier, however, two more challenges will be discussed here. One misunderstanding that can occur in the Reformed view happens when either God’s part or man’s part in sanctification is overemphasized or underemphasized. An overemphasis in the role of the Christian can elevate human works and minimize the necessity of grace, thus leading to legalism and a false sense of sanctification, thus undercutting the gospel. On the other hand, an overemphasis on God’s role can lead to spiritual apathy and frustration when change does not occur as it is thought that it should. Rather than dismissing the Reformed view on the grounds that this relationship is too complex and subject to misuse, the totality of Scripture regarding sanctification that shows God’s role and the Christian’s roles should be correctly emphasized and explained. For example, preachers or counselor should not be afraid to tell others to “do” what Scripture commands, but at the same time, must ground those commands in the power Christ gives to obey so that moralism is avoided.
A second challenge to the Reformed position is the idea that allows that sanctification can be completed in this life, in that Christians reach the stage of perfect love and maturity. The Reformed view, however, argues that sanctification will not be complete in this life. Those who argue for completed sanctification use 1 Thess. 5:23, which says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This prayer does not say that the Thessalonians have been sanctified completely (that is only inferred by those who argue for completed sanctification), but rather asks God to continue working in them, so that when the Lord returns, they will be without blame (or faithful). This interpretation does not minimize the power and work of the Lord in believers in their sanctification, but recognizes the implications on sanctification that the Day of the Lord has. On this verse, Gary Shogren points out that, “It is theologically important to note that sanctification includes both the outer and inner person. As in 2 Cor. 7:1, Paul asks for the sanctification of the physical person; sin may also infect the inner person, whether termed soul or spirit. This truth overturns the misapplied Platonism that said the works of the body are not important…It also short-circuits the notion that the spirit is completely sanctified in this life.”[9] Both Phil. 3:12-13 and 2 Cor. 3:18 can be used to show that sanctification in not complete in this life. Philippians 3:12-13 says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” Hansen explains:
Although this is the only time that the verb ‘become perfect’ is found in Paul’s letters, the cognate adjective ‘perfect’ occurs seven times with a range of meanings. The adjective means ‘meeting the highest standard’ of goodness and virtue, ‘being mature, full grown,’ ‘being fully developed in a moral sense,’ and ‘being a cult initiate.’ The use of the adjective in 1 Corinthians 13:10 points to the future when ‘the perfect comes and what is in part disappears.’ In that context, Paul contrasts the present imperfection and the future perfection. This contrast comes very close to the point of Paul’s denial that he has ‘already become perfect’ in Philippians 3:12: precisely because he has not yet already fully grasped Chris, he has not already become perfect. Only when he sees Christ face to face will he be totally transformed by Christ’s power to be like him....Until then, he honestly admits his imperfections.[10]

In short, Scripture presents sanctification as a process not being completed until the Day of the Lord. Christians are being changed from one degree of glory to another throughout life, and are waiting the day when they will like Christ. 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” This is a future aspect, with present implications in living a life that puts off sin and puts on righteousness.
In conclusion, while both the Lutheran and Wesleyan views of sanctification have certain strengths, the Reformed view of sanctification best presents the biblical view of sanctification. Sanctification does involve effort on the Christians’ part and must be distinguished from justification. Sanctification is not an instantaneous event, and occurs over the lifetime of the Christian. To most effectively help Ernie and others like him, counselors should counsel using the Reformed view of sanctification.

[1]Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 532.

[2]John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 141.
[3]Murray, Redemption, 148. See also Grudem’s explanation on the appropriateness of saying that both
God and man cooperate in sanctification in Grudem, Systematic Theology, 753.

[4]See Grudem, Systematic Theology, 747.

[5]G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 300.

[6]Grudem, Systematic Theology, 756.
[7]Grudem, Systematic Theology, 754.

[8]Hansen, Letter to the Philippians, 177.
[9]Gary S. Shogren, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1&2 Thessalonians, ed.
Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 234.

[10]Hansen, Letter to the Philippians, 251.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wesleyan Sanctification: Weaknesses

Despite several strengths, the Wesleyan view of sanctification has weaknesses that outweigh the strengths. First, there is a high focus on an “experience,” or an instance in which the Christian would be perfectly sanctified. As noted earlier, this perfection is in terms of loving God, rather than absolute perfection in all things. For this position, Wesleyans argue that, “there is in the life of the believer an experiential distinction between receiving the Son and receiving the fullness of the Pentecostal Spirit” (100). Granted, there are passages that show the giving of the Holy Spirit coming after conversion, but if these passages are the exception rather than the rule, then the Wesleyan argument is greatly weakened.[1]  Sinclair Ferguson writes:
What took place in Samaria, in the house of Cornelius, and in Ephesus must be interpreted in terms of the unique historical setting of the early church. Pentecost is not ‘repeated’ any more than the death or resurrection of Christ is a repeatable event….It is an event in redemptive history (historia salutis), and should not be squeezed into the grid of the application of redemption (ordo salutis)….This is not to say that Pentecost has no existential dimension or contemporary relevance. But it does mean that we should no more anticipate a ‘personal Pentecost’ than we will experience a personal Jordan, wilderness, Gethsemane or Golgotha.[2]

The Wesleyan argument thus fails to show that Scripture speaks of two experiences of the Holy Spirit, one at conversion and another at an instant perfection of sanctification. The coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts should be best understood as a transitioning from the old covenant to the new covenant, or a “catching up” with Pentecost.[3] If it were the case that there were two different experiences of the Holy Spirit (including an instantaneous sanctification), one would expect that the Epistles would be filled with instructions to be seeking this “second blessing.” Passages that do refer to “being filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), or that speak of being sanctified completely (1 Thess. 5:23) are not in reference to second experience of the Holy Spirit in instantaneous sanctification. Rather, being filled with the Spirit in Eph. 5:18 is in contrast to being filled and controlled with wine (drunkenness). Peter O’Brien notes that, to be admonished, ‘Be filled with the Spirit,’ then, means that Paul’s readers are urged to let the Spirit change them more into the image of God and Christ, a notion which is consistent with Pauline theology elsewhere…Furthermore, although there is a strong emphasis on God’s activity in bringing his people to fullness, this transforming work is not done apart from their personal involvement.”[4] As O’Brien observes, this change is not instantaneous and will not be fully completed until “the final day when the readers are filled with all his fullness.”[5] To use this passage in a way that would suggest Christians should be seeking and expecting any sort of a “second blessing” is a misuse of the passage. Lastly, how do Christians know that they have experienced or reached this “perfection?” Experiences are subjective, and Christians could be waiting and hoping for a feeling that never comes.
A second weakness of the Wesleyan view of sanctification is the distinction that it makes between sin and mistakes. By viewing sin as only a voluntary transgression of a known law, the totality of the biblical view of sin is lost. Wayne Grudem defines sin as “any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.”[6] Hodge adds, “All sin, therefore, is not an agency, activity, or act; it may be and is also a condition or state of the mind.”[7] Sin is more than a voluntary transgression of a known law, for as Grudem’s definition explains, it includes thoughts and inner motives, and not just behavior. All Christians would agree that people make mistakes. The carpenter who cuts a board at the wrong angle has not (necessarily) sinned by doing so; he simple made a mistake. Mistakes do not call for repentance and the blood of Jesus to forgive. They are part of human life in a fallen world. On the other hand, to call what is sin a mistake is a huge error. Sin does need to be repented of and the blood of Christ to cover in forgiveness. Wesleyans err by limiting sin in such a narrow fashion, and by so doing, they elevate the status of man and weaken the holiness of God. 
A third weakness of Wesleyan sanctification is the view of perfect Christians in the Bible, and the location from which sin arises. Wesley believed that the “fathers” in 1 John 2:12-14 were perfect, and that the new covenant allowed Christians be go without sinning, at least in the outward sense.[8] Wesley states, “A Christian is so far perfect as not to commit sin….But elsewhere Solomon says, ‘There is no man that sinneth not.’ Doubtless thus it was in the days of Solomon; yea, and from Solomon to Christ there was then no man that sinned not. But whatever was the case of those under the law, we may safely affirm, with St. John, that since the Gospel was given, ‘he that is born of God sinneth not.’”[9] Wesleyans also believe the heart to be changed so that it is no longer evil, and no longer brings forth evil thoughts and desires. This would raise the question of where sin comes from, should a Christian commit it. As with the previous discussions, these views are only possible when the definition of sin is changed and holiness is misunderstood.

[1]See Acts 2 for the account of Pentecost, Acts 8 for the account of the Samarian believers who
received the Holy Spirit after conversion, and Acts 19 where those who were baptized into John’s baptism received the Holy Spirit.

[2]Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers’ Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 86-7.

[3]See Darrell L. Block, A Theology of Luke and Acts, Biblical Theology of the New Testament, ed.
Andreas J. Kostenberger (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 144.

[4]Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 392-3.

[5]Ibid., 393.

[6]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 490.

[7]Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (London: Offset Litho, 1960), 187.

[8]Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 538.

[9]Wesley, Christian Perfection, 17.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Wesleyan Sanctification: overview and strengths

Wesleyan View
A second view of sanctification besides the Lutheran view is the Wesleyan view. The Wesleyan view, while distinguishing between sanctification and entire sanctification, believes that Christians can be entirely sanctified in their earthly lives. Christians are sanctified at the moment of salvation, but then there is a process of entire sanctification, which is “the experience of being made perfect in love” (96). The perfection that Wesleyans argue for is not a “sinless perfection,” but rather “The loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul and that all the thoughts, words, and actions are governed by pure love.”[1] Wesley maintained a distinction between “sin” and “mistakes,” noting that sin is “a voluntary transgression of a known law” while imperfections (such as mistakes, faults, etc.) are an “involuntary transgression of a known law.”[2] Wesleyan sanctification views this ability to love God perfectly as realized in an instantaneous moment, even though the process leading up to this moment was not instantaneous. Wesley notes, “That Christian perfection is that love of God and our neighbor which implies deliverance from all sin…that it is given instantaneously, in one moment.”[3] Furthermore, the believer’s state after the experience still allows room for grace to work, so that the believer is to continue to grow in love and knowledge for Christ. Wesleyan sanctification relies heavily upon the Holy Spirit to give believers a “second blessing” after conversion so that they are able to reach this state of perfection. Personal experience also factors in heavily, in that while only the Scripture could establish a doctrine, “experience was a necessary confirmation” that the doctrine was correctly understood (96). Finally, Wesleyan sanctification does not hold to original sin in the sense that humans are responsible for Adam’s sin (only for their own personal sin) and locates the source of sin outside the human heart, which has been completely made clean. Wesley states, “it is only of grown Christians it can be affirmed they are in such a sense perfect, as, secondly, to be freed from evil thoughts and evil tempers. First, from evil or sinful thoughts. Indeed, whence should they spring?...If therefore, the heart be no longer evil, then evil thoughts no longer proceed out of it.”[4]
The Wesleyan view of sanctification does have strengths that should be commended. First, unlike the Lutheran position and like Scripture, there is a distinction made between justification and sanctification. Secondly, there is a strong emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the sanctification process, so sanctification is not based entirely on human efforts and willpower. Thirdly, the Wesleyan view has a high regard for loving God, and tries to cultivate this love for God through holy living. The Wesleyan view reminds Christians that even after they made “perfect,” they still have room to grow, and cannot be spiritually lazy.

[1]John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (London: Epworth Press, 1952), 42.

[2]Wesley, Christian Perfection, 45.

[3]Wesley, Christian Perfection, 41.  

[4]Ibid., 19.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lutheran sanctification: practical implications

Meet Ernie: 
Ernie struggles with lustful thoughts. He has prayed frequently that God would deliver him, but no release has come. Ernie believes that because God can't look upon sin that He won't forgive him. Ernie truly desires to please God, but doesn't have the discipline to reach the goal. 
What should Ernie do? Should he:
1. Rest in the belief that Christians are justified by faith alone and seek professional help for his problem?
2. Seek a special blessing from the Holy Spirit to fill his heart with divine love?
3. Remember the power of the Holy Spirit in salvation and develop this power to resist sin, and expect a new response to the world, himself, and others to emerge?
The Lutheran position would attempt to help Ernie by promoting option 1. This leads to my critique of the position based on the practical implications.
A fourth weakness of the Lutheran view is the practical implication. If Ernie was counseled from the Lutheran view, the counselor could not tell Ernie to do anything in fighting his lustful thoughts, except to continually reflect upon and remember his justification. As noted earlier, Scripture does more than only tell Christians to remember their justification. A number of passages command Christians to “put off” and to “put on,” to do right things, and not do sinful things. Ernie will need to do more than remember that he is justified in his fight against sin. He needs to be warned of the danger of continuing in sin, to be called to repent, to put off his love for other lovers than Christ, and to put on a love for Christ. Scripture does not have a problem with commanding Christians to do things, and neither should counselors in the case of Ernie. For example, Powlison points out the danger of only stressing one aspect in the Bible, especially when it comes to counseling people. He states, “Am I saying that pointing a person back to the justification of sinners could actually be pastorally hurtful? Yes. If what you need to know is ‘I am with you right now. I am your refuge in this affliction,’ then you may well go hungry if you are given ‘I died for your sins once and for all.’”[1] Powlison’s point is important. True, sometimes Christians are sanctified by remembering their justification. To only stress this however is to miss out on other aspects of sanctification that sinners need as well, such as putting off, putting on, or following the commands of Christ so that they can grow to be more like Christ.

[1]Powlison, “Sanctification: Part 1.”

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Lutheran Sanctification: Weaknesses

While the Lutheran view of sanctification does have strengths, the view falls short on biblical and practical grounds.  The primary argument that Forde and Lutherans set forth is that Scripture does not distinguish between sanctification and justification. If they are correct, then their arguments have substantial weight. If Scripture does make a distinction between justification and sanctification, then their position falls apart. Under examination, justification and sanctification are related and have similarities, but also differences. To say that Scripture does not distinguish between the two would be to fail to consider what justification actually is and does. Justification differs from sanctification, as J.C. Ryle explains, “Justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.”[1] Ryle also notes that, “Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God’s sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures, and the moral renewal of our hearts.”[2] Having said this, sanctification is both definitive and progressive. Lutherans fail to correctly distinguish between justification and sanctification, but they do well to remind Christians of the definitive aspects of sanctification. A number of New Testament passages speak to definitive sanctification and include 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; Acts 20:32; 26:18; and Romans 6. In these cases, the Greek verbs relating to sanctification are in the present tense, “which describes completed action with continuing results.”[3] Definitive sanctification is only one part of sanctification, and a number of texts speak to progressive sanctification as well. Progressive sanctification is needed as Christians still have sin remaining in their lives. Biblical passages that show progressive sanctification and distinguish it from definitive sanctification and justification (not separate, but distinguish) include (but not limited to) Rom. 6; 8:13; Col. 3:5; 3:9-19; 2 Cor. 3:18; 7:1; Phil. 2:12-13; and 1 John 3:3. While commentary could be offered on each passage, for the sake of space, one will be given. Colossians 3:9-10 reminds Christians that they have put off the old self and put on the new self, which is “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (ESV).” Hoekema notes, “The participle anakainoumenon, translated ‘being renewed,’ is in the present tense, indicating that this renewal of the new self is a lifelong process. Interestingly, this passage presents both facets of sanctification: once and for all believers have taken off the old self and put on the new (definitive; aorist tense), but the new self that they have put on must be continually renewed (progressive; present tense).”[4] In conclusion, to say that there are no differences between sanctification and justification, or to say that sanctification is entirely definitive, is to miss critical truths about sanctification in the Bible.
A second argument with a flaw that Lutherans use in their theology of sanctification is that the answer to the fight against sin is to simply remember one’s justification. In other words, to tell the Christian to “do” something (such as have more faith, etc) is to put part of salvation in the hands of man, which in the Lutheran view, leads to trouble especially when it does not work. The question thus becomes, “Is this argument biblical? Does the Bible say that the answer to our fight against sin is ‘a matter of getting used to justification?’” A weakness associated with this particular Lutheran argument is that it does not deal adequately with the biblical texts that call Christians to practical action or warn them against continuing in sin. David Powlison reflects whether or not it is true that Christians are sanctified by remembering and believing afresh that they are justified by what Jesus did on the cross. In answering the question, he says:
Is that true? I think the Bible’s answer to this pastoral and practical question is straightforward: sometimes Yes, often No. Here is a metaphor. Scripture portrays sanctification in a range of colors and shades. There are reds, yellows, and blues-with 16.8 million shades in between. So any monochromatic view of sanctification is like saying, “You are sanctified by the color red.” For some Christians, some of the time, amid some life struggles, to remember the color red-justification by Christ’s death-proves pivotal. For other Christians, at other times, facing other specific struggles, other colors  prove pivotal.[5]

A third major weakness of the Lutheran view is the definition of sin that Lutherans use in their theology of sanctification. For Lutherans, sin is seen along the lines of failing to remember and believe what God has done for the Christian in justification. While unbelief in the promises and work of God is sin, to limit sin to only this definition falls short of the totality of biblical view of sin. Scripture shows what sin is from a number of different angles, not just one. Jay Adams, for example, points out that in Scripture “there are more than 17 distinct terms for sin…each says something about the act of effect of sin.”[6] This has implications in counseling, for if only one aspect of sin is addressed, other aspects unchallenged and thus still a problem in sanctification.

[1]J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 38.

[3]Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved By Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 203.

[4]Ibid., 208.
[5]David Powlison, “How Does Sanctification Work? (Part 1)” in The Journal of Biblical Counseling

[6]Jay Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 147.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Lutheran Sanctification: strenghts

Lutheran View
The first view of sanctification that will be addressed is the Lutheran view. In the Lutheran view, sanctification is not to be separated from justification. Gerhard O. Forde notes that “Sanctification is thus simply the art of getting used to justification” (13). Lutherans see a danger is separating the two, for the importance of justification is downplayed by human efforts that undermine God’s work. Forde makes it clear that justification and sanctification cannot be separated when he says, “sanctification cannot in any way be separated from justification. It is not merely a logical mistake, but a spiritually devastating one. If fact, the Scriptures, rarely, if ever, treat sanctification as a movement distinct from justification” (16). For Lutherans, a correct understanding of justification by faith alone (completely monergistic) should lead to overcoming sin, which for Lutherans, is “the total state of standing against the unconditional grace and goodness of God, … our very incredulity, unbelief, mistrust, our insistence of falling back on our own self and maintaining control” (27-28). Rather than seeing the Christian life as a journey focused on heaven, the end goal of Lutheran sanctification is that Christians will truly understand they have been saved by grace alone, and will be as human as God intended for humans to be.
The Lutheran position does have certain strengths that should be commended. One strength would be that the Lutheran position seeks maintain God’s sovereignty in salvation and to elevate the greatness of God’s grace. Forde points out how “God alone does the justifying simply by declaring the ungodly to be so, for Jesus’ sake” (15). He then argues that if sanctification becomes dependant upon humans in any way, it could potentially affect God’s work in justification. While Lutherans err in this logic, they still are to be commended for trying to maintain a strong view of grace and God’s sovereignty, and to guard against bringing human works into the equation of salvation. A second strength is the focus Lutherans place on justification. Correctly understanding what justification accomplished for sinners and how it enables them to live changed lives is something that every Christian, including Ernie, needs to understand. Along with this, the Lutheran view points out the unconditional promises associated with justification. The unconditional promises remove human works from the equation and give Christians security in knowing God will always do what He has promised. By stressing the importance of justification and the unconditional promises, Lutherans are trying to bring Christians back to focus on what Christ has done for them, and to rest securely in His promises. A third strength of the Lutheran view is the emphasis on the Christian’s newness in Christ as a result of justification. Forde notes, “Sin is a slavery from which we escape only through that death [death of the old man]” (21). While the Lutheran view is wrong in areas of the difference between the new and old man, their view is important in showing that the death of the old self has real meaning.

(Forde is cited in Christian Spirituality: 5 Views of Sanctification from his chapter on Lutheran Sanctification. Any other source will be noted as to the specific work and page.)