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.” 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.” 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.” 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).” 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.
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.” This has implications in counseling, for if only one aspect of sin is addressed, other aspects unchallenged and thus still a problem in sanctification.
J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 38.
Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved By Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 203.
David Powlison, “How Does Sanctification Work? (Part 1)” in The Journal of Biblical Counseling
Jay Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 147.