Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Progressive sanctification

Most of the time the Christian life is split up into two categories: justification and sanctification. It often is explained so that justification is the beginning of the Christian life wherein one is declared righteous for Christ's sake, and sanctification is now the Christian life in which we try to follow God's law and gradually get "better". Though I believe the justification/sanctification distinction to be a valid and Biblical one, I worry that this explanation has separated the Christian life from our justification.

I would like to posit that sanctification should not be seen as a process of the Christian gradually becoming better, but of God's work in raising the new justified man and destroying the old Adam. Sanctification in scripture is often described as an objective event as is justification. "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God." (1 Corinthians 6:11) In the same way, we are described as already being participants in the resurrection. "Since then you have been raised with Christ..." (Colossians 3:1)In this way, the life of the Christian is one in which he is both totally sinner and totally righteous. According to his old nature man is still totally sinner, but according to his new nature he is totally righteous. This best explains the conflict described in Galatians 5:17, "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want."

Notice how Paul describes his struggle with sin in Romans 7 (yes I believe this is Paul's Christian life but that will be a discussion for another time). "As it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living within me." (Romans 7:17) Paul, as a new justified regenerated man is claiming that this sin is not his own, but belonging to his sinful nature. This is why the Christian life can be described as a gradual resurrection (Romans 8:11)

This way of looking at sanctification puts a closer connection between the indicative and the imperative. It is not that the indicative is merely a background for the imperative, but the imperative is the working out of the indicative. The change in the Christian life is the eschatological reality of the resurrected justified man breaking in to the present. It is the age of the second Adam breaking in to the age of the first. As Christians, we are in a struggle with the old Adamic reality clinging to us, and the new justified man living in Christ.

Put to death the old Adam and let the eschatological reality of a man righteous in Christ shine forth.