Friday, April 19, 2013

Further Clarifications on Sanctification

It has come to my attention that there have been some more people who have responded to what I have said about sanctification. I don't want to attack any brother pastors who are faithful workers for the kingdom of God. So, I will not do that. But what I do want to do is clarify some things, because a lot of this comes down to misunderstanding.

First, I want to say that I don't think anyone should be checking their progress on sanctification. We grow in grace as the Bible tells us we do; that does not mean that we need to be looking at ourselves, hoping for progress. You won't find it. And there is a good reason you won't find it; the more you grow in grace, the more sensitive you are to your sin. Thus, others might see change in you, but you won't.

Second, progressing in the Christian life isn't about "becoming less sinful." Rather, it's about the raising up of the new man and the killing of the old. This is a work that is done as the Law kills, and the Spirit brings life. Thus, the affections and actions of the new man are more and more prominent throughout the Christian's life. We still have a sin nature, which effects all that we do. However, the new nature gains victory over the old, and rules more and more. This causes us to obey the desires of the new man over the old. This isn't opposed to viewing conversion as a daily reality, because it is. However, that daily repentance has actual affects in our lives.

Third, I'm not stuck on the term "progressive sanctification." The Lutheran Dogmaticians distinguish between the "narrow sense" of sanctification, and the "broad sense" of sanctification. The narrow sense is described as growth. Thus, progressive sanctification seemed to be an appropriate term because it basically stayed within the Dogmatic Lutheran tradition. If you are afraid of confusing this with the Reformed or Wesleyan doctrines of sanctification, then I understand if you don't use the term. I have no issue with that. I personally prefer speaking of Christification, because that gets at both the Patristic sense of "theosis" in the Christian life, as well as the Christological nature of growth. Sanctification isn't about moral progress; it's about a deepening communion with God which demonstrates itself through increasing works of love.

Fourth, I don't condone judging the sanctification of other people. I heard someone say that I equated cursing with not being sanctified; not saved. I don't do this at all. I choose not to use profanity. I don't think it is a wise think for a Christian to do, because it can give a bad witness to the world. That being said, I don't ever get on the case of my friends who do. The only time that I would is if foul language is being used in the pulpit. What I was criticizing in my post was not specifically cursing, smoking, or drinking, but doing those things in excess, and doing them in an arrogant spirit of "I can use my Christian liberty to do whatever I want and do it in your face." In other words, I am going to do these things just to offend people.

Fifth, I don't think that we are sanctified by our own efforts. We are sanctified by God as he comes to us through word and sacrament. He raises up the new man within us, and kills the old. But, at the same time, the new man actually does good works. As Augustine says, "God saves us, though not without us." We cooperate with God's grace, because he has renewed our wills and given us an affection for himself, and his commands.

Finally, I don't think that the Law sanctifies. Sanctification comes as a result of the gospel. The Law kills, but the Spirit gives life. But that doesn't negate the fact that we should tell Christians to do good works. Paul, the Confessions, Pieper, Walther, etc. both talk about encouraging people to do good works, and the Gospel as the sole means of sanctification. These are not mutually exclusive ideas.

And one additional question that I need to answer is, "Why is this teaching important?"

The first response I would have to this is simply that the Bible teaches it, so we should believe it and believe that it is important. Second, there are some abuse the gospel and say "The Christian isn't progressively sanctified by the Spirit, thus I might as well just live in sin because I'm saved anyway." There are people who live this way; I have met some of them. This guards against that error. Third, this should affect our prayer life. We should pray that the Lord would increase our love, and our hatred for sin. We should also pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, that they too might grow in grace. Fourth, it also is an encouragement when we look to our brothers and sisters and see how they have grown. It is a chance for us to rejoice in God's goodness, that he really does work within his people!

10 comments:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

When Paul was confronted with the fact that some would use the idea of grace to cover or sin, how does he respond? Does he point to growth? Or improved morals? Or the idea that as a Christian you need to do good?

No - he points to Christ.

"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." - Romans 6:1-5

Behold who you are in Christ!

And, of course, to make sure we understand, our life is simply life in Christ - "But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." Ephesians 2:4-7 (and we all know what comes next).

The one who disdains the neighbor needs the full condemnation of the Law (whether he claims to be a Christian or no) - and when there is repentance, the Gospel with joy.

It's as simple as that.

Matthew said...

I haven't weighed in on this yet because, for the most part, there's just way too much thrashing about involved. My I'm curious about this statement about what the Christian life is about.

"it's about a deepening communion with God which demonstrates itself through increasing works of love."

This is pretty much what any evangelical would say, but like this. "The Christian walk isn't about rules and religion. It's about a relationship with Jesus and demonstrating your relationship with good deeds".

I've tried mulling around your way of saying it, and it just doesn't work. I think, however, that it can be properly stated this way. "The Christian's life in Christ isn't about the rules he would keep but breaks with impunity, nor is it about the religion he keeps. It's not even about your relationship with God, but rather about God's relationship with his people, of which you are one of his dear children. Take heart then because your gracious heavenly father is generous in Good deeds for you to do."

Anonymous said...

Of course, when Paul was confronted with the fact that some would use the idea of grace to cover our sin, he doesn't say "Jesus" with a full stop so that no one will accuse him of pietism. He continues...

"...We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.


"What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

"For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Anonymous said...

P.S.-- These aren't "qualifications." This is just what he said the first time, which many people insisted on jumping to silly conclusions about.

Steve Martin said...

"We walk by faith and not by sight."

One more, and then I'll leave it alone;

"The good we do won't save us and the evil we do won't condemn us." - Luther

OK...I feel better.

God bless you all.

Nicholas said...

The attacks against Dr. Cooper are the result of an antinomianism that is endemic to the American church in general. Some of those attacking Dr. Cooper also come from an ELCA background, and although they have left it, they have brought some of its theology and presuppositions along with them.

Jordan Cooper said...

Eric- I know we are not going to agree at this point. The problem is that you are pitting Romans 6 against Romans 12-15. That's the same problem Forde has.

Steve- If you think that what you quoted is in any way relevant to this discussion, you don't understand what I'm saying.

J. Dean said...

Luther himself was not against good works and sanctification in its proper place. Consider this quote from him...

“Therefore, when some say good works are forbidden when we preach faith alone, it is as if I said to a sick man: "If you had health, you would have the use of your limbs; but without health the works of your limbs are nothing"' and he wanted to infer that I had forbidden the works of all his limbs.”

-Martin Luther, from his Treatise on Good Works

Paul McCain said...

Just a word of thanks for your work on this, Jordan. It is encouraging to see this issue being explored to the degree to which it deserves.

You very rightly assert:

"The problem is that you are pitting Romans 6 against Romans 12-15. That's the same problem Forde has."

And, frankly, that about says it all!

God bless.

Jordan Cooper said...

Thanks. I appreciate the encouragement. I know you have been fighting this battle for quite a long time.