Sunday, April 7, 2013

Progressive Sanctification- A Lutheran Doctrine

Contemporary Lutherans seem almost afraid of the word "sanctification" or of the concept of the third use of the Law. It is feared that any talk of progress in the Christian life leads into Evangelicalism, Reformed Theology, or even Pietism. Preaching must always utilize a Law-Gospel paradigm without any exhortation unto good works. Remind the people of their sin, then of there savior, that's all. I even heard a Pastor recently say that the Christian can do no good, only evil.

I didn't see this when I first became a Lutheran, because I was only concerned to hear about the gospel rather than being beaten by the Law each Sunday like I was at Reformed Churches. Yet, after some time in Lutheran churches, and in Lutheran circles I began to see that progressive sanctification is neglected, often denied altogether. As I read through Luther, Chemnitz, Walther, Krauth, Pieper and others, I saw a great incongruity between what these classical sources said and what was being taught as Lutheran theology. These classical sources talked a lot about good works, progressive sanctification, and even give advise as to how to avoid specific sins. I fear that if these figures were around today they would be labeled "legalists" or "pietistic."

This type of teaching has practical consequences. I know of Lutheran pastors, theologians, and lay people who use as course language as they can, drink excessively, watch pornography, blow smoke in people's faces who don't approve of the act, just to proclaim their "Christian liberty." I don't think this is what Luther or Paul had in mind when they discussed the concept. I seem to remember someone answering the question, "Shall we sin that grace may abound?" with the answer "by no means!", or as the Cotton patch paraphrase puts it: "Hell no!" I think many Lutherans today would answer that question by saying "of course!"

Progressive sanctification is taught in our Confessions. For example,

"This faith is the true knowledge of Christ; it uses the benefits of Christ, it renews hearts, and it precedes our fulfillment of the law." Ap. IV.46

"To be justified means that out of unrighteous people righteous people are made or regenerated, it also means that they are pronounced or regarded as righteous." Ap. IV. 72

"Faith truly brings the Holy Spirit and produces a new life in our hearts, it must also produce spiritual impulses in our hearts." Ap. IV. 125

"Therefore Paul states that the law is established, not abolished, through faith, because the law can be kept only when the Holy Spirit is given." Ap. IV. 132

"We openly confess, therefore, that the keeping of the law must begin in us and then increase more and more." Ap. IV. 136

"Since this faith is a new life, it necessarily produces new impulses and new works." Ap. IV. 250

"Furthermore, we also say that if good works do not follow, then faith is false and not true." SA 13.3

"Here, then, we have the Ten Commandments, a summary of divine teaching on what we are to do to make our whole life pleasing to God. They are the true fountain from which all good works must spring, the true channel through which all good works must flow." LC First Part, 311

Note that Luther is willing to even admit that living by the Ten Commandments is pleasing to God- a phrase which I have heard condemned by a prominent Lutheran pastor.

"Meanwhile, because holiness has begun and is growing daily, we await the time when our flesh will be put to death, will be buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth gloriously and arise to complete and perfect holiness in a new, eternal life." LC Second Part, 57

"But the Creed brings pure grace and makes us righteous and acceptable to God. Through this knowledge we come to love and delight in all the commandments of God because we see here in the Creed how God gives himself completely to us, with all his gifts and power, to help us keep the Ten Commandments: the Father gives us all creation, Christ all his works, the Holy Spirit all his gifts." LC Second Part, 69

"When we become Christians, the old creature daily decreases until finally destroyed." LC Fourth Part, 71

"Now, when we enter Christ's kingdom, this corruption must daily decrease so that the longer we live, the more gentle, patient, and meek we become, and the more we break away from greed, hatred, envy, and pride." LC Fourth Part, 65-67

These quotes could be multiplied, and I didn't even begin quoting the Formula. Good works are an essential part of Lutheran theology, as can be demonstrated here by the Confessions themselves. The believer is made a new creation by the waters of Holy Baptism. The Holy Trinity dwells within the Christian, causing him to love God and neighbor. This causes the Christian to obey God's commandments, and to daily increase in love of God and neighbor.

All of this should cause us even more to have a robust doctrine of sanctification. Through baptism, we truly are made new creatures. That should give us hope in the fact that we can begin to obey God's commandments, though imperfectly. Rather than using phrases like "weak on sanctification" or "sanctification is just getting used to justification", why don't we actually adhere to what our Confessions teach? Sanctification is a progressive reality, we are made to be like our Lord as our sinful natures are put to death and the new man arises.

The difference between the Lutheran and Reformed is not that the Reformed believe in progressive sanctification and personal holiness, but Lutherans don't. Rather, traditionally, the dividing line has been in terms of the prominence of certain teaching. In Lutheranism, justification predominates over sanctification, and the second use of the law over the third. Good works and sanctification always have to be taught in view of justification, in view of what God has done for us. However, that is not grounds for rejecting sanctification altogether.


X said...

Amen. I have been frustrated by this myself. Although, I'm not sure what exhortation in a sermon should look like, because I do prefer a law-then-gospel format.

Exhortation seems totally absent in Lutheran conversation. It is the main thing that worries me about Lutheranism. And the swearing pastors who seem to revel in their freedom, publicly. Weird!!

On the other hand, I see that I have progressed from "virtue" to "grace" in my faith. I don't look at my works anymore because I regard them as filthy rags. And I don't really feel like I'm progressing in sanctification because the more I learn of God's Law, the more I recognize my transgression of it. I FEEL like I'm getting worse. The law always condemns me. That isn't to say that it doesn't instruct... only that instruction is never alone. :/

Jordan Cooper said...

If you listen to my sermons, you will see that I do generally follow a Law-Gospel format. However, if the text I am preaching on has practical instruction, I will talk about it. The preacher just has to be careful to preach good works in light of the gospel, and not to preach in a legalistic fashion.

You are right that instruction is never alone. The Law always condemns. But even though we can feel like we are getting worse, God's Spirit is at work within us, conforming us to the image of Christ.

William Weedon said...

You are not alone in noting this!

Mark Surburg said...

Jordan, Thanks for this great post. I too am puzzled why Lutherans are unable to speak about growth in sanctification when the Confessions so clearly describe it. The new man really is the new man, even if there is still the ongoing struggle with the old man. Modern Lutherans claim to love Paul but just as in the Confessions, they choose to ignore Paul's many statements about the role of the Spirit in leading Christians to live in ways that are pleasing to God.

Bob Liichow said...

As a former charismatic extremist, now confessional/liturgical/Lutheran LCMS extremist I come from a theology of glory background. What I often fail to hear in my fellow pastor's messages is the rightful "victory" that is ours in Christ over the world, the flesh and the devil. What I hear is that "we're sinners, we're gonna sin, thank God for Jesus. Oh yeah if you even "think" about doing a good work it ceases to be "good." This does not engender a pursuit of 'experiential' (gasp) growth in sanctification. Appreciated what you wrote.

Lucas Woodford said...

Thanks Jordan. I hear what you are saying. But help me process the notion of "progressive" sanctification and simple obedience to God's commands versus being made holy/sanctified. (Please note I am no antinomian and I do preach third use of the law, though as you note, the law always condemns and we don't get to pick which use the hearers hear.)

Permit me to throw out a bunch of questions to help me flesh out my train of thought. If we understand the nature of sanctification by way of the Holy Spirit--the sanctifier--who gives us Jesus, is it helpful to assert a "progressive" nature to our holiness, as if the more Jesus we get the more holy we become? Or does any amount of Jesus sanctify us just the same? Much like the OT priests sanctified the people of Israel on behalf of Yahweh.

Can obedience to the law create or produce sanctification or is that the work of the Gospel? What does it mean to progress in our sanctification as opposed to our obedience to God's commands?

Does not the law (regardless of the use employed)tell us what God wants us to do? Thus, can we not simply proclaim "do this!" in the midst of our law proclamation rather tagging it on after the the Gospel? If we believe that it is only the Gospel that can engender our good works, wouldn't it be more compelling to let the Gospel produce the fruit the law demands?

Thanks for indulging me Jordan (and any other brothers who might wish to comment).

Again, I hear what you are saying. However, I am just not convinced the use of the word "progressive" is as helpful as you might mean it to be. But I am open to be convinced otherwise.

J. Dean said...

Good and true post, Jordan. Have to admit that, while I haven't seen it as the majority report, I have run into Lutherans with the aversion to sanctification you've described as well. Your podcast on Lordship Salvation did a good job in striking the proper balance between good works and salvation. There is to be a change in us as Christians, albeit that change is not the cause of our salvation nor does it earn some sort of extra merit with God.

Question for you: I read somewhere (I think it was on the Steadfast Lutherans website) that Walther emphasized the second use of the law rather than the third. Do you think that one can come to the same conclusion of sanctification by an emphasis on the second use of the law rather than the third?

Anonymous said...


Excellent stuff. I just referred to this blog post (and Pastor Weedon's comment) over at "Strange Herring", where he had a post that went hand in hand with yours (Divine Providence, I don't doubt):

My lengthy and link filled comment is in moderation over there, and I'll try and post it here as well as on my blog:

One of the reasons I know my sanctification levels are so low is that I am often spending more time on the internet than I should be.

That said, need to do it now… : ) This is a very thoughtful post and it seems to me there is a bit of “convergence” happening right now regards these things…

In addition to your post, a convert to Lutheranism from the Reformed, Jordan Cooper, also posted “Progressive Sanctification- A Lutheran Doctrine” on this blog yesterday:

It’s a very compelling post, and I’ll give you this one clip:

“This type of teaching has practical consequences. I know of Lutheran pastors, theologians, and lay people who use as course language as they can, drink excessively, watch pornography, blow smoke in people's faces who don't approve of the act, just to proclaim their "Christian liberty." I don't think this is what Luther or Paul had in mind when they discussed the concept. I seem to remember someone answering the question, "Shall we sin that grace may abound?" with the answer "by no means!", or as the Cotton patch paraphrase puts it: "Hell no!" I think many Lutherans today would answer that question by saying "of course!"”

I recommend subscribing to his blog. An AALC Lutheran, he’s definitely a guy to keep an eye on.

Also, last Friday Issues ETC had a guest who really talked a bit about the idea of progressive sanctification (he distinguished between passive and active sanctification): This man, Holger Sonntag, is the translator of the new edition of Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses (see : )

Incidently, regarding that Issues ETC last Friday, the guest right before him talked about Christian freedom, and it made for a very interesting – jarring? – back to back… Its interesting to listen and to ask whether or not the two views are compatible, and if so (I think they are, with some caveats) how? Here’s that interview:


Anonymous said...

I recently saw Pastor Heath Curtis, who is translating Gerhard, point out that there is a “good kind of synergism”:

Of course Pastor Paul McCain is often talking about these issues. As has Pastor William Weedon:

Back when Issues ETC host Todd Wilken still blogged for the Brothers of John the Steadfast (it looks like all of his old posts have now been removed for some reason) he asked about modern worship songs that had good words. I posted some that I thought were pretty good from Gospel Coalition folks and I didn’t get much of a response – except from a guy who told me that the songs encouraged an unhealthy view of sanctification (I’m a pretty decent theologian, and the words to those songs were fine).

Tullian T., Billy Graham’s grandson who pastors the church James Kennedy used to be at, has recently been influenced much by conservative ELCA theologians like Gerhard Forde (and perhaps Paulson, who kind of carries on Forde’s work?) was also recently taken to task on the Gospel coalition website for some of the things that he has said that they believe undermine sanctification:


I also wonder if you are aware of Jonathan Fisk’s background specifically. He touched on this more in a very interestingly titled talk “I’m Lutheran, but….”

I did a short post on this article ( ) and here is part of what I said:

“And when I went to Slovakia in 96-98 as an English-teaching “missionary”, it was not lost on many of us at our “missionary orientation” in St. Louis that many of us going overseas who actually seemed grounded and eager to share our faith (one guy I talked to wasn’t sure he believed in the Trinity, I recall) had been heavily influenced by Campus Crusade for Christ and Intervarsity Christian fellowship. I had even read Senkbeil’s “Sanctification: Christ in Action” in the summer of 1995, and while it helped some, his picture of evangelicalism did not seem to line up with the evangelicals that I knew…”

As I reflect on what brought me back to a more committed Lutheranism from my 6-year flirtation with evangelicalism, it occurs to me that a lot of it probably had to do with this guy named Don Matzat…. If a guy who was obviously so “spiritually alive” (he had been a charismatic after all) could come back to Lutheranism….


Anonymous said...

As regards Fisk’s book, I don’t think it’s totally fair to say he ignores sanctification. The Baptist reviewer you cite may have missed the fact that Fisk says there is “higher level of faithfulness to pursue”, “[the] possibility of finding actual true growth”, and “objective maturity” (Fisk, 210).

That means to say its not that its absent, but it really does get lost in the rest of the book.

Actually, when Pastor Fisk did his interviews for the book, I noticed this as well, and it prompted me to offer these two critiques (and two others) of his interviews on my blog:

“To say that the devil convinced Adam and Eve that what God called good (namely them) was not quite “good enough” certainly rings true (they were right where God wanted them to be!), but at the same time, I think Lutherans have historically believed that they were to ultimately become better, meaning more mature (i.e., being not able to sin was and is the goal), albeit only through God’s giving even this to them.”


“While it is certainly true that “Christ for you” is the primary message we preach to fallen man, “Christ in you” – put in the proper context – is a very important topic to discuss as well. Living from our justification (“Christ for you”), God certainly would have us delight to grow in our sanctification as well (“Christ in us”) – to increase in righteousness with Him and to increasingly will, from the heart, to run the way of His commandments – and not only to will but to do. Again, talking sanctification here, not justification! (Hebrews 10:14)”

Fight the good fight Anthony. I think there is much truth to your remarks. I think a lot of us would really benefit from getting out hand’s on an older version of Starck’s prayer book (the newer version has had a lot of it taken out). This guy was on friendly terms with both the Orthodox and the Pietests and his prayer book underwent 100s of editions and printings. It was a staple of the Missouri-Synod in its early years.

Here it is:

It is definitely intense, intense, intense! Doesn’t sound like a lot of the Confessional Lutheranism today though I think its just fine. I think balancing it with John Kleinig’s more recent work is helpful….


P.S. I will now continue the pursuit of holiness today by abstaining from blogs on the internet!

Nathan Rinne said...


Perhaps after my initial comments you might want to simply link to my blog instead:


Bror Erickson said...

I just want to point out something here. First, what would make this article perhaps worth reading is a paragraph or two where all the classical Lutheran sources you name drop use the term progressive sanctification. In fact you use the term to describe what you are reading in the confessions with all those citations,and yet the confessions don't use the term to describe it. The closest it comes is the LC that you cited.
I bring this up, because progressive sanctification is not a Lutheran Doctrine. It is not even a Classically reformed doctrine as far as I know. It is Wesley's doctrine, and it has infected American Christianity to the point that Lutherans tend to read it into the confessions rather than reading the confessions for what they are really saying. In Wesley's "Plain account of Christian Perfection" he puts forward this doctrine of progressive sanctification, by which one earns heaven. Justification starts you on your way, but sanctification is up to you to complete and perfect if you want to get into heaven. It is a scary doctrine, and ever since Wesley the Reformed and certain Lutherans have been using sanctification to sneak back in works righteousness to the Christian life as through the back door.
The funny thing is that all those confessions you cite don't actually make the progress due to anything we do, but the Holy Spirit working in us. I believe this whole heartedly, Christians do grow in their faith, they do grow in fervent love for one another and their neighbor, but this is always the work of the Holy Spirit in us, and never our work. It isn't a progress we are supposed to monitor and check to see how well we are doing or not. We repent daily of our sin, which might include making up sins and holding people to our own standards rather than forgiving them as Christ does. It might also include thinking a bit highly of ourselves for the progress we thing we are attaining.
See this is the dangerous part of the word progress, it implies a goal you are working toward. For Wesley it was 100%. I don't know what your goal is, but Lutherans tend to chafe at that notion. One we are 100% holy. We were made that in baptism, where the Holy Spirit Sanctified us. I chafe at the idea that anyone can be partially sanctified, half holy half refuse, the holiness slowly creeping up on the refuse as it sanctifies it or what ever. To tell someone they aren't sanctified is to tell them they aren't saved. That is the breaks. And this is coming from a man who has no qualms admonishing his congregation to do good works. Then again neither do I have a problem with the "Law Gospel paradigm" as it seems perhaps you do? Law is law, and admonishing your congregation to do good works fits in nicely in the law portion of that paradigm. But don't make sanctification the result of the law, it isn't. Sanctification is the gospel, it is why the third article of the creed has historically been labeled Sanctification in Lutheran circles. It is what the Holy Spirit does when he calls us by the gospel and Sanctifies us with his gifts. And we trust that he does a fine job of it too.

Jordan Cooper said...


The Reformed have always confessed progressive sanctification, as have Lutherans. I'm not sure you understand the concept. The Wesleyan doctrine is "entire sanctification" wherein it is confessed that the Holy Spirit can give a second blessing to the Christian to stop him from sinning.

That's not what the term "progressive sanctification" means. It means that there is progress in the Christian life. The Christian grows in holiness, though he always remains both saint and sinner. You seem to accuse me and other Lutherans who talk about progressive sanctification as "sneaking works-righteousness in the back door." I have never, nor have I ever met a Lutheran who would, argued that sanctification establishes our standing before God, or helps us get into heaven. Justification is central precisely because it is a completed act, only only through God's declaration of righteousness, based on the righteousness of Christ alone, will the sinner be saved both now and in the eschaton. That doesn't mean that progressive sanctification isn't real, or that good works don't matter. The classical Lutheran sources argue that there are eternal rewards based on our good deeds.

No, the quotes I used don't use the term "sanctification" but the concept is certainly taught. This is a great definition of progressive sanctification,

"Meanwhile, because holiness has begun and is growing daily, we await the time when our flesh will be put to death, will be buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth gloriously and arise to complete and perfect holiness in a new, eternal life." LC Second Part, 57

If you really need to see the word "sanctification" used, look at the Formula.

"For good works do not precede faith, nor does sanctification precede justification. Instead, first of all, in conversion, the Holy Spirit kindles faith in us through the hearing of the gospel...Thereafter, once people are justified, the Holy Spirit also renews and sanctifies them." SD III.41

I'm not sure why you think that I wouldn't attribute our progress in the Christian life to the Holy Spirit. I certainly do. But at the same time, we are to cooperate with the Spirits work,

"As soon as the Holy Spirit has begun his work of rebirth and renewal in us through the Word and the holy sacraments, it is certain that on the basis of his power we can and should be cooperating with him, though still in great weakness." FC SD II. 65

No, I don't have a problem with the Law/Gospel paradigm. I'm a Lutheran, how could I? My preaching takes the form of Law and Gospel. However, I do think that it is valid in preaching to give some practical instruction just as Paul does at the end of his epistles. Law, Gospel, Christ-centered instruction is Paul's usual structure.

And I never said that sanctification is a result of the Law.

Bror Erickson said...

Well, I probably won't go with Elert and say that the SD is wrong there. But that is a "Classical" Lutheran source.
What I want you to do more than anything Jordan. Is find one of these sources that uses the term "progressive sanctification" and then ask yourself why it is so hard to find them using that term. If you want to talk about growing in faith and understanding, even love for your neighbor all fine and good. But sanctification is as done an act as justification. We are holy, we are sanctified.
And even the way Lutherans talk of "cooperating" is going to be different from the way in which evangelicals will talk about it. We won't see it as giving up course language or snuffing out cigarettes that is our cooperation, but attendance to the means of grace. as the Confessions make clear, we can't decide to be saved, we can decide to go to church. So our faith and love grow, our christian life strengthened not because we apply ourselves to some self appointed program of good works that even the heathen could pull off and do pull off, but through the work of the Holy Spirit to which we expose ourselves when we take the time to study God's word, hear it, and attend to the Lord's Supper.
"Never said Sanctification is a result of the Law" Jordan here you seem to be talking out of both sides of your mouth. First you want to judge someones sanctification based on what you perceive them doing "using course language, watching porn, drinking to excess etc." Then you say the problem isn't that they are preaching the gospel, no you imply, whether you mean to or not, that that is a problem and there isn't enough third use of the law, that they aren't exhorting to good works. Your whole article is one in which you imply that sanctification is the result of law, and if that isn't what you meant to imply, then I suggest you take it down, think real hard about the matter, maybe read Senkbeil on the subject, and rewrite your post in a clearer manner. And when you do, I'd love to see the citation of a "classical Lutheran source" using the term progressive sanctification in the manner you do.
To sanctify= to make holy. how can one be saved if they are not holy? That is the question you have to ask. Then you have to realize, and I'm serious about this, when you see how the word is used, say in 1 Cor. 6, that to imply someone is not sanctified, not completely sanctified, or only partially sanctified that they are no in fact saved. You do this whether you like it or not. You are putting on them something they have to do before there salvation is perfect. You are taking away with the left what was given with the right. There really is no way around that. Yes, in a technical sense Justification precedes Sanctification, the truth is though this is more a precession of logic than it is of time or anything else. The regeneration happens in baptism, it is sustained not by good works, but by the gospel and the sacraments, and the fruits will be shown differently in different people all who have their own strengths and weaknesses that will differ greatly. And of course, many will be seen only by the Spirit.

David Gray said...

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
(Rom 6:1-2)

I must say I am very encouraged to read what Jordan has written here. I'm even more encouraged by what I found at some of the links from other recognizably confessional Lutherans who are clearly not antinomian. Preaching the gospel may results in charges of antinomianism but that doesn't mean it is accept to be genuinely antinomian.

I've been involved to a degree with a Missouri Synod church, with a good confessional pastor, for about 1.5 years now and I would have to say this is probably the biggest issue I've wondered about, given what I've read and heard in the wider LCMS context, if I were to take my family into a LCMS church. This discussion is mostly heartening.

Thanks Jordan.

Jordan Cooper said...

Bror, I think it would be helpful to distinguish between two different ways of using the term sanctification. This verse from Hebrews sums it up rather well, "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." (Hebrews 10:14) Here, the term sanctification is referring to something ongoing. It is both stated that one is already perfect, and that one is being made perfect. One by imputation, the other by the growing holiness of the believer, through the work of the Holy Trinity. The Lutheran Scholastics distinguished between sanctification in the "broad" and "narrow" sense.

You seem to assume that if one can be partly righteous/partly sinful, then this would negate the importance of imputed righteousness. This doesn't follow. Growth in righteousness is real, but indwelling righteousness is never the grounds for one's standing before God. You don't seem to get this distinction.

And yes, of course there is a difference between a Lutheran view of cooperation, and an Evangelical approach. The priority is always what God is doing in us, rather than what we are doing. And yes, we are sanctified through the means of grace, word and sacrament.

Just because the Law doesn't sanctify doesn't mean that we shouldn't actually try and perform good works. Paul does give all sorts of admonitions as to specific things that Christians should/ shouldn't do. Let us not think that we are wiser than Paul.

Bror Erickson said...

OK. Jordan this is getting fun. Because you yourself can't keep from switching between the words Sanctification and Righteousness, righteousness in the Greek being nothing but a derivative of, you guessed it, Justification.
Personally, I don't have time for the two uses of the word schtick. It's a cop out.
And that Sanctification is ongoing doesn't mean the same thing as progressive. It's just that we are constantly being forgiven because we are constantly sinning, even when we think that somehow we are constantly getting better at not sinning. Probably more so then.
And do you hear me saying anywhere that we should try to do good works? I don't think you have heard me say that at all. I'm just trying to tell you and others for the love of God to stop calling your good works sanctification. Christ is our sanctification because he was the only one who managed to do a good work, and it is only because of his good work that any of our works can in any way be called good. He has to forgive them before they are good, his blood has to sanctify them before they are good. So we no longer try to do good works, we do them. Get that? We do them because we are sanctified. The problem is most people aren't happy with the good works we do. It isn't that the works aren't good. It is that they aren't the ones we want. We aren't satisfied that the guy plugs away at a nine to five to feed his family. We want him to stop using course language because our mommy used to wash our mouth out when we used that naughty word. We've confused God with mom, and it is rather sickening.
Again Jordan, cite it. give me a citation, a classical Lutheran source that talks of progressive sanctification, that uses that term.
And would you pleas stop making me prove I'm not a robot?

Steve Martin said...

Bror is right.

Sanctification is not progressive.

One might as well become a Roman Catholic, then.

We are DECLARED sanctified and justified for Jesus' sake.

Luther wrote this (Heidelberg Disputation):

The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.

This is made clear by the Apostle in his letter to the Romans (3:21): »But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.« St. Augustine interprets this in his book ›The Spirit and the Letter‹ (De Spiritu et Littera): »Without the law, that is, without its support.« In Rom. 5:20 the Apostle states, »Law intervened, to increase the trespass«, and in Rom. 7:9 he adds, »But when the commandment came, sin revived.« For this reason he calls the law »a law of death« and »a law of sin« in Rom. 8:2. Indeed, in 2 Cor. 3:6 he says, »the written code kills«, which St. Augustine throughout his book ›The Spirit and the Letter‹ understands as applying to every law, even the holiest law of God.


Good luck trying to tame the law...or use it for anything having to do with God.

"Christ IS the END of the law, for all those who have faith."

Now that sounds like "good news".

Jordan Cooper said...

Bror, many words are used in different ways throughout Scripture, such as the term "Law" or "Gospel" or even "Justification." The same is true of sanctification. You can't just dismiss something which has been a consistent part of the Lutheran tradition for hundreds of years without justification and calling it a "cop out."

If you want a classical Lutheran source, look at Hoenecke's Dogmatics. He gives a great summary of what the Lutheran divines say about sanctification. He says, for example, "Accordingly, constant progress in sanctification is the true form of a Christian life." Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics III. 21.

But of course, those WELS folks are just a bunch of pietists and Wesleyans.

David Gray said...

But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
(Col 3:8)

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
(Rom 3:10-18)

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
(Eph 4:26-29)

Now if "this is my body" means "this is my body" is it not possible that "put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth" means "put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth"? Maybe? Maybe it isn't just Mom but your King?

Jordan Cooper said...

Thanks David. I appreciate your comments. A lot of us are very much opposed to the influence of Forde on modern Lutheranism. Classically, Lutheranism is not antinomian.

William Weedon said...

Does "advance in sanctification" count? Walther: "In the battle of flesh and spirit, in which true Christians stand, they not only overcome sins, they carry off all kinds of precious virtues as their loot of their combat. The longer they battle, the more universal, comforting, and untiring their love becomes. Their joy becomes purer, their peace becomes firmer, their patience becomes stronger, their kindness becomes more sincere, their goodness becomes richer, their faith and faithfulness become more constant, their gentleness becomes more unconquerable and their self-control becomes more immaculate. In short, the end of the true battle of the flesh and spirit is ***an advance in sanctification.*** This resulting sanctification is as far from perfect as the victory of the spirit over the flesh is complete. Indeed, every Christian must confess, with Paul, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect" (Phil. 3:12). Nevertheless, where that battle truly exists, a fighter must be able to add truthfully, as Paul does, "I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Phil. 3:12). Oh may God grant that we all become and remain true fighters against the flesh and sin. May Jesus Christ, our eternal Prince of victory, help us all for the sake of His battle with death."

CFW Walther
God Grant It
p. 717

William Weedon said...

Chemnitz' expressions also seem quite close: "The healing and renewal has a certain grows."

"The healing and renewal itself is not such a change that is immediately accomplished and finished in a moment, but it has its beginnings and certain progress by which it grows in great weakness, is increased and preserved." Examen I:424

"The renewal of the new man, as also the mortification of the old, is not perfect and complete in this life but that it grows and is increased day by day until it is perfected in the next life, when this corruptible will have put on incorruption." Examen I:538

William Weedon said...

One more quote from a Lutheran authority that advocates progress in sanctification:

This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness;
  not health, but healing;
  not being, but becoming;
  not rest, but exercise.
  We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way;
  the process is not yet finished, but it has begun;
  this is not the goal, but it is road;
  at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being
    - Martin Luther, A Defense and Explanation of All Articles (AE 32:24)

Jordan Cooper said...


You can't pit Romans 3 and 7 against Romans 8-16. Christians genuinely perform good works. There is even progress in the Christian life. I have pretty clearly demonstrated this in my quotes from the Lutheran Confessions. If you want to disagree with the Confessions, fine. But don't call yourself a Confessional Lutheran if you do. It's not Roman Catholic to talk about good works. It's Biblical.

Jordan Cooper said...

Thanks for those quotes Pastor Weedon. That's really helpful.

Bror Erickson said...

"But of course, those WELS folks are just a bunch of pietists and Wesleyans."
You said it. now find me a classical Lutheran source.
And that is just it, you are saying this is a prominent part of Lutheranism for centuries. so far you have found one quote from one professor largely rejected in Lutheranism as a whole. Find it, show it. or just take the post down, think about what you really want to say, and rewrite the post. because it isn't, according to you, even saying what you had wanted to say.
And actually I don't think the word sanctification is used in different ways in scripture, I don't think you find the broad sense and the narrow sense in there. I think guys like you like to read the narrow sense in so you can in to certain passages so you can ignore the broad sense and continue on your program of self appointed works.

Jordan Cooper said...

Really? You think that Hoenecke was a Pietist? That's flat out ridiculous. I think his Dogmatics is an excellent summary of Lutheran Orthodoxy. If you look at the section on sanctification you will see various quotes from Quenstedt, Gerhard, Calov, and others which teach the same thing.

Bror, as I have said, the broad and narrow sense of sanctification is standard in Lutheran scholasticism. Heath Curtis pointed me to places in Gerhard where he utilized this distinction. Look at the quotes that Pastor Weedon posted.

Self appointed works? I'm pretty sure the good works I encourage are those that Paul tells his congregations to perform. Romans doesn't end at chapter 7.

And I'm still not sure how speaking of "holiness growing daily" isn't progressive sanctification. That's what the term means.

J. Dean said...

Jordan did an excellent podcast on the Lordship Salvation controversy happening in the Reformed/Baptist community. I strongly recommend it to you, as he's very clear about not attaching works to salvation-at all.

As an ex-Arminian who sees it from the other side, I can fully understand (to an extent) the aversion to works being overstressed. Certainly those of us who spent time in the "bait and switch" of Armianian/Wesleyan thought can see why people like Bror are skeptical about any excessive talk concerning good works. And having argued with some stringent Calvinists about this in recent times, I'll be the first to cry foul against anybody who so much as suggests that works are conditional for salvation.

But... that being said, Luther himself is careful to warn against antinomianism, and is also clear that the New Obedience follows the gospel. And yes, the Holy Spirit does indeed change our dispositions, but we still need the external exhortations of the law for the simple fact that our Adamic nature does not want to be mortified as Paul commands in Colossians 3.

When you read Paul's epistles, he is always careful to talk about good works in a manner that is real and concrete (i.e., he expects the Christians to whom he writes to actually practice those good works to a degree), but at the same time, he always preaches law in light of gospel. He doesn't say "Do X to be saved" but rather "because you are saved, let it show by doing X".

Steve Martin said...


No one is disputing that Christians "do good works".

There is NO progression to it. You can't even name a "Christian good work" (outside of proclaiming Christ).

And when you preach this "progression" of works, you will either be creating pride (in those who actually believe that they are doing alright)...or despair in the ones who are honest and or actually understand their true make up and their true motivations.

Baptism...and NO further. That's all the progression that we need, my friend.

That's the good news. (to some, anyway)

Steve Martin said...

We ARE DECLARED HOLY for Jesus' sake.

That's Lutheran.

This ladder-climbing spirituality stuff is better left to the Baptists, Calvinists, and Catholics.

"For freedom Christ has set us free."

I'll pit that, along with "Christ is the END of the law..." against anything that you can dig up in defense of 'the self'.

William Weedon said...

Might also be worth noting the prayers on the inside cover of Lutheran Service Book:

...that I may repent of my sins, believe in Jesus Christ as my only Savior, and *grow in grace and holiness.*

Grant me Your Holy Spirit that I may be ever watchful and live a true and godly life in Your service.

Jordan Cooper said...

Steve- What do you say then about the fact that the confessions say that holiness grows daily? This contradicts your contention that holiness is only imputed.

Jordan Cooper said...

And really? "You can't even name a Christian good work?" What are the Ten Commandments? Bad works?

Steve Martin said...

The 10 Commandments? Really? The same ones that St. Paul calls,"the ministry of death"...and that any pagan or Muslim or Hindu can do? Come now. You're a can do much better than that.

The Confessions are great. But they aren't Holy Scripture.

When you start talking the language of progression, you have just placed people (unwittingly or not) upon the ladder-climbing project.

Jordan Cooper said...

Steve, you can disagree with the Confessions if you like. That's fine. But don't say "Lutheran theology says..." if what you are about to disagree with the Confessions.

The Law do serve as an instrument of death absolutely. But at the same time, they do show us what a good work is. Paul gives many admonitions in his epistles for believers to perform good works.

Steve Martin said...

What is the very first of the 95 Theses?

So much for your progression project.

Steve Martin said...


I'll stick with the Scriptures, wherever there is a doubt about Christ and what He has accomplished for us on the Cross.

And yes, real Lutherans can do that. You think that Melancthon and yes, even Luther got everything right, all of the time? Do you agree with everything that Luther said. I don't. Yes, real Lutherans can say that and be totally in the spirit of Luther and the Reformation.

When the law came in, sin increased. We ought not feed ourselves poison. The law is that we might live together, as best as sinners can...and to accuse us...and to drive us to Christ. The so called "3rd use' just lets the fox back into the henhouse, needlessly.

"Christ is the end of the law..." (do you believe that...without a ..."yeah but"?)

That's my final word on the subject. You are a good man for allowing me to air my views here. I appreciate it. The final word is yours (between us on this thread).

Thanks, Jordan.

David Gray said...

"The 10 Commandments? Really? The same ones that St. Paul calls,"the ministry of death"...and that any pagan or Muslim or Hindu can do?"

Really? No man save Christ can obey the 10 Commandments. We break them every day. That is why Luther pointed out that repentance should be a daily part of the Christian's life.

Steve Martin said...

Thank you, David. I rest my case.

(by anyone...I meant that outwardly anyone can do these works that some call "Christian good works"...feeding the hungry,etc.)

"We walk by faith...not by sight"

Anonymous said...

Bror Erickson:

And even the way Lutherans talk of "cooperating" is going to be different from the way in which evangelicals will talk about it. We won't see it as giving up course language or snuffing out cigarettes that is our cooperation, but attendance to the means of grace.

St. Paul of Tarsus:
I Thessalonians 4: 1-8.
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do now know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you.

I, for one, am pretty sure that Paul's use of sanctification here refers to: how we ought to walk, to please God, the will of God as here instructed by Paul, which includes abstaining from sexual immorality and impurity, and controlling one's body in holiness etc.

So there's the word sanctification... What about "do so more and more"? Progressive maybe?

Trying to find the word progressive in the confessions is like trying to find the word Trinity in the Bible. And two senses of a word is hardly a cop out - what about the different senses we use for gospel? Or repentance?

The fact that this is arguable in Lutheranism is quite embarrassing. It's no wonder we are caricatured so horribly! It's true! I am thankful for faithful pastors like William Weedon and Jordan Cooper - not that they have merely remained faithful, but they have remained faithful in our communion. Thank you!


Matt said...

A key quote from Fr. Weedon's post: "The healing work of God in our lives is not ours to measure."

As I live the Christian life, Christ is truly producing good works through me, through the masks of vocation.

But what I notice is only more and more sin. The more I meditate on the law, the worse I look in the mirror of law. It honestly looks to me like my life is getting worse and worse as I get older.

My good works are largely invisible to me, I don't see them as good, yet I produce them and will be judged for them, that is, the works Christ does through me. "Lord, when did we see you hungry. . . "

Now, if I'm a lousy judge of my own character, how much worse must I be judging the lives and hearts and minds of others! Yes, we should confront the bad behavior of other Christians when we see it, but one-on-one and not in a blog post.

When we look at the church around us, we should see Her as Christ does, without blemish and we should speak to others of Her holiness and good works that are invisible to the world because of their humility.

Matt Richard said...

I have read a lot this week about seminarians/pastors/theologians who are watching hardcore porn, getting drunk, and cursing like sailors. Please forgive my ignorance, but do these individuals represent the norm or the exception?

Jordan Cooper said...

Matt Richard, they are absolutely the exception. Most Lutheran pastors are very far from being antinomian, but it is an unfortunate truth that there are some who abuse their liberty.

Robert said...

Jordan, sorry to chime in so late, but you are absolutely right. The non-sanctification folks, influenced by Forde and his followers, are all wet.

Forde's denial of biblical inerrancy, his identification of the Word of God as an existential "event," his denial of the vicarious satisfaction of Christ, his denial of eternal law, natural law, and the law's third use, are all part of his "system," to which his adherents must appeal, and when necessary, viciously attack anyone who denies it's veracity.

In my opinion, their teaching has moved beyond schism and has entered into the realm of heresy. No wonder non-Lutherans such as Tullian T. subscribe to it.

Robert at

Anonymous said...

Re: "they are absolutely the exception. Most Lutheran pastors are very far from being antinomian, but it is an unfortunate truth that there are some who abuse their liberty."

It's true, seminarians/pastors/theologians only sin in nice polite ways that their peers would understand and justify as natural and human.

After all, it's not like Noah the spiritual head of the Church on earth would have gotten drunk willfully, or David -the divinely annointed ruler of God's people- would have committed adultery. Such things are impossible because they were old and thus progressively sanctified. And of course St. Peter, the rock of the church never would've denied our Lord and sinned by anything as plebian and course as cursing like a sailor (Our Lord's disciples never would've been seen amongst sailors!). No such people's sins would prove that they didn't REALLY have a true saving working faith formed by love.

The only sins they committed were momentary lapses in care and concern, occasional selfish urges, and an occasional extra slice of pie once or twice a year.

Thank God that we who are true Christians with such faith, and have such blessed seminarians/pastors/theologians, as we fittingly deserve.

Let sanctification ring forth from the pulpit as it does from the infallible seat of Rome!

(obvious sarcasm is obvious)

Living Faith Church Blog said...

Lord, have mercy! I think we as Lutherans would be better served if we celebrated some of the divine tensions and mysteries we live with rather than squabbling about them.

We would be better served too if we celebrated the truth where ever we see it outside of our own circles. Lutheran tribalism is one of the most discouraging things I see in our midst.

Tullian T has been captured by many of the truths we as Lutherans love. Gerhard Forde, while not without his faults too, said that "Sanctification is getting used to our Justification". That is a great thought and did more to make me want to live better than a thousand exhortations.

Forde's thought was written in a ‘progressive’ way…. ‘getting used to’ not ‘got used to’. Jesus IS my sanctification and yes I’m GETTING used to it.

Jordan Cooper said...


Please feel free to identify yourself. How about actually dealing with the argument I made in this post? I mean... it really is just quotes from out Confessions. If any belief in sanctification or personal holiness makes one a Roman Catholic, then I'm happy to be one along with Paul, Luther, and the entire historic catholic church.

Ryan Peter said...

Hi Jordan, thanks for this post and allowing the conversation to progress.

I know I'm a year late. I'm not Lutheran, but an evangelical searching to decide what he thinks of sanctification.

A note on your use of Hebrews 10:14 - it appears that this scripture isn't clear on progressive sanctification. I see some literal Bibles simply say, "those who were sanctified". Given the context of the whole scripture, it seems to me not to point to progressive sanctification at all (the rest of the scripture talks of a once-for-all sacrifice - look at verse 10 where sanctification is used as a once-for-all event).

By the way, as an outsider, the more I study this subject and look at the Bible the more I become convinced that Forde is right (he has come up in my studies). Let that be whatever it's worth.

Ryan Peter said...

Just also saw this in the ESV on Hebrews 10:14
"14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified."

Note verse 10 - sanctified once-for-all :)