Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Progressive Sanctification- A Pauline Doctrine

There are two senses in which Paul speaks of sanctification. Often it is used in the past tense, referring to the fact that God has made us completely holy in Christ:

"And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (1 Corinthians 1:30)

"And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:11)

At other points, Paul speaks of sanctification as something that is progressive. It involves growth in intrinsic holiness, which is a fruit of the perfect holiness we have in Christ,

"so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification." (Romans 6:19)

"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely" (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

"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 not 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." (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)

Paul speaks in many places about growth in the Christian life,

"Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16)

"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment." (Philippians 1:9)

"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29)

"Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

"[speaking of the love that they have for one another] But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more" (1 Thessalonians 4:10)

"your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing." (2 Thessalonians 1:3)

Paul argues that we should be active in killing sin,

"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." (Romans 6:12-13)

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry." (Colossians 3:5)

Paul makes it clear that we should be intentional and active in doing good works, living holy lives,

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." (Romans 12:1-2)

This phrase introduces the imperative section of Romans from 12-15 which contains numerous exhortations unto various good deeds.

"Be imitators of me as I am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1)

"let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1)

"If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." (Galatians 5:25-26)

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:1)

"Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:17-24)

"But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness." (1 Timothy 6:11)

"So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, alone with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22)

Paul tells Titus to teach his congregation to do good works,

"Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people." (Titus 3:1-2)


Bror Erickson said...

you give three verses that you interpret as specifically referring to "progressive" sanctification, and a number you talk about growing in the Christian life.
I would like to point out that the three verses you interpret as referring specifically to "progressive sanctification" in no way need to be interpreted that way. Romans 6 for references our final state in heaven. Not any state that we reach here in this life. 1 Thess. 5 has sanctification in the appositive meaning that God is our sanctification. And finally "May God Sanctify you Completely." Well that one says it all. God is the active one. We are monergists in sanctification too! But then again this is something he has already done and is doing in Christ when he sustains us in the faith.
As for growing in the Christian life, that much is obvious. And Paul does admonish his congregations to it, as does any pastor worth his salt. However, they do so while avoiding any sort of works righteousness which "progressive sanctification" would promote. Sanctification again is not a matter of the third use of the law. Preaching sanctification is not a matter of admonishing Christians to good works. Because our sanctification, our holiness is not based on or merited by our works but is completely the work of the Holy Spirit. Our life after that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit's work.
I guess the thing that I see going on with you is this. You are upset. You don't see as much of what you call "sanctification" as you would like among Lutherans. You think we tend to use too course a language, perhaps drink to much, and what not else. These are the problems you addressed in your first post on this subject. And so you make the first classical mistake Walther warns against in his book "Law and Gospel" you decide the remedy is preaching more law, and are even so arrogant as to think you can determine in what form that law will be preached and thereby determine its function in the life of the believer. You turn to law rather than gospel, when it is the gospel and not the law that drives sanctification. You want to make sanctification something earned rather than given. Paul, btw, does the opposite, his preaching is more you are sanctified so have some respect for yourself. But you cling heavily to the notion that you know what sanctification looks like, and it is in conformity with your life and the choices you have made in life. This is sad. Sanctification is as invisible as faith. It is not to be judged based on an arbitrary set of morals. That person you see using coarse language that offends your ears, you don't know where they have been or how much they have grown in the Christian life. But you assume since they use a foul word or two that they are not as sanctified as you. You assume the guy struggling with porn just needs a bit more law and he can overcome it. It just might be that he has grown in his faith in quite a number of ways that are not apparent to you. Some people have anger issues. Some of those people grew up abused by parents they've managed to forgive after years of dealing with the fall out of being abused children. And you by relying on law to reform them to your standards, rather than the Gospel by which the Holy Spirit sustains them in faith and sanctifies them daily with the forgiveness of sins, seriously threaten to snuff out smoldering wicks, and break bruised reeds.

Bror Erickson said...

3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Jordan Cooper said...


Anymore comments in which you accuse me of teaching that sanctification is a result of the third use of the Law will not be posted. I'm sorry, but I can't let you keep misrepresenting me.

I can't deal with a dialogue that consists of

"You believe that the Law sanctifies!"

"No, I don't"

"Yes you do! It doesn't matter what you say you believe or not."

You keep misrepresenting me; where have I said that sanctification is our work rather than the Spirit's work? Of course it is God's work, but God actually is at work within us, renewing us, causing us to grow in holiness. Because of what God is doing in us we can begin to obey God's commands (albeit imperfectly).

Telling me that I am judging myself to be more sanctified than other people is stupid. I never said that. I'm sick of these false accusations.

You can't quote Galatians 3 in opposition to other things Paul teaches. Of course we are justified by faith alone, and our growth in holiness is due to the Spirit's work within us. But at the same time, Paul is willing to tell people certain things which they should and shouldn't do. Your argument is not with me, but with Scripture.

Paul even explicitly tells Titus to preach the third use of the Law!

"Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people." (Titus 3:1-2)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Paul tells us to preach 3rd use?

Are the uses of the Law the way *we* use them, or are they three ways the *Holy Spirit* puts them to use?

"Over against this the other side taught: Although the truly believing are verily moved by God's Spirit, and thus, according to the inner man, do God's will from a free spirit, yet it is just the *Holy Ghost* who uses the written law for instruction with them, by which the truly believing also learn to serve God, not according to their own thoughts, but according to His written Law and Word, which is a sure rule and standard of a godly life and walk, how to order it in accordance with the eternal and immutable will of God." -SD VI 3

Jordan Cooper said...

Of course it is the Spirit who causes us to do good works, but those good works are to be in accord with the Law.

Please explain to me how this verse is not an encouragement to Titus to tell his congregation to do good works,

"Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people." (Titus 3:1-2)

Joe said...

Rev Jordan.

I just wanted to give you some encouragement.

Following the last few posts, I am surprised that you have allowed Bror to continue his constant nonsensical ranting and misrepresentations.

I think you have been extremely clear on the issue and have shown why via the scriptures and the confessions in a plethora and multitude of ways.

So, do not really have anything other than a word of encouragement here.

in Him


J. Dean said...

It seems like Philippians 2:11-12 would clear this up completely. Yes, God works in us; and yes, Paul tells the Philippians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Sounds like the Lutheran understanding of paradox in action to me: God works and we work.

Joe said...

okay, that probably did not come across the way I intended. I was not trying to criticize you Jordan..but rather comment that I think you have been very gracious and patient with Bror given his constant misrepresentations, and your clear exposition and position.

in Him


Joe said...

I think another passage that speaks to "growing" is:

Ephesians 4:11-16 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Jordan Cooper said...

Thanks Joe. I appreciate the encouragement.

Philippians 2 is a great text to bring up, and I think absolutely gives a Lutheran understanding of sanctification.

Steve Martin said...

Sometimes I get the distinct impression (here) that the Holy Spirit requires our cooperation in all of this.

That would make him into a puny little god, not worth the time taken to worship.

My God can handle it all, just fine. In spite of my help...not because of it.

Jordan Cooper said...

Can you address the texts Steve?

Steve Martin said...

What texts?

I say (according to Scripture) that "It is finished"

"you WERE sanctified..." 1st Corinthians 6:11

...and that the job of the law is to expose us and drive us to Christ.

"Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for all who believe" Romans 10:4


Getting people to focus on their works is letting the fox back into the henhouse. The Holy Spirit is MORE than capable of completing in us that which He started.

There's a few texts.

J. Dean said...

Steve Martin @ 11,

Again, read Philippians 2:11-12. It is not either/or; it is we work AND God works. The irony of this is that this passage written by Paul is the VERY concept of paradox that Lutherans embrace and proclaim, and to deny this is to fall into the same sort of denial of paradox that Lutherans accuse Calvinists and Arminians of.

Jordan Cooper said...

J Dean- That is an excellent point.

Steve Martin said...

"We work and God works".

Sounds like Rome to me.

"He who began a good work in you, will allow you to help Him complete it."



Sanctification is forgetting about yourself." - Gerhard Forde

That's tough to do when people are telling you that you must pull your weight.

Anonymous said...

As an Anglican, I find it interesting, and appropriate, that Philippians 2 has been brought up. This passage, I agree, clearly teaches that God works AND we work as well. In other words, SYNERGISM (which is working together).

Before someone tunes me out, let me state that by SYNERGISM I do NOT mean something like semi-Pelagianism, where man can somehow turn to God unaided by grace. Nor do I mean that some how our working and God's working is equivalent in either justification or sanctification, as if somehow our merits contribute to our salvation. I simply mean what Scriptures teach: God is working IN us to will and do for His good pleasure, and we must work OUT the salvation that He has wrought IN us by His Holy Spirit. And of course God must work FIRST before any of us can begin to 'work'.

God is the One who gives us the grace to repent and have faith, but we are the agents that must do the actual repenting and believing.

I know I probably won't convince many Lutherans that 'synergism' is not necessarily a bad word, but I did want to mention there are ways that this concept can be understood which are NOT heretical. I feel Synergism appropriately defined is not at all incompatible with the teachings of the Bible as defended in the Canons of the Second Council of Orange.

Doubting Thomas

Joe said...

Hi Anonymous.

The was a recent blog post by Lutheran Pastor Heath Curtis "On Synergism (the good kind)" which states, quoting Gerhard:

"If rewards and punishments in the forum of divine judgment are under discussion, response must be made differently, for rewards are either of this life or of the life to come, as also are punishments. God rewards the external discipline even of the unregenerate person with the rewards of this life or temporal rewards and regularly punishes atrocious sins with atrocious punishments so that societies may be preserved. In Exod. 1:21, because “the Egyptian midwives feared God, He built homes for them.” God rewards only the works of the reborn with eternal rewards, and He does that not out of condign merit but out of gracious mercy, nor does God crown anything in us except His own gifts. In this way the question pertains to the reborn who, we do not deny, are coworkers [συνέργους] with God in good works, because the will, now freed from the yoke of sin, cooperates by virtue of new powers granted by the Holy Spirit.


David Gray said...

Sounds like Rome to me.

Then I think you have a tin ear.

God says:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
(Php 2:12)

Now that must be worked out in cooperation with the rest of what Paul wrote so it doesn't leave us where Rome is but it doesn't leave us where you are either. It leaves us under the authority of the Word.

Jordan Cooper said...

I have talked to Heath Curtis about synergism in sanctification, and he has some good points. In the Lutheran scholastic tradition, there is merit for speaking of synergism. Of course both the beginning of sanctification and perseverance in faith are monergistic, but there is some place for the renewed will being active in the middle of the process.

J. Dean said...

Are you suggesting that Philippians 2:11-12 is not Scriptural?

Again, it's paradox. Apparently condratictory, yet true. And Philippians 2 is as inspired as the rest of Scripture, unless you're trying to suggest these words are uninspired, which I sincerely hope you are not.

Steve Martin said...

The great thing about being a Lutheran, in the old sense of the word, is that there is true freedom in trusting that Christ has done it all.

"Now that you don't have to do ANYTHING...what will you do?"

- Forde

Freedom from the yoke of the law is really wonderful!

My prayer is that more Christians would discover it.


And the odd thing is, that those who are always barking about what we must do (mostly it's aimed at others - not themselves)...never do it themselves.

Kelly Klages said...

"And the odd thing is, that those who are always barking about what we must do (mostly it's aimed at others - not themselves)...never do it themselves."

Jordan, I'm sorry you have to deal with this sort of insanity... the charges of self-righteousness and personal superiority... the notion that any mention of the renewed will or good works automatically means you advocate preaching nothing BUT good works and no Gospel... the accusations of only caring what other people are doing, not yourself, or being frustrated that other people aren't as righteous as you are... you must have the patience of a saint.

It sort of reminds me of this: http://metalutheran.blogspot.ca/2005/09/rewriting-scripture-for-theological.html

Those who pride themselves on appearing antinomian-leaning to others need not flatter themselves into thinking it's because they preach the Gospel so often and so well. It's because they make outrageous comments and knee-jerk accusations like this.

Jordan Cooper said...

"Those who pride themselves on appearing antinomian-leaning to others need not flatter themselves into thinking it's because they preach the Gospel so often and so well. It's because they make outrageous comments and knee-jerk accusations like this."

You hit the nail right on the head.

Anonymous said...

Steve Martin,

You are rarely engaging, interacting, or responding to what people are actually saying. When someone calls you on making an unreasonable comment you do not reply directly. Philippians 2:11-12 Does it sound Roman Catholic? Why or why not? And how is your response different from what people here are actually saying?

Welcome to the discussion.


Steve Martin said...

Come now. Antinomianism? Give me a break.

We use God's law. It is there that we might live together (as best as sinners can in this world)...and it is there to expose us. To drive us to Christ.

Those who use God's law to try and make us better (progressive sanctification) are the ones with a real problem.

"For when the law came in, sin increased"

You are just putting people into the sin blender and stirring them up to sin, even more.

Despair...or pride. That's the outcome of trying to use the law to make people better.

Whenever people start throwing the 'antinomian bomb' around...I know I'm on the right track.


David Gray said...

"Come now. Antinomianism? Give me a break."

Steve, the fact that Gospel-centric preaching can lead to false charges of antinomianism doesn't mean there aren't genuine antinomians or that genuine anitnomianism isn't sin. You write like a genuine antinomian. Please consider the whole counsel of the Word.

Anonymous said...

Steve, we have already established the despair or pride matrix of justification by the law. We are Lutherans. We have this licked. In light of I Thessalonians 4 we participate in our salvation, not to earn salvation but at as an out working of the Holy Spirit because he has regenerated us and given us new movements of the heart as fruits of being dead to self and alive in Christ. These new movements do progress and are called sanctification by the apostle himself. I do not take this to mean that I am justified by what I do. However I do not wish to blind myself to gospel reductionism. Once again you dodge the challenge of the scriptures. How do you reconcile them to your theology. You have stated your theology but you haven't made it relevant to the scriptures in question.

Again, Jordan has brought up inspired words of God that talk about sanctification, and talk about how such practices should increase more and more, how God works in us so that we may work it out. See I Thessalonians 4. See Phillipians 2. How is it that you choose to ignore this and your brothers in Christ who wish to have a reasonable discussion of our faith?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, my last comment to Steve Martin wasn't meant to be anonymous.


Andrew said...

"Now that you don't have to do ANYTHING...what will you do?"

Offer up to God reverent and acceptable worship, done solely out of love and thankfulness. (Rom 12:1-2, Heb 12:28, etc)

Andrew said...

"Now that you don't have to do ANYTHING...what will you do?"

Offer up to God reverent and acceptable worship, done solely in love and thanks. (Rom 12:1-2, Heb 12:28)

Joe Pip said...

I'm not too sure about all this "third use of the law" stuff. I mean, there is no denying that Paul constantly exhorts Christians to live in a righteous manner, but can we really say that this is "law"? One of the things that makes a law LAW is that is that there are penalties attached to it which fall down upon the one who breaks it. But the curse (penalty) of the law has been removed for all who are in Christ. So, by definition, how can it be "law" anymore?

David Gray said...

One of the things that makes a law LAW is that is that there are penalties attached to it which fall down upon the one who breaks it.

Let's say you regularly violate the commands against gluttony. Can you think of any penalties that might attach themselves to you in this life (as opposed to the life to come)? What about commands to avoid drunkenness? Fornication?

Jordan Cooper said...

Joe, this is the concern that some Lutherans have had, such as Althaus and Elert. Some people have tried to come up with a different word like "instruction" to explain the third use. But this then changes the Law/Gospel paradigm to Law-Gospel-Instruction. This can become a road to legalism; acknowledging that it is the Law that we should live by, is also to acknowledge that we fail to obey it and consequently are pointed to Christ. To speak of instruction or something else can give the impression that a Christian can perfectly obey these commands, since they are not "Law."