Monday, April 8, 2013

Sanctification in the Formula of Concord

As a follow up to my previous posts, here is the Formula of Concord's teaching on sanctification:

"These words say absolutely nothing about our will, nor do they say that it effects something, even in the newborn human being, of itself, but they ascribe that to the Holy Spirit, which cleanses human beings and daily makes them more upright and holier." SD II.35

"Through the ministry of preaching he brings us into the Christian community, in which he sanctifies us and brings about in us a daily increase of good works." SD II.38

"Although those born anew come even in this life to the point that they desire the good and delight in it and even do good deeds and grow in practicing them, this is not (as was mentioned above) a product of our own will or power, but the Holy Spirit." SD II.39

"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." SD II.65

"Because in this life we receive only the first fruits of the Spirit and our rebirth is not complete but rather only begun in us, the struggle and battle of the flesh against the Spirit continues even in the elect and truly reborn." SD II.68

"these same gifts [renewal and conversion as explained earlier in the paragraph] are retained, strengthened, and increased." SD II.72

"Likewise, too, although renewal and sanctification are a blessing of our mediator Christ and a work of the Holy Spirit, they do not belong to the article or in the treatment of justification before God but rather result from it since, because of our corrupted flesh, they are never fully pure and perfect in this life." SD III.28

"This does not mean on the other hand, that we may or should pursue sinning or remain and continue in sin without repentance, conversion, and improvement." SD III.22

"He renews them and sanctifies them, and he creates in them love toward God and the neighbor." SD III.23

"It is correct to say that in this life believers who have become righteous through faith in Christ have first of all the righteousness of faith that is reckoned to them and then thereafter the righteousness of new obedience or good works that are begun in them. But these two kinds of righteousness dare not be mixed with each other or simultaneously introduced into the article on justification by faith before God. For because this righteousness that is begun in us--this renewal--is imperfect and impure in this life because of our flesh, a person cannot use it in any way to stand before God's judgment throne... Even following their renewal, when they already are producing many good works and living the best kind of life, human beings please God, are acceptable to him, and receive adoption as children and heirs of eternal life only because of Christ's obedience." SD III.32

"Therefore, even if the converted and believers have the beginnings of renewal, sanctification, love, virtues, and good works, yet these cannot, should not, and must not be introduced or mixed with the article of justification before God." SD III.35

"Thereafter, once people are justified, the Holy Spirit also renews and sanctifies them. From this renewal and sanctification the fruit of good works follow." SD III.41

"Many construct for themselves a dead faith or illusory faith, which exists without repentance or good works. As if true faith and the evil intention to remain and continue in sin could exist in a single heart at the same time! That is impossible." SD IV. 15


Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for doing this. I think doing something as simple as this is a real service.

For any persons who would like to see how this debate plays out between a couple Confessional Lutherans who clearly value sanctification but have unique concerns, you can check out this debate that I had with Scott Diekmann at his suburb but now sadly-defunct blog Stand Firm (I used several of the quotes Jordan uses here)

Its here:

We were debating a sound byte from the LCMS pastor Bill Cwirla:

“You can only say you’re weak on sanctification if you view sanctification as your work.”

Bror Erickson said...

All fine and good Jordan. But now we have strayed quite a ways from your original post where you rant and rave about slovenly Lutherans and their pastors, and maintain that sanctification is the product of the third use of the law, all but equating this growth in sanctification to Good Works done on behalf of the Christian. Rather than the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian through the gospel in all it's forms, as the Confessions make explicit elsewhere.Such as: LC the Creed Article 3 paragh 56 and following.
"outside this Christian community, where there is no gospel, there is also no forgiveness, and hence there can be no holiness. Therefore all who would seek to merit holiness through their works rather than through the gospel and the forgiveness of sin have expelled and separated themselves from this community. 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 and eternal life."
So I will concede a growth in holiness or sanctification in this particular sense. With the caveat that the growth is not do to the works of the christian but the holy Spirit in the Christian through good works. And that really what the greater context of the confessions is getting at has not anything to do with the reformed doctrine of progressive sanctification but is nothing more than an illustration of the simul concept, that we are and remain to the day we die saint and sinner. Our sanctification being at once perfect in Christ, and not yet fully realized in this life due to the sin that still clings to us. The result being that one's sanctification will not be judged on whether or not they cuss, or occasionally drink to much, or even fall into the trap of indulging a porn habit, because essentially their sanctification is as invisible as the faith of the believer.

David Gray said...

"Were not the right man on our side, our striving would be losing."

So there should be striving. And that striving would be pointless without Christ. Sounds Biblical to me.

Steve Martin said...

One question, are you doing in the progressive sanctification good works department?

Really. I want your honest opinion of how you are doing with respect to good works.

Anyone else here like to tell us just how they are doing, as well?

Jordan Cooper said...

Bror- I'm sorry if I came off as rude, but you either don't know how to read what I have said, or you are guilty of bearing false testimony against your neighbor. You accuse me of things I have never said, and in fact, have said the exact opposite.

Jordan Cooper said...

Steve- My experience doesn't matter. In certain ways, I can see how God has changed my heart by the power of the gospel, he has made me less selfish than I used to be. However, at the same time I sometimes feel like I'm getting worse, because as I grow, I continue to see that my sin is even greater than I previously realized.

As I have said, we often don't see progress in sanctification. It's not like we need to be continually looking at ourselves asking, "have I gotten better?" I believe that the Spirit is at work within because Scripture says so. That's enough proof for me.

J. Dean said...

This is a very good discussion, and has been an eye-opener for those of us new to Wittenberg. But the question is this: how does this come down to the practical? While I certainly don't subscribe to the notion that any mention of sanctification and good works is to be viewed as an automatic flight to Pietism, Arminianism, or Pelagianism, there does indeed need to be a balance on the matter, as you yourself noted quite well in your Lordship Salvation podcast about the overemphasis on works. How should this look in preaching, teaching, and personal Christian devotion?

Perhaps this is one you could take a show and talk about :D

Steve Martin said...


We have found that what Scripture says about how people handle the law with respect to "progressing", is true for all people.

It either brings us to despair...or to pride.

For us, the paradigm is one of progression...but of death and rebirth. A picture of Baptism.

Nathan Rinne said...

Sometimes it is good to either/or something. Sometimes it is not.