Monday, April 8, 2013

Some Clarifications on Sanctification

There was quite a reaction to my previous post. Much of the reaction was positive, but some of it extremely negative. Apparently my post even created a meme!

Well, I'm not going to respond to that type of goofiness, but there are some questions that I have been asked regarding my view of sanctification that I would like to address.

Are you saying that part of our righteousness before God is based on our sanctification?

Of course not! I'm not sure how anyone who reads what I have written can possibly assume this, but I have been asked this by a few people. Our standing before God is always solely based on the alien righteousness of Christ. I have always, and will always proclaim this. Our sanctification is always imperfect, and our works would always condemn us apart from God's grace.

Are you promoting the idea that Christians should try to be sinless?

Again, I'm not sure how anyone would assume this after reading anything I have written or listening to my program. No one will ever be sinless in this life. Every work we do is tainted by the old Adam that still clings to us. That doesn't, however, negate the fact that we do genuinely good works, even though they are tainted by our sin nature.

Should I be looking for constant progress in the Christian life?

This is one of the reasons why I became a Lutheran, because I couldn't handle the navel gazing puritanism that I encountered in my previous experience. We often don't see progress in the Christian life. We often seem as if we are getting worse! But in reality, this is an effect of the Spirit, showing you more of your sin. Your sensitivity to sin is itself part of sanctification. Even if we can't see it, God is changing us on the inside, raising up the new man and killing the old. We always look to what God has done in Christ for us instead of in us for assurance. That doesn't mean, however, that the work of Christ in us can never show itself through visible action.

Should we look for assurance in our sanctification?

Again, if you have paid attention to anything I have written on this subject you would know that I don't promote this idea. Our assurance comes from the objective work of Christ, and God's gifts given to us through word and sacrament. Our assurance does not come from the state of our hearts, because we still struggle with sin.

However, there is such a thing as false faith and false assurance. Both Scripture and our Confessions mention it. If you live with no repentance in continual willful sin, you shouldn't have assurance, because you don't truly have faith in the gospel. We are supposed to (according to our Confessions) believe in the doctrine of mortal sin. That's why we practice church discipline; faith doesn't exist without repentance.


Bror Erickson said...

"Our sanctification is always imperfect, and our works would always condemn us apart from God's grace. "
Our sanctification is Christ and is never imperfect, it is always perfect.
Our works is and of themselves are never perfect. In fact, in and of themselves are always sinful. But since Christ is our sanctification, well then our works are counted as good, having been forgiven and sanctified by Christ who sanctifies us who do them.

Joe said...

Hi Jordan.

You mentioned the confessions mention the truth of mortal sin.

As one who is more recently looking deeper into Lutheran theology, I have not ran across this yet. Can you point me where the confessions mention this?


In Him,

Joe H

Jordan Cooper said...

"Our sanctification is never imperfect, it is always perfect."

Fine, believe that if you wish, but it contradicts our Confessions.

"Likewise, too, although our renewal and sanctification are a blessing of our mediator Christ and of the 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."

Here you go, a quote from our Confessions that specifically says that sanctification is imperfect in this life.

Bror Erickson said...

Could you give the article and paragraph of that?

Bror Erickson said...

nd because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

Bror Erickson said...

I'm looking and looking for this quote as you have it. Could you please tell me where exactly you are finding this? Because I find similar but not quite exact phrasing, and I am puzzled by this. It might also help if you let me know what translation you are using.
A couple years ago I read the entire BoC in German. It was kind of like reading the N.T. In Greek, in showing up the deficiencies of English translations. Anyway. If you could get that to me. I'd be interested.
We would still have to get back to the fact that we have yet to find the term progressive justification used by a classical Lutheran source, your citation of Hoenecke not quite cutting the mustard in my book. Seriously, when you have to reach to a WELS theologian and find him saying something that no other Lutheran theologian has said, check yourself.

David Gray said...

Easy to find the reference if you're familiar with Google.

The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

III. The Righteousness of Faith

Paragraph 28

Jordan Cooper said...

Oh sorry. I didn't realize I forgot to put the reference! FC SD III. 28.

Jordan Cooper said...

And yes, I know 1 Corinthians 1:30. That's why I keep insisting that sanctification is used in two different senses. In once sense, it refers to a completed act in Christ; in another sense, it refers to partial holiness that exist in the believer as he grows. This should demonstrate that not only does the Lutheran Orthodox tradition, but also the Confessions themselves make this distinction.

Jordan Cooper said...

Bror- Honestly, I used Hoenecke because its the first book I grabbed off the shelf. I could quote many other sources. And as I said, he quotes a lot of Lutheran scholastics in the midst of this discussion, demonstrating that they held to the same doctrine. It can be found in Pieper, Walther, Chemnitz, etc. as well.

Jordan Cooper said...

And I still hold to the fact that this quote is a statement 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

To be sanctified is to be set apart, to be holy. Thus saying one "grows in holiness" is the same as saying that one grows in sanctification.

Anonymous said...


I just wanted to thank you for both posts. You can wear the meme as a badge of honor since it demonstrates that the creator isn't interested in addressing your argument so they are reduced to a weak and childish propaganda photo in an attempt to belittle you. How sad.

Your clarity on the topic is refreshing and I hope it contributes to healing the collective psyche of Lutheran theology that, as you noted, is often seemingly afraid of sanctification. At least sanctification in the sense of Christians actually following the Psalmist who says the man is blessed who delights in the Torah of the Lord.

Paul says, "14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me." [1 Cor 4 ESV] Paul preached Christ and Him crucified and he also preached that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works which is the whole point of the free gift of grace. [Eph 2] Furthermore, Paul says He became a Father to the Corinthians in Christ Jesus and urged them to be imitators of Him! A good father wants his children to imitate him in words and deeds. A bad father says "do this" and doesn't provide instruction on how the children are to do it. How tragic that what passes for good preaching falls into the category of a spiritual father addressing his children but yet he is not willing to actually provide the instruction on how to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord because .... because ... the moment you talk about sanctification your an awful legalist. Give me a break. As if the temptations of the devil and the world aren't hard enough to endure without the pastor saying "Oh yeah, you're forgiven. Good luck, see ya next week."

As a lifelong Lutheran I can agree with your observation that the error on sanctification has done a lot of damage to souls. I've been frustrated so many times by pastors who only do exactly what you mentioned "Remind the people of their sin, then of there savior, that's all." God's law is good and the new man delights in it according to the regenerating grace received in our Baptism. Sadly Lutheran theology, as robust as it is, comes off as unable to move past a state of victimization that was inflicted on it by the Papacy during the Reformation.

I'm grateful that in our time more pastors, like yourself, are stepping out boldly on this point. I couldn't have written what you did better myself, so again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with the world. May the Lord bless you and His Church with days of peace and unity.

- John Peterson

Jordan Cooper said...

Thanks for the encouragement John! It's good to know that others are on the same page. And I assure you, there are many other pastors who feel this way as well.

Fearsome Pirate said...

Basically, no one wants to actually have to stop looking at porn, living with her boyfriend, or so on. It should just be good enough to say I feel badly enough about those things to feel afraid of not being good enough to earn my salvation, but oh, heavens to Betsy! I suddenly remembered that Jesus already did everything perfectly in my place, now won't you please shut up about how I just bought a house with my girlfriend?