June 14, 2011

Sanctification - What sins do Christians NOT do?

This subject of sanctification and what lists of sins Christians "do" or "don't do" (respectable vs disrespectable sins) has come up an awful lot for me in discussion this week regarding several Christian friends who are struggling with the fallout of besetting sins in their lives, church discipline, etc. My heart aches for all those who struggle, because I have been there, done that, and probably will do so again at some point. In fact, at the point at which I think I'm not struggling, perhaps I'm in great danger. Lord have mercy!

So after hearing that a particular pastor was telling people again that we cooperate in our own sanctification, I went over to Monergism and found some good articles. In particular, Kim Riddlebarger's article.

God Glorified in Sanctification

It is good, easy, and short, but I find contradictory statements in that in one paragraph, we 'cooperate' with the Holy Spirit in sanctification... and then in another, "God sanctifies us." I tend to want to remain consistent in my Monergism. I know that when I stick my fingers in and try to gin up willpower to change, especially based on what some angry person has told me I need to change, I usually fall pretty flat. I think my depravity is probably deeper than that of others. They take it upon themselves to make that pretty clear to me from time to time.

So I went and found some Lutheran views on it. In particular I found an old article by David P Scaer in the Lutheran Quarterly:

Sanctification in Lutheran Theology

(bold emphasis mine)
More must be said about the Lutheran understanding of good works as secular works, since the impression may be given to our people even today that works done specifically for the church have a higher quality than those done in the world. Properly understood, Lutheranism offered a secular Christianity in its time.14 The article "Faith and Good Works" brands as "childish and foolish works" such acts of religious devotion as "rosaries, the cult of the saints, monasticism, pilgrimages, appointed fasts, holy days, brotherhoods." Though good works are to be preached, they can never be preached in such a way that the Christian conscience ever relies on them. "It is also taught among us that good works should and must be done, not that we rely on them to earn grace but that we may do God's will and glorify him."15 Even in the performing of the good works, the Lutheran principle of total divine Monergism is maintained, since faith is only the instrument through which the Holy Spirit performs the works. As Augustana XX calls attention to the writings of the Lutheran reformers on the Ten Commandments, it must have in mind, at least;in some sense, the explanations of them in Luther's Small Catechism. Ideally there should be no Lutheran who has learned of sanctification without this ;catechism. (pg 183)
Sanctification for Luther in the Small Catechism certainly includes the overcoming of sin in Christian life, but this hardly encompasses its full dimensions. The positive requirements placed on the Christian are clearly Christlike qualities. The Christian fears, loves, and trusts God. He calls uponHim in every need. He gladly hears the preaching of God's Word. He holds his parents in highest esteem. He helps the neighbor in his physical distress.He loves his spouse. He works to improve the financial condition of his neighbor and refuses to believe evil of him. What Luther is describing is not life lived under the law, but the life of Christ Himself. Luther is frequently cited as saying that every Christian is a Christ to his neighbor. I am not so sure that all those who speak in this way fully understand what this means. Frequently it may be an excuse for an existential Christianity to treat the historical Jesus without any real significance. It is, however, a valuable distinction if it means that the life flowing from faith is, in fact, a practicing Christology in the world. (page 185)
It is not surprising that, with Calvin's view of the law's role in sanctification, he must move in the direction of perfectionism, even though he would deny it. He does say that Christians "regenerated by God's Spirit. ..make true holiness their concern."45 Sanctification is thus separated from Christology as a separate theological enterprise. While, on the one hand,Calvin with Luther is totally committed to the concept of the imputed righteousness God given the sinner in faith, it is also true that for Calvin God takes a certain amount of pleasure in seeing the contrite sinner weeping before God.46 In Evangelical Protestantism the conversion experience becomes a necessary sign. Unlike Luther, for whom the Christian performs good works out of faith, Calvin sees the Christian as Christian performing his good works in the presence of God the righteous judge, who will punish all wickedness. Fear of God's wrath becomes a motivation in performing good works.

Unless a position like Calvin's is brought in as a foil for Luther's it is difficult to understand the characteristically unique Lutheran view on sanctification. For Calvin Christology is only a prelude to sanctification;Christ is set forth by God as the means to bring about the sanctified life.Historically Calvinism is not recognized as Christological to the extent thatLutheranism is. In Lutheran theology every article of faith is Christological. This simply is not so in Calvinism. God's majesty is so overwhelming forCalvin that not all of God is incarnated in Christ. Hence the famous Lutheran jibe of the extra Calvinisticum. Consider, for example, Calvin's view of wrath as an eternal attribute of God. This wrath is manifested in the atonement without the atonement's exhausting this wrath.47 The all-embracing Christology of Luther simply does not belong to Calvinism or for that matter to any of its contemporary manifestations. Also, in Calvinism all of the parts of theology, e.g., Baptism and the Lord's Supper, have their purpose in promoting good works among believers. In Lutheran theology Christology is a total manifestation of theology and Christology alone gives meaning to Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and sanctification. Merely stating that in Lutheran theology faith expresses itself in good works out of necessity does not do justice to the Lutheran view that the life of the Christian is the life of Christ in the world, that is, it tells us what Christ is doing now.

From this it follows that there are certain items that do not belong to a Lutheran understanding of justification, at least as it is viewed differently from Calvinism. Thus, in Lutheran theology the Gospel cannot be preached in such a way that the Gospel's real purpose is the production of good works. Good works are preaching's result. Justification remains its only purpose. The Gospel is a complete message in itself. Good works result from the preaching of the Gospel, to be sure, but there can be no suggestion that the Gospel is to be preached as if its ultimate and essential purpose were to bring them about. The Gospel declares a completed atonement in Christ and shapes good works in the life of the Christian as a necessary reflection of God's love in Christ. TheGospel is not an opportunity for reinstating the religion of the law. The works produced by the Gospel conform to God's love in Christ and are not those of the law. People, identified as Christian or not, should not be viewed as living sanctified lives if they merely refrain from sin and evil. The sanctified life will eschew evil, but its characteristic mark is seen in that it adopts Christlike activities. (pp 193-194)

I think that probably sums up a lot of my issues with being torn between Luther's and Calvin's views. I do agree with the Lutheran understanding of Sanctification and their Christocentric focus (Not that I think Calvinists are by default NOT Christocentric... if that makes sense). And on the other hand, I cannot understand the Lutheran view of the P in TULIP. It seems both of them seem willing to judge men's souls somewhat on temporary outward appearances... all of which may be symptoms of the very struggle that marks a person as one of the elect. Since both of these issues (Sanctification and Perseverance) seem very linked, I remain stuck in no man's land between the two.

In addition I run into so many people who seem to know what someone else's route to sanctification ought to look like and set themselves up as judge of their eternal state based upon that, or based upon their clumsy explanation of what is going on in their lives. Judge their words and their teaching, but not their soul. Help them to know Christ better, and in so doing, if they are his, they will become more Christlike themselves.

For example, you may think I consider Rick Warren unsaved. But no, I can't even bring myself to call Rick Warren a Pelagian myself, though I can understand why some have gone that far. I can't say he isn't saved. Maybe he's just a coward. Is that a sin for which Christ did not die? As Jason said in discussion the other day, "where is the list of sins that Christians just don't do? Because we're not on that mailing list."