January 15, 2012

Gerhardt Forde on Sanctification

Searching through pastor Matt Richard's blog PMNotes for articles on Sanctification I found this wonderful gem:
A Lutheran View of Sanctification by Gerhardt Forde

Simply breathtaking. I tried to read this passage to my husband and ended up choking it out through tears.
Now, living morally is indeed an important, wise and good thing. There is no need to knock it. But it should not be equated with sanctification, being made holy. The moral life is the business of the old being in this world. The Reformers called it “civil righteousness.” Sanctification is the result of the dying of the old and the rising of the new. The moral life is the result of the old being‟s struggle to climb to the heights of the law. Sanctification has to do with the descent of the new being into humanity, becoming a neighbor, freely, spontaneously, giving of the self in self-forgetful and uncalculating ways. “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4). Sanctification is God‟s secret, hidden (perhaps especially!) even from the “sanctified.” The last thing the sanctified would do would be to talk about it or make claims about achieving it. One would be more likely, with Paul, to talk about one‟s weaknesses.

No, sanctification is not the kind of thing we would seek. I expect we don‟t really want it, and perhaps rarely know when it is happening to us. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. It is given to us in the buffeting about, the sorrows, the joys, the sufferings and the tasks of daily life.
A little further down in the article he muses on why people falsely think we confuse Justification and Sanctification:
To the Thessalonians Paul writes that they have been chosen by God from the beginning “to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13). Hebrews says that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10 RSV). Sanctification appears in Scripture to be roughly equivalent to other words for the salvation wrought by God in Christ, a phrase which designates another facet or dimension of sanctification, but never calls it something distinct or logically different from justification. J. K. S. Reid is right when he concludes, “It is tempting for the sake of logical neatness to make a clean division between the two [justification and sanctification] but the temptation must be resisted, if in fact the division is absent from Holy Scripture.”2

It is difficult to escape the suspicion that the distinction between justification and sanctification is strictly a dogmatic one made because people got nervous about what would happen when unconditional grace was preached, especially in Reformation times. Doesn‟t justification do away with good works? Who will be good if they hear about justification by faith alone? So the anxious questions went. Sanctification was “added” as something distinct in order to save the enterprise from supposed disaster. But dogmatic distinctions don‟t save us from disaster. More likely than not, they only make matters worse.

Understanding Sanctification thus, leads to a realization that the promise is truly free and not based on our ability to live a moral life.

as old beings we have a desperately difficult time with such an unconditional promise. It knocks everything out of kilter. We simply don‟t know how to cope with it, so we are thrown into confusion. Is it really true? Can one announce it just like that? No strings attached? Don‟t we have to be more careful about to whom we say such things? It appears wild and dangerous and reckless to us, just as it did to Jesus‟ contemporaries. The best we can do is to try to draw it back into our conditional “understanding” so all the questions and protests come pouring out. But surely we have to do something, don‟t we? Don‟t we at least have to make our decision to accept? Isn‟t faith, after all, a condition? Or repentance? Isn‟t the idea of an unconditional promise terribly dangerous? Who will be good? Won‟t it lead perhaps to universalism, libertinism, license and sundry disasters? Don‟t we need to insist on sanctification to prevent the whole from collapsing into cheap grace? Doesn‟t the Bible follow the declaration of grace with certain exhortations and imperatives? So the protestations go, for the most part designed to reimpose at least a minimal conditionality on the promise.

It is crucial to see that here we have arrived at the decisive point which will entirely determine how we look at what we call sanctification. It is true, you see, that as old beings we simply cannot understand or cope with the unconditional promise of justification pronounced in the name of Jesus. „What we don‟t see is that what the unconditional promise is calling forth is a new being. The justification of God promised in Jesus is not an “offer” made to us as old beings; it is our end, our death. We are, quite literally, through as old beings. To use the vernacular, we have “had it.” All the questions and protests that we raise are really just the death rattle of the old Adam and Eve who sense that their kingdom is under radical and final attack. No doubt that is why the defense is so desperate, and why it even quite innocently takes such pious and well-meaning forms.

But isn‟t the unconditional promise dangerous? Of course it is! After all, look what happened to Jesus! It is the death of us one way or another. Either we stick in our conditionality and go to that death which is eternal, or we are put to death to be raised to new and eternal life in the one who lives eternally. The point is that when we come up against the danger and radicality of the unconditional promise, the solution is not to fall back on conditionality but simply to be drawn into the death and resurrection of Jesus. The old being cannot survive the promise, the promise which makes new beings out of nothing. God is the one who calls into being that which is from that which is not. The new being finds its center now not in itself, but in Jesus.

AMEN.

There is so much more to this article, as these excellent segments are taken from the first four pages of about a ten and a half page article. Read more at PMNotes