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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sanctification By Faith (2 of 3)

If Justification by Faith (JBF) is the heart of the gospel message, Sanctification by Faith (SBF) is its lifeblood, its power for daily living.
Definition:When we talk about sanctification, what we mean is this - how does a sinner who has been saved by God's grace actually start to change, to be transformed (Rom 12:2) into the image of God (2 Cor 3:18), to live a life that is holy and pleasing to God, rather than sinful and displeasing? Is it a matter of trying harder? Or is something else involved? How does my sanctification relate to my justification?
So the gospel message for unbelievers is that salvation comes by faith in Christ, and few evangelicals would disagree that sinners are justified by faith alone. When it comes to sanctification, however, many Christians (even in Reformed churches) unintentionally revert to a works-based theology – “I may be saved by faith but I will become more like Christ only through my own effort.” They live as if holiness is achieved by trying harder, that sanctification comes by works.

This creates a sort of practical dichotomy – the gospel message may be good news for “sinners” outside the church, but it often seems strangely irrelevant for “believers” on the inside. The road to sainthood appears to be paved with personal effort. After all, even Paul says “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). (Of course, many overlook the following verse: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. Our working is always subsequent and in response to God’s prior working.)

The Reformers, however, recognized that the gospel does not end once the Christian is justified – it is just as relevant for those who already believe as it is for pagans in their unbelief. Like justification, our sanctification is also by faith.

Martin Luther unpacks this concept with an example of covetousness:
If you wish to fulfill the law and not covet, as the law demands, come believe in Christ in whom grace, righteousness, peace, liberty, and all things are promised you. If you believe, you shall have all things; if you do not believe you shall lack all things… God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything.
- Luther, On Christian Liberty, 13
What Luther means here is that while the law shows us what we ought to do (eg. “don’t covet”), it does not give us the power NOT to do it. Just as we are incapable of justifying ourselves to God, so also we are incapable of sanctifying ourselves for God. Why? Because even if I am able to control my outward behavior, my heart within is still fundamentally covetous. My external sins flow from internal sins of the heart (cf. Mk 7:14-23).

Scottish preacher Thomas Chalmers reflects on our heart problem, pointing out that we are inevitably torn between mutually exclusive affections:
The love of God, and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity, and that so irreconcilable that they can not dwell together in the same bosom. [It is impossible] for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it… the only way to dispossess it of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.
How then do we alter the affections of our heart? By continually returning to the promises of God in faith! Luther describes it like this:
The soul which clings to [God’s promises]with a firm faith will be so closely united with them… that it will not only share in all their power but will be saturated and intoxicated by them…This, then, is how through faith alone without works the soul is justified by the Word of God, sanctified, made true…Just as the heated iron glows like fire because of the union of fire with it, so the Word imparts its qualities to the soul.
- Luther, On Christian Liberty, 14-15
In other words, our hearts are sanctified (changed, perfected) only as we repeatedly embrace the gospel in faith. Luther offers an analogy from marriage: faith is the wedding ring which unites us to Christ; by it he inherits all that is ours (sin, unrighteousness), and we inherit all that is his (glory, righteousness). Our desires are transformed as we focus on Christ’s magnificent, ravishing love for us. As Jerry Bridges says, “My driving motivation now is not guilt but gratitude.”

Tim Keller sees in this the fundamental dynamic for Christian living: “We are saved by believing the gospel, and then we are transformed in every part of our mind, heart, and life by believing the gospel more and more deeply as our life goes on.” The reality of my union with Christ funds my spiritual change; the indicative drives the imperative. We need to constantly remind ourselves of this truth. We clean ourselves up, then, not be trying harder or by doing good works, but by believing God’s promises more and more.

Jack Miller calls this “preaching the gospel to ourselves daily.” Seen in this light, the gospel message is not just for non-Christians, but for Christians as well. Indeed, as a Christian I need the gospel even more desperately than an unbeliever because I see my sin more clearly – the more I know Christ the more my own sin is exposed.

It is important to note that this concept of sanctification by faith is fundamentally biblical. As Dr. Richard Gaffin says, “What faith will always understand is that the path of sanctification has on it the same signposts as the path for justification – grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone."

Such an understanding carries important implications for faith and practice. First, if we do not commend ourselves to God on the basis of our sanctification, neither should we commend ourselves to one another on these same grounds; if God’s approval is based on faith, then our own approval of others cannot be based on their performance, their piety, or even their knowledge of “the right answers.”

Second, sinners and unbelievers should feel welcome in our churches as they are – you do not have to “clean yourself up” before you can participate in our community. This does not mean that we negate God’s demands for righteousness; on the contrary, we preach the law on the one hand, while compassionately identifying with unbelievers as fellow sinners on the other. In regard to God’s standard of perfection, we are lawbreakers just like they are; yet on account of Christ we are righteous, obedient children of God. The only difference between us and them is our relationship to Christ through faith.

Third, we as Christians must incarnate the gospel by being open and vulnerable about our own weaknesses and shortcomings. With Paul, we must testify that we are chief among sinners (1 Tim 1:15) by publicly modeling the repentance, confession, forgiveness, humility, and charity which characterize a life of faith.

Sanctification by faith in Christ is the lifeblood of the gospel.

So now let's take a look at Worship By Faith...


At 3:04 PM, September 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Catholic, I read this with interest. I'm not sure if you are aware of this, but the Catholic Church also teaches that one is saved from God's wrath (justified)at the moment that you accept Christ in faith: through grace alone, through faith alone, through Christ alone. The moment you place your trust in God, answering the call you feel, you are forgiven your past and have God's peace. You do not need to merit it because God already loves you as a Father - and has always loved you even when you were a prodigal child. All you need to do is to return, and God accepts you - not if you first prove yourself to be back on the path of love and righteousness, but before you even do that - while you are still "ungodly."(Paul) That faith in God leads God to pronounce you "Justified" - and the gavel coming down is the act of God placing His love in you. By faith you have allowed this love to enter you and "accepted the Word that God plants in you."(James) It is that love itself that then tells you immediately that you are loved and forgiven ("perfect love has no fear"John); and it is that love itself that now guides you in your life to accomplish "the whole Law." You then fulfill all commands because you have the same love for people as God has for them; you do it naturally, out of "a heart of flesh" without thought to any Law. It is then indeed the same faith which both justifies you (grants forgiveness) and sanctifies you, because faith opens you to accept God's Spirit, which is the spirit of love ("God is Love" John.)and this is the love that sanctifies. The two are always linked: God's declaration of justification and your sanctification (becoming a loving person)because the act of declaring you just is the act of placing love in your heart. So God tells David (psalm) that he is forgiven and "I will put my spirit in you to guide you." Ezekiel says, "I will sprinkle you with water to cleanse you and -also- give you a new heart and new spirit." Forgiveness is always followed by guidance. In fact, if you look at how Catholics and Orthodox look on why God can do this (declaring one who is unrighteous to be righteous)(when God in Proverbs says that to "justify the wicked is an abomination")this is how it has to be. It is the way Isaiah explained it (Isa 55:6-13)God can declare us just since (because of our faith in Him) we have allowed God to make us just. God "justifies the ungodly," according to Isaiah, because they will indeed be sanctified by the spirit. You are not justified by what came before, but by what will come, which you have made possible the moment you put your faith in God. Isaiah writes: "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.'" Just as when God says, "Let there be light," there is light, when God says, "You are declared righteous," you indeed become righteous. And indeed you are made in just person when you have allowed in faith for God's grace of love to enter you through Christ within us. And in being guided by love as our "new master" (Paul) we are freed from the compulsion to evil - which is ultimately what 'salvation' is about (Paul, John, the Gospels). So you start with justification (forgiveness), which is possible because of the sanctification which is to come (and which your faith has made possible), which makes true salvation from evil possible, which also makes it possible to stand and be judged on the Last Day "each according to his works"(Paul,Peter)according to the definition of John: "Those who do what is righteous are righteous." Our rightousness is only made possible by faith in God's grace of love, which we receive into ourselves through Christ. And so God's righteousness is revealed in the world, for His righteousness has an outlet through us "who walk as Jesus did."(John)

At 4:22 PM, September 13, 2007, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Anon - thanks for taking the time to comment.

I'd be very interested to hear you articulate how you think the Catholic faith differs from what the Reformers put forward - because Sanctification by Faith (SBF) as I'm talking about it, flows from the reformers interpretation of Scripture (Calvin, Luther). So I think some of my Catholic friends might disagree with some of what you've written here (but that's ok with me). ;-)

I would point out one instance where you and I might differ, however. You stated that 'You are not justified by what came before, but by what will come, which you have made possible the moment you put your faith in God.'

And I would just point out, that the way you've described it here, faith comes first - from where? is it something we produce on our own? - and then God justifies us - not because we have faith, but ultimately because we produce our own righteousness.

I (with the Reformers) think its the other way around - even faith is a gift of God. So God's justification, his sanctification, and even the faith which unites us to Christ - all of that flows from God's sovereign choice. And it is a gracious gift, that no man may boast (Eph 2:8-9).

So it's not that we produce the faith, and then he does the rest. On the contrary, salvation is entirely of him, start to finish.

That's what I mean by grace.

At the end of the day, I am justified by Christ's righteousness, not mine. And that's a pretty significant difference, I think...

At 1:15 AM, September 14, 2007, Anonymous Richard said...

Hi, Christian. You write very well. I apologize for writing at such length below, but hopefully this way I can avoid the misunderstandings that come from being too succinct. First, a word about my Catholicity. I think that if another Catholic reads what I wrote, they need to keep in mind that the way I use "justification" is called the 'initial justification,' and it is clear that "sanctification" by love is synonymous with being "justi-fied"(being made just) and that we are ultimately "justified" again in a forensic sense at the Final Judgment, because it is seen that we do righteous deeds (or, what really counts, because we have a righteous heart - as the criminal next to Jesus did or someone who accepts God's love on their deathbed, who literally cannot do deeds). The gavel coming down - the actual act of justifying us - is the act of infusing us with love: "Justification is the translation in our nature into a state of grace"(Council of Trent).

I have to disagree the characterization that what you can do with love is "one's own righteousness." Precisely, it is Christ's righteousness, because it is God and Christ acting through us. "All love comes from God."(John) Whatever we do in love, we do with the love God has endowed us with. We may sense that this is "our love" that we choose to express. And in a sense it is, but only because we are members of Christ's vine. We are branches on the vine of Christ, supplied with our nutrients (love, spirit) which make up who we are, and yet are Christ acting through us. We are not coerced or overwhelmed by Christ, but are "in him as he is in us." In the same way, "love is a fruit of the spirit within you"(Paul) so that we are tempted to say "I have my own love" with which to be righteous - because we sense our own spirit as something ours. But our spirit, that endows us with our own compassion, is God within us. So when we say, "I can do nothing," we are speaking from our ego, and when we say "I have some of my own righteousness" it is only because we are thinking of our spirit as a natural part of us. We keep clear, however, that the spirit's righteousness is God's own righteousness and not our ego's man-made doing. When the Scriptures say that "God stirs our spirit" to do things, who is it who does it - God through the person, or the person himself? Well, it is the spirit of God that resides in the person. Our spirit can grow from God's stimulus so that it "matures," and we can even do things (in love and compassion)that come out of our own spirit's initiative. Nevertheless, God considers it as His own doing - "for I reap what I have not sown"(parable of talents), because God considers what we do with our spirit, being a part of Him, as if He had done it Himself. God works as easily through us as from within us: "God is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all."(Paul) This portion of God within us, however, is not spoken of in the Scriptures as God's outpost within us, as something foreign to us. Instead, it is our own spirit, and "God's Spirit recognizes our spirit in declaring us his children" (Paul). In sum, to say "my own righteousness" one needs always to ask - of your ego? or as you feel moved by your spirit within you?

Let me explain this in lay terms. The Gospel, as understood by both Orthodox and Catholics, is that, if you find yourself immersed in a life of deceit, greed, and self-centered evil (which is the natural state of our ego) the only thing which can save you is love. Love is the only thing which will break your enslavement to evil. You cannot create love for yourself, but only receive it in your heart. The Good News is that you do not need to do anything to merit it, because it is placed in your heart freely by God, out of God's love. God is love, and this love is the entry of God's very presence into your life. As you know, the understanding of 'the elect' has not been fleshed out in Catholicism, because whatever the 'solution' to understanding what is meant has to maintain the equally established view that God "is the Savior of all"(Paul) and "is in all."(Paul) Being in all, God wishes that all be saved - and, so, empirically, we say that all people will have love arise within them at some point in their lives. All will receive "the call," and the call is meant to save in all cases - it is effective for all who would put their faith in it to guide them.

When we are changed by love, we are not only saved from evil itself, which is the central meaning of 'salvation' (Lord's Prayer: "Deliver us from evil") but we are 'saved' from judgment. Our role, however, is simply not to frustrate this love and replace it with our own "righteousness," but to let this love guide us. We are to say, "I refuse to reject God's grace."(Paul) We are simply to put our faith in it and let it take us, for this is the "obedience of faith" which gives us a life of righteousness. Love will take us into a form of righteousness that allows us, for example, to eat foods sacrificed to idols and to go without physical circumcision and yet abide by all rules of righteous conduct, guiding us the way Abraham was guided - so that, even if we step outside the written Law (not "break" since we are not atively referring to them), as Abraham lived without them, we are guided by the "righteousness of the Spirit" (Paul) and are "justified by faith" (Habbakuk,Paul). In short, we live not the "righteousness of the Law" but the "righteousness of God." Ultimately, we are righteous because, under the guidance of God's Spirit, which "stirs up" our own spirit, we become children of God, and "do good to all people, just as God gives rain and sun to all" (Gospel), led by our spirit, from where "faith,hope,love..." come. We have become true children, not because we build with the ego a righteousness for ourselves, but because God's grace (love) has matured to where it lives always within us (called 'habitual grace.') Jesus came as the "second Adam," a human "full of grace who lived among us"(Gospel of John), as a "pioneer"(Paul). Through our growth in love, which is the growth of our "stirred up spirit," we too can reach habitual grace, and thus have "reached the full maturity of Christ"(Paul)so that, as Paul says, he can "present you as mature in Christ" at the Judgment. At the Judgment "we have confidence for we are as He is in the world."

The fundamental idea is that Jesus was truly a second Adam and pioneer, and that Jesus really does want disciples who will "take up each his own cross." The promise, is that, if you do (and all you need to do is accept love into your heart when it comes), you will be justified, sanctified and freed from evil. In short, you can do what Jesus himself did. Thus, when the man in the Gospels asks Jesus what he needs to do to to enter heaven, Jesus says "Follow the ten commandments" and lists them. "That is impossible," he is told. "Not for God," is his reply. Because with love it is indeed possible to be righteous. Indeed, Saint Paul promises that love fulfills all the ten commandments, and lists them (Romans).

What, then, you ask, did Jesus do for us on the cross? Jesus sacrificed himself to bring us the message that God loves us and forgives us. God loves us as a Father, who has always loved us, and has forgiven us "even while we were sinners"(Paul). God asked Jesus to bear the persecution of the world, "which turns on all who spread God's message of love"(Paul) and in obedience Jesus' love "was made perfect (was made so deep) that he saved all"(Hebrews), for "what greater love is there than do die for the unrighteous"? Indeed, through his sacrifice for the cause, Jesus did indeed reach the heart of the criminal next to him and the Roman soldier at his feet. In this act of deepest love, opening his arms without reproach to all humans ("forgive them Father"), taking our rejection as the Suffering Servant, his love so sanctified his body that "sin was condemned in the flesh itself"(Paul). It is now for us to know this love as well, being "buried in baptism with him" and "nailing our old self, to rise with him"(Paul). The cross, to be sure, also results in "nailing the list of our transgressions to the tree,"(Paul) but this is part of real sloughing off of our previous self, with a rebirth, centered around what Paul calls the central 'mystery':"I pray that you might know the full dimensions of Christ's love, how high and deep and with what breadth"(like to cross). We are thus promised our own resurrection "provided/if you suffer with him." (Paul) This suffering is not just vicariously through reliving the Passion with Jesus (being aroused to love, "by his stripes we are healed" Isaiah), but would now make up part of one's Christian life - for we must be prepared to suffer the world's rejection of love as Jesus did. It was in the same mission of spreading love that Paul "took on whatever sufferings were missing on Christ's body"(Paul) and that people understand the injunction: "If you do not take up your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple." This means that we are to endure what there is to suffer in allowing love to guide us, turning the other cheek, carrying the packs of our oppressors, to "conquer evil with love."(Paul)This does not exhaust all that is contained in the cross, for there is also Christus Victor and a sense of "satisfaction" (which would take another discussion, but keep in mind Hosea:"I want your constant love and not your animal sacrifices"; Jesus: "go learn what is meant, I desire mercy and not sacrifice"(Gospel)), but this is the core of it; the cross is a symbol of Love, and Jesus did something once and for all to tell us we were loved, although we need to incorporate that message into ourselves to make it become a reality in our lives.

Your question about faith is a good one. The Catholic understanding is that faith is a 'prevenient grace' which "is a fruit of the spirit." What one feels is this: you feel love arise within you, (from where you know not "for like the wind that listeth from you know not whence, such are those of the spirit"(Gospels)) and you are faced with a choice - do you let love guide you here or not? Do you put your trust/faith in it or not? However, your choice is ultimately a different one you make; for there is already a part of you that wishes to follow love - your spirit within you ("the fruit of the spirit is faith.") In fact, if there was not already a part of you pulling in that direction, you would not really have a choice. Because you would have to supply your own motivation and "effort." Instead, the "effort" in trusting is already supplied, by your own spirit that desires to do so - and, since it is from our spirit, it is supplied to us by Christ ("Lord, help me have faith" (Gospel))and supplied by God ("No man can come to me without the Father drawing him"(Gospel).) Your real choice is thus just of releasing or not - allowing something to happen or not: Do you allow this part of you to guide you, so that you put your trust in God? or do you reject the part of you that is eager to trust? You know it is real faith when in the end it comes easily, for you are then riding on the winds of your spirit. And you know you are dealing with faith when it means you are actually doing something as a result of this faith, because faith is a response to a dilemma as to what to do in a situation, and faith is what allows you to allow love to guide you (allow God to guide you through the indwelling Christ) so that "you know your faith through your actions"(James). Now, if you are not having 'faith' in this way, dealing in real terms with decisions in real-time, then you are not really dealing with faith but are thinking of credal beliefs which have no power to justify, no matter how correct they may be. Real faith is not about knowing but about "welcoming." John's Gospel begins by speaking of "those who believed in Him and welcomed Him" as the same thing. to "believe in Christ" is to "welcome" into our hearts the love that Christ sends us - "whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me, and who welcomes me, welcomes my Father."(Gospel) It is about welcoming love and compassion into our hearts when these are offered to us by Christ, "not letters written on stones but written in our hearts"(Paul).

So, to answer your question about the Reformers, I have to say that it is often hard to know if what the Catholic Church teaches is really fundamentally different from the Reformers. I will point out that the Council of Trent did not in fact declare heretical (or anathema) the central idea of imputed righteousness - that we do not need to be good ourselves, because Jesus did it for us. There has always been a component of that in Christianity. We have the phrase by John, that "although the goal is that you be good, if you are not, you have an advocate in heaven - Jesus, the righteous one." The term "the righteous one" (zadiq) is related to the idea in Judaism of the one "for whose sake" God would spare others - as the "ten righteous men" in Abraham that would prevent God from destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. The idea is that God spares others "for their sake" - that is, to prevent injury to the righteous ones in collateral damage. Jesus thus protects us in the same way - because "we belong to him," not just mystically but bodily, so that to harm us is to harm Jesus, and God spares us "for his sake." This, at least, is the way a Jew of the day would have used the term. What is clear to all (Catholic and Reformer)is that we are granted protection through Christ because Christ is in fact within us. He has been born within us and is in fact dwelling within us(Paul). So it can be hard to know if there is a real difference. The Catholic points to the faith that truly welcomes Christ,as love, and can say that that faith has justified him. A Lutheran/Reform might say that the 'faith' they mean is different: the faith that Jesus will be accepted in their stead - which is a separate faith from the faith which allows Christ to dwell within you. I do not think that "the faith which lays hold of Christ and appropriates Him" is the same as the faith which "welcomes him." The first is a creed, and, frankly, is hard to think of as anything other than pure antinomianism (faith in the abscence of works or love). The second faith, which welcomes Christ, is a "justifying faith" - by Luther's own account, for it is the faith that sanctifies.

To put it simply, you cannot be sanctified by God's Spirit (love) if you do not accept it into you; and since this is the definition of a "faith which justifies," you cannot have a "justying faith" that does not involve you welcoming Christ's love as the guide in your life. What Luther and Calvin seem to be doing, is to imagine that a simple belief (of imputed righteousness) will stimulate one to actually welcome and put one's trust in God. This may well be true, but in that case, I would clarify that it is the second part - the placing one's trust in God - which is the efficacious part, and the real "faith" where the intellectual 'confession' is but the beginning. This is in fact what Paul himself does. He says "believe that he resurrected" (by the way, never have I seen 'believe that his righteousness will be accepted for yours') and "you will be saved" - but then explains "For all who call on God are saved...but how can you call on God if you do not first believe?" So the intellectual faith is often necessary as a jump start (and you may note that the specific 'belief' changes many times according to the circumstances in Abraham's life and in Paul's sayings; "from faith to faith" - so it is not one specific belief but the general belief "that God is willing and able to help"(Paul))and that what really counts is the act of actual welcoming God's guidance in fidelity - "I will keep my promise to Abraham because he did all I commanded"(Genesis) showing "faith by my actions"(James)and living "by faith"(Habakkuk). Paul just did not think that you could truly believe in the resurrection and fail to put your trust in God, trusting that "the Spirit that did it for Christ could also do it for you."(Paul)I get the sense that Luther felt the same way about imputation, that the gratitude that one felt to find out that God was willing to do this for one would surely result in placing one's trust in God when he came calling.

In short, I don't believe in imputed righteousness (as a legal technicality, which goes against God's integrity) but am willing to look on it as an intellectual beliefs that may help certain people in the real thing: putting one's trust in God when God comes calling, so as to welcome him. Indeed, Trent did not argue against this belief, but only against its use "on its own" if it is not followed by an actual trusting in God - as determined by the actual coming of the Spirit to dwell in you. What Trent specifically said was that if you said you are saved simply by believing that Jesus did it all for you, and believed this "to the exclusion of all charity that the Holy Spirit pours in you," then this is not a "justifying faith" - which, of course, what Luther and Calvin themselves said.

I do think though that the precise belief in imputation is technically wrong, and that the way laid out by Isaiah (that God can declare thing to be true because they will become true) is not only clearly spelled out in Scripture but more consistent with the whole tenor of the Old Testament and makes Christianity a better "fulfillment" of the prophecies (You don't get the sense that the prophets were saying, "The new covenant will be an escape clause, where the Messiah will do it all for you"; but rather "I will make a new covenant with you...I will give you a heart of flesh and a new spirit"(Ezekiel)). Nevertheless, correct doctrinal beliefs never saved anyone, and only God working within us. So it is certainly possible that others may benefit from a belief in Lutheranism/Reform imputation - if it opens them to accepting God within them. My concern, however (and I think history has borne this out) is that by putting so much emphasis away from love and the actual welcoming of God's spirit, and placing it instead on Jesus' own righteousness (not through you but external, imputed righteousness), that people are handicapped precisely at that moment when they need faith - for when God/Christ comes calling, saying, "look, I offer you compassion for this situation in your life, accept it into your heart and let it guide you" a Protestant has less encouragement from the pulpit to go ahead and accept it, and may even be discouraged, being told - as Melanchthon wrote a potential convert called Brenz, "Look away from this love and regeneration, for it will not soothe your conscience, for it will never heal you fully; you must instead fortify your faith in Jesus." Indeed, in Luther's postscript he wrote, "And thus I lose sight of this object Christ who is a teacher and seek only Him in Himself; for he did not say "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" as if he were giving us a path, but he is "the Way, the Truth and the Life" in Himself."(paraphrase)From your posting, I take it this has changed, and there is now much encouragement from the pulpit, but you then need to overcome the basic teaching (I think most Protestants respond "but why do I need to?") or else, because you are not acustomed to thinking of love as God's grace, you are more likely to supply it for yourself, falling into the very problem of works-righteousness that you (we all are) are trying to avoid.

In short, I think that Reform/Lutheranism tends to short-circuit itself, preventing the very transition from the intellectual belief to the "justfying faith" that it wishes.

It makes more sense to me to put the emphasis on what defines a "justifying faith" - on the welcoming of the sanctification of love. After all, if you say that "putting your faith in love is what will allow love to then save you," you can certainly correctly say, "It is the faith you were willing to place in it, and not the love itself, which justified you." But it is somewhat to miss the point; for it is equally true to say, it is not the faith alone which saved you, but the love which freed you from evil saved you. Indeed, by emphasizing that intial delaration of justification, you tend to lose sight of what we consider salvation - not from God, but from evil. I am not sure if you are aware that, in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, God actually does not condemn anyone, as this would contrary to his nature. God answers all who call on him, and truly wishes that all be saved. But some refuse to call on God, and close themselves off. It is this self-condemnation that places one in 'hell' - which is not a punishment meted out by God vindictively but a place where people suffer the loveless existence that they have created for themselves, just "those who did not think knowledge of God important were delivered over to their greed, deceit, etc"(Paul, Romans). Salvation is not from God Himself, but from a life without love, and this salvation comes from Christ's indwelling, as your personal freedom from evil, which goes beyond the atonement on the cross: "his blood justified you, how much more will His living in you now save you!"(Paul))The path for Paul goes from initial justification ('peace') on to salvation - as the true eradication of evil and full sanctification by love, becoming "as Jesus was" through "the obedience of faith" so that "we walk in the light" of God's love.

On the other hand, I fully understand that Catholicism can become top-heavy and unwieldy, as too baroque in its many details, but it is also possible to see it in its simplicity as I am attempting to show you. For one thing, many of the schemas having to do with hell and purgatory, built by medieval theologians, are just that - the schemas of individual theologians, however, numerous, but without the weight of the Church. For example, all that is true Catholic "doctrine" that the Church vouches for, as regards Purgatory,is that there is a purgation that happens after death, which cleanses all those who were imperfect but did not fully reject God's love (commit a mortal "sin that leads to death"(Jude)), and that we can pray on their behalf. All else is speculation. (I note that most Protestants allow for "a sanctification which is never complete in life" but which, since "without sanctification no one will 'see' God." is completed "somehow" after death.)But it is also simplified by the glue of love. Where a Protestant starts with the faith in "imputation" and works out from there, trying to incorporate the rest of the Scriptures (and having trouble across many 'hard passages" having all to do with the genuine need to be good and righteous), the Catholic starts from the center of love. This is not bad place to start, since "God is love"(John) There is thus a consistency that I like, there are almost no "hard passages" to contend with (except predestination), and all is tied together by that central concept to which Paul himself gave pride of place: "we have faith, hope and love - and the greatest of these is love." As John says, "God is love; whoever loves knows God and is a child of God; and whoever does not love, does not know God." We begin and end everything with love, for "Without love I am nothing."(Paul)

So the difference as I see it is this: A Catholic sees all in terms of love and aims to be a disciple, to follow "the Way, the Truth and the Life" "walking as Jesus did." A Lutheran/Reform sees all in terms of being "reckoned righteous even though I'm not"(Calvin) and aims to be a fervent believer, "that Jesus was in Himself the Way, which he walked on my behalf" - and yet you must also become a disciple if that 'faith' is to be a justifying faith. So, they start off quite different, but because of the need for a justifying (sanctifying) faith, they end up the same.

The moment you say, justification does not exist without sanctification, and this sanctification comes from the indwelling of Christ, then we are all on the same path.

At 11:06 AM, September 18, 2007, Anonymous Richard said...

Christian, I just listened to the sermon by Tim Keller on the Sermon on the Mount, which you posted. I think that how he opens it with the example of the Israelites during the Exodus is an excellent 'dramatization'of the issues of justification, faith and salvation. Tim makes the excellent point that the Israelites were given the Law at Sinai after they had already been saved from the Egyptians. They were saved first, and only later given the Law by which to live. They were saved from Egypt purely because they were willing to put their faith in Moses and followed him. Ultimately they put their faith in God. Also, ultimately, it was not their faith that 'caused' God to deliver them but God's love that sought them out. Their faith is simply what allowed them to receive God's loving help. Just as it was people's faith in Jesus that allowed him to heal them ("no one in that village was healed where there was no faith.") Because of faith, they tackled the dilemma of whether to follow Moses, and did follow him. Their 'faith' was not simply the belief that Moses/God could do what he said he would do (this 'faith alone' is not sufficient), but their willingness to put their trust in him - and to actually follow him out into the desert. This is the "faith alone" which allowed them to receive the promises of God.

It is worth remembering, however, that these same Israelites never made it to the Promised Land. Because, following their deliverance from Egypt, they were given the guidance of God through the written Law (in the pattern of forgiveness, then guidance)- but refused to follow this guidance. They did not reject God outright, and so did not turn around and return to Egypt 'where we had it so good - at least we had food.' But they remained in that middle territory - between bondage to Egypt and the blessings of the Promised Land - by their on-again-off-again imperfect fidelity to God. Theologically, we would say that they remained "justified" (God says "I will forgive them")and yet they have not fully entered in to their "salvation" - the Promised Land. They had not "completed their salvation"(Paul).

To be "justified" and freed from Egypt required an initial "trust alone," that got one to initiate the journey and follow Moses out into the desert. But to enter the Promised Land - the full promise of God - would require following God's guidance. As God later told David "You are forgiven on your faith alone, apart from works"(Paul) but "you must accept my guidance and don't be like a horse that fights and needs to be led by the bit"(Psalm 32).

In the end, it was decided that the Law at Sinai was an 'experiment' that failed. To give the Law on its own and expect people to be able to follow it was "futile"(Paul, Romans). For this reason, God suspended his judgment, and allowed the unrighteous to live the same as the righteous (without experiencing his disciplinary wrath)(Ecclesiastes), because they could not justifiably be held accountable (Paul, Romans). What would be necessary is precisely what God had given David - "the spirit to guide you." So Ezekiel announced the "new covenant, whereby I will put a new heart and a new spirit in you, so as to enable you to follow my commands." We now receive this spirit from Christ, not simply as the person who lived long ago, but as one who lives within us ("Even if we have known Christ in a purely human way, yet now we no longer know Him like that(Paul,2 Cor 5:16)). And it is because we can now indeed be righteous - through the gift/grace of the spirit (love) we accept in faith from Christ - that God has now decreed that we can indeed be held accountable and "has revealed his justice"(Paul) and will indeed judge again. This was in fulfillment of the prophecies:“Judgment will again be founded on righteousness.” (Psalm 94:15); “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked.” (Malachi 3:18) We can now pass the judgment, however, because we are guided by the spirit of Christ, which enables us to be righteous, for love fulfills the "whole Law"(Paul).

We thus return to the Israelites, and recall that Joshua, among all the people, was the scout who first entered the Promised Land, and came back to lead the people (those not born in Egypt). And we recall that "Jesus" is the same name as "Joshua," and Jesus is indeed our "pioneer"(Paul) who takes us into the kingdom of heaven, if we will put our trust in him and follow him.

So, in the Catholic/Orthodox understanding, God does truly desire that you personally become righteous in your own actions. God truly requires our fidelity to his guidance. Otherwise, we do not enter the Promised Land.

But this should not be looked at (and you will appreciate this) as that the "works" we do are the requirement for entrance into the Promised Land. It was faith that freed the Israelites from bondage and it remains faith that brings them right into the Promised Land - at least it did Joshua, for Joshua was the only one who did not lose his faith in God, and was willing to actually scout out the Promised Land, whereas the others had given up all hope. In the same way, it is our continual faith in God's guidance that brings us right into the promised kingdom of heaven.

When we (Orthodox/Catholic) say you are saved by "faith alone" we do not mean that following God's guidance is not necessary, because it is. It means that your "faith" is in fact your willingness to follow God's guidance - and thus will always necessarily include love, which is that very guidance.

The story of the Israelites points out that the Promised Land is a free promise, not merited, but a kingdom you walk right into - if you follow Joshua/Jesus. You are the only one who can hold yourself back, because God will not refuse you, but welcome you with open arms. God is calling you, and all you need do is follow in faith (as we covered above, God even helps you in your faith).

The Sinai desert represents that middle territory, in which we are only partially guided by love in our actions (which also means that our faith in God is only partial). Nevertheless, as long as we do not break completely with God (never completely reject love from entering our hearts) then we are forgiven our trespasses (as hamartia - "mistakes")and remain "justified" - for, even if we were to die in this state (without perfect faith, which is also to say without perfect love (and a not fully-sanctified state)) we will nevertheless be accepted by God, who will complete our sanctification after our death.

Ultimately,we 'see' the kingdom of heaven because of the love that we have allowed into ourselves in faith. Love is not a 'requirement' as if because of love we are permitted entry into heaven,as if heaven were simply a place. Instead, it is this love that has allowed us to 'see' God at all. "The pure of heart will see God"(Jesus, Sermon on the Mount).

God is a judge, and "judges whether we have love" (Catholic Catechism, citing St John of the Cross, based ultimately on the "common standard of righteousness"(Paul,Peter)), in the sense that God is merely assessing whether we have allowed His love into us to guide us (which is equally a measure of our faith). This 'judgmnet' is different from condemnation, which actively prevents a person from coming back into one's good graces. Jesus tells us specifically "do not judge" and clarifies that he means "do not condemn." He himself, he says, does not and will never condemn - he "came not judge but to save," and tells those "who do not follow my words" that "on the last day, I will not judge you but these words will stand as your judge." (By the way, part of the problem with God imputing Christ onto you at the Final Judgement is that it is not God who will be judging, but Christ (Paul, Acts) and even then it is not Christ but "the words I have spoken" - that is, the immutable common standard of being righteous). So, the standard is there - just as the Promised Land is there -, but God and Christ have no interest in excluding anyone, but wish that all would come into this life of love.

The Israelites excluded themselves from the Promised Land simply because they refused to enter it. It was not withheld, but they refused to scout it out and go on in. They thus lived out their 'punishment' of wandering in the desert. This 'punishment,' however, was not vindictive, but simply the consequence of their refusal to trust in God's helping hand. Their 'punishment' would have ended the moment that they had resumed their faith and followed God that short distance into the Promised Land. And, with faith/fidelity resumed, their past would again be forgotten and forgiven - and, if this faith was complete (allowing for God to guide one completely) they would never again experience more 'punishment.' The Catholic Cathechism expresses it this way: "'temporal punishment' of sin…must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain."

When you have accepted God's love fully, in full faith, you have also entered fully into the Promised Land, where there is forgiveness and all the blessings that come from love - central of which is that one can 'see' God and remain in His 'light.'

OK, Christian, I think I have expressed what I wanted to convey. I do not wish to 'take over' your website, and so will leave you with this. If you have specific questions, I will of course be glad to answer (succinctly). I wish you all the best of luck with your Missoula project - may you keep the message of God's love and forgiveness alive in Missoula. I am sure that there are those who are in need of this message, and for whom you are ideally suited to bring it to them.

At 10:00 AM, September 20, 2007, Anonymous Richard said...

Christian, sorry but I couldn’t resist. In thinking more about the Israelites during Exodus, I realized how well this story tells the difference between the Orthodox/Catholic and the Reform understanding. This will truly be my final post (except to answer questions.)

Imagine that you are among the Israelites and have been wandering the desert for 40 years. You put your trust in Moses/God and followed him into the desert, but have not completed the journey. The goal is the Promised Land. The problem is that the Promised land is not just the land of Canaan; it is not just a place. You could physically enter into Canaan in no time. But it wouldn’t be the Promised Land. Because the Promised Land is a land where “those after God’s heart” live, and a land that is full of God’s blessings. The Promised Land is for such as the future King David, who was a man “after God’s own heart.” It is a land, not just of technical righteousness, but the special righteousness that comes from “a glad heart.” If you simply carried out the physical steps, without the heart, depending on your own works-righteousness, you would not walk into this Promised Land, but simply into the land of Canaan – and would find this land to be barren, and one from which “God his face.”

So we read: “Remember that the Lord your God led you on the entire journey these 40 years in the wilderness, so that He might humble you and test you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.”(De 8:2) “Testing the heart” is always linked to “keeping the commands” but in a special way, where it is not the keeping the commands itself that is being judged (for these could be carried out in bad faith – unwillingly and with the intent to gain entry into the Promised Land by merit, and thus leading only into the land of Canaan) but whether these works are proceeding in the way God Himself would do them – with the same heart; that is, inspired by love. This is equally measured by your faith in God. King David was “a man after God’s own heart” because he put his full faith in God, and allowed God’s Spirit to guide him – God’s heart became his own heart. You need that same faith and thus ‘heart’ if you are to ‘see’ the Promised Land. The 40 years were to “test” whether the Israelites had that special faith and heart, so that the land they entered would not be Canaan, but the Promised Land.

So now imagine that 40 years have passed, and no one, not even Moses, has arrived at that full faith and ‘heart’ with which to enter the Promised Land. But now one man, Joshua, has succeeded. He has made it over, and has returned. He says, “Follow me.” The question is, do you believe him, and do you put your trust in him? And, if so, why? In what way?

One person stands up from among the people, whose name is Orthodox-Catholic, and says: “Joshua/Jesus is no mere man. During these years in the desert, God realized that we could not do it alone, with simply the Law in writing. We need his Spirit to guide us, with the gift/grace of love. God has now come Himself in the person of Joshua/Jesus to lead us home. In His Incarnation, God has come as Joshua/Jesus, as a human being who is indeed “full of grace, who lived among us” (John) – and, in this human form, has succeeded as the first human being to make it into the Promised Land. Joshua/Jesus has thus opened the Way for us to follow. He is our ‘pioneer.’ Let us follow him. Let us welcome him into our own hearts, and allow him to guide us, and allow him to make a ‘new creation’ within us, giving us ‘a new heart and a new spirit,’ for he will take us into the Promised Land. Let us allow this love he places in our hearts to guide us. We can, some of us, ‘enter’ the Promised Land now, during our lives, and, in our healing, come to ‘know that the kingdom has overtaken you’(Matt 12:28/Luke 11:20). But if we don’t come into this full vision of the Promised Land, let us have faith that even the smallest toe-hold of love that we have welcomed in faith will allow us to ‘see’ God when we die, at least dimly, and so - as long as we are still welcoming and following Joshua/Jesus when we die - God will admit us into the Promised Land. That portion of love within us, which is the extent to which we have welcomed Joshua/Jesus to dwell within us (even if just a ‘toe-hold’), will ‘represent’ the whole of us. On account of this indwelling of Joshua/Jesus within us, however small, we will enter the Promised Land. For, coming face to face with God and experiencing God’s full love, our stubble and chaff will be burnt away and all that will remain will be our gold – that portion of love that we did allow to reside within us, which will now be the whole of us. This is God’s mercy, that he will accept us without perfection, but if we have put our trust in him. He will perfect us in the purification after death. So let us follow Joshua/Jesus as disciples, and welcome him into our hearts, and allow him to lead us in his Way (by the spirit of love he gives us) into the Promised Land. Let us rejoice with the future prophet Isaiah that we will be able to reach the Promised Land, wearing the mantle of that special righteousness which springs up from within us, when we receive the water of his Spirit. In this lies our ‘salvation.’ As Isaiah will say: “I greatly rejoice in the Lord,
I exult in my God;
for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation
and wrapped me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom wears a turban
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its growth,
and as a garden enables what is sown to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:10-11)

Another person stands up from among the people, whose name is Lutheran/Calvinist, and says: “No, people, that is to misunderstand the true meaning of Joshua/Jesus. During these 40 years, I have come to the realization, that we will never make it into the Promised Land ourselves. It is not humanly possible. I have also come to believe that unless we achieve this ‘heart’ for ourselves in complete perfection, God will reject us – for it is not true that God will accept us in ourselves in a partially sanctified state; a ‘toe-hold’ of love is not sufficient. God’s requirements are much greater, and much more impossible; enough to make a man truly despair. But I have now come to the towering realization that God will consider us as being just like Joshua/Jesus, if we simply believe that he himself did in fact make it into the Promised Land. We do not need to achieve that ‘heart’ and go into the Promised Land ourselves, because the wonderful thing is that Joshua/Jesus has done it for us. We must resign ourselves to the fact that we will never be healed sufficiently to enter the Promised Land in our lifetime, and must necessarily stay here in the desert due to our human weakness, but, after our death, God will admit us into the Promised Land because of our faith that Joshua/Jesus did make it there on our behalf – God will ‘impute’ his righteousness (his ‘heart’) onto us. This is God’s mercy, that he will accept the fact the Joshua/Jesus made it as if we ourselves had made it – so long as we believe that God would do this for us. Yes, we will eventually need that ‘heart’ ourselves in order to ‘see’ the Promised Land, for we need “the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14), but God will sanctify us after our death, because of our belief in Joshua/Jesus. In short, we will be allowed entry, not because we ourselves have in any way achieved this heart, but because Joshua/Jesus did. We must put our faith in Joshua/Jesus in Himself. Knowing this, I am content to live in this desert, for I know that Joshua/Jesus made it over into the Promised Land, and that must be enough for me – I can now enter after I die. However, you must also know that Joshua/Jesus will only represent us if we actually follow him, and have also welcomed him into ourselves; he does need to have gained at least a toe-hold within us, with at least some degree of sanctification, for only then will God to be willing to accept him in our stead. So let us follow Joshua/Jesus, let us let him guide us – but be careful not to put too much faith in the power of God’s gift/grace of love to heal you and give you your own ‘heart,’ and do not put your faith in the supposed gift/grace of God’s merciful forgiveness (as if He could accept you based on your own partial love), but instead put your faith in the fact that Joshua/Jesus did make it, and God will accept his success for your own – in this lies God’s gift/grace of mercy. God will forgive you based on Joshua/Jesus’ perfect righteousness, which he will impute to you, covering your deficiencies as a mantle. You will indeed wear a mantle of righteousness that will spring from God’s spirit (as Isaiah will tell you), but this mantle will be imperfect and insufficient, and God will have to reject you. The only mantle which can give you any peace of conscience when God is judging you will be Joshua/Jesus’ own mantle, which you can ‘apprehend to cover your own unrighteousness.’ Put your faith in this mantle – here is where your true ‘faith’ should lie. It is by this ‘faith’ alone, through this ‘grace’ of forgiveness alone, and through Joshua/Jesus in Himself alone that you will be reckoned to have a perfect ‘heart,’ even though you do not, and thus gain entry into the Promised Land. So believe fervently in this, and you will enter the Promised Land after you die!”

So, as you can see, the whole outlook is different. Nevertheless, you can also see how all the people, whichever speaker they were following, would all rise up together to follow Joshua/Jesus into the Promised Land. Because, however they think about how precisely God will judge them, they all need to follow Joshua/Jesus. And, as they walk together, those who see themselves as disciples would look on the ‘fervent believers’ and say, “Just be sure to keep following Joshua/Jesus and you will make it, whether in this lifetime or in the next.” And the others would answer, “Yes, we will keep following as disciples, although we will ultimately be allowed entry into the Promised Land, not because we follow, but because Joshua/Jesus has already been there – and God will reckon his success to be ours.” These others, however, would worry about the faith of those who were purely ‘disciples.’ They would worry, first, because they could not be sure they were not simply following Joshua/Jesus in bad faith (and would thus end up walking right into Canaan). But even if reassured that they were truly putting their faith in God’s Spirit to guide them (and that Joshua/Jesus was not simply ahead of them but within them), they would worry that this was not the faith that counted – for in the end, they would say to themselves (and some would wonder if this was true), it is not your willingness to trust in God that counts, but whether you believe that God will ‘impute’ Joshua/Jesus onto you. For, they would remind themselves, it is on this faith alone that the Reformation Church stands or falls.

This, Christian, as best I can understand, is where things lie in Christendom.


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