Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Monday, April 24, 2017
A Proper Distinction Between Justification and Sanctification
We get it right when we point to Jesus. Pointing to self is Law. Pointing to Jesus is Gospel. The Law tells us what we are to do and not to do. The Gospel tells us what Jesus has already done. The Law demands, the Gospel gives. So too with Justification and indeed with Sanctification.
Justification points to Jesus. Sanctification points us to self but through Jesus, thus indeed points us to Jesus as well. When Sanctification only points to self and not to Jesus, then we go back to the statement, “We get it right when we point to Jesus.”
So, what is the proper distinction between Justification and Sanctification? We begin with Justification, the heart and soul of Christianity (Lutheran Doctrine, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology to the Augsburg Confession). Justification means to be made just and right in God’s eyes. When we acknowledge that we are “brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5), that “every intention of the thoughts of [our] heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5), that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), that “no one does good, not even one” (Rom.3:12), indeed that we are truly sinful human beings, then we realize there is nothing within us of redeeming value. Just as a drowning person cannot save himself, or he would not be drowning, just as a dying person cannot save himself or he would not be dying, just as we did not choose to be born, so we do nothing to justify ourselves before God. We do nothing to save ourselves.
If we were to attempt to put forth any merit on our own part as if we could, as Paul so well reminds us (the good that we would do we do not do, the evil we would not do that is what we do Rom. 7:21ff), if we attempt to justify ourselves by keeping the Law, which some are wanting to do (“but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” James 2:10), then we will be held accountable for keeping the whole law, which we cannot do. After the fall into sin, the world was cursed. After the fall into sin, Adam and Eve no longer knew only good. They knew good and evil. After the fall into sin, the will of all has been tainted so that our will is truly at odds with God. Our will is only to do what is evil, as Paul expresses (Rom. 7:21ff). As Paul reminds us, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
Our right standing before God does not come from ourselves as we are not and cannot be the people He would have us to be. If we could be the people He would have us to be, then we would have no need of Him. What a fool we claim Jesus to be for sacrificing Himself when we point to ourselves for any iota of our own justification and salvation.
Justification is all Jesus. Jesus was born true God, begotten from the Father and true man, born of the virgin Mary. Jesus lived the perfect life for us in our place as our substitute, doing for us what is demanded of God (“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)) because we cannot be perfect. The fullness of the Gospel is this: that what Jesus did He did for us in our place as our substitute. Jesus obeyed all of God’s Laws perfectly: the ceremonial laws which pointed to Him and His sacrifice, the moral law of the Ten Commandments, and the civil law of the land. Jesus never sinned. After living in perfection He took our sins, all our sins and the sins of all people, of all places, of all times, upon Himself and suffered and paid the price for those sins, hell (The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)). He descended into hell to declare victory over Satan. He ascended back to where He had come, and rightfully has taken His place in heaven where He now watches over us, rules over us and intercedes for us. This is Justification, and this God freely gives to us because it is His to give. We do not get it as if we “get saved,” nor do we claim it as if it is our claim. Rather it is given to us from the One whose it is and who can give it to us.
This understanding now moves us to Sanctification. Sanctification means the process of being made holy. God has justified us before Himself by the blood of Jesus; thus, when we stand before Him, He sees us robed in Jesus’ robes of righteousness, indeed as saints. Yet while we remain on this earth, we also continue to sin and will remain being sinners until we reach complete perfection in heaven.
Sanctification is expressed best in Martin Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
Just as we have expressed in Justification, so, too, in Sanctification we cannot believe in Jesus Christ our Lord on our own through our own efforts. Again as a drowning person cannot save himself or he would not be drowning (and if a drowning person attempts to help in the rescue it only serves to drown them both), so too we cannot choose Jesus or we would not be lost. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us to faith and gives us faith, and He calls and gives us faith through the very means of the Gospel–the message of Jesus and His work of redemption–buying us back from sin, death and the devil. Not only does the Holy Spirit call us to and give us faith, but He also enlightens us and strengthens us in faith through the means that God has given to give us His good gifts and blessings, His means of grace–His Holy Word, Confession and Absolution, and His sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” It is through these very means that the Lord gives His gifts, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. Thus, as Christians, our desire will always be to be where and when the gifts of God are given out so that we might be given even more of His gifts.
When it comes to God’s gift giving, we understand that God does not do fractions. He does not give us some of His gifts now and some more later, perhaps after we have done something for Him or something to earn a bit more. He gives the whole lot of His gifts now and a whole lot more later. All of His gifts He gives, and we are given to.
We count as good works, at least those that are seen as good works in God’s eyes, those works that are motivated in us by God, worked through us by God and give Him glory. These are what are truly good works in God’s eyes. These are not the same as social good works which are often done for a tax write off, for accolades, or for any other pointing to self reason. Indeed, more often than not we do good works when we are not aware of what we are doing.
Thus, just as Justification points to Jesus who has done it all and gives all to us, so too with Sanctification, we point to Jesus who motivates us so we are given to and we give God glory.
Some would have you believe that the more you grow in faith the more perfect and holy you get so that you may indeed be a mentor to someone else in their faith walk to help them to become more and more holy. If this were the case, that we become more and more holy, then we would need Jesus less and less until perhaps we would think we would need Him no more. As Lutherans we understand that the more we grow in our faith, the more we realize just how sinful we truly are and the more we need to cling to Jesus, just Jesus.