For my Spiritual and Ministry Formation class, we’re assigned blog summaries in which we interact with material assigned the previous week. This week’s assignment was to read the Lutheran view of Sanctification as discussed in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, edited by Donald Alexander, published by IVP. The Lutheran view was articulated by Gerhard Forde. I figured I’d share my assignment on my blog.
Dr. Forde begins his discussion of sanctification as “the art of getting used to the unconditional justification wrought by the grace of God for Jesus’ sake. It is what happens when we are grasped by the fact that God alone justifies.” In other words, Dr. Forde asserts that sanctification is the natural byproduct of justification and thus, all of it is indeed brought about by none other than the Christ who bought us. Many people view sanctification as the “getting down to business” of the Christian life. It’s what we bring to the table after Christ saves us and is (so it is thought, anyway) the way we stay in God’s good graces. This is, Dr. Forde asserts, “entirely false. According to Scripture, God is always the acting subject, even in sanctification. ”
Repeatedly, Dr. Forde calls attention to the dangers of speaking of sanctification. All the discussion appeals to the old man, he says, becoming a verbal exercise which sounds very impressive, but lacking the necessary foundation of love which the old man is completely incapable of laying himself.
Sanctification, as well as justification, is rooted in the unconditional promise of God. This is something the old man does not know how to handle because “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 promose is calling forth is a new being. The justification of God promised in Jesus is not an ‘offer’ made to us as old beings; [instead,] it is our end, our death.”
Dr. Forde goes on to quote Romans 6:1-11 and asserts that
all evangelical treatment of sanctification should be little more than comment on this passage. The end to sin is death, not following the law, not moral progress, not even ‘sanctification’ as the old Adam or Eve thinks of it…Paul does not tell his readers that they have to get busy now and die. He announces the startling and unconditional fact that we have died.
No Lutheran treatment of sanctification would be complete without reference to and explanation of Luther’s maxim, simul justus et peccator, which translated from Latin means, “simultaneously justified and sinner.” After pointing out Jesus’ own words to the effect that “it is in the truth that we are sanctified,” Forde discusses the usual treatment of sanctification in evangelical circles. He writes,
Sin is understood [to most Christians] primarily as misdeed or transgression of [a scheme of law and progress, characteristic of this age]. “Sanctification” is the business of making progress in cutting down on sin according to the scheme. Holiness or righteousness could not be said to exist simultaneously with sin in the same scheme. Righteousness and sin would simply exclude each other. The more righteousness one gains, the less sin there would be.
In such an outlook, however, sin and righteousness cannot actually exist together, creating a vast problem for the Christian who realizes that his behavior is not, in fact, improving at all. And, since this man knows better than to frame God for the crime of nothing working out, he begins to suppose there is something wrong with him; perhaps he didn’t give it all up at the altar the last time, or perhaps he didn’t pray consistently enough during his quiet time. In stark contrast, Forde asserts that “the true Christian life begins when we see the simultaneity of sin and righteousness,” pointing to Paul’s bold assertion that “if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21).
For Forde, there is such a thing as progress in sanctification. It is, in his view, a growth in being captivated by the totality of the grace of God. “Sin is to be conquered and expelled…[but] sin is not defeated by a repair job, but by dying and being raised new.” As the old Adam or Eve are put to death, we are freed from sin. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” becomes the cry of our hearts as we are confronted by God’s grace in Christ for our justification…and this is, in itself, our sanctification.
As a personal reflection, I must admit that I come down on the side of the Lutheran view of sanctification. Dr. Forde has made a competent accounting for the relevant texts (such as the ones in Galatians 2 & 3 and Romans 6) in his argumentation, stressing Christ’s finished work on our behalf. I found Dr. Sinclair Ferguson’s response to be very helpful in understanding the difference between the Reformed and Lutheran views. I find the terminology of “the law as gracious” which Ferguson uses to be technically correct. Certainly, the law is a gracious gift given to reveal both who God is and what we are not (which plays into the Reformers’ second use of the Law), but to speak of the law as gracious can yield a confusion between Law & Gospel which is ultimately, unhelpful terminology.
In terms of my own teaching (and future preaching), I found Forde’s summary of the biblical concept of sanctification to be very helpful. If we are the tree and the Gospel is the fertilizer, then there is no need for the gardener (whether Jesus himself or one of His under-shepherds) to stand and yell at the tree to grow…it simply will–and this is the way sanctification works, biblically speaking.
Anyone reading this knows I’m no pragmatist, but I’d like to offer up this personal testimony. Since having adopted an understanding of sanctification which corresponds to the Lutheran view as articulated by Forde in this essay, I’ve witnessed a growing hatred of sin in my life and a growing affection for Christ. I’ve personally taken more steps, unprompted from others, to eliminate avenues of sin than I ever did when I held a Wesleyan-Pentecostal view of sanctification. This, in itself is, of course, proof of nothing; but perhaps when paired with Scriptural texts which make the same point simply serve to illustrate in flesh and blood what the Scriptures already assert.