“Sanctification, if it is to be spoken of as something other than justification, is perhaps best defined as the art of getting used to the unconditional justification wrought by the grace of God for Jesus’ sake. … Sanctification is thus simply the art of getting used to justification. … Our sanctification consists merely in being shaped by, or getting used to, justification.”
At first glance you’d think I culled this from Tullian Tchvidjian’s blog. These are the words of Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. The first view that is examined is the Lutheran view. I’m not sure Luther himself would fully embrace this view, but it is built on many elements of his teaching (perhaps taking them farther than he intended).
Much of Forde’s chapter is largely rhetorical and polemical rather than putting for a clearly articulated understanding. In this way it also sounds like much I hear from the previously mentioned PCA pastor on the subject of sanctification.. I am left wondering with whom he is arguing for the views argued against do not reflect those of my own theological heritage. He is obsessively concerned with legalism, but offers no concern about antinomianism. As a result (or perhaps I’ve got the causality backwards) the focus is almost completely on justification.
I agree, we need to begin living as justified people who are fully accepted in light of the righteousness of Christ. Sanctification is to be pursued as justified people. But in his Lutheran logic (which often trips me up in many areas of theology) any view of progressive sanctification (righteousness imparted, not a self-improvement project) is antithetical to and undermines the free grace of God in justification. It is as if he thinks one could lose one’s justification for not being sanctified enough.
I see him making a similar error to that which Roman Catholicism make though in the opposite direction. Both end up conflating justification and sanctification. For Roman Catholic theology you cannot be justified unless you are sanctified; or, your sanctification is your justification. In Forde’s expression of Lutheran theology, your justification is your sanctification.
In Reformed Theology we make distinctions, almost to a fault, to best understand the dynamic quality of Scripture. We recognize initial or definite sanctification (which is positional, like justification) and progressive sanctification. The latter is rooted in the former. In relating texts about sanctification, Forde refers to all those about definite sanctification and ignores those about progressive sanctification.
“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.”
Here is evidence of polemics, and bad polemics at that. He doesn’t deal with the biblical data (all those imperatives in Paul’s letters to CHRISTIANS), but an ad hominem attack. Obviously anyone who wants to deal with God’s commands wants to undermine God’s grace, in his mind. Rather, as a new creature in Christ I now want to please God (before I was primarily concerned with pleasing myself). As a justified man the law no longer condemns me. It still shows me where I fall short of God’s glory, but also points me to God’s glory and what it means to imitate the Father. He writes as if we only hear the law as the old man, not the new man. The law, obviously doesn’t provide any power. The Holy Spirit provides that. According to Paul the problem was never with the law, but with us as sinners. But the legalistic strawman grows wearisome quite quickly. He repeated talks about “the scheme”. of sanctification which is presented in an obviously negative light.
At the end he makes a few comments about how we are shaped by our justification.He avoids any “scheme” by which you seek to grow in sanctification. The first is spontaneity, that good works arise “free, uncalculating, genuine, spontaneous.” Sanctification, he says, is God’s secret (based on a strange application of Matthew 6:2-4) such that apparently we are not to let our light shine that God may receive glory. It also includes taking care of our neighbor (suspiciously like the 2nd great commandment) and creation (suspiciously like the creation mandate). The positive contribution to the mix is vocation. Our sanctification takes place largely as we fulfill our vocations (spouse, parent, child, job). This Lutheran emphasis is a very good one that other traditions need to remember.
The responses to Forde’s presentation are interesting. Sinclair Ferguson provides the Reformed response. He is the reason I picked this book up. As usual I found his analysis profound and his demeaning charitable (I still need to grow in this area). He warns that justification, though the hinge upon which the Church turns, comes dangerously close to obscuring Christ. In other words, or my words, we can make an idol of justification that supplants Christ and exalts one of His benefits above all others. He has a strong emphasis on union with Christ (which will mark his presentation of sanctification). He also notes that there are conditions to justification. In other words not all are justified on account of Christ’s work. There are instrumental means that Forde seems to ignore in his diatribe against conditionality. Here is a particularly important passage from his response:
“When the doctrine of union with Christ is made the architectonic principle of the application of redemption, the tension which Lutheranism seems to feel between justification and the Christian’s good works, or sanctification, begins to vanish. The one does not exist without the other, since both are effects of union with Christ. Yet neither is reduced to the other. Justification is not disgraced as though it were based on sanctification; sanctification is not demoted as though it were a threat to the grace of justification.”
Laurence Wood provides the Wesleyan response. One good point was “the problem is not that one might fall into an antinomianism or a pharisaical works-righteousness, but whether or not one’s life is actually renewed in the love of Christ. If so, obedience is an obvious mark of such an infusion of divine love.”
Bottom Line: Sanctification is being justified, relax.
Update: In the course of his response to other views it becomes clear that Forde is clearly opposed to anything that hints at process. He sees progress as a capitulation to works. Here are some passages that speak to the reality of “progress” and our responsibility.
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Philippians 3
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.… 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self[a] with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.…12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5
14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10