Clearing Up Justification and Sanctification

23 10 2008

I was listening to a critique of a speech made by John Ortberg at the Reveal Conference on a Pirate Christian Radio show.  The host offered a great critique of the way in which Ortberg was confusing how sinners are actually saved.  Ortberg was challenging the idea that sinners are save by grace, through faith, in Christ alone, and that those who simply rely upon such a free gift are in effect using God.

Now while the critique was very much necessary, as Ortgberg was really stripping the Gospel out of the church in his speech, I found myself concerned with the reactionary nature of the critique.  The host asserted that there is no place for the practices of the faith that Ortberg and others have misplaced as a part of how a sinner is justified before God.  What caught me off guard was the extreme way in which all such practices were rejected.

The LCMS web-site offers the following to define sanctification:

In its explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism, the LCMS states the following concerning sanctification: “The Holy Spirit sanctifies me (makes me holy) by bringing me to faith in Christ, so that I might have the blessings of redemption and lead a godly life.” The LCMS further explains that the term “sanctification” is used in two ways, in a more general sense to refer to “the whole work of the Holy Spirit by which He brings us to faith and also enables us to lead a godly life,” and in a more restricted sense to refer to “that part of the Holy Spirit’s work by which he directs and empowers the believer to lead a godly life” (see 1 Cor. 6:11).

There is as much a need to warn against the misuse of what is popularly called spiritual disciplines as there is a need to cast those practices in the context of further development of the spiritual life, that growing relationship with God that is a part if sanctification.  There is a popular myth that the “sanctified life” is all about a smooth progression.  We as Lutherans can provide relief to struggling believers who know that their own efforts do not alway result in positive progress.  The Christian life is an on going struggle between the sinner and the saint in all of us.

Justification must be taught to be purely a God thing.  We do not act in our being justified, if we did all we would be capable of doing is messing things up and resisting God’s grace.  In that sense, our own efforts are meaningless.  However, understanding that justification and sanctification are both inseparable and inconfusable is critical.  We must teach that in sanctification we do have primarily to rely upon God, but that we now do have an active role to play.  As stated above sanctification is “the Holy Spirit’s work by which he directs and empowers the believer to lead a godly life.”  If we are to be empowered, we must be empowered toward our own action in that power of God.

We do not and cannot save ourselves and we cannot and do not pay God back for saving us.  Yet, we do not simply stop once justified and consider all things complete.  Our salvation is complete, but life in the shadow of the cross has just begun.  A life that we live in the name of and by the power of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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