20 July 2011

On Sanctification and Weeding

In a discussion on another forum, I offered a critique of the Lutheran Book of Worship's confession of sin: "We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves." Can and ought a Christian make such a confession? There is no question that we continue to sin - and 1 John 1 simply nails that: "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves." But the question is the "bondage to sin" language for those who have been baptized into Christ. The discussion wound around to original sin and its ongoing reality in the life of the Christian. Here's the analogy that I offered:

The ongoing effects of original sin in our lives are like weeds popping up in a garden. You KNOW that they are going to keep popping up, and that every day you'll need to be out there pulling them up lest they take over. A Christian doesn't despair over the fact that they keep popping up - that sinful impulses continue to arise. A Christian knows that "nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh." A Christian realizes that he has to work diligently at putting to death these weeds lest they take serious root and spread over the whole garden. So the Christian cheerfully weeds his garden, knowing that the ongoing presence of these sinful impulses has been forgiven in Christ and that they will not be finally irradiated from his life until death and resurrection, when the light of Christ's presence will irradiate them for good and the root of sin that keeps sending out these shoots will be finally done in for good.

But if one is bondage to the weeds, that seems to me, that one is saying that one welcomes them or at least that one does not resist them: that they are allowed fully to take over the garden again. When that happens faith and the Holy Spirit are driven out, for the Holy Spirit will not remain where sin is allowed to do as it wishes. SA III, III, 44,45

14 comments:

Tom Vanderbilt said...

"But if one is bondage to the weeds, that seems to me, that one is saying that one welcomes them or at least that one does not resist them:"

I would disagree with this conclusion. To be "in bondage" to the weeds can mean that one has a duty to pull the weeds when they sprout up.

Try as I might with chemicals, mulch, et al., the weeds in my front flower beds will come back. And I, as a good neighbor and steward of my home am honor-bound (not quite the right phrase; hope it communicates well) to pull these weeds lest my neighbor complain or the weeds do damage to my home. I can't let the weeds run rampant; I am bound to pull them.

So with "bondage to sin." Original sin will cause sin to sprout up in our lives no matter how much we try to prevent them. We should feel "bound" to remove the sin through the Holy Spirit's call to repentance and the means of grace and not be content to "sin boldly" (as that is so often misapplied).

Therefore, can "bondage to sin" be interpreted as the need to always be in need of Confession and Absolution as the weeds of our sin will always grow until Christ comes and restores creation?

My $0.02 and probably worth half as much...

Pr. H. R. said...

You are right. The place to go is not only the SA but also the Formula where we read:

85. Accordingly, the man who is not regenerate resists God altogether, and is entirely a servant of sin, John 8:34; Rom. 6:16. The regenerate person, however, delights in the Law of God after the inward man, but nevertheless sees in his members the law of sin, which wars against the law of the mind; on this account he serves the Law of God with his mind, but with the flesh the law of sin, Rom. 7:25. In this way the correct opinion can and should be thoroughly, clearly, and discreetly explained and taught.

Again:

88. But how God in conversion changes stubborn and unwilling into willing men through the drawing of the Holy Ghost, and that after such conversion, in the daily exercise of repentance, the regenerate will of man is not idle, but also cooperates in all the works of the Holy Ghost which He does through us, has already been sufficiently explained above.

+HRC

Sage said...

Interesting comments. I pull the weeds because they are not what was intended to grow in my yard. They choke off the flowers that are there for my enjoyment. Our sins come back behaving like bindweed. Some sins are terribly deep rooted and require more than just pulling out what you see.

I correlate the sins in my life the same way. There are some that are easy to pick off, not having a deep root. Others are so well grounded, it takes supernatural effort to be rid of them. For me, with these types of sins, I have to trust in the Lord to work in me to get the whole thing out.

For some reason though, there are times when my efforts avail nothing, but rather than ignoring it, take it to the Lord and allow Him to work through me will do it. But, like the garden, you can never rest from your efforts. I would call it bondage. But a bondage that forces us to tutelage rather than slavery.

Pastor Peters said...

While I appreciate you comments and have not been particularly comfortable with the LBW statement, I think you are making a fine point which is lost to most folk.

If "A Christian knows that "nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh." A Christian realizes that he has to work diligently at putting to death these weeds lest they take serious root and spread over the whole garden, then most of us would call that bondage to the weeds. I try to keep the weeds from my garden at home but the mere fact that I must daily battle them means I am in bondage to them -- if nothing is done they will take over. No? I think this is what most folk take from it all.

Pastor Peters said...

What does bondage mean? To be held in bondage as a prisoner or captive or even a slave does not mean that you one welcome the oppressor or at least that one does not resist the oppressor. It is merely an acknowledgement that for now you are oppressed. No?

David Garner said...

It seems to me to be a very fine line we walk between the idea that we are in bondage to sin and thus acknowledge our own failings, and the contrary idea that we should work to eradicate sin from our lives and thus not accept our sinful condition. The former runs the grave risk of antinomianism, where we assume we are sinners anyway so try as we might, at the end of the day there is nothing we can do. The latter runs the grave risk of legalism, where we convince ourselves that our own efforts are the important piece of the puzzle and we thereby deny the necessity of grace and our own inability to struggle against sin without it.

Which is to say, I think you have hit on a question that we ought be very careful in answering. I don't think saying we are "in bondage to sin" necessarily presumes fatalism. But even if it does, perhaps catechizing against fatalism is better than revising the rite of confession and risking the opposite error.

Tapani Simojoki said...

This isn't only an LBW problem. In LW (and hence in some settings in LSB) we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. In other words, we are confessing our original sin. In what way should Confession and Absolution be the place for dealing with original sin, which has been dealt with in Baptism?

I have no data to back the claim up, but I think this is all part of the far broader problem of the widespread loss of the practice of the Sacrament of Penance in our churches. We have forgotten what Confession and Absolution (i.e. the private variety) is about, so we device liturgies that reflect our ignorance.

William Weedon said...

Maybe my ear is hearing "bondage" differently from some. I hear that as "being a slave to" - so St. Paul can exhort:

"Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.... For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace... But thanks be to God that you who once were slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness." Romans 6

The confession in LBW was in point of fact rejected by the Synod's blue ribbon task force precisely because of this wording: "we are in bondage to sin." It was regarded as in error at worst, misleading at best.

Tapani, confession of original sin is not the least problem in a public confession - the Catechism points us in this way when it says that before God we should plead guilty of all sins, as we do in the Lord's Prayer.

Trent said...

For those who think that we are still in bondage to sin after baptism, I strongly recommend to you St John Chrysostom's thoughts on Romans 6, especially v12 "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body...." and also v. 14 "For sin shall not have dominion over you...." Here if just a brief tidbit. The entire homily can be found easily online.

"For it is absurd for those who are being conducted to the kingdom of heaven to have sin empress over them, and for those who are called to reign with Christ to choose to be the captives of sin, as though one should hurl the diadem from off his head, and choose to be the slave of a frantic woman, who came begging, and was clothed in rags."

Unknown said...

St. Paul writes, beginning with Romans 7:23, “…but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making (or leading) me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Without interruption, except by that which took place when this letter was given chapters and verses, he continues, “8: 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

What St. Paul is saying is that we are, and even he is, “in bondage to sin.” But the “Law of the Spirit” annuls the “Law of the Flesh” even while we continue to be in “this body of death.” In other words even though we continue to sin, we are rescued from the consequences of our sins. We are not rescued from “the body of death”, but from the effects of the “law of sin and death.”

He reiterates that we remain in this “body of death” as he continues, “8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the BODY IS DEAD BECAUSE OF SIN, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” That is what we look forward to when, “21 the creation itself will be set free from bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Therefore, whether we are children of God is not determined by whether or why we sin, but whether the Spirit of God dwells in us. Since we receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism, Martin Luther, when doubts assailed him, would respond, “I am baptized.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Jim Huffman said...

I think an earlier comment is heading in the right direction: I think I know (per Eph. 2) what the general confession is trying to say about original sin, even though the way it's phrased makes me uneasy. The decline of private confession both reflects a problem, and perpetuates it: we don't really object to calling ourselves sinners in an abstract, general sense. What we DO object to is admitting to/confessing specific sins.

David Garner said...

Mr. Huffman makes a very interesting point. It occurs to me that one of our concerns in becoming Orthodox was the frequently stated objection that the Orthodox view of free will coincides with (or results from) a "less serious" view of sin. No one present in this discussion has stated that objection to me, I should note, but it was stated nonetheless. In hindsight, and in light of Mr. Huffman's comment, it occurs to me that not only do our prayer offices and Liturgy keep us from taking sin lightly, but in fact our frequent use of the Sacrament of Repentance specifically does as well. It also occurs to me that when we were in a Lutheran parish where private confession was encouraged, it was quite apparent that the view of sin there was more serious than in either of the Lutheran parishes we attended where private confession was not encouraged, as was the appreciation of God's grace.

Well said, Mr. Huffman.

christl242 said...

85. Accordingly, the man who is not regenerate resists God altogether, and is entirely a servant of sin, John 8:34; Rom. 6:16. The regenerate person, however, delights in the Law of God after the inward man, but nevertheless sees in his members the law of sin, which wars against the law of the mind; on this account he serves the Law of God with his mind, but with the flesh the law of sin, Rom. 7:25. In this way the correct opinion can and should be thoroughly, clearly, and discreetly explained and taught

That's certainly what I was taught as a Lutheran.

Of course, we could look to the saints in the RC and EO, the models of holiness that is entirely achievable in this world if we only try hard enough. Yes, I'm joking :)

Terry Maher said...

I am preparing for publication, though probably not in PTM's lifetime, which will likely go beyond mine, but hey, from the recently discovered works of Wipeout of Bordeaux, OSB, monk of St Bladder, an English translation of the definitive theological treatise on this subject, De servo herba inutilis.