I got to hear Dr. Steve Hein give a presentation on the Lutheran take on sanctification. I appreciated much of what he laid out. But I think there's more to the story. I've been mulling this around in my mind and thought I'd throw it out for any thoughts you all might have.
Dr. Hein correctly points out that the Old Adam does not need renovation but execution. Similarly, the new self does not need progress because it possesses in Christ perfection. So far, so good.
And yet the Formula of Concord can speak of "healing" of our nature:
"Furthermore, human nature, which is perverted and corrupted by original sin, must and can be healed only by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. However this healing is only begun in this life. It will not be perfect until the life to come." FC SD I:14
Now, if the Old Adam is irreformable, and the new self is perfect in Christ, wherein is there room for healing of our nature?
I would propose that the human nature is thus something distinct from the old Adam (which is the corruption of the nature) and the New self (which is the perfection of the nature). This thing that is distinct is human nature in the process of being healed by God's grace - a healing that will not be perfect in this life. That means that we HAVE to live under God's forgiving grace for the whole of our earthly pilgrimage since when we stand before His judgment seat none of us will have inherent in us the perfection that the Law of God demands. As St. Augustine wrote so perceptively "We must remain under God's pardon until the end, lest we attribute too much to ourselves." But it is the process of healing that I would like to reflect on a bit, and throw out some thoughts for reaction:
1. The healing work of God in our lives is precisely the activity of the Holy Spirit. Luther's grace and the gift in grace. Grace being the pardoning verdict of God and the inseparable gift of the Holy Spirit who comes with that pardon to begin the work of healing.
2. The healing work of God in our lives does indeed produce a progress in sanctification. Again, from the Symbols: "The longer we live [i.e., in Baptism] the more we become gentle, patient, meek, and ever turn away from unbelief, greed, hatred, envy, and arrogance." LC IV:67
3. Because our natural sinful condition is to be "bent in on one's self" - the work of healing is a work of unbending, shifting the focus from looking at myself to looking toward God in faith and the neighbor in love. "The Christian lives outside himself" as the good Dr. Luther once put it.
4. The healing work of God in our lives is not ours to measure. Why? A) Because lex semper accusat. The Law of God doesn't deal in fractions. It deals with the whole and shows that the whole of our lives stand under the verdict of condemnation for not being 100% love. B) Because the nearer one draws in faith to the Holy One, the bigger one's sin appears. It is the one who is in danger of falling from the faith who sees sin as being not a big problem in his/her life. It is the one who SEES the sin in their life as huge and cries out for mercy and pardon, who is in fact drawing near to God. Basic Isaiah 6.
5. Because the Christian's life by definition is the overlap between the constitutive centers of the human race in Adam (hence, sin and death) and in Christ (hence, righteousness and life), the Christian by definition is a conflicted person. Romans 7 describes the actual experience of the person who is a Christian.
6. The conflicted person who has sin and death at work in them from Adam and yet righteousness and life at work in them through our Lord Jesus Christ, experiences the struggle as learning to live from the one constitutive center (Christ) rather than from the other (Adam), hence, we beg God, as did in today's collect, for "an increase of faith, hope, and charity."
7. Progress in healing, genuine transformation, comes not as the result of moral effort, but moral effort is the result of the healing and genuine transformation whose source is the Spirit's imparting to us of the life of the Son of God. "And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Cor. 3:18 Thus, "since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to perfection in the fear of God." 2 Cor. 7:1
8. Thus, Schmemann hit the nail on the head when he could speak like this:
""And the holiness of the Church is not our holiness, but Christ's, who loved the Church and gave Himself for her 'that He might sanctify her...that she might be holy and without blemish' (Eph 5:25-27). Likewise the holiness of the saints as well is but the revelation and the realization of that sanctification, that holiness that each of us received on the day of baptism, and in which we are called to increase. But we could not grow in it, if we did not already possess it as a gift of God, as his presence in us through the Holy Spirit." (Eucharist, pp. 23, 24)
9. The "healing" involves the will, so that we use our new will to desire the good things our God wants. "Even in this life the regenerate advance to the point that they want to do what is good and love it; and even do good and grow in it." Yet being regenerate, they freely confess: "this is not OF our will and ability, but OF the Holy Spirit." It is still true, though, that the baptized have a freed will and that their nature is healed as they use that will "not only to hear the Word, but to agree with it and accept it, although in great weakness." So then, the healing of our natural will is accomplished as we "in the daily exercise of repentance" "cooperate in all the Holy Spirit's works that He does in and through us."
10. God heals human nature so that it is able to enjoy the life that He has prepared for it; without that healing the unregenerate "even in the land of uprightness deals corruptly; he does not see the majesty of the Lord." Is 26:10 - think of the dwarfs in *The Last Battle* who had not the faculties to enjoy the Paradise in which they were and who imagined themselves to be in the dark stable.
Okay, too long. But any thoughts?