19 February 2008

On Sanctification

The danger is in thinking that the holiness given you in Christ is not whole, perfect, complete. It IS. It is not at all so much the case that holiness grows in you, but that you grow in holiness. The gift is given: now we make progress in learning to live from it, so that love becomes ever more our life. "Progress" is okay concept in such a scenario. Old Martin Chemnitz used it:

"The healing and renewal itself is not such a change that is immediately accomplished and finished in a moment, but it has its beginnings and certain progress by which it grows in great weakness, is increased and preserved." Examen I:424

"The renewal of the new man, as also the mortification of the old, is not perfect and complete in this life but that it grows and is increased day by day until it is perfected in the next life, when this corruptible will have put on incorruption." Examen I:538

"But men are to be admonished that they should through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the flesh and firmly adhere to Christ by faith and through the use of the Word and of the Sacraments become more and more united with Him and seek from God the gift of perseverance, and wrestle, lest the wantonness of the flesh drive out the gift of perseverance." Examen I:607

More and more united. With Christ. So that repentance means turning away from the life that is in Adam (a dead end road if ever there were one) and growing into the freedom given in Christ. "Unbending" us, if you will, and opening our eyes to believe and live from the gift.

I think that's why St. Peter said after that long list of virtues that need to be ours and increasing, that if they are not, the problem isn't with our good works, but with our faith: "Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins." (2 Pet 1:9)

This particular point is one that Schmemann nailed:

"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." (Schmemann, Eucharist, pp. 23, 24)

The gift is given whole: the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of Christ Himself to be our all - sanctification is the life of appropriating that gift ever more and more, turning away from the old self and finding life in union with Him who is our Life. Thoughts?


BLDavis said...

Good. I made similar comments here. At least I think they're similar.

Jim said...

I had a pastor friend who constructed Paul's argument this way: "Be what you are." As in, "be holy because you are holy."

It's the exact opposite of "become holy by acting holy."

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

It's given whole, to be sure! God doesn't give by halves. Yet the Scriptural image is that it is given in seed form. The seed must grow, the talent must be invested, the yeast must leaven the whole loaf, etc.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Weedon,

You said,
"It is not at all so much the case that holiness grows in you, but that you grow in holiness."

That makes sense in my mind, but how is the distinction made in how I live out my life? In either case I am trying, through the Holy Spirit, to learn to live in God's will, live in obedience to Him, love God and my neighbor.

It almost strikes me as a "name it and claim it" statement. What is the difference between knowing I am a sinner and trying to live in obedience to God and knowing I am holy and trying to live in obedience to God? Is it only that in the latter I should not be driven to despair?


Todd Wilken said...


You might be interested in something I've written for the next Journal about progress in Sanctification, "Sheep Don't Keep Track"

I'll email it to you.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pastor. I needed this. I'm anxiously waiting for your response to Diana above. LUCKYJEAN

William Weedon said...


I think the difference (it always boils down to this for me) is the difference between imitation and mystical union. Imitation does not necessarily imply participation in that life to which you are striving - there's how Jesus did it, now you go try to do the same. And that always leaves a person under a crushing burden of law.

Mystical union implies rather participation: Christ, who is the Forgiveness of all your sins and your complete and total holiness, gives you Himself that you can come to live more and more of His life. His love becoming your love, His joys becoming your joys, His patience becoming your patience. It's not a matter so much of trying to be LIKE Him, as it is a matter of becoming one WITH Him. And this lands you not in the realm of will-power, but of faith clinging to Him in His Word and Sacraments and by prayer.

It's not that it's not a struggle, a genuine striving to live from our union with Him - it is, really and truly - but it's the difference between living from a present reality already yours and training yourself to think out from that, to act out from that, and to celebrate it, vs. striving toward something you don't possess.

Now, is that goobledy-gook or does it make a modicum of sense?

William Weedon said...


Checked it out. Very good.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

What does it mean that "The Sheep Don't Keep Track"?

Pr. Weedon recently shared with me the examination of conscience Lutherans use before Confession. Isn't that keeping track?

Keeping track is so useful. Keeps one humble, throws him back again and again upon God's mercy.


William Weedon said...

Pr. Wilken was referring to the sheep not keeping track of their good works; not that they don't examine their lives to confess their sin.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Oh, I see; thanks for the clarification.

Keeping track of good works? Yikes! That's already an evil work, isn't it? Namely, pride.

Although I can imagine a bright side to it. Namely, if one were to do this keeping track with bravery and honesty, he would in all likelihood find not a single deed that was 100% pure, and that discovery might be salutary!