27 April 2009

Not So Mere

Every once in a while, you will encounter a person trying to tell you that Lutherans teach that people MERELY are imputed righteous and that God forgives their sin but leaves them still in it. This ALWAYS gets my dander up, because our Symbols are very clear in expressing our teaching on this point, and that is NOT it. Rather, we teach the following:

Ap IV:78 We understand justification as the making of a righteous person out of an unrighteous one, or that a person is regenerated.

Ap IV:115 115 Nor, indeed, is this faith an idle knowledge, neither can it coexist with mortal sin.

Ap IV: 142 Likewise, the faith of which we speak exists in repentance. I mean that faith is conceived in the terrors of conscience, which feels God’s wrath against our sins and seeks forgiveness of sins, seeks to be freed from sin. In such terrors and other troubles, this faith ought to grow and be strengthened. 143 Therefore, it cannot exist in people who live by the flesh, who are delighted by their own lusts and obey them.

SA III:iii:40 In Christians, this repentance continues until death. For through one’s entire life, repentance contends with the sin remaining in the flesh. Paul testifies that he wars with the law in his members (Romans 7:14–25) not by his own powers, but by the gift of the Holy Spirit that follows the forgiveness of sins [Romans 8:1–17]. This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person truly pure and holy.

SA III:iii:44 The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so it can be carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants [Psalm 51:11; Romans 6:14]. If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present. 45 For St. John says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning … and he cannot keep on sinning” [1 John 3:9]. And yet it is also true when St. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” [1:8].

FC SD 1:14 Fifth, this hereditary evil is so great and horrible that, only for the sake of the Lord Christ, can it be covered and forgiven before God in those baptized and believing. 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 [Titus 3:5]. However, this healing is only begun in this life. It will not be perfect until the life to come [Ephesians 4:12–13].

FC SD 1:39 Here pious Christian hearts justly ought to consider God’s unspeakable goodness. God does not immediately cast from Himself this corrupt, perverted, sinful material into hellfire. No, He forms and makes the present human nature from it (which is sadly corrupted by sin) in order that He may cleanse it from all sin, sanctify, and save it by His dear Son.

FC SD 1:45 Third, in the article of Sanctification Scripture testifies that God cleanses, washes, and sanctifies mankind from sin [1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 John 1:7] and that Christ saves His people from their sins [Matthew 1:21]. Sin, therefore, cannot be a person himself. For God receives a person into grace for Christ’s sake. But God remains hostile to sin eternally.

FC SD 2:70 This is certainly true: in genuine conversion a change, new emotion, and movement in the intellect, will, and heart must take place. The heart must perceive sin, dread God’s wrath, turn from sin, see and accept the promise of grace in Christ, have good spiritual thoughts, have a Christian purpose and diligence, and fight against the flesh. Where none of these happen or are present, there is no true conversion.

So no more MERE, please. As Dr. Luther never tired of explaining this, there is grace (God's gracious pardon and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ) and the GIFT that is in grace (the Holy Spirit). The two always come together and cannot be separated, though they are always distinguished. Our righteousness before the throne of God will remain always the Divine-Human Person and finished work of the Redeemer and never the incipient righteousness that the Holy Spirit has begun and continues - really and truly - working within us.


Paul McCain said...

And you know, when I read a post like this I'm reminded of just how sick and tired I am of our good Lutheran doctrine being muted and, frankly, held hostage, to recovering Evangelicals, who come into our Lutheran church so rejoicing in Gospel freedom they actually think, and are frankly misled into thinking, that now that they are "free in Christ" it is open season to behave as a swine and think nothing of it!

Case in point? The folks selling the "weak on sanctification" t-shirt. Now that gets MY dander up.

They should just go ahead and sell along with it a shirt that says: "Weak on the Gospel" and "Weak on Christ."

Ariel said...

The comparison that my (Lutheran) pastor in college oftentimes used was that as it says in the Epistles, we died with Christ in sin. The Old Adam is drowned in the waters of Baptism, but the "corpse" stinks, and is putrid, leaving the danger of sin still a threat. Is this a sound metaphor?

William Weedon said...


In typical Lutheran parlance, the old Adam is synonymous with St. Paul refers to as "the flesh" which is opposed to "the Spirit" (who is the guiding life of the new man). The old Adam remains a threat to Christians till death - and needs to be fought constantly: the impulse to assert MY will be done.

orthodoxy hunter said...

Pr. McCain
I'm finding "weak on sanctification" be be hitting a little too close to home. I'd like more pastors to offend me with the law before givin' me the sweet, sweet Gospel.

I was shocked when I saw that t-shirt too. Yikes!!

William Weedon said...

I think I'm glad I've NOT seen the t-shirt...

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic (thank you for this wonderful gem btw) is the thought that Ordination is "simply a public ratification or recognition of the Call." Just as there is no "mere" there is no "simply" when it comes to the gifts of our Merciful Lord.
Ah, I'm with you fellers, the blessings handed down to us from our Lutheran heritage is second to none!


Fraser Pearce said...

Great quotes. Thanks!

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Well, my wife thinks differently concerning one of her favorite T-shirts. Weak on Sanctification is not a description of Lutheran doctrine but of the individual, silly! She 'proudly' wears the shirt, giving all of her evangelical friends something to chew on (who think that they, on the other hand, are quite advanced in their sanctification of course). Lighten up for Pete's sake!

Also, I have to say, that many of the people that I know to be the most ardent defenders of the Lutheran Faith are folks who have come from another denomination. These often (from my personal experience...if that counts) see much more clearly the errors of the "Evangelical" doctrinal system, after having lived it for the better part of their lives. I wouldn't be so quick to judge if I were you.

Matt Phillips said...

These are very good quotes and teach the proper relationship between justification and sanctification. These quotes also rightly identify that both are completely Christ's work for us and in us.

I would like to add: "For by Baptism we are made holy and are saved. No other kind of life, no work on earth, can do this." LC, IV, 46.

I have two important questions: Since we sin daily and mortal sin and faith cannot coexist how can we ever retain saving faith? How is the Lutheran understanding of mortal sin different from the Roman understanding?

On the t-shirt, I think Rev. Beisel presented the intention of the printers of the shirt., even if its intent is not completely clear.

William Weedon said...


The difference between mortal and venial sin in Lutheran theology is quite different from the Roman categories. In Lutheran theology ANY sin can become mortal, for what makes it mortal is simply the fact that one refuses to let the Holy Spirit prix it from one's hands or heart. It is the sin which you say: "Hey, I'm not giving this up; it's no big deal; God will just have to forgive it." In Luther's own brilliant manner of putting it: regarding any sin as venial is what makes it mortal! Thus, treating all sin as mortal - fleeing from them in terror - makes all sin venial.


Hmm. I still think it ill advised. It sounds distinctly as though one might be celebrating grace in an antinomian manner? Maybe I am being too harsh, but that is how it strikes me.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I think it is just recognizing what Paul says when he writes: "The good that I want to do, that I do not do." Or, "I boast in my weaknesses." But, each to his own. If you would not be comfortable wearing it, then I wouldn't get one. They were selling them at the HT conference a couple of years ago. I thought it was pretty amusing.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, it's a pedestrian, reductionist form of Lutheranism that has been "weak on sanctification" (and proud of it). It leads the unsuspecting to think--contrary to these fine quotes from the confessions--in reductionist terms not only about grace (which is always lavish and through which God intends not simply to forgive us, but make us new creatures) but, eventually, about everything else. Maybe it's western culture that makes us prone to this reduction of the faith to a few slogans half understood, an easy "cheap grace" of forgiveness without discipleship and semper penitentia.
There is no warrant for such reductionism in the scriptures, the great tradition, or Luther and the confessions! The solution is more thorough catechesis, wiser preaching, and more mining of gems like those Pr. Weedon has arrayed which acquit authentic Lutheranism of the antinomian charges against it (at least the idea that antinomianism is actually underwritten by Luther and the confessions).

W.T. Odom said...

Paul McCain said:

"And you know, when I read a post like this I'm reminded of just how sick and tired I am of our good Lutheran doctrine being muted and, frankly, held hostage, to recovering Evangelicals, who come into our Lutheran church so rejoicing in Gospel freedom they actually think, and are frankly misled into thinking, that now that they are "free in Christ" it is open season to behave as a swine and think nothing of it!"

I would like to quickly add that some "recovering Evangelicals" are steadfastly Lutheran. As a former Baptist and current student at CTS-Fort Wayne, I have a deep love of my Confessions and the historic liturgy (that I didn't have growing up). On the other hand, I have been appalled at some of the doctrine coming from the lips of lifelong Lutherans here on campus. Some examples are dispensationalism, affirmation of free-will,and non-efficacy of Baptism.

It is also BLATANTLY obvious that some life-long Lutherans here HAVE NEVER READ THEIR CONFESSIONS.

I know you didn't intend to include EVERY former Evangelical, but you may find that some of us hold dearly and tightly to our inherited heritage!

On a side note, thank whoever at CHP headed getting Albrect Peter's commentary on Luther's catechism translated.

-Weslie Odom

William Weedon said...

Thanks for the reminder, Wesley - offered from one who also was not a cradle Lutheran.

Anonymous said...

As a convert to Lutheranism and ardent listener to Issues Etc. I have a admit I am left with a confused and frustrated understanding of sanctification. It seems there is a school of thought that teaches that good works and godly character development are not to be spoken of because Sanctification is "outside of us." It is also apparent that we remain sinners after conversion, and that we should feel deeply ashamed of that. Yet we are also told not to make any conscious effort to improve the moral fabric of our character, because then we become PIETISTS, which is even worse. Please tell me that I am missing something!

William Weedon said...

Dear Anon,

The Lutheran Confessions are clear that sanctification is INSIDE us. It is indeed the work of God the Holy Spirit, but it is a work in which we cooperate by the new powers the Holy Spirit gives us. He gives us a new will, and we will, with that will, the death of the old self and seek to live our lives more and more from the new self and in union with Christ. Such sanctification is progressive - an ongoing healing of our human nature through finding our life in and with Christ. Lutheran teaching on sanctification really shouldn't be all that difficult! It's all about learning to live the values of the age that is coming (where Love reigns in all) and where the praise and prayer are unending. It's a gift that we get to grow in each day! But - and this is vital - because that process of sanctification is never completed in this age and each day we still need to pray "forgive us our trespasses," such sanctification will never be the basis of our justification before God - that is and will remain the person and work of the Eternal Son of God made flesh.

Anonymous said...

What I see in some who "push" sanctification is that there is some measuring stick we can use to see how holy we or our fellow christians are. And of course it's my measuring stick that gets used! Not all will or can be as holy acting as another--we can't see another's heart. Keep preaching justification by faith and let the Spirit do as the Spirt wills in each of us.