31 July 2012

An Interesting Proposition

Would it be Lutheran to teach that when we have been justified by faith, we are to keep the Law and in fact, by the Spirit, to grow in fulfilling the Law more and more?  It seems that the Lutheran Church certainly thought so.  See Apology V:3.  How on earth can the anti-growth-in-sanctification folks dispense with such clear testimonies?


Pr. H. R. said...

And of course FC SD II.65ff.

William Weedon said...


Christopher D. Hall said...

Because they do not read the confessions but what they think the confessions say. Oh, was that rhetorical? :)

Pr. H. R. said...

And I Cor. 3.

It's an insidious error to deny such things. I think that at least among my age cohort it started with the Forde craze. And don't get me wrong, Forde has come great stuff. But he also did not subscribe to the Formula and was pretty straightforward in his denial of a 3rd use.

At any rate, it is not uncommon to hear Lutherans today say that we (that is, Christians) have a bound will or don't have a free will. That's simply contrary to the Confessions which clearly state that after baptism we have an arbitrium liberatum. We now cooperate with the Holy Spirit, though in great weakness and would be lost if ever He should remove his hand.

Indeed, one might go so far as to say that the only difference (though a big one!) between Rome and Wittenberg concerning sanctification is that Lutherans say that progress in sanctification earns rewards in eternal life while Rome says that progress in sanctification might gain the reward of eternal life.


Nathan Rinne said...

Pastor Weedon,

Thanks so much for posting this! Indeed, it seems to me that the Issues ETC soundbyte of the week this week implied just this (and the whole conversation surrounding that soundbyte was the same...all about how the old man only dies: this is the only "progress" we can talk about).

We do increase in righteousness now, even as before God, we are only justified by Christ's blood and righteousness. Again, we may not be able to detect this (as we only see our sin), but Scripturally, we know we grow in grace and that we should be eager for persons to see our progress, as Paul says.

I suggest what is Biblical is Lutheran. : )

There is more here, in the last few paragraphs of this post: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/my-issues-with-issues-etc/

Hope you are enjoying your new work!


Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes said...

Great observation.

Brad said...


I love what you have written. Resonates with Luther on this in the Large Catechism, too. And, as the Lutheran Confessions also state: "A weak and feeble keeping of the law is rare, even among the saints." Or, as Koeberle might say, growth in sanctification is actually a growth in humiliation, not exaltation. I think we'd all agree to that.

Nathan Rinne said...


Thanks much.

Pastor Weedon,

I just did a short post that I think might help us understand the root of the issue here:


Here it is:

Name the theological school that is the focus of this quotation:

“#1), the theologian in academia has two challenges: 1) To teach that which he should; 2) To be taken as intellectually viable. Since the enlightenment, the latter has trumped the former. The[re is a specific school that] is appealing, for while rejecting divine inspiration, it accepts Scripture as a type of God’s Word; while rejecting the knowability of history, it accepts the events described within Scripture as a witness of the church to normative events; while rejecting a quia subscription to the confessions, it accepts the confessional nature of the church; while rejecting a standard hermeneutic of biblical interpretation, it accepts the idea that the church should be the one to interpret Scripture…In short, what [the] theologians [of this particular school] attempt to do is to maintain some sort of Lutheran theology, based on what the modern intellectual community takes to be fact, or reality.” (quote from a man I greatly respect)

The beginning of the answer…? : http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/scaerlawgospeldebate.pdf

William Weedon said...

Thanks, Nathan. Good thoughts. This is one particular debate that I simply do not understand for the entirety of the Symbols, of the Lutheran devotional tradition, and the sermons of the great theologians all presuppose the simple truth that we progress in sanctification.

Nathan said...

Thanks Pastor Weedon.

This may help. In Robert Kolb and Charles Arand's book "The Genius of Luther's theology", they say, "As faith grows, just like a tree, it does not become more righteous, but it does produce more fruit". (. 126)

A lot of the other stuff they say sounds good, but I wonder about what's behind that rather strange formulation. I think the key is probably in the 3rd paragraph of p. 124 (which I don't have time to type out...)

Nathan said...

also, I should point out Kolb and Arand do not deny progress in the Christian life. Still, I think there are other issues there.

WM Cwirla said...

Since Christ is our righteousness and our sanctification, our righteousness and sanctification are always whole and entire. Our "growth" is the gradual dying of the old Adamic flesh that prevents us from doing what Christ would do. See Gal 5. So, of course there is progress in sanctification as we progress to the grave.

William Weedon said...

Is there a distinction between the Old Adam and human nature? It seems to me that this must be made. And the keeping of the distinction allows us to see the Old Adam as the devastating corruption that is IN the nature and yet see the nature "being healed" (to use the lingo of the Formula) in a way that progresses as the nature comes to live more and more from Christ Himself - who is indeed given whole and entire to us, but given whole and entire that we might ever increase in appropriation of His life as our very own - and this is healing to the nature.

WM Cwirla said...

To run with the healing analogy, our health and our strength is Christ, and in Him we are perfectly healed. Our "healing" is the putting to death of Sin in the flesh, as the apostle Paul abundantly teaches in Romans 7-8, Ephesians 5, and Galatians 5 to name but a few places.

To use a slightly different analogy, imagine a light bulb shining with full lumens, yet covered with layers of soot. As one gradually removes the soot, the bulb appears to be shining more and more brightly, from one degree of glory to the next. Yet what is actually happening is the putting away of the greasy soot which gets in the way of the light.

Donavon Riley said...

The problem with the idea that there is a difference between the Old Adam and human nature (other than Romans 7 & 8 killing that idea altogether) is how the concept of substance was used after Augustine, that if "being=good" you have to conceptualize us having something "leftover" (so to speak) that God finds good and attractive. It's only a matter of time then before you begin to think like Occam that if being is good, and goodness is leftover in us, then we can contribute a little something towards the re-establishment of our relationship with God. When applied to the doctrine of creation, this isn't actually so bad. In Augustine's context, he was trying to fight Manicheans who denied the doctrine of creation, and so this made sense. As it came to be applied to the concept of free will, grace, and so on it had terrible effects.

WM Cwirla said...

"Is there a distinction between the Old Adam and human nature?"

Yes/ They are completely different ways of speaking. "Human nature" refers to the human nature in concreto. The antithesis in Scripture is Flesh / Spirit or members / inner man.

William Weedon said...

Here's my take on this from a few year's back. I'm still rather convinced along these lines:


William Weedon said...


If there is no distinction between the Old Adam and the human nature then one must simply embrace Flacius' error, no? That was at its heart.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Myself, I find I don't like any talk about "sanctification" that leaves it as an abstraction and doesn't talk about serving the neighbor. I mean, what's the point -- why focus on a growth when there remains a neighbor to love?

Or to put it this way - if one is looking at one's own self there should be growth, but why am I focusing on myself? That is the path of boasting. Mortify the flesh, serve the neighbor.

William Weedon said...

Well, again, see the way I described it in the linked post. Growth in sanctification results precisely in growth in attention toward the needs of the neighbor and the promises of God.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I know, but my point and warning is this. Throughout the history of the Church we have seen time and time again where people have detached the idea of holy living apart from the love of the neighbor -- be it Monasticism, Phariseeism, or the Lord's repeated admonishments that He desires mercy (not mere sacrifice).

If we focus too much on "sanctification" without a focus directly upon the neighbor, we will insert our own self made and self desired tasks... just as if we try to determine our own "righteousness" we will fall, or if we wish to speak about "god" apart from revelation we will create idols.

Hence, I find dangerous any attempt to look or see growth in one's self. When I examine myself, I seek to find sin to repent of; I seek to find ways in which I need to improve... and an approach that would say, "See, I have grown" can lead to complacency and idolatry.

(Or to put it another way - we do grow in fulfilling the Law, but that growth comes not in observing our growth, but rather in hearing the Word of Christ which kills and makes alive -- it happens by the power and working of the Spirit)

Donavon Riley said...

Regarding Flacius' error, as I wrote elsewhere, he was trying to operate within a conceptual terminology that did fit with the new insight of the gospel. In fact, he actually was quite explicit about the fact that he was re-defining the term "substance" in relation to the question. The others said "well, that's fine, but you're using it in a different way than anyone else has ever used that term. So you're right, but you need to start explain yourself more clearly and not using the term that way so that people stop misunderstanding you." Flacius refused (and I think I know why).

In the whole Interim situation he had refused to compromise and he won in the end by being stubborn. So he figured things would work the same way again. Unfortunately he was wrong.

Second, as Bill pointed out, and I alluded to in my first comment, if we assume "being = good" then we confuse First and Second Article matters in our desire to "do what is within us" whether to please God or earn our neighbor's favor. Rather, as Bill noted, nothing about the Old Adam is good, because God considers nothing about the Old Adam as "good" apart from his good in Christ. Christ is wholly 'extra nos', our righteousness and our sanctification.

Our "growth" is the daily being put to death by the Holy Spirit everything about our old Adamic self that prevents us from doing what Christ would do. See Gal 5. So, progress? Yes, in sanctification the Spirit makes us holy by killing us and raising us to new life in Christ, which ends for the old Adam at the grave.

Donavon Riley said...

It appears, when one affirms sanitive justification that sanctification gets cut loose from death of the old Adam and new life in Christ (the bondage of the will gets short shrift too, and regeneration is made over into a vehicle for the continually subsisting self to survive the killing blow of the Law), to the point where the Law doesn't really, completely, kill the old Adam, it curbs, exposes, and instructs him, but not to the point of actual death, only to the point of self-reform. Then we're operating as though baptism doesn't completely drown the old Adam, and the absolution isn't really permanent, and the Sacrament of the Altar isn't really for rebellious, dead-hearted sinners, but for the functionally good Christian who tries his best to do right by God and his neighbor...

Then "I believe I can't believe..." gets translated into, "I believe I couldn't believe, but now I can because...so better get busy, or else!"

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Or from a slightly different angle - I'd rather talk about vocation rather than sanctification. My goal is not to be self-improvement - my goal is to serve God and serve the neighbor (indeed the is no service to God that is not also service to the neighbor). This is why in the Small Catechism we are instructed not to consider our sanctification or piety, but rather instructed to consider our place in life, our vocations. This is why the table of duties is tied to vocation. I think it's just a safer way to think and talk.

Ellie Corrow said...

I must admit that this conversation baffles me a bit. I have trouble recalling any person who I would classify as "anti-growth-in-sanctification" but then, I suppose, like all things it matters how one defines his terms. It seems that "improvement" which does not speak of either Christ's righteousness or service to my neighbor is quite useless, and is not improvement at all but self-righteousness bolstered by pious language. If we must decrease so He may increase, to use John the Baptist's language, or die so it is no longer us, but Christ who lives in us, to use Saint Paul's language, it seems improvement is not found in grasping after jewels for one's crown, but in finding more of the Old Adam to kill, even if he is crouching under our pious intentions.

Bror Erickson said...

Sorry, but what apology are we talking about? I cant find V : 3. And article V of the augustana doesn't. Deal with this topic at all.

William Weedon said...


I used the Reader's Edition/Triglotta numbering. It's the second part of Apology IV in other editions.


No one here teaches a sanitive justification, but I believe that the Lutherans Symbols DO teach (explicitly so) a sanitive sanctification. This is the part of the Formula that Elert disliked and regreted, and he's not been alone. But we affirm it nonetheless. And so we freely talk of cooperation with our freed will by the new powers imparted through the Spirit and the healing of human nature and the importance of growth in both mortification of the flesh and in appropriation of the new life in Christ.

I'd be interested in folks' reaction to Fr. Curtis' comment up above. I think he's bang on right. I sense that many would take exception.

And here's a question: I've frequently heard folks comment that they're uncomfortable with some of Luther's and Walther's sermons precisely when they speak explicitly on this matter. Could it be that their sermons are actually bang on Lutheranly right (i.e., Scripturally right) and that it is this refusal to speak in harmony with our Symbols that is wrong-headed? You know my opinion by the very way I phrase the question!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I would hesitate to say that "progress in sanctification earns rewards in eternal life" -- if we are to speak of rewards they are tied to works... it's not like we are in some Christian role playing game where since I reached level 6 sanctification I have more stuff than fellow over here who only reached level 4.

Again - it's just such a self-focused approach to works, it makes my stomach turn. I don't care about "progress" - show me the neighbor to care for.

William Weedon said...

But beware, for it could be that you think you show that you are further along spiritually than the person who is battling the temptation of losing his temper? :) "See me, I am not even concerned about my sanctification." Or, as that horrid T shirt puts it: "Weak on sanctification." Most of the time what slays the old Adam is the honesty of a good laugh at his proud pretensions! Like Satan, he likes to take himself a tad too seriously.

Scripture clearly teaches that there are rewards for our works (both in this age and in the age to come), no? And it also clearly teaches that there are degrees of glory. Both of these are part and parcel of the faith once delivered to the saints. But it also is true that the person who is obsessing on heaping up rewards is so inwardly focused as to miss the great surprise: "I did what when?" St. Augustine nailed it when he said that by rewarding our good works in heaven all God is doing is crowning His gifts to us!

WM Cwirla said...

Here is the passage cited in the OP:

2] It is written in the prophet, Jer. 31:33: I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts. And in Rom. 3:31, Paul says: Do we, then, make void the Law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the Law. And Christ says, Matt. 19:17: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Likewise, 1 Cor. 13:3: If I have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 3] These and similar sentences testify that the Law ought to be begun in us, and be kept by us more and more [that we are to keep the Law when we have been justified by faith, and thus increase more and more in the Spirit]. Moreover, we speak not of ceremonies, but of that Law which gives commandment concerning the movements of the heart, namely, the Decalog. 4] Because, indeed, faith brings the Holy Ghost, and produces in hearts a new life, it is necessary that it should produce spiritual movements in hearts. And what these movements are, the prophet, Jer. 31:33 shows, when he says: I will put My Law into their inward parts, and write it in their hearts. Therefore, when we have been justified by faith and regenerated, we begin to fear and love God, to pray to Him, to expect from Him aid, to give thanks and praise Him, and to obey Him in afflictions. We begin also to love our neighbors, because our hearts have spiritual and holy movements [there is now, through the Spirit of Christ a new heart, mind, and spirit within].

captaincatechism said...

The "sooty lightbulb" analogy is right. It is in agreement with:

1. Luther on Sanctification (SC 3rd article of the Creed

2. Simul Justus et peccator

3. It keeps people from creeping (back) into Theosis... that deadliest of errors.

Donavon Riley said...

The old Adam does love his rewards...

I read very little on this thread of the Holy Spirit and his work, but there's no shortage of talk about "us" and what "we" do...

It's the Holy Spirit who began the good work in me and carries it through to completion (Phil 1:6), shields me through faith until the coming of salvation (1 Peter 1:5), and is constantly at work in me (1 Thess. 2:13) ...

More talk of Christ our righteousness and sanctification, baptism into Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit, and less about "rewards," then we can stop hand wringing about words like "progress" and the old Adam will be put in his proper place, being drowned and put to death and raised up to new life through faith in God and fervent love toward his neighbor.

William Weedon said...

Theosis is the deadliest of errors???

William Weedon said...


It's just the teaching of the Scriptures. We have to deal with that. We may not write it out of them. Rewards have a place in our teaching for the Spirit (sic!) writes of them. Pieper's treatment of them is quite sound.

The topic was growth in sanctification and that's why, well, that's the topic. In the linked article in my earlier comment I do not believe that any of the ways your have characterized this thread could be substantiated.

On being=good, I'm not sure what other alternative there is. "And it was good." The Formula makes it clear that human nature itself falls under this "good" as far as its own essence is concerned as a creature of God. What's not at all good is the corruption which is so pervasive, so deep, so all encompassing that God alone could salvage the nature while destroying its corruption - which is what He does in Baptism and through the life of penitence and faith until Baptism reaches its fulfillment in death and resurrection.

William Weedon said...

Sorry for misspelling your name!

William Weedon said...

Where I attended Divine Service tonight, this prayer was printed in the bulletin. It came from David Hollaz:

Almighty Lord Jesus Christ, as often as I shall come to Your holy table to refresh my spirit, I pray You to make me, unworthy as I am, worthy through Your grace, impure as I am, to make me clean, naked as I am, to clothe me, so that Your Body, so full of divine power, and Your most precious Blood, may not become for me, Your servant, the occasion for judgment or punishment, but a memorial of the death You underwent for me, a strengthening of my faith, a proof of the taking away of my sin, a bond of closer union with You and Your people, *an increase of holiness*, the basis of a glad resurrection and a pledge of everlasting life. Amen.

Note that this beautiful pre-communion prayer asks for the increase in holiness not as a result of moral effort or any such, but as a result of the faithful reception of the Savior's body and blood.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Praying for an increase in holiness is indeed a good thing! However, if the discussion shifts subjects, where the one who is increasing holiness shifts from God and becomes me, then there is horrible bad and blasphemous theology.

This is why I do not like the term "progress" -- it lends itself too quickly to twisting sanctification from a gift of God and a working of the Spirit through Word and Sacrament into a catalog of my improving efforts -- it shifts the subject.

Now, this is not always gross and terrible, but look at the move of your initial post -- first we are passive, and then suddenly we are the active ones who keep the law and grow. Sanctification is not couched in terms of God being active in and through us, but rather suddenly an enabler. Then in the comments it's onto free will in the comments, and progress and rewards we earn... and the Spirit is just a dative of means passed by a few posts earlier.

I would rather say that when we have been justified by faith, we are made to keep the Law by the Spirit. And God grant that He increase my holiness... but I'm not going to focus on or compare strength of my holiness, anymore than I would want to go off on how my faith is stronger or some such thing. That isn't to be my focus.

So I don't think anyone is saying that we should strive to be wicked, that we should sin that grace may abound -- but rather, let us be focused on Christ rather than trying to determine how pious our navel is by gazing at it.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

More to the point, I think looking at Sanctification in terms of growth or progress instead of primarily simply as gift which we receive and live in can set the stage where we become too judgmental. We see people act, a little slice of their life, and suddenly instead of just letting that action stand or fall, we compare it to the past. I see someone be less patient than normal -- do I think they are slipping, or do I think, "I wonder if they are more stressed than usual - can I help them with something"?

Progress isn't a helpful way of judging one's self (especially as we can easily slip into self-justification in one area to "cover" a weaker area - the old Adam delights in this) -- besides, even after the warnings of 1 Cor 3 we hear in 1 Cor 4:3-4 "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. **In fact, I do not even judge myself.** For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me." Indeed, even in Chapter 3, rather than saying that I have grown in wisdom, let me be a fool instead that I may be wise - and instead of people pointing to my works, or Weedon's works, or anyone else's works, let us all point to Christ.

WM Cwirla said...

"He must increase; I must decrease."

William Weedon said...



This whole discussion makes me wonder if you all have read Koeberle and if you agree with his presentation of both justification and sanctification?

WM Cwirla said...

Koeberle must be read critically in light of Scripture and Confessions, of course. I have read him a long time ago and found him troubling. I'll have to revisit him.

WM Cwirla said...

If Christ must increase and I must decrease, then my "growth" is my decrease (mortification). I think we should speak of the baptismal life as one of repentance (metanoia, re-cognition) rather than "sanctification."

William Weedon said...


The point of contention isn't that I must decrease, but that Christ INCREASES. That we come to live more and more from His life which is communicated to us via the means of grace. The "decrease of me" I take to mean the life of repentance; the "increase of Christ" I take to mean the life of faith.

I think Chemnitz addressed this very well in Examen:

God does not confer and convey grace in this life just once, so that it is at once complete and perfect, so that as long as we are in this life God would will and convey nothing more, and that a person would need to receive nothing more from God; but God is always giving and man is always receiving, in order that we may be joined more and more fully and perfectly to Christ, and may hold the forgiveness of sins or reconciliation more firmly, so that the benefits of redemption, which have been begun in us, may be preserved and strengthened and may grow and increase. - Examen II:76,77.

WM Cwirla said...

So long as the focus is on Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, there is no problem with "growth" in holiness or sanctification. The problems begin when the focus turns to us: our cooperation, our working together with God, our good works, love, etc.

William Weedon said...

Yet the Formula does speak of our cooperation and in rather sweeping terms when it comes to sanctification; yet it does so soldily within the talk of the Spirit for only by the Holy Spirit can the new man cooperate in all the works of the Spirit. We need to beware of not being able to use the language of our Symbols as natively our own. I have zero problem talking about cooperation, but wish to do so within the limits that the Formula sets, and that runs right with St. Paul's: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works within you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

WM Cwirla said...

"42] These testimonies state that by our own powers we cannot come to Christ, but God must give us His Holy Ghost, by whom we are enlightened, sanctified, and thus brought to Christ through faith, and kept with Him; and no mention is made either of our will or cooperation."

WM Cwirla said...

"36] In the Large Catechism of Dr. Luther (the Third Article of the Christian Faith) it is written thus: And I am also a part and member of the same, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost, by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it. 37] For formerly, before we had attained to this, we were altogether of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ. Thus, until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He brings us to Christ, and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing [this community] daily to grow and become strong in the faith and the fruits of the Spirit, which He produces. 38] In these words the Catechism does not mention our free will or cooperation with a single word, but ascribes everything to the Holy Ghost, namely, that through the office of the ministry He brings us into the Christian Church, wherein He sanctifies us, and brings it about that we daily grow in faith and good works.

39] And although the regenerate even in this life advance so far that they will what is good, and love it, and even do good and grow in it, nevertheless this (as above stated) is not of our will and ability, but the Holy Ghost, as Paul himself speaks concerning this, works such willing and doing, Phil. 2:13. As also in Eph. 2:10 he ascribes this work to God alone, when he says: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk therein."

William Weedon said...


Nathan Rinne said...


Let me just say, I understand Pastor Cwirla's hesitancy to focus on our "inchoate righteousness". Of course we must be looking to Christ more and more.

With that, then, I say this, which I know will probably drive lots of folks crazy:


Nathan Rinne said...

Here is the post:

Note: Due to the lack of explicit “Gospel-in-the-narrow-sense” content – which I acknowledge should pervade our conversation (post is already quite long) – some [Lutheran] theologians reading this may want to supplement this post with a reading of Luther’s Large Catechism (the third part of the Apostle’s Creed)

We think some people are better than others. Every kid knows it.

We all do it. Can’t say we don’t. And there is nothing wrong with this, even as we also assert that all persons, without exception, are loved by God who desires the salvation of all. And, as many a parent of multiple children knows (and hopefully many a child), to say this is not to say that one is loved more than another. So our statement stands: we certainly do think some people are better than others. For example, women might prefer the company of the “bad boy” for a brief season, but the wiser of them, sensibly, end up thinking that when it comes to a long-term prospect, other qualities need to be sought in a man (these are the better women). Likewise, we will seek out certain persons for particular jobs – when we are having automotive difficulties, we look for a mechanic who knows what he is doing – we trust them regarding that area (perhaps we also think they would overcharge us on their own, but we trust their supervisor!). On the other hand, when it comes to choosing a roommate, for example, we generally will seek someone who we think is a better person overall according to our standards, which may be more or less in accordance with God’s. This is not done according to quantitative criteria – although a “pros” and “cons” list may be produced to aid in the decision – but qualitative criteria – we “measure” the whole person. Can’t say we don’t – and if we do, that is false humility.

So it is with God.

What? Yes. Not as it has to do with our justification of course. That must, as respected Lutheran teacher Dr. Rod Rosenbladt has said, remain in “column A. ” We cannot bring our love born of strong faith, our good works, our holiness, or our conformity to Christ’s image into that column. We cannot even bring our godly suffering and our “deep” repentance into that column. All of that belongs in column B, which pertains to our sanctification. When it comes to our standing before God – when it comes to the A or B categories of truly being His child or not – there are only these things we must look at: Christ, grace, and faith (which also is a gift He provides). And column A is to remain column A until we breathe our last.

But sanctification? Different story.

Now it is true that Jesus Himself dwells in our hearts by faith, and He is perfectly righteous before His Father in Heaven. And it is also true that those with faith are completely new creatures in Christ – with “new desires, attitudes, and dispositions to align [our lives] with God’s design”* – albeit ones that are immature. Still, when it comes to justification, even these things are all column B stuff (see Hebrews 10:14), for God justifies the wicked when they look to him in desperate, groping, and loveless trust – via the alien, or external righteousness of Jesus Christ given in His Word! Regarding our being new creatures, it is therefore true that we have a new nature – even if we don’t feel it – who is not Jesus. In other words, it is we who are new men, not Jesus, and it is we who cooperate with Him – or not – in our sanctification. As such, God does judge some of us to be more in line with his designs, desires, thoughts, words, and deeds than others (even as each are conformed in distinctive ways) and rewards them as such. Of course they won’t care about the fact that they will certainly be in charge of many mansions in heaven (note: not on earth!) – but they will be nonetheless. And of course, those of us with only one mansion or so (I guess) will be nothing but happy for them by that point (I’m guessing there will be some great “commons” areas : ) ).

Nathan Rinne said...

Here is part II, to be posted tomorrow:

Of course, all of this sanctification talk makes some persons nervous – especially today. Does this not show a lack of humility? Now I am not saying that we should go around say that one person may be 99.9% saint while another is only 63% % or even 6.3%. That way of speaking is a bit ridiculous, akin to taking the pros and cons list and blowing it up to all-encompassing proportions. Quantitative evaluations, those measuring specific things numerically, are not the best thing here (still, note Luther in the Large Catechism’s explanation of the third part of the Apostle’s Creed: “for now, we are only half pure and holy”), in spite of all that follows. Let me be clear: before God, in column A, we are always 100% saints and 100% sinners.

Having said this now, even if we were to speak in a quantitative way in regards to our sanctification as a whole, would this necessarily be wrong? After all, we can’t deny that we will all be “measured” in some way, though as I have argued, more of a qualitative measurement is in mind (see II Cor. 5:10). Think about this: none of us will make it to 100% saint before we die. If we are at .1% sinner we will still need the blood and righteousness of Christ just as much as the next person, for whoever breaks one part of the Law breaks the whole Law. Walther said that the Christian is the one who fears to commit even a single sin (“didn’t he also say something about not attributing beliefs and attitudes to the average Christian he does not have?”, we say today without much reflection…) Yes, even one particular sin is serious – even as we also acknowledge that our good thoughts, words, and deeds are tainted by the sinful infection that affects and clings to the godly desires the Spirit gives. Of course, God’s promise to provide a way out of temptation is only for sinner-saints.

Further, these hypothetical 99.9% persons will always see their sin! They would not be the proud ones, but humble ones. And that .1% will seem all-encompassing to them, and given that God means for us to be perfectly loving like Him, it is right for that sin to bother them. They will, in all honesty, feel like they are, really and truly, the chief of sinners before God – and they will constantly be looking to Christ for forgiveness that they may be renewed. In addition, these persons are well aware that they could take a terrible fall, a la Chutes and Ladders, or even lose their faith altogether (i.e. justification) through faith-destroying and doubt-inducing sin. Finally, if a person is at 99.9%, you can rest assured they did not get to that point primarily because of fear of punishment and hope of reward, but because of the love of God from God that they allowed to shape them and flow through them. They certainly knew the passage about laying up treasure in heaven and not on earth – but the Treasure they were longing for more than anything was to know the love of God more – to simply dwell in His house and (not their own mansions). For He was always was their sanctification (I Cor. 1:30), by whom their faith and love grew (for without faith in Him, there is no beginning of sanctification, much less continued progress in the same). “Keeping track” of any good they did was never on their mind, although pleasing Him (not to be saved) certainly was. Maybe you would contend these persons don’t exist, but I’d say Scripture – not to say, some of our experiences – says otherwise.


Nathan Rinne said...


Again, Jesus did come for sinners – and that means all of us all the time. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Since John says so we all clearly qualify here. If we need more evidence, we should ask why all believers in Christ physically die, when in the Garden death is only ever said to be a consequence for sin.

All of this is not to promote worry in us, but awareness – of all we have been given in Christ amidst our enemies of the flesh, the world, and the devil.

I don’t know about you, but I think I have a long way to go. But spurred on by the fact that my salvation is secure in my Lord Jesus by grace through faith, how can I not be eager to “catch up to myself in Christ”?

*Kolb and Arand, “The Genius of Luther’s Theology”, 126 – note that their view is different than the one expounded on here.

Need to run now - will check back in later to see if I've started or ended a conversation...hoping for the first.

Dixie said...

I have to admit when I was Lutheran I never quite understood what the true, fully Lutheran position on Sanctification really was. In fact, I was once soundly chastised by one of your buddies, Pastor Weedon, for not "getting it". However...after reading all the comments here, I think I might have figured out why I never quite understood! There doesn't seem to be a very unified understanding and it all seems very complicated.

I hope you won't mind me being frank but the whole notion of intentionally being oblivious to the changes Christ works in us for fear of taking credit for those things seems very obsessive to me. Christ can and does work change in us, sanctifies us. And it is OK to recognize that work. Because progress in one area ultimately leads to the revelation of missing the mark in another...the more "Light" you add in a dirty attic, the more dirt you see. That is the reality of sanctification. All that other stuff regarding taking credit seems so weird because that is not the outcome of sanctification at all!

Oh and you can be sure if I am ever in the neighborhood, I'll try to stop by and say "hey"!

William Weedon said...


Excellen analogy about the attic. It strikes me as an area that doesn't NEED to be confusing and is not at all confusing in the Confessions and Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard, and Walther. It's an area that becomes confused, I think, when that fear of the old Adam seizing credit becomes, as you note, obsessive.

Nathan said...


I think that is right on.

Pastor Weedon,

I'm sorry if I may have confused things a bit here. I'd like to think the Confessions are clear (they seem so to me), but evidently, since people don't seem to agree, more clarification might be needed.


Nathan Rinne said...

Pastor Weedon and Dixie,

I think what I wrote in my blog posts specifically was to say by way of detailed explanation what Dixie is saying:

"the whole notion of intentionally being oblivious to the changes Christ works in us for fear of taking credit for those things seems very obsessive to me"

So Dixie, thank you for saying that. : )

As regards sanctification in general, I am glad to see Pastor Cwirla say that there is growth in sanctification, but again, there is an obsession on "divine monergism" (um, when did we all start using this term - isn't it pretty new?).

How about this?:

We really do grow in faith, and hence inchoate righteousness (sanctification). We, insofar as we are new men, eagerly cooperate with God’s Holy Spirit, and like Adam in the garden, grow not only in faith, but in essential righteousness (much of this has to do with New Adam re-drowning Old Adam each day, threatening him with the Law, subduing him, etc.) Original Adam’s innocence was that of a child, but the innocence of the risen in heaven will be that of a man (AE 1:110-111) Likewise, our new man has the innocence of a child (capable of falling), but the innocence of the risen in heaven will be that of a man (where our nature will be that such that we will not fall).

So, there is increase in righteousness now, even as before God, we are only justified by Christ's blood and righteousness. Again, we may not be able to detect this, but Scripturally, we know we grow in grace and that we should be eager for persons to see our progress, as Paul says.

I got those ideas from a wise Lutheran pastor whom I respect. They seem right to me - in line with the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the Confessions