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.
Not only this, but God also measures the whole person.
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 either/or question 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 : ) ).
*Kolb and Arand, “The Genius of Luther’s Theology”, 126 – note that their view seems a bit different than the one expounded on here.
(please note, post has been slightly revised for clarity)
Part II coming tomorrow