Holiness. What does this mean? (The Christian’s sanctification as measured by God) – part II

07 Aug

Continued from part I yesterday.

Of course, all of this sanctification talk makes some persons nervous – especially today.   Some may feel this shows a lack of humility.  Now I am not saying that we should go around saying 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 evaluations that measure 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 (i.e. that which pertains to justification), 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 designs, 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, and stronger believers will recognize temptation to sin more, not less.

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.

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 meant 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”?


Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Holiness. What does this mean? (The Christian’s sanctification as measured by God) – part II

  1. Jason

    August 11, 2012 at 2:30 am

    Nate, this is good stuff. I find Lutheran theology’s strength in reminding me (us) that we are indeed sinners in need of God’s mercy—constantly. If Christianity is true and Jesus is who orthodox, catholic Christianity says He is, and if his work was somehow mysteriously saving, then this sets Christianity apart from every other religion: we do not save ourselves. Or more precisely, we cannot save ourselves. In this sense, salvation comes to us from the outside—in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

    I’m glad though you are highlighting the work—the battle even—of Christian living (i.e. sanctification), as we do wage war against our flesh, the devil, and the world. To ignore this or somehow water it down seems to short-change the fullness of the Gospel. Jesus did call us to deny ourselves and pick up our cross and follow him. Or stated another way, he who endures to the end will be saved. We need to endure until the end. Yes, we endure looking not to ourselves but to the crucified and risen Savior, but we endure out of this reality which then animates, enables our choices, thinking, speech, etc. to live out the character of Christ in the here and now. I remember an article written by Dr. Steven Hein entitled ‘The Powerful Pardon’ which I think illustrates the tension of the gospel nicely. Dr. Luther said in his small catechism that were there is forgiveness of sins there is salvation, and closely related to the idea of forgiveness is also the reality of new life breathed into us that does give us power to battle against the flesh, sin, and the devil. And expression of the faith that ignores this double prong of forgiveness and new life ends up being imbalanced in some fashion or the other.

    Thanks for your efforts and example of what a powerful pardon looks like in real life.

  2. Nathan

    August 13, 2012 at 1:29 pm


    And thank you a ton for taking the time to not only read, but comment here. One of my thoughts is that we want our faith to always be looking to Jesus – that is in fact what makes faith strong. As you say though, looking to Him means pardon and power. We are not unaware that we can’t separate these in real life, even if pastorally, a pastor needs to be able to distinguish between justification and sanctification especially as he deals with terrified consciences. There is watering down going on – as to how and why that is happening, that is what I am not sure about…. hard to articulate…


  3. Del Campbell

    April 2, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    I not only read the articles, I also read the comments, as you can often find some nuggets there as well. One of the things that concern me right now is that I have not run across terrified consciences like I did in my “holiness” days. The fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom seems to be in shorter supply where I am now. This is disappointing because, at least to some extent, in my opinion, we place less of a value upon that which we think comes cheaply, and let’s face it, what is cheaper than “FREE?”
    The “free, unmerited favor of God” seems like a piece of penny candy without the corresponding glare of God’s holy light shining upon our filthy, raggedy attempts to be righteous. The stern judgment of God upon sin that Johnathan Edwards proclaimed with disturbing, disquieting effect led to a hunger for righteousness that could only be satisfied with the preaching of the Pure Gospel. Is it possible to capture that convicting cadence without surrendering the saving succor of the Gospel? That is the challenge of the true theologian/Gospel preacher.


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