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”?