Earlier this week, I mentioned how I had explained the original reasons for the Lutheran distinction between justification and sanctification (namely, to “to assure true Christians that they were true Christians”, which in general corresponds to comforting sinners who are genuinely terrified due to their sins before God – see here) to a learned Eastern Orthodox gentleman, who responded in this way:
“[if the distinction between justification and sanctification] was made in order to help the weak… [this] leads to the inevitable conclusion that for those who aren’t, the distinction does not obtain. We should not let peoples’ misunderstandings drive our theology and what it should say.”
I certainly found that to be an interesting way to respond! With the help of an Eastern Orthodox friend who has some affinity for Martin Luther (this gentleman), I responded in the following way:
“I’d say that insofar as we are new men, [God’s commands] are indeed not a burden. Insofar as we remain infected by sin however (Romans 7), we groan under the burden of our imperfection, knowing that our Lord desires us to be and do much more.
An E.O. friend said to me ‘surely all people, at times, (and not just the weaker brother) have experienced doubt or the hammer of God’s law that pulls them up short when they realize they are not living up to the law and commandments of God and the gospel. In short, we often don’t live like Jesus–so then what? In the Orthodox liturgy and prayers there are certainly prayers that could be understood as prayers of assurance and comfort, though they might not use those terms or embrace a Lutheran explication of them.’”
I thought that was wise.
I’d also say this: as any good Lutheran will tell you, sanctification entails much more than just defending the pure teaching that brings life and salvation. There is no doubt that we are in need of greater sanctification, and with that, greater faith – even as it makes little sense to focus on our faith, rather the Object of our faith, Jesus Christ.
And for all our need, we weak Lutherans ought not be ashamed to beg. God is glad to not only give us sure peace with Him and confidence of eternal life – but an increase in righteousness as well (even if we ourselves can’t see any progress….)