I know for many Lutherans in particular, that might seem to be a radical proposition. Maybe we are comfortable with Pastor William Weedon’s equating Athanasius’ “God became man that man might become God” with “God became a son of man that we might become a son of God”, but what to make of this?
First of all note this: it is only a child of God – by faith – that can grow in true righteousness. This statement assumes justification before God by faith.
It is my contention that this kind of theological reflection should help Lutherans in the ongoing discussions surrounding matters like the third use of the law. Most of this post, in fact, first appeared on a thread discussing the same.
Therefore, I started by talking about not the righteousness that was in Christ, but in the Christian: what is the character of that part in the Christian who has begun to have a new will that delights in God’s law? What are the qualities of this incipient or inchoate righteousness (as the Formula of Concord calls it) in the Christian?
Does the Christian, insofar as he is a new man, learn and grow in this new will? Can this new man in the Christian grow more mature and stronger? Might this explain the seeming divide we see here with FC VI (the article on the third use of the law)? As trust in God increases, should we say that this is what happens – that righteousness somehow increases in strength and power? (never understood to happen independently of the Triune God, but in proper dependence on Him).
What if we quickly look at our Lord, who did not even have an old Adam?
We see that He learned. Perhaps the law – which we know is summed up in love – was intuitive for him. And yet we know that “the child [Jesus] grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him” and “[he] grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”. What could this mean – perhaps even for young Jesus that the law was intuitive in that He recognized wisdom when it was explicitly taught to Him or shown Him and not otherwise?
How could Jesus, who was already without sin, grow in this way? Clearly, we are talking about growth occurring according to his human nature. For example, He undoubtedly learned what others thought obedience should look like in the community of believers, becoming more careful concerning the issue of how obedience might sometimes appear to be disobedience (as the 12 year old temple incident shows).
And of course in the book of Hebrews we are told that
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”
Now’s a good time to point out that the one of the main ways we are sanctified is by suffering. No doubt about that. As the Lutheran pastor John Kleinig says, God keeps taking away things from us that we might cling to Him more. But look at what is said here… Jesus learned obedience, and once made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation….
“important here is also the fact that his voluntary submission to the law is part of humiliation (Gal. 4). As God, he is above the law. As man personally united to God, he is also above the law from the moment of his conception in Mary’s womb (genus majestaticum), but he did not use this freedom while on earth, but, instead, humbled himself and became obedient, obedient to death on the cross (Phil. 2). And this is not only how he won our eternal salvation (gospel). This is also how he left us an example, which the redeemed should emulate in active (doing) and passive (suffering) obedience (law, see 1 Peter).”.
So here we see the importance of the passive and active obedience of Christ for us. But we also see that someone who is sinless – who does not have an old Adam – nevertheless becomes perfect. How can this be? Did Jesus, according to His human nature, become stronger as a result of his obedience in the midst of the temptation, for example? How to explain this?
I think this also syncs with the divisions of man we are told about in the Formula of Concord in the Lutheran Confessions, things like a) able not to sin ; b) not able not to sin ; and c) not able to sin. To say that the devil convinced Adam and Eve that what God called good (namely them) was not quite “good enough” certainly rings true (they were right where God wanted them to be!), but at the same time, I think Lutherans have historically believed that they were to ultimately become better, meaning more mature (i.e., being not able to sin was and is the goal), albeit only through God’s *giving* even this to them, which they would receive and cooperate with in the synergy of sanctification…
This would mean that “very good” and “perfect” should not be seen as synonymous here either. Rather, there is an “immature very good” and a “mature very good”.
This would explain why even the person who is fully without sin, Jesus Christ, can learn both from the law of God what is pleasing to Him and, from experience, suffering, and temptation, learn obedience which leads to maturity (perfection).
And He surely always delighted in the law according to His inner man – even when He was not yet fully mature…
And the same may also be true for us, all glory be to Christ our Lord! As II Corinthians 3:18 says:
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Image credit: Christ in the temple from Wikipedia.