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TH 302 Lecture 10

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Lecture 204.06 - 9


Justification and Sanctification


Justification and Sanctification are two parts of the same process, but their connection and their ordering is a matter of some disagreement within the traditions of Christian theology.


9.1 Justification


We might say that Justification is the connection of Christian faith to individual salvation. It is the doctrine that wrestles with the question: How are we, in our sin, able to stand in the presence of a righteous God? In this way, the doctrine of justification connects to several of the doctrines we have already explored, especially the doctrines of theological anthropology, sin, and atonement.


For example, in understanding how we are justified, we are making claims about how we understand human beings - both in their initial creation and their fall to sin - as well as the way we understand Christ's redeeming work affecting us as human beings.



Following the Guthrie text, some important factors to keep in mind:


  • Justification is always God initiated (p. 318). We must take care to avoid the trap of Pelagianism, which would tempt us to think of Justification as God's response to our 'goodness.' This is not the message we find in Scripture. Rather, the claim is emphatically that "while we still were sinners, Christ died for us" [Rom 5:8 NRSV]. We are loved as we are, in our sinful state, and not for anything we do. In contrast to the old saying, "God helps those who help themselves," God is precisely for those who cannot help themselves.


  • Justification, therefore, is not dependent upon our faithfulness in God, but rather upon Christ's faithfulness to us. Emphatically, we are saved by grace, and not by our works (see Guthrie p. 322)


    Two models of Justification

    For purposes of simplicity, we can analyze the basic structure of justification by dividing it into two possibilities: 1) In Justification something changes in us, or, 2) in Justification nothing changes in us. Let's look at both and see how this plays out.


  • Something changes:- this model takes seriously the deep effects of sin on my person. Sin is more than the adverse consequences of my choices, it is soemthing that alters my very being. In this model, the grace we recieve in justification is part of a longer term process that eventually will result in all the sin (hopefully) being removed from my being, a process that can be termed "sanctification" (which we will explore more fully below), but also by the terms "beatification" or "apotheosis" (both which mean "growing toward godliness").


    This type of justification is often associated with the Roman Catholic or Anglo-Catholic (Episcopal) traditions, although you can find traces of it in many of the protestant denominations (Methodism, for example). Justification, in this model, does not happen "all-at-once," as a prelude to sanctification, but is much more the result of an ongoing, sanctified life. that is, as you grow in sanctification (see below), you will become justified in the eyes of God (this is a very over-simplified explanation, of course).

    When we think about this theologically, we can begin to see connections with such a model of justification and certain worship practices. For example, remembering that Anglo-Catholic traditions place a high value on the "real presence" of Christ at the Lord's Supper, it would make sense that a worshipper would have to have some change in the status of their sin in order to take the bread and the fruit of the vine. In other words, if one thinks God is literally there in the elements, and it is impossible to stand before God in our sin, then it follows that our sin has to change somehow for us to take the elements of the Lord's Supper and not perish.

    Seen in this model, justification is an ongoing process that takes time and a co-operation with the grace given by God (that is, God "invests" a bit of grace in you, and if you make good use of it by being virtuous, God rewards you with more, and so on). The model tends to see the purpose of human life to be to grow out of the sin nature and towards the imitation of Christ. Therefore, there is a "hierarchy" of virtue - some folks are father along in attaining Christ-like virtue than others. Such a model forms a background for many ecclesial practices such as priests (who are seen in the Anglo-Catholic tradition as more holy than the congregants), saints, the "cult of the Virgin Mary" (which we discussed in class) and so on.


  • Nothing changes: This model is the more classically "protestant," following Luther's dictum that in grace we are simul justus et peccator,"at the same time fully justified and fully sinners." Luther was worried that as soon as we started to think about "our" virtue (as in the model above) we would step away from our absolute dependence upon the grace of God, and therefore commit the sin of pride.


    Hence, in this model, we always remain in our sin nature - that does not change. What does change is the relationship we are able to have with God, despite our sin, and this is thanks to the imputed righteousnessof Jesus Christ. In other words, we always remain damnable due to our sin, but Christ steps between us and God's wrath in some fashion (refer back to the various models of atonement we discussed last week) and builds a bridge for us to return to right relationship with God the Father.

    Sanctification, in this model, is the joyous response we have to the totally unmerited gift of Christ's imputed righteousness. That is, we are freed to recieve God's love despite our sin, and our feeling that love empowers us to in turn love both God and our neighbor.

    Again, if we consider theologically the consequences of such a doctrine, we can see connections with this style of thinking to various "low church" or "free church" liturgical practices. For example, if we always remain in our sin, it makes less sense to talk about priests as more holy or "set apart" and more sense to emphasize a "priesthood of all believers." Such an approach might also account for the downplaying of the importance of the Lord's Supper (Eucharist) in many of these protestant traditions. Justification is the instant of conversion, not a process that needs repitition or infusion, according to this model.


    The relation of Faith and Justification

    Faith is vital to the equation of Justification, but not in the manner we are often given to think makes 'common sense' as American Christians (who love the idea of a 'do it yourself' Christianity). Regardless of which model of Justification is adopted in a given theology, it is fundamental to always remember that the initiation of it does not come from our side, but always begins with God. As Guthrie puts it (322), "Faith is not a 'work' that saves us; it is our acknowledgement that we are saved." Our faith does not save us - God does.


    Seen in this light, faith itself is a grace - a gift given to us. Our faith as Christians begins with the reality of the resurrection. Faith is never our possession, like an object we could hold or lose. Faith is the ever-renewed gift of a graceful God.



    As we move the discussion towards the issue of Sanctification, we must look again at the issue of works. Emphatically, against Pelagianism, "orthodox" Christianity has always maintained that our works do not merit our Justification before God. However, it has maintianed with equal vigor that, once given, the greace of God through Christ does bring evidence of a change within us. I like how Guthrie puts it, when he says, "We are not made right with God by good works, but we are not made right with God without good works" (326). This leads us to the matter of Sanctification.




    9.2 Sanctification



    II Timothy 2: 20-21: In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.


    When something has been "sanctified," as the passage above indicates, it has been "set aside" for a noble or holy purpose. 


    When we apply the word to theology, the doctrine we call sanctification indicates  the process by which new life is imparted to the believer by the Holy Spirit, freeing the believer from the cumpulsive power of sin and enabling the believer to love God and serve the neighbor.


    We might say that, just as Justification is God's grace to us, Sanctification is our obedient and thankful response to that grace. Justification is God for us. Sanctification is God in us, through the power of the Holy Spirit.


    In all Protestant theology, Justification and Sanctification can be distinguished from each other, but they are never separated. To think of Justification without Sanctification is an example of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." It is forgivenness without obedience, and such 'cheap' grace allows us to become comfortable in our sin. A Church comfortable with its sin is a church of this world, a church of the status quo.


    Sanctification begins with remembrance and thankfulness. Consider the words of Deuteronomy 6:20-25:


    6:20When your children ask you in time to come, "What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?"

    6:21then you shall say to your children, "We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

    6:22The Lord displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household.

    6:23He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors.

    6:24Then the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case.

    6:25If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right."

    God in Christ is both Savior and Lord. By grace we are freed to follow God's will, and empowered to follow it.


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