Sunday, April 7, 2013

I'll See Your "Sanctification" and Raise You My Sin

"Don't you realize as a Christian you are supposed to progress in your sanctification?"

"Don't you know you are always supposed to be getting better and better?"

"Don't you understand that you are supposed to be doing more?"

"Talk is cheap, now show me!"

Thus rings out the common refrain.  There must be growth - so you better get to growing.  Show me your works more and more -- and of course, the implied, "see me and how I have grown."

... sigh.

Here is my simple question for all these folks who go on and on about this growth in sanctification -- who in Scripture talks this way?

Consider Paul.  Does he talk about progress in sanctification?  Quite the opposite - oh, he *was* the Pharisee of pharisees and blameless... but now he says that he *is* (not was) the chief of sinners.  Oh, he's Paul, he can say that he's worked harder than any of them... but when he sees himself he cries out "Who will save me from this body of death!"

See, here's the thing that all these progressive sanctification folks mess up.  When they want to find growth and maturity... they look for "good works"... when Paul would have you see more and more the depths of your sin.

Let me use an analogy from the Sports World.

When I was in High School - I was on the golf team.  I'd shoot maybe around a 42 for 9 holes.  If I shot 40, I was happy.

Now, let us say that I continued my golfing prowess and became pro -- and let us say that I shoot even par, 72.  Do I look at that and say, "Ah, see how much better I am now than I was" -- or as a pro, do I dissect and evaluate my game even more... do I see more and more the strokes I gave back because I should have shot 68?

As I grow - my standards become higher.

As you grow in the faith, as you understand the more and more the wisdom of God and His Law -- your standards will be higher.  And you will see your sin more and more.

And if you are sitting thinking how much better you are now -- you haven't raised your standards.  You are, as Paul would put it, still thinking like a child.  You aren't maturing, you aren't examining yourself... you are stroking your own pride.

Someone might say, objectively, that I am a nicer guy now than I was, that I am a better this or that now than I was 10 years ago... and I say, "What of that?  I know my sin, and it is ever before me.  Thanks be to God for His mercy, for I am seeing more and more just how gracious He is to me."

Because you would think that growth in *faith* would be tied to understanding more and more how great Jesus is... but no, let's talk about how I'm becoming a better man.

Vanities of Vanities, all is Vanity!


X said...

You misunderstand, and create a false dichotomy. Yes, we grow, AND we see our sin more. Both are true. As we grow, we repent more.

mqll said...

I think that this is mostly correct — our path of sanctification is one of seeing how much more a sinner we are and how much more in need of a Savior we are.

But the question is "Is it ok for us to give ourselves a pass for our sin?" Right? To say "Well, I'm sinner/saint, so I am going to sin, so it is ok if I do X."

And to that the answer is no. Luther says that you can't keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair. Will we sin? Yes.

But when Jesus shows grace to the woman caught in the act of committing adultery, He does not say "Continue your life as you have led it." He says "Sin no more."

What about the story of Jonah? How high of a standard was that really?

So, yes, you will raise your standards — but the very act of raising your standards is saying "This behavior that once I thought was acceptable is no longer acceptable to me." And that is growth of sanctification.

mqll said...

And the issue that I have, is that I think the standards have been lowered. What do we expect of Christians? What is their calling?

Nowadays it is mostly "Not much really — you can lives as an average American, call yourself a Christian, and pretty much be fine."

There is a discomfort with that attitude now.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

X -

Here is a nuance, but an important one. I don't deny growth... I simply say I'm not going to be focused upon that.

Mqll -

I'll gladly join in with saying that we have lowered our standards. But I want my focus to be extra nos - not on myself... and I fear the talk of progressing itself leads to lowering standards.

As you note with the woman caught in sin - Jesus doesn't say, "Sin less tomorrow than you did today and thus note your progress." Here is the standard. Now, learn what it means to sin no more... and see the depth of your sin.

Terry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mqll said...

I have sympathy with your position. I understand that focusing on certain things — measuring X or Y as the standard for being a Christian — does in fact lead to forgetting about Z — and that does lower standards.

And I understand the desire to focus on Christ and not ourselves.

But I don't think Jesus was making an existential statement to the adulterous woman. I think he was saying "Don't commit adultery."

So, while our focus is Christ, I worry about the pendulum shifting too far from us. We have a vocation. We can make choices about how we live out that vocation — or how we do not live out the vocation. So there does need to be a focus on our behavior. We need to be looking at it, asking ourselves whether what we are doing is right, and being open to others and their thoughts.

We don't have to be focused on it. But it has to be a concern. After all, it is how we raise our children, how the Church teaches about conduct and how Christians act, etc.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Mqll - You write: "So, while our focus is Christ, I worry about the pendulum shifting too far from us. We have a vocation. We can make choices about how we live out that vocation — or how we do not live out the vocation. So there does need to be a focus on our behavior. We need to be looking at it, asking ourselves whether what we are doing is right, and being open to others and their thoughts."

You are totally right that there needs to be a focus on our vocation - on how we ought to be serving our neighbor.

But note two things about what you say there:

1. It's all present tense. It is focused on here and now -- which is spot on.
2. It's all focused on the neighbor. That too is spot on.

Now, consider what most progressive talk is -- it's no longer looking at my neighbor and what they need now -- it's looking at *me* and seeing how I am better than yesterday.

I am by no means opposed to working or showing love. I love vocation as a topic. But sanctimonious navel gazing to show how I'm such a better Christian now... eh.

mqll said...

I think that makes sense. Rather than focusing on ourselves, we ought to focus upon Christ, who was indeed focused on others.

So, the progressive focuses on me — how am I getting better? Am I having better quiet times? Am I praying more? Am I acting in love? Am I getting better?

The proper response is one of Zacheus. I'm a New man and so I shall use everything for the benefit of my neighbor.

The Christian also though gives feedback to others — the Law — Are you living out vocation? Are your standards right?

And at the same time, the Christian proclaims the Gospel — Christ has made you right. You are already perfect in him.

Would you add anything to this? I am glad that we have been able to understand each other. It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside, as if I swallowed a kitten.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The caveat I would add is that Christians ought to be very careful in "giving feedback" to each other -- unless that is part of their God given vocation.

As a parent, I speak the Law to my child. Someone else - let them merely encourage and build up.

I fear too often we want to correct people when we ought to be encouraging them and building them up.

But other than that caveat - sounds good.

mqll said...

Well, the vocation of a Christian is to speak the truth in love. Learning how to speak in a way that shows love is the key.

You don't discipline other children? ;)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Not unless I've been given authority by their parents to act "in loco parentis" - and even then, only as a substitute and the parents' servant.

Vocation not only tells one what he ought to do, but restrains him from doing what he wants =o)