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What Luther Says

Don't Throw Out Sanctification

Last time, we took a closer look at sanctification and prayerfully considered what it is and what it isn't.

Today, I'd like to share an appropriate follow-up from Rev. Scott R. Murray as found in his March 7th Daily Devotion email...

Throwing Out Sanctification 
Sanctification has gotten a bad name. Otherwise faithful preachers will claim that they never preach "sanctification," fearing, I suppose, the threats of perfectionism, legalism, or synergism. This is quite simply "throwing the baby out with the bath water." Abuses, misrepresentations, and incorrect definitions of what sanctification is do not make illegitimate the work of the Holy Spirit who makes holy. This is what sanctification means, "to make holy." Sanctification itself isn't the problem; the problem is in the claims made about the Author of sanctification and the means by which He brings holiness into the church. Unfortunately, many people falsely think that humans make themselves holy. However, the consistent testimony of Holy Scripture is that God the Holy Spirit makes holy. The author of sanctification is none other than God Himself. The means by which He works such holiness among the saints are the Means of Grace; the things that actually bring forgiveness of sins to the people of God. In this sense, the Holy Spirit is always working in the world to increase the holiness of the people of God and through this work the people counted holy through the righteousness of Christ are growing in personal holiness. Will they ever be perfect? No. That is why the Holy Spirit until the end of time works in the church to bring holiness into it. That work of making holy will only come to full and complete fruition when human flesh is dissolved at death. Then the hope that we have in the work of the Spirit will be complete within us. Until then we walk in the Spirit by faith.

It's so nice to have thought-provoking pieces like this to prayerfully consider on such an easily misunderstood subject like sanctification.

I know how much I got wrong in the past and, even now, I sometimes find myself slipping back into my old Evangelical way of thinking, which is why I continue to learn from and appreciate brief studies like this one.

You know, it also reminded me of something we read in 1 Thessalonians 4...

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (ESV) Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (*emphasis mine)

There it is plain and simple and easily understood by all believers who read it!

What is God's will for your life? What is God's will for my life? "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" it says. Why in the world would we want to ignore that statement?

I know we Lutherans tend to want to shy away from any talk or teaching about "good works" but let's realize and remember that St. Paul is writing to those who are already saved believers and so there's no mistaking this as a passage that should be used by anyone to imply that our justification and/or salvation is somehow dependent upon the good works that stem from our sanctification.

At the same time, let's keep in mind what the Lutheran Study Bible footnotes to this portion of the text tells us too...

The Law is given as a guide for those who are already saved. Paul gives a guideline to those already saved through faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Abundance of good works results from being grafted in Christ as a branch to the vine (John 15:4). A person who has been re-created in Christ must not continue to live in an immoral manner. A Christian's body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who enables the believer to live a holy life (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). The anger and wrath of the Holy God will be on those who have not repented of their sin and are not covered by the blood of His Son (Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:5-6). Just as God sought for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and called them when they sinned, so He seeks and calls us by the Gospel into faith in His Son. Paul gives advice on some practical matters dealing with sanctification so that their witness for the Lord may go forward blamelessly. We Christians must lead a sexually pure life so that we may not grieve the Holy Spirit. Our love to one another should not be superficial but honest and from the heart. We should live by our labor without improperly depending on others for support. The Lord -- through His Spirit poured upon us -- fights for us against the "flaming darts o the evil one" (Ephesians 6:16) so that we may live pure and blameless lives.

To help put an exclamation point on all of this, here's Martin Luther as he wrote in the Large Catechism for us on this topic...

While sanctification has begun and is growing every day (2 Thessalonians 1:3), we expect that our flesh will be destroyed and buried with all its uncleanness (Romans 6:4-11). Then we will come forth gloriously and arise in a new eternal life of entire and perfect holiness. For now we are only half pure and holy. So the Holy Spirit always has some reason to continue His work in us through the Word. He must daily administer forgiveness until we reach the life to come. At that time there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people (1 Corinthians 13:10). We will be full of godliness and righteousness, removed and free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:43, 53). You see, all this is the Holy Spirit's office and work. He begins and daily increases holiness upon earth through these two things: the Christian Church and the forgiveness of sin. But in our death He will accomplish it altogether in an instant (1 Corinthians 15:52) and will forever preserve us in it by the last two parts [of the Creed]. 
*- Martin Luther, Large Catechism, 2.57-59

As Rev. Murray pointed out, "Sanctification has gotten a bad name."

While we can certainly understand why that is, I hope today's entry has helped you to understand why that's wrong.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, "abuses, misrepresentations, and incorrect definitions of what sanctification is do not make illegitimate the work of the Holy Spirit who makes holy," which is why we don't want to ignore or don't want to throw out sanctification!

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Executive Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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