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What Luther Says

The Truth About Sanctification

In its simplest sense, sanctification is the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy, if not also a setting apart.

Do you want to know the truth about sanctification though?

...though Jesus is conforming us to His image, we shouldn't look at where we are in sanctification. It's impossible to quantify. It's not like physical growth where we can always keep track by marking it with a pencil, our condition makes it far too difficult. If I'm making outward progress in this or that I know that I still have iniquity in my heart, and there are a zillion other things I need to improve on as well. Of course, it's all quite narcissistic as well. With our faith and assurance in the Gospel, we should be exhorted to strive after improvement and be exhorted to avoid this or that sin, but it doesn't follow that we're grading said progress.

That was an excerpt from a piece by Rev. Mark Buetow titled "Sanctification: Jesus Living In You" about the topic way back in 2014.

In it, he quickly summarizes what it's taken me several years to figure out and understand (truth is, I still have to remind myself of these important Biblical truths from time-to-time).

False Statement #1 "Jesus saving us is our justification. Our living for Jesus is our sanctification." It’s like Jesus saves us but then it’s on us to live the right way. But St. Paul declares, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Jesus doesn’t save you and then leave it up to you to “stay saved” by living a good life. Rather, it is Jesus who lives in you. When you sin and break the commandments, forgiveness means God doesn’t count that against you. It’s covered up by Jesus. When you do good for another person, that’s Christ living in you, loving others through you. Sure, it’s your hands and mouth and mind and body. But Christ living in you means you are the instrument through which Christ loves and serves others. This rescues us from despair that we haven’t “done enough” because it is Christ’s to live and to do in us. 
False Statement #2: “If you are a sincere and mature Christian, you will sin less and less as you grow.” Here’s Paul again: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." (Romans 7:18-19,24-25) Does that sound like a man who is improving or getting better? Paul recognized that the more “mature” he got, the longer he lived, the more he sinned and the more he struggled against God’s will and Word. But he also knew his deliverance and peace were found in Jesus. Jesus’ forgiveness wipes out Paul’s sin, while at the same time working through Paul to make him a better person for his neighbor. You might say that the longer you are a Christian, the more sin you’ll see in yourself. And the bigger a Savior Jesus is! 
False Statement #3: “God wouldn’t have given the Commandments if we couldn’t keep them.” Oh yes He would! He did! Why on earth would God tell us to do and not do what we can’t do and not do? To show us our sin. To teach us that we can’t make ourselves holy. Jesus said, “I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20). These words tell us that we are not going to inherit the kingdom of God by our works because we can’t be that righteous. But Jesus is that righteous and therefore because He lives in you, His righteousness, His standing, is yours.

The entire commentary is a good one, but these are the most critical points for us to prayerfully ponder I think, because they're common errors a lot of people make.

In a day-and-age when many Christians insist on comparing themselves to each other and on measuring your faith by how much "crazy love" you have for Jesus and how "radical" you are in living your life for Christ, I think we would all be wise to constantly remind ourselves of the above truths.

Ok, so what's the answer then? What is true Biblical sanctification? What does it look like and how does it manifest itself in the daily life of the average Christian? What would we Lutherans say to others who ask us these questions?

So what does it all look like, this sanctification stuff? It looks like Jesus living in you. How does that happen? By Holy Baptism, Absolution, the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and the Holy Supper of Jesus’ body and blood. Which means the Christian life looks like this: You get up and go out into the world with all sorts of good works to do based on whatever your vocation and calling are. And when you mess those up, you live in the grace and forgiveness of Christ which is yours in His church, which He gives in His gifts of water, Word, and Supper. And so it goes back and forth. Round and round. Day in and day out. Christ lives in you to the world through your good works to your neighbor. He dwells in you by forgiveness and faith to cover your sins. Over and over, every day, Jesus lives in you until the day He raises you from the dead. That’s what it means to be holy. That’s what sanctification is: Jesus living in you; His Spirit working in you; Jesus being Jesus, and you along for the ride.

This is most certainly true.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, Jesus is your sanctification. Always start and end there.

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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