Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Sanctification of Man

1. Justification and Sanctification
In our justification, God turns to us despite our sin. In our sanctification, God turns us to himself despite our sin. In our justification, God tells us, “I will be your God.” In our sanctification, God tells us, “You shall be my people.” Like justification, our sanctification is God’s work. Other words which describe this work of God include regeneration, renewal, conversion, penitence, and discipleship. But the term sanctification, which means being made holy, reminds us that the work of reconciliation in all its aspects belongs to God because only God is by nature holy.

Justification and sanctification are mutually related. First, they are not two separate actions but two distinct movements accomplished together in the one being and life of Jesus Christ. Second, although they are accomplished simultaneously in the one reconciling act of God, they nonetheless remain distinct. Jesus Christ as humbled Son of God and exalted Son of Man is one person, but his humiliation and exaltation do differ.  Third, though not to be confused, justification and sanctification must also be kept together. If we separate justification from sanctification, we separate God from man. We separate grace from gratitude, faith from love, forgiveness of sins from freedom for God. If we separate sanctification from justification, we separate man from God with opposite but equally destructive consequences. Finally, justification and sanctification are ordered in relation to one another in a mutually subordinate manner. Justification is first as the basis of sanctification while sanctification is first as the goal of justification.

2. The Holy One and the Saints
Jesus Christ was and remains fully holy because he wholly offered himself as faithful covenantal partner of God in free obedience to God. This sanctification has happened completely only in him. But as our representative, Jesus Christ accomplished in himself the full turning of man to God. All other forms of sanctification, whether of Israel, the Church, or eventually the world, are included in this one direct form and are now determined by it. Too often Christ’s movement toward us is seen as his act while our movement toward him is seen as our own. But Jesus Christ is not only the humiliated Son of God but also the triumphant Son of Man. In his sanctification lies the sanctification of every human being.

But how do some people come to participate subjectively in the sanctification of all people established objectively in Jesus Christ? Christians are people whom Jesus Christ confronts as their Lord and who, on that basis, are compelled to understand themselves as his servants. When the Holy One of God so claims them as the sinners they are for himself, placing them under his kingly direction, touching them with the quickening power of his Spirit, they participate in his holiness. His direction thereafter determines their existence instead of sin. He speaks with divine authority and power and people obey in response.

Servants in Christ are “disturbed” sinners. They are awakened and therefore troubled in an inescapable way. God’s kingdom now actively and incessantly challenges their sloth. They can no longer be smug. In different terms, we may say that Christians are saints because the direction of Christ their Lord limits and compromises their being and activity as sinners. But Christ’s direction is instructive as well as critical. He calls people out of the world and to himself to be his witnesses back in the world. He gives them total freedom from the total bondage of sin so that, as disturbed and limited sinners, they may lift themselves up and look to Christ their Lord.

3. The Call to Discipleship
Christians are those to whom Jesus Christ has said, “Follow me.” The call of discipleship is first the summons through which Jesus claims us as his own servants and witnesses. This summons is the gracious command and commanding grace of Jesus Christ our Lord. Second, the call to discipleship makes us loyal to the Lord who calls us. Third, it means denying ourselves by stepping out cheerfully in obedience to Jesus Christ’s clear and concrete commands each day. Finally, the call to discipleship means breaking with the world.  Jesus the Victor and victorious presence of God’s kingdom has conquered all other sources of authority and power in our world claiming our loyal obedience. We indicate this conquest through visible acts of loyal obedience to the one true Lord who has freed us from all others. This always involves the risk of offending others. But our visible nonconformity is only our happy testimony to others of their liberation as well in Christ. In the New Testament, free obedience to Jesus was indicated by lack of attachment to possessions, destruction of fame, abandonment of the use of force or fear of it, an end to overriding familial relations, even the end to morality and religion.

4. Awakening to Conversion
Sanctification consists both in looking up to Jesus and in walking upward with Jesus in contradiction to our downward slide into sloth. This looking and walking upward take place outwardly in the freedom of the call to discipleship. They take place inwardly in our awakening to conversion. Christians are those whom Christ has awakened and daily reawakens from the sleep of sloth. This sleep however is not just slumber but death, so our awakening occurs only by the power of God. Because the power involved in our awakening is divine, the act itself is wholly divine; because this act involves our actual waking up and walking, the act itself is wholly human; so the act is both wholly divine and wholly human, with the divine being primary.

Conversion does not mean reform of life, no matter how serious, but its complete renewal. As slothful creatures in ourselves we move straight downward to death. As new creatures in Christ awakened to conversion, we stop moving in that direction and start moving upward toward Christ. This movement of conversion means loving others in freedom and in love freeing others. Second, our conversion to God involves the radical renewal of everything we think and imagine, will and desire, and speak and do in relation to every facet of life. Third, it involves our enlistment into service as his witnesses with the Church in the world. Finally, our conversion to God is not a once-in-a-lifetime event, nor a periodically renewed event, but a daily movement.

In this daily movement of conversion, we each live in transition from the old person of yesterday and to the new person of tomorrow. We each live as wholly determined by sin from the past and as wholly determined by grace from the future. But we do move from the old and sinful to the new and righteous because God wholly rejects the old person, delivering it up to eternal death, while wholly identifying each as a new person taken up into eternal life.

Our movement of conversion is initiated and sustained by the Holy Spirit. So, to begin with, conversion is not a choice we accept or reject. It is a decision of God in which we are set. This decision is liberating but in a most compelling way. Second, we are set free by the powerful revelation that God is for us and that therefore we may be for God. It is this truth, the good news of God’s grace toward us revealed in Jesus Christ by the Spirit, that kills the old and raises the new. Third, God’s liberating decision to be for us, and our corresponding decision to be for God, have taken place decisively in Jesus Christ. All the passages in the New Testament referring to the death of the old and the raising of the new apply directly to Jesus Christ and then indirectly—though in truth—to us in him as our Head by the Holy Spirit. Because the great movement of conversion was fulfilled in his life, we may reflect it a little even now in our own lives.

5. The Praise of Works
Works are actions (and inactions) and their consequences. In general to praise is to affirm. The praise of works includes both God’s affirmation of them and their affirmation of God. Works which are praiseworthy in this twofold sense are good works. Of course it is primarily God who works and whose works are good. God’s primary work is the history of his covenant with man which attains its goal, God’s glory and our salvation, in Jesus Christ. Our work is good as it bears witness to this good work of God. Consequently our works are good insofar as Jesus Christ is their source, center, and goal despite the fact that we remain sinners and our works remain sinful. Our works are good, therefore, when by grace God daily empowers us to work as Christians.

6. The Dignity of the Cross
Christians are those ordered by God to bear the cross of Christ in the world. As the cross was the coronation of Jesus as the one royal man, so with the cross the dignity which is ours as Christians is conferred upon us.

The cross of Christ meant his rejection by man and even by God. Our cross can only be our rejection by some other people. In his crucifixion Christ is exalted as Lord. In our suffering we are elevated from the fatal sleep of sloth. So our cross corresponds to the cross of Christ, but in no way does it equal, repeat, or complete his cross.

Sanctification is the active participation of our whole being in the call to discipleship, the awakening to conversion, and the praise of good works. Just because it is this, sanctification involves the cross. The cross is not pleasant and is neither to be desired nor sought. What is to be desired and sought above all things, including preservation of self, is God’s will. As Christians we affirm life when others abandon it, and abandon life when others cling to it, because we know it is Jesus Christ himself who determines when we shall die.

In the New Testament, the cross primarily means persecution. While violence against Christians is relatively uncommon in America today, we nonetheless continue to walk the narrow path that, despite all appearances to the contrary, leads to our rejection by and isolation from a majority of Americans. Second, because Jesus Christ our Lord suffered as a creature, any suffering as creatures is suffering with him and therefore a sign of this fellowship. Finally, the cross comes to us as the sharpest doubt about whether God is really for us or whether we have really been for God.

Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.