The Sanctification Paradox: Can It Be Solved?

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Aaron Blumer's picture
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The NT seems to teach that believers must obey in order to be transformed, yet must be transformed in order to obey. The language of responsibility and action abounds, but so does the language of sovereignty, humility, and dependence. Students of the doctrine of sanctification have long struggled to understand how both can be true and how faithful believers should think and act in response.

I’ve recently suggested that many have embraced what amounts to a theology of giving up when it comes to Christian growth—and that they have done so because what they see in themselves and others seems to fall so far short of “read your Bible, pray every day and you’ll grow, grow, grow.” But even this sense of frustration with self and others tends to arise from—or perhaps fuel—a view of the sanctification paradox.

My aim here is to survey four solutions to the paradox and briefly evaluate their merits.

1. The hole: deny one side of the paradox

One popular solution to the sanctification paradox has two opposite versions, but both end up with the same problem: they fail to fit about 50% of the New Testament teaching on sanctification. They leave a hole.

One version of this solution resolves the paradox by teaching or acting as if there is really no depending on God involved—we pretty much change ourselves by sheer will power. Probably no Christian holds to this view formally, but some convey it by omission. Little attention is given to depending on the power and grace of a merciful God.

The other version makes a similar mistake in the opposite direction: it either openly rejects, or marginalizes, the obedience part of the equation—especially outward obedience. We grow by humbly recognizing our neediness, soaking heart and mind continually in the gospel, and nothing more.

Surely this second version is better than the first! Still, it solves the paradox at the cost of creating a hole. (I don’t know if this is the sort of hole DeYoung has in mind in his book, The Hole in Our Holiness. I suspect the concepts are somewhat similar.)

2. The bundle: accept the paradox

Perhaps a better solution to the sanctification paradox is to just let the mystery remain.

For many of us, this would have to be a “solution” of last resort, because it seems lazy. Rather than wrestle with what God has revealed and prayerfully seek understanding until it all “clicks” in some coherent way, just shrug and say “whatever”? It seems irresponsible as well as lazy.

But we shouldn’t dismiss this option too quickly.

Surely there are some puzzles in God’s dealings with man that we should recognize are unlikely to ever be fully solved. For example, how does a spiritually dead sinner believe without being regenerated—yet how does he become regenerate without first believing?

For many of us, the “working solution” is to bundle the paradox—narrow it down to as small and precise a form as possible, and work with it in that form. Without fully sorting out and understanding what’s in the bundle, it is possible to relate it to other items and bundles in a coherent theology. (I’m only using “bundle” here because the idea of putting anything “in a box” is currently so unfashionable. Everything is apparently supposed to be outside of boxes!)

In the case of sanctification, it is indeed a bit hard to see how our efforts can have real results if we simultaneously claim that sanctification is “God’s work, top to bottom.” Perhaps the problem there is that we’re not using biblical language. Still, a solution that locates the paradox precisely at that point and says “we don’t know exactly how it is that our efforts have a causal relationship in sanctification; we only know that that somehow they do, even though it is God’s work and He will certainly complete it.”

I’m reminded of the Westminster Confession’s solution to the problem of a comprehensively-sovereign God’s relationship to sin. How does God decree all that comes to pass and yet remain holy and in no sense the author of sin? The confession simply bundles the paradox by affirming that God decrees all and affirming at the same time that He is in no sense the author of sin. (Maybe it’s just me, but the Chalcedonian Definition seems to have a similar approach to articulating the two natures of Christ.)

3. The haul: resolve by defining self-reliance

Another solution to the personal-effort vs. humble-dependence paradox is to look at the concept of “dependence” differently. Specifically, this solution reasons that there is really no such thing as doing anything “in our own strength”; we are always and in every way dependent on God’s enabling, whether we realize it or not. In Him “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and through Him “all things consist” (συνέστηκε, hold together).

In this solution, real dependence is not an option—it’s an attitude.

Consequently, the dynamic of growing in holiness is like hauling freight. If you’re a “big rig” truck driver nowadays, chances are good that you don’t do any of the real work of getting the cargo from point A to point B. That is, forklifts fill the trailer, and 400-600 horses worth of diesel engine does the pulling. There is plenty to do in the cab, certainly—plenty of responsibility. But most of the driver’s “work” is that of accessing what does the real work. Using his “own strength” is not an option.

The driver can do his work humbly and thankfully, recognizing the wonders at his disposal. Or, if he chooses, he can do his work arrogantly, in a spirit of independence, reminiscent of Nebuchadnezzar’s thinking about Babylon: “which I have built by my mighty power.”

But it’s easy to see the folly of this. Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t have placed a single stone of Babylon’s great wall in “his own strength.” A trucker was never born who could carry his freight a single mile “in his own strength.”

In this light, the sanctification paradox seems to dissolve. We are responsible to do all we can, and our actions are indeed effectual in the sense that progress is furthered or hindered, but we are called to engage in obedience in a spirit of humble dependence, recognizing that anything that seems like “our own strength” really isn’t. As Jesus put it, “without Me you can do nothing.”

Jesus’ “abide in me” in the vine-and-branches metaphor of John 15 must also refer to the state of mind and heart that recognizes our dependent condition. According to Romans 6 and many other passages, believers are permanently in union with Christ. Over and over again, Paul short-hands our identity as believers with the phrase “in Christ.” There is apparently no way to not abide in Him other than to fall prey to the illusion of independence.

4. The spiral: resolve by defining dependence

Like the haul, the spiral solution to the paradox focuses on the relationship between our action and God’s enablement, but it is less shy about giving our conduct a strong causal relationship in the process.

The spiral solution is simply this. Yes, a sovereign and gracious act of God is required before we can be obedient in “spirit and soul and body” (1 Thess. 5:23). Further, as we grow in grace, repeated acts of gracious and sovereign enabling are necessary. However, faithful obedience with what we have already been given leads to more transforming work by God and further obedience. The sequence repeats: enablement, obedience, enablement, obedience, enablement, etc.

For some, this solution must be rejected out of hand because no enablement that is contingent on our conduct can be truly gracious. For others, this solution fails because it implies that at various points along the spiral, a believer may not be “mature enough yet” or “divinely enabled yet” to be obedient in one area or another. He has a ready excuse to keep sinning, whether by omission or commission, because he doesn’t yet have what he needs to overcome temptation and obey the Lord. And this situation seems incompatible with the language of passages such as 2 Peter 1:3.

Conclusion

In the end, perhaps some combination of bundle, haul, and spiral is best. Maybe the haul describes our already-sufficient ability—employed with an attitude of humble and thankful dependence—while the spiral describes our increasing skill and faithfulness as we are transformed. As for how our obedience can be causal (as we find in Rom. 12:2, for example) in sanctification, the fact that there is really no such thing as “our own strength” resolves any supposed incompatibility with grace. And for those who don’t find this satisfying, there’s always the bundle.

In any case, we do not need to solve the paradox by creating a hole.

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We turn the philosophical question into a "right or wrong" prop

I believe Aaron's asking for a balance in this situation. Why would we insist that this is an "either/or" proposition. Philosophers have fought over this same idea for a long time:

The 1982 novel “Deadeye Dick” by the popular author Kurt Vonnegut mentioned the following piece of graffiti:

“To be is to do”—Socrates.
“To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

It does seem to be a paradoxical "both/and" teaching in Scripture. 2 Peter 1 seems to show that we do partake of the divine nature through knowing Him (being), but encourages us to add to our faith certain virtues diligently (doing). I would suggest that instead of arguing Socrates or Sartre's position, we seek to be and do what honors our God!

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The way I see it

Lately, I've been making a distinction between resisting sin and sanctification. The former is outward action and involves our effort (with God's help). The latter is internal and is the work of the Holy Spirit. The former is much more difficult without the latter. Resisting sin deals with the manifestations of the flesh, while sanctification deals with the flesh itself. Both are needed, but in terms of sanctification, we need to place all our hope in God's power.

Sin is like a weed, and our flesh is its roots. Dealing with sin is like cutting the plant down to ground level, which is certainly better than letting it grow. But sin will keep cropping back up as long as the root is still there. The root has to be dealt with. If we pull up the root, bits of it tend to break off and the plant grows back again. Only the Holy Spirit is able to kill the root. (Maybe not a perfect illustration, but that is the way I'm thinking about it at present.)

Andrew Bernhardt

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Analogies

Analogies always fail at some point, but they can certainly help us understand better up to that point. In logic/rhetoric, I used to tell my students to use analogies to explain not to prove. A good rule of thumb because one can always find points of dissimilarity with the analogy--so a counterargument is so easy to construct.

Anyway, God has already given us some analogies with the Vine and Branches, the donning of armor, running the race, athletic training in general. No doubt, I've missed a few. It's interesting that most of the analogies the NT gives us strongly emphasize activity and responsibility. Even the vine and branches analogy, with it's focus on dependence, is structured as a strong appeal to act by "abiding." (Though I really do think "abiding" refers to an inward act--an intentional self-reminding of how dependent we really are. Much like the OT's expression "seek God"/"sought God")

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What if we don't realize there's a paradox?

I wonder how many people in the pews stop to think about whether there actually is a paradox? Basically, I think a whole lot of dedicated Christians do it the right way; (1) they discipline themselves to holiness [admittedly, to greater or lesser degrees - but they know they ought to try!] and (2) know they can only succeed by the power of the Spirit. I don't think a lot of folks stop to ponder the inherent paradox. 

Take unconditional election vs. the free offer of the Gospel to everybody. I preached Jn 6:41-59 a few weeks back. I flat out said that the only reason why people repent and believe is because God draws them. Period. End of story. I presented the truth as a series of layers. We have a responsibility to repent and believe. Why does anybody actually do that? Because they're drawn by the Father. Period. They didn't see the paradox. They just nodded and said, "Amen."

I had an illustration ready. I poured water over a large rock, and said, "You see how nothing sinks into that rock? That's our heart before we're drawn by God. Hard, unyielding, and the Gospel just bounces off." I grabbed a sponge and poured water on it. I wrung it out. I said, "You see how water sunk in? That's the difference between a heart that has been changed by God so that someone will repent and believe. That's why we have to be drawn."

This was hard for me to preach. I was brought up from a different theological perspective. I was terrified the people would become fatalistic or the church would blow up, or something. Didn't happen. They loved the sermon. They "got it." They didn't see the paradox. 

How much of the paradox in sanctification lies with us, the "professionals?" Do the ordinary people really see the paradox like we do? Perhaps ignorance is bliss in that regard. 

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Il. He blogs here

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Aaron, I'd be blessed by a

Aaron, I'd be blessed by a couple of passages which illustrate this paradox--I can see a shell of the argument in parallel with the basic paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, but if you could flesh this out a touch, I would greatly appreciate it.

 

Or put gently, I'm sorry, but I'm not completely getting it.  Blessings!

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The paradox part...

I may have assumed a bit much with this one, so I didn't give much attention to developing the paradox itself. Might have been a good "part 1" .... but maybe now it can be a part 2.

Or I'll just post some more here later.

To Tyler: I know it's not just "professionals" asking... I wrestled with it myself at some length and more than once before I even went off to Bible college. Some stuff just wasn't changing like I thought it should. So, figuring I needed to do A in order for B to change, I found I couldn't seem to accomplish A either.... I mean, for example, we know meditation on Scripture is a powerful thing, but what if you can't seem to get motivated/disciplined to meditate?

So for me, the paradox is a pretty old friend of sorts. And I've seen and heard it in so, so many places over the years in one form or another.

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Passages

Here's a few passages that I think help show the paradox. Ultimately, I don't believe there really is a paradox. But there certainly is an apparent paradox.

I'm persuaded that Romans 7:15-25 is an example, though many see the chapter in a very different light. To me it's quite clear.

Philippians 2:11-12 has it in a lovely nutshell:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (ESV, Philippians 2:12–13)  

But it's really most evident in comparing separate passages. For example, 2 Peter 1:3 says we already have everything we need, yet Eph. 6:12-18 indicates that we have work to do in order to have the necessary strength to be able to "stand."

1 Cor. 10:13 indicates every temptation is resistible already when it arrives, yet Paul tells Timothy he should discipline himself (a word for athletic training) for the purpose of godliness because, to paraphrase, it pays off in this life and the next. If every temptation is already resistible, and we already have everything we need, how could discipline possibly pay off?

It may seem that this is not the same paradox as the "law vs. grace" one that is confusing Tullian Tchividjian et. al. so much, but I think it really is just another piece of it. But the "law and grace" debate focuses less the "able but not able" part, and more on the "Christ has done it all yet we must still do" part. As an example of the paradox in that light, compare 1 Cor. 9:27 to  Gal. 3:2-3.

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let go and let God

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Some stuff just wasn't changing like I thought it should. So, figuring I needed to do A in order for B to change, I found I couldn't seem to accomplish A either.... I mean, for example, we know meditation on Scripture is a powerful thing, but what if you can't seem to get motivated/disciplined to meditate?

So for me, the paradox is a pretty old friend of sorts. And I've seen and heard it in so, so many places over the years in one form or another.

This was the old timer's phrase in folks struggling with sanctification. This may be what TT and Mark Galli are saying, but I have not studied their writings fully. It is a good phrase though and reflects what Phil.2.13 says. Also, note the parable of the growing seed in Mk.4.26. 

Yes, there is a paradox to growth as well as to salvation but that doesn't dissolve our responsibility to stay on the altar as Christians(Rom. 12.1-2). Also, Aaron, consider you may be using wrong metrics in your evaluation of your performance. Real spirituality doesn't look like what many fundamentalists says it looks like. Forget about Mormon-like categories of conduct. Our heart is the greatest condemner (see 1 Jn. 3.19-24). The Apostle John's writings are very profound yet written simply. It is not basics as many would say, it is some of the deepest truths written. John is like Einstein's or Euler in his formulations: they take what some scientist would fill a blackboard with and condense it into E=MC squared. So, I recommend John for profound understanding but not only John. Big chunks of the bible systematically is indispensable. Also, learn to follow God alone.  

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Paradox

Different perspectives! I never even knew the paradox existed until I went to Seminary. Before that, I was teaching teenagers every week and doing expository preaching, and it never even occurred to me. 

You asked,

I mean, for example, we know meditation on Scripture is a powerful thing, but what if you can't seem to get motivated/disciplined to meditate?

I must be very weird. I had that happen a lot. I just tried harder. When I did have a habit of reading, doing it was easier. I know it may seem strange that I just knew I had to try harder to fight against the temptation not to do devotions, but I still believe that. If I would have heard the "let go and let God" argument back then, I would have dismissed it as an excuse for not disciplining myself. None of this takes away from the necessity of the Spirit, but the point is that I've always given both sides of the ditch their due weight. I never noticed the paradox before Seminary. Now that I notice it, I still haven't changed my approach. 

I'm getting the feeling that I'm weird to accept the paradox. I just do. 

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Il. He blogs here

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I agree that this is only an

I agree that this is only an apparent paradox. Although it is not an exact parallel, one of my favorite verses to describe this interworking between our effort and God's sanctifying activity is 1 Cor. 15:10. There we see an amazing example of Paul laboring and God working but Paul ultimately ascribes his success as an apostle to God's working in him. I am not saying I necessarily can grasp that fully but it is helpful for me to meditate on it.

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Back to some clarity

I think it's important to recognize the hard questions, but it's also important not to let them distract us from what is clear.

What's clear throughout the NT is that "let God, let God" is incorrect. I don't really want to go over all of that again in this post, but I've written a good bit already against LGLG. One of the many lists of passages that do not fit the letting go paradigm below. Note the calls to "strive."

  • “strive together with me in your prayers” (Rom. 15:30)
  • “that . . . you may abound in every good work” (1 Cor. 9:8)
  • “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Cor.14:12)
  • “your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58)
  • “let him labor, doing honest work” (Eph. 4:28)
  • “Let your manner of life be worthy . . . striving side by side for the faith” (Php 1:27)
  • “bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:9)
  • “do so more and more” (1 Thess. 4:1)
  • “To this end we toil and strive because we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Tim. 4:10)
  • “Remind them . . . to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1)
  • “let your people learn to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:14)
  • “Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:14)

So LGLG is basically a "hole" solution, and any of the other approaches to the paradox is better.

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Thank you!

You gentlemen have been very generous with your time and input; I am, to a degree at least, "getting" what was said here.  But I wouldn't be offended if Aaron "condensed" his thoughts into another post, of course.  :^)

Being a quality engineer by trade, I loved Alex's comment about metrics--I of course use them every day I work and quite frankly at home to help my wife manage the house--but of course we are NOT to have lists of dos and don'ts like the Mormons or some of our "hyperfundamental" friends--but rather I contemplate Galatians 5:22-23 and realize that the metrics God specifies for our growth are essentially attitudes, hard to measure from outside.  Perhaps we obey at times when our heart is not in it, while God works on our hearts so the next time, our heart will be in it?

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Missed the distinction, Aaron

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I think it's important to recognize the hard questions, but it's also important not to let them distract us from what is clear.

What's clear throughout the NT is that "let God, let God" is incorrect. I don't really want to go over all of that again in this post, but I've written a good bit already against LGLG. One of the many lists of passages that do not fit the letting go paradigm below. Note the calls to "strive."

  • “strive together with me in your prayers” (Rom. 15:30)
  • “that . . . you may abound in every good work” (1 Cor. 9:8)
  • “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Cor.14:12)
  • “your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58)
  • “let him labor, doing honest work” (Eph. 4:28)
  • “Let your manner of life be worthy . . . striving side by side for the faith” (Php 1:27)
  • “bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:9)
  • “do so more and more” (1 Thess. 4:1)
  • “To this end we toil and strive because we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Tim. 4:10)
  • “Remind them . . . to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1)
  • “let your people learn to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:14)
  • “Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:14)

So LGLG is basically a "hole" solution, and any of the other approaches to the paradox is better.

You were talking about sanctification (making holy) and persistent sin. LGLG speaks about repentance and or quitting self efforts to be pleasing to God. Every verse you quoted speaks nothing to the concept. You switched in mid-stream. Every passage you listed involves labor in the work or prayer which is of course part of service. LGLG is a good concept if seen in its proper place.

 

 

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defining obedience to God's commands

I think what we each mean by "obedience" is confusing this conversation.

For years in my Christian life, I believed and assumed that I could obey God's commands. I think many of us believe this, so we come to this conversation with the assumption that we can achieve obedience, at least in certain areas, etc.

This is really a false belief. And understanding this is one key to understanding the complex of ideas involved here.

In this life, our obedience (aka righteousness, good deeds, sanctification, etc) never meet God's standards. Only Christ's obedience/righteousness did this (i.e., met God's standards).

Now, hearing this, some jump to the "logical" conclusion that this means we "stop trying." The assumption is something like: sanctification equals perfectly reaching God's standards.

But, one main question then becomes, what are we really trying to do in sanctification? reach perfection? attain perfect obedience?

this is where being "in Christ" and His disciples comes into play-- the more correct idea of sanctification and the goal of Christian living, perhaps.

For example: 1 Cor. 1:30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (nasb)

I will give an example of this. I used to think that reading my Bible daily was the satisfying-God goal of my relationship to the Bible. I mean, this practice is emphasized over and over among Christians I was around-- my church, the Wilds, BJ, etc. And it's a great habit. I'm very thankful for having this habit and having years of Bible reading in my being.

But I also erroneously thought that I was being righteous and pleasing God in the sense that I was meeting His standard for me in this area.

And when I started understanding "grace" in sanctification, I was able to see the heights of God's standards (because then I was free not to manipulate them down to a reachable-by-man standard). God's requirements of me towards His Word are so great-- I must love it, delight in it, value it more than my life and food, more than my bank account or retirement funds. It must be what I do unfailingly.

And you see, I can't reach this standard. But Christ did. And now, I look at God's desires for me towards His Word, and I have two main thoughts: 1) I meditate on how great the requirement is and how Christ so perfectly and completely fulfilled this, and 2) now I follow after Him and I ask the Spirit to lead me into the relationship towards God's Word that God wants me to have. .... It may look like or involve daily reading (it may not), it may mean reading it 5 times a day. ...

But I don't start by making a list for myself of things I must do in order to fulfill God's requirements towards His Word-- if you see what I mean by the difference in approach.

The first approach requires a lot of *me*-- and the result is either a lot of me-glory or me-failure. The second approach focuses on Christ, then the "work" I do in obedience to the Spirit's leading flows out of our relationship.

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Anne Sokol wrote:

Anne Sokol wrote:

I think what we each mean by "obedience" is confusing this conversation.

For years in my Christian life, I believed and assumed that I could obey God's commands. I think many of us believe this, so we come to this conversation with the assumption that we can achieve obedience, at least in certain areas, etc.

This is really a false belief. And understanding this is one key to understanding the complex of ideas involved here.

In this life, our obedience (aka righteousness, good deeds, sanctification, etc) never meet God's standards. Only Christ's obedience/righteousness did this (i.e., met God's standards).

Emphasis Added

Anne,

I think you set up an unconscious disconnect in your opening premise that follows you all the way through the post. There is a difference between "can" and "do." You are right that we never "do" meet Gods standards completely. I believe this is true in every area of life. But that does not mean we can't. As believers, we have been freed from the bondage of sin. We are now in possession of the power of God through the indwelling of the person of the Holy Spirit. Despite the remaining flesh, there is never a reason why any believer, at any particular given moment in time, has to "fall short of the gory of God." This is why we have verses like Romans 8:4, telling us that the righteous requirements of the law are fulfilled by Christ "in" us (not just for or through us) as we walk in the Spirit instead of the flesh and 2 Timothy 3:17, telling us that God has given us direction in His Word sufficient to prepare us for "every" good work (not some or many but all).

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

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no, there's no disconnect; it's what I said

You can't. You don't. You are unable to do this-- You are unable to obey God in the manner and to the extent He requires. Christ had to do it.

For example, 1689 Bapt CofF on Good Works:

6._____ Yet notwithstanding the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God's sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.
( Ephesians 1:6; 1 Peter 2:5; Matthew 25:21, 23; Hebrews 6:10 )

 

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If, by definition, a NT

If, by definition, a NT Christian has been baptized by the Spirit, is it even possible for a believer to do anything completely in the flesh? I'm just thinking out loud, here, but isn't there a fundamental difference in the makeup of a believer after conversion? Paul says that he has been crucified with Christ and that Christ now lives in him, so everything that he does is through the enabling power of the Spirit, correct? Then sanctification cannot possibly be a choice between "making oneself pleasing to God by his own strength" and "resting in the finished righteousness of Christ." This is surely a false dilemma. 

To add another Scripture passage to the discussion in this thread, I think 1 John 2:1-2 is also revealing. John clearly suggests that perfect obedience is the goal that he has set for his "children," yet he clearly understands the need to depend on Jesus Christ as the source of righteousness. These two concepts have never been in competition. We can and should diligently pursue perfect obedience to the commands of the NT, all the while looking to our Advocate who pleads his own blood on our behalf. 

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what pleases God

is our being in Christ, our faith--this is what completes us, makes us righteous (counts as our obedience). But our obediences themselves don't meet His standards. Pursuing perfect obedience, of itself, isn't the goal. Pursuing Christ is, and there is a subtle or not so subtle difference.

Another piece of understanding that comes into this is our tendency to isolate commands. I used to think I could "obey" in one thing.

but true obedience requires simultaneous obedience to all the commands of God.

Example: If you look at a woman and don't lust after her, you have done some minimum that's good for you, but obedience requires loving that woman in the way God wants, not just ignoring her or something.

Example: Driving with idiots on the road. If I can drive and not get angry at someone, I haven't fulfilled God's requirements of having a heart of graciousness and humility?

Example: If I get through a day without yelling at my kids, have I still loved them the way God expects of me to love them? Have I met God's love standard? No.

 

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pvawter wrote:Then

pvawter wrote:
Then sanctification cannot possibly be a choice between "making oneself pleasing to God by his own strength" and "resting in the finished righteousness of Christ." This is surely a false dilemma.

yeah, i'm not sure where you're getting those two options in such isolation either.

pvawter wrote:
To add another Scripture passage to the discussion in this thread, I think 1 John 2:1-2 is also revealing. John clearly suggests that perfect obedience is the goal that he has set for his "children," yet he clearly understands the need to depend on Jesus Christ as the source of righteousness. These two concepts have never been in competition. We can and should diligently pursue perfect obedience to the commands of the NT, all the while looking to our Advocate who pleads his own blood on our behalf. 

I'm not sure the I John ideas are consistent with a discussion on sanctification, in that, I heard teaching on this that the "sin" we won't do in I John is gnosticism--that the book is addressing this issue. Others say it's repetitive sins-- though I question that somewhat. I don't know-- several statements there are made about not denying that we sin, yet also that we won't sin ... so ????

I think you're looking at these two perspectives and creating polar opposites, which is probably common to do, and putting a lot of assumptions into the other side's position.

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Obedience, self effort, etc.

I'm sorry, but it's just not plausible that either the believers of yore or today were supposed to read the NT and believe that they cannot obey. To many passages make assertions that are simply not compatible with this idea. 

To name a few...

  • a) Imperatives themselves necessarily imply ability to obey, otherwise there is no point in commanding
  • b) Jesus says we love Him when we keep his commands. The subject of the verb "obey" is "you" in context, which would be us (John 14:15, 14:21, 1 John 5:3)
  • c) All the NT references to obedience where believers are the subject (Rom. 16:19, 2Cor. 7:15, 2Cor.10:6, Philemon 1:21, 1Pet. 1:2, 1Pet. 1:22 and so many more.) 
  • d) Judgment of believers for what they have actually done (2 Cor. 5:10)
  • e) The absence of any Scripture that teaches we (believers) cannot obey
  • f) The many passages that assure us we have the resources we need to be obedient (2 Pet. 1:3, 2Cor. 9:8, Eph. 6:10-11, 1Cor.10:13)

By way of explanation--though I've explained all this before (as so many have before me)...
1) Because of our union with Christ, there is a radical change in what "I" and "me" etc. mean for believers. In short, we are no longer who we were, but the new "us" does indeed do the obeying (Rom. 6:3-4, Gal. 2:20, 1Cor. 6:15)
2) The righteousness of Christ--including all His perfect obedience that flowed from it--is imputed (credited) to us when we are justified. We are personally righteous and obedient as we are sanctified. Both are because of the merits of Christ and the latter is empowered by the Spirit in the life of a new creation God has made. However, the new creation is indeed made in Christ "for good works,  which God prepared beforehand,  that we should walk in them." Paul reveals how the relationship works in this respect: God prepared, we walk.

Though some aspects of sanctification are puzzling (i.e., the how), the question of whether we are able and responsible to obey (i.e., the what) is not among them.

About LGLG, just one question at this point: what is "self effort"? 

Anne Sokol's picture
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in all these questions, the answer is "yes and no"

there's a simple answer, yes we can (obey). But when you look more technically, you see it's not you, it's all Christ, and the answer is no, you can't.

there is a gracious extent to which we "obey" ... that God graciously accepts what we do. But we don't obey to the extent of His righteous standard.

Theoretically, we can obey. But practically, we can't. The new nature doesn't impart victory. The new nature means ... that our orientation is completely different now. If an alcoholic "fails" to find alcohol one day, does he just give up being an alcoholic? No, it's his nature to drink. So if the Christian fails one day, does he just give up the cleansing process and struggle against sin? no, it's not in his nature to give it up. What he loves and who he is, is now entirely different.

a) imperatives don't imply/impute the ability to obey-- read Martin Luther again. And the Law, full of imperatives, didn't imply the ability to keep it.

b) Love makes the working to keep commands easy, but it doesn't mean we obey to God's level.

c) there is a level on which we obey and are active, but it doesn't mean that we have achieved the level God requires. Even in sanctification, Christ achieves/d it for us. ... Most people here leap to the "If I believe that, then we 'just stop trying" logic.

d) God does graciously reward things in our lives, doesn't mean we earned or deserve it

e) The Christian simultaneously fails and fulfills. Practically, we fail in the sense that we don't meet God's standard, but in Christ, we have and are counted as fulfilling obedience.

f) resources, yes, we have all we need from God, but while we still have the sin nature in us, we won't meet His objective requirements for obedience.

 

 

Anne Sokol's picture
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this is a huge difference

Aaron Blumer wrote:
2) The righteousness of Christ--including all His perfect obedience that flowed from it--is imputed (credited) to us when we are justified. We are personally righteous and obedient as we are sanctified. Both are because of the merits of Christ and the latter is empowered by the Spirit in the life of a new creation God has made. However, the new creation is indeed made in Christ "for good works,  which God prepared beforehand,  that we should walk in them." Paul reveals how the relationship works in this respect: God prepared, we walk.

I used to believe this, but I don't any more. In the sense that Christ's righteousness is  not just credited for us to be saved, but also for our entire lived life. We have nothing to put before God that is worthy of His standard of our selves, even after we're saved. Only our faith.

So our obedience/sanctification as believers, while graciously accepted at some level and rewarded at some level, really is only fulfilled by our faith in Christ.

Not saying I'm explaining all this exactly, but that this point is a major difference in these two views and probably needs further exploration and clarification.

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Perhaps asking a question

...from a different angle will help.

What role does the Holy Spirit play in our sanctification? Does He make us righteous, and then stand back and watch us work out our new nature? Or does He give us new righteous inclinations, and sometimes work to get us back on track when we've strayed? Or does He always work in the believer regardless of how the believer lives his life (LGLG)? Or does He provide the ability to live righteously only as the believer submits to the Holy Spirit (resulting in the good works)? Or does He work a different way?

Andrew Bernhardt

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To build on Andy's comment,

To build on Andy's comment, if we believe the Holy Spirit is the Counselor--John 16:7--we would assume that somehow the Holy Spirit communicates the need to know, understand, and apply the Scriptures, no?  I am constantly struck, for what it's worth, at how often churches try to use guilt and emotional tricks to "sanctify" people instead of presenting the Word and letting the Spirit have His way through prayer and patience.

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personal note

Bert Perry wrote:
I am constantly struck, for what it's worth, at how often churches try to use guilt and emotional tricks to "sanctify" people instead of presenting the Word and letting the Spirit have His way through prayer and patience.
I'm struggling with this right now in our church. My husband is the pastor and he is patient and focuses on main issues, where I would just slam people for being the immature, sinful, ungodly creeps they are being-- and these are people who've been in the church the longest! Some of the long-standing issues they are manipulating is just ... killing me.

But V has grace in his core in a much deeper way than I do, I will be the first to say. Well, maybe it's easier for him to express in the church and easier for me to express in our home.

But it's an area of my "sanctification" the Holy Spirit has been directing me towards the last few months. How Christ lived such a godward, loving (fulfilling every angle of love), righteous way on the earth surrounded by so many sinful, "mature" adults ...

V has been mulling over a comment he recently heard from another pastor-- that God lets or even keeps Christians as babies for so long, and why He does that.

Anyway, that was a personal parenthetic, fwiw.

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clarification note on LGLG

In some of my readings I see that some folks posit that LGLG is evidence of Keswick leanings and characterize this movement by the LGLG phrase. This is not the case with me. Rather, this LGLG concept is from Ps. 46.10 and speaks of finding provision in God instead of human efforts.

 

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