Sanctification

Sanctification, Faith and Works: An Index of Recent Web Debate

Updated 6/13/14

Debates about various aspects of the doctrine of sanctification have been around for a long time. In the summer of 2011, a fresh round of debate on sanctification, works, faith, depravity, justification and union with Christ broke out on the Web and has continued, in one form or another up to the present.

Because the exchange has featured skilled and articulate participants, it has also been insightful. The following is offered as a tool for the benefit of anyone interested in studying the matter from the perspective of recent interactions among theologically conservative, mostly (but not entirely) Reformed leaders.

A few notes appear below, randomly. I hope to eventually annotate most of these entries more fully and fairly.

Despite the length of this list of links, it is not comprehensive. Feel free to post other links of importance in the comments.

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Richard Foster: Effort Is Not the Opposite of Grace

"There’s a back and forth—there is a role that we play in our relational life with God. That role is, as Paul puts it, that we are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. Now, how do you do that? I’d say primarily—not exclusively, but primarily—through the classical disciplines of the spiritual life." - CToday

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Who Needs Revival?

Some years ago, I was visiting a small rural church in Michigan where a preacher delivered a message on revival. His text was Genesis 26:18.

And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham.

He argued passionately that what we need more than anything else in these times is revival. In fact, revival would solve every significant problem that exists in our nation, our churches, and in the lives of God’s people everywhere. Near the end of his message, he summarized with these words. “Our nation needs revival, God’s people need revival, we here—we all need revival… I need revival.”

The message illustrates a widespread way of thinking about revival and a common pattern in pulpit use of the term. But three problems with this usage call for our attention.

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"[B]e vigilant to avoid embracing legalism in a cloak of godliness ... and lawlessness in the cloak of grace"

"In all three pastoral letters, Paul impresses the need ministers have to pursue personal godliness and to call the people of God to pursue true, Gospel-motivated holiness and good works." —Legalism, Lawlessness and Pastoral Ministry

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From the Archives: Romans 7 – Believer or Unbeliever?

The interpretation of Romans 7 is long disputed. My wife once told me that as a Christian teen she read Romans 7:14ff in the Living Bible and thought, “That is me!” Was she wrong in her hermeneutics? Is Paul talking about his Christian or pre-Christian experience in this very auto-biographical chapter?

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 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. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (ESV, Rom. 7:14-19)

Here are some arguments for the pre-conversion and post-conversion positions. You will be able to tell where I stand.

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You Are What You Love – A Review (Part 2b)

You Are What You Love seeks to place before the reader his own self, revealed by the actions that spring from his own loves. Smith will teach us that our identity is based who we are in our souls — the way our souls have been formed to love what God loves and hate what God hates. While Smith doesn’t refer to this as “justification,” he explicitly stands on the shoulders of Aquinas and Aristotle. So, as Smith develops his view of the formation of our soul, he deals in the doctrine of justification. Therefore, this paper rests on Part 2a, which examines justification. I encourage readers to digest that before reading on.

The Room

Smith illustrates his view of identity with the 1979 movie, The Stalker. It is a tool to get us thinking about our desires. The Stalker is a piece of “dystopian science fiction”1 and produces a “discomforting epiphany”(p.27). The Stalker is a guide who takes two men through the Zone, which “has the eerie feel of a postapocalyptic oasis, a scene where some prior devastation has left ruins.” They seek The Room, which is “a big, abandoned, derelict, dark damp room with what look like the remains of an enormous chemistry set floating in the puddle in the middle, as if the Zone resulted from an ill-conceived experiment that went horribly wrong.” The men seek The Room because when entered, it will give the seeker the deepest desire of his heart.

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From the Archives: A Resolution on Resolutions

This year my New Year’s Resolution is to celebrate New Year’s at a time more conducive to change and renewal—oh say, spring instead of the dark, dead of winter when I’m just coming off the sugar high of the holidays. Somehow I think we Gregorian calendar devotees have got this one all wrong.

Historically, New Year’s Day hasn’t always fallen on January first because our calendar hasn’t been a consistent entity. Factor in a few mythological gods, Roman emperors, and a pope or two. Add a dash of Protestant Reformation and you’ll find that in the past, the New Year occurred anywhere from January 1 to March 25. (Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1752 that England and the American colonies began celebrating New Year’s on January 1st.) That’s nothing to say of the multiple cultures that celebrate it in recognition of their own calendars.  And if you really want your head to spin, don’t forget all our dear southern hemisphere friends who experience the seasons opposite to us and whose Christmas and New Year’s celebrations include BBQs on the beach.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in my experience, making resolutions on January 1 is a bad idea.

Because there’s nothing particularly organic about celebrating the New Year this way. For most of us, it’s simply a function of the calendar and happens primarily because we’ve reached the end of the month and need to turn the page (or in my case, glue magnets on the back of my 2012 office-sized calendar from Target and stick it to the side of the refrigerator.) Think about it—there is no seasonal change or religious celebration that would motivate us to make resolutions; it’s simply a cultural obligation. Or, in my experience, the result of the guilt from eating too much, exercising too little and overspending in the last six weeks since Thanksgiving.

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You Are What You Love – A Review (Part 2a)

Read Part 1.

In the Scholastic period of Catholic theology the classic languages were re-learned and many old works were read, including Aristotle. His ideas about the formation of the soul found purchase in the minds of theologians like Abelard, Scotus, and Thomas Aquinas. In You Are What You Love, Smith depends heavily on these men for his thesis. In this paper, we will consider what they believed.

Thomas Aquinas said this about justification:

The righteousness and sanctity which justification confers, although given to us by God as efficient cause (causa efficiens) and merited by Christ as meritorious cause (causa meritoria), become an interior sanctifying quality or formal cause (causa formalis) in the soul itself, which it makes truly just and holy in the sight of God.1

For Thomists,2 the soul is truly made just in the formal aspect of justification. The Christian’s identity as a just person is made real in the formation of his soul. R.C.Sproul puts it like this:

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