Category Archives: Sanctification

God’s Uses of His Law

It is God who accuses, condemns, and instructs in good works when, where, and as He chooses through the proclamation and teaching of the Law. It may be that one hearer is accused, but not condemned (living under grace through faith), another is condemned (and finally brought to despair of his own righteousness) and another, at any given moment, learns something new about the fruit of faithfulness that was not understood before. These things that God would accomplish through His Law are not to become a program for the preacher to organize his sermon. He is just to preach the Law at full strength and then the pure. sweet Gospel. Period! There is not to be a third part of the sermon after the Gospel for a programmatic and independent instruction in the Law to inform and press the Christian to do good works after he has heard his forgiveness in Christ. The accusatory and instructional uses of the Law are to be distinguished as we teach about how God uses His Law, but this distinction is not to be made into separate programmatic installments, as if the servant of the Word is supposed to orchestrate the accusation of the Law before the Gospel, but then instruct in good works afterward. Instructing and exhorting the believer about works after hearing the life-giving freedom of the Gospel can have the effect of erasing its impact. It is as we pointed out before: the Law always accuses. The Gospel predominates in the Church’s ministry when it is heard as God’s final Word and thus most appropriately followed by an A-men and then silence. Do we not all understand the final word has been heard, when silence follows?

Servants of the Word are simply to proclaim pure Law at full strength as preparation for the ministry of the Gospel. If on such an occasion God wants to condemn right to the depths of Hell Mr. Schmidt sitting in the second pew that is God’s business. If He wants to expose the fleshly living of Mrs. Miller in the back row and accuse her of using her family ties in an idolatrous manner, again that is God’s business. If God uses our preaching to curb and discipline teenager Billy’s gross rebellious behavior with the threats of Hell (notice, I have even brought in the civil use of the Law!), again that is God’s business. And, if God uses the pastor’s fine proclamation to teach Mr. Yamamoto that the fruits of faith include even the ordinary duties around the house as a husband and father that is God’s business. Even if Mrs. Smith sleeps through it all and Mr. Jones is simply provoked to greater levels of sinful rebellion – well again, that is God’s business. He works His curbing, accusing unto repentance, and/or instruction when, where, and as He chooses.

The servant of the Word is simply to rightly divide Law and Gospel in all its strength and purity, and then leave the uses (in Luther’s twofold sense, or Melanchthon’s threefold sense) up to God. The same point can be made about the ministry of the Gospel. The Gospel is not to be proclaimed for conversion at one point, then to strengthen faith at another, at another to energize works of love, etc. The Gospel is just to be proclaimed in all its comfort and consolation as the power of God unto all aspects of His salvationing sinners (Romans 1:16)! How God will use the ministry of Law and Gospel in the lives of the people is His business – when, where, and as He chooses.

Dr. Steven A. Hein, “The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?”, pages 142-144

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Steven Hein on The Experience of Maturity

The more the New Self grows into the maturity of the full stature of Christ, the more intense our spiritual warfare. Christ sees our corrupt colors perfectly and hates them with a righteous hatred. The more we grow in the mind and heart of Christ, the more we will see of the depths of our sinfulness and hate them. This has a profound effect on how we experience growth in Christ.

The experience of Christian maturity is not unlike growing in knowledge. The more we know, the more through that knowledge we are able to see the vast horizons of our ignorance. The smarter we get, the dumber we feel. Real growth in knowledge brings a sense of humility produced by a greater vision and experience of the magnitude of our ignorance. We all realize that the know-it-all has much to learn. Growth and maturity in the grace of Christ brings with it a parallel experience. The more we grow and live in the righteousness of Christ, the better we see our own sinfulness. It is with this expanded vision and experience that St. Paul could confess that he was chief of sinners. It is exactly how he felt. Moreover, this is precisely the awareness that God also seeks to produce in us. Here is the dry bones vision that brings a thirst for the Word of God that we might live (Ezekiel 37:4). And it sends us back again and again to drink the living water that flows from the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.

The fruit of the Spirit grow in our hearts from that living water: love, joy, peace, patience, and all the others that Paul mentions in Galatians 5:22-33. The experience of these in Christian life does not remove the turmoil of Romans 7. Rather, they exist in, with, and under it. God blesses us with a peace that passes all our awareness of this turmoil, but it does not replace it. Christians are those who become progressively more disturbed about themselves, but they sleep real well. We walk by faith and we rest in grace.

We shall indeed win some battles, but they will only bring us greater and more challenging ones to fight. The fleshly self will be a part of us throughout our earthly life. It will not surrender and it cannot be reformed. It must be beaten down and ultimately killed. Moreover, we need to remember that we are not simply contending with flesh and blood; but, as Paul explained, with the powers and principalities of Satan himself (Ephesians 6:12). There is no final victory or triumph for us in human history except what we claim in faith and hope in the cross and resurrection of Christ.

Beware of those who promise a sweet, calm, tranquility in this life from God by perfecting your commitment to spiritual exercises. They did not work for Luther in the monastery and they will not work for us. Do not believe that we can reach a lofty level of sanctification where we can be free of the battles that rage in our minds and hearts in this life. We walk by faith hope for the better day that is coming when eternity blesses us with the full fruits of Christ’s victory at His Heavenly Banquet. For now, we join Christ in His battle against the powers of darkness within and without as very much a junior partner. This is His mission and ministry. His resources and work have come packaged to us in the form of two ministries, Law and Gospel. Through these, His work of sanctification in us and the extension of His Kingdom through us in the world are carried out.

The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?, pages 99-100

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Total Man, Total Christ, Total Death, Total Life

If we are not led by the Spirit into the kingdom of Christ then we are eo ipso in the kingdom of Satan, and then one’s whole empirical piety is nothing other than condemned works of the law. Man is flesh, and in the flesh there is nothing which is not judged. The righteousness which counts before God is not man’s real piety but Christ’s alien righteousness. The new man which is born anew by water and the Spirit is that man who in faith takes refuge in Christ. It is not the converted man in his empirical piety.

But simultaneously the older Luther also speaks just as strongly as the younger Luther about a progress in sanctification, a constant struggle against sin, as an increasing cleansing and expulsion of sin. The growth of this sanctification is the Spirit’s work. The man who by faith in Christ is Spirit, is simultaneously flesh by virtue of his self. And that is as totus homo. The old man, the flesh, is not merely the “lower” part of man (the real self minus the empirical piety); but it is man in his totality. The struggle in man is therefore not a struggle between a higher and lower part of man’s nature, but between man’s real self and the Spirit of God. Therefore, that which the struggle is against is our total real self, and that which fights it is the Spirit. Thus the two apparent contradictory sentences from 1 John are both true: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). There will always be a real self for the Spirit to fight no matter how pious it might otherwise be. Christ’s alien righteousness, to which faith clings, may of course cover all the remaining sin, so that it is no longer attributed to one. But it does not destroy the remaining sin as a reality. The sin as a reality is remaining. Justification therefore means that war is declared upon the remaining sin. The beginning of its expulsion starts in justification. But this expulsion of sin is only in its beginning in this life. Only in the resurrection will it be completely finished.

It is the Spirit which expels sin by the Word about the forgiveness of sin, not man’s increasing empirical piety. Expulsion of sin is therefore not as a matter of course identical with a psychologically noticeable and therefore unmistakable increase of empirical piety. On the contrary, the sin which is to be expelled comprises the total man. It presupposes a real sinner when we speak of sanctification, that is a total sinner, not one who by virtue of a visibly increasing empirical piety is just partly a sinner. The expulsion of sin is that destruction of the power of sin which is a result of the fact that we as total sinners are brought into Christ’s kingdom. As it is clearly stated in the explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism, the expulsion of sin is this, that the Spirit daily works penitence through the law and faith through the gospel. This is a daily repetition of penitence wrought by the law and of faith wrought by the gospel. The Spirit mediates a daily repetition of Christ’s death and resurrection in us, not an evolution of our indwelling religious and moral strength by which the meaner tendencies in us are being checked. Luther therefore says that the Spirit, as long as sin is not completely expelled (and this does not take place before the last day), has not been given us in a full measure but only as first fruits. That the Spirit is an eschatological category or concept, which was clearly evident in the young Luther, is now even more clear. The powers of the world to come are by the Spirit active in the midst of the world of sin and death. But inasmuch as sin and death are constant realities, the Spirit is only given us as first fruits.

Regin Prenter, “Spiritus Creator”, pages 224-226

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Luther on True Perfection

I’m a simul justus et peccator guy to the end. I know I’ll never be perfect. I cling to Christ and His righteousness. I am weak on sanctification. I do not, however, deny that I quit striving after perfection in the way Saint Paul describes in Philippians chapter three: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Franz Pieper says it best in Volume Three of “Christian Dogmatics”: “But the truth of the imperfection of sanctification in this life is not an excuse for laziness in sanctification and good works. Instead, God’s will and the corresponding Christian attitude to it seeks to ascertain that the Christian strives after not merely a partial, but a complete sanctification and not just some, but all good works.” (page 33 English Translation, page 38 German original. I’ve translated the German original here.)

With this teaching and these examples Christ now concludes [Matthew chapter five]: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here our sophists have spun out many dreams about perfection and have applied them all to their orders and classes—as if only priests and monks were in a state of perfection, the one higher than the other, the bishops higher than all the others, and the pope the highest of all. By this means the word “perfection” becomes completely inapplicable to the ordinary Christian way of life, as if such people could not be called perfect or be perfect. But you hear Christ talking here not to bishops, monks, and nuns, but in general to all Christians who are His pupils, who want to be called the sons of God, and who do not want to be like the publicans and criminals as are the Pharisees and our clergy.

How does it come about that they are perfect? The answer—in brief, because elsewhere I have discussed it in more detail —is this: We cannot be or become perfect in the sense that we do not have any sin, the way they dream about perfection. Here and everywhere in Scripture “to be perfect” means, in the first place, that doctrine be completely correct and perfect, and then, that life move and be regulated according to it. Here, for example, the doctrine is that we should love not only those who do us good, but our enemies, too. Now, whoever teaches this and lives according to this teaching, teaches and lives perfectly.

But the teaching and the life of the Jews were both imperfect and wrong, because they taught that they should love only their friends, and they lived accordingly. Such a love is chopped up and divided, it is only half a love. What He wants is an entire, whole, and undivided love, where one loves and helps his enemy as well as his friend. So I am called a truly perfect man, one who has and holds the doctrine in its entirety. Now, if my life does not measure up to this in every detail—as indeed it cannot, since flesh and blood incessantly hold it back—that does not detract from the perfection. Only we must keep striving for it, and moving and progressing [My note: Luther uses here fortfahre – “continue”. “Progress” would be fortschritte machen] toward it every day. This happens when the spirit is master over the flesh, holding it in cheek, subduing and restraining it, in order not to give it room to act contrary to this teaching. It happens when I let love move along on the true middle course, treating everyone alike and excluding no one. Then I have true Christian perfection, which is not restricted to special offices or stations, but is common to all Christians, and should be. It forms and fashions itself according to the example of the heavenly Father. He does not split or chop up His love and kindness, but by means of the sun and the rain He lets all men on earth enjoy them alike, none excluded, be he pious or wicked.

Luther’s Works Volume 21, pages 128-129

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Good Works and Vocation

We have often heard what good works are, since we have come to the light and to knowledge through baptism and through the gospel. We did not learn in the papacy what constitutes a good work. Before the gospel came, we were told that the works which we ourselves devised and chose were good works, such as making a pilgrimage to St. James or some other place, giving money to the monks in the cloisters for the reading of many masses, burning candles, fasting with but bread and water, praying a certain number of rosaries, etc. But now that the gospel has come, we preach thus: Good works are not those which we choose of ourselves but those which God has commanded and those which our vocation calls for.

A servant does good works when he fears God, believes in Christ, and leads his life in obedience to his master. First he is justified before God through faith in Christ; then he goes on to lead a godly life in faith, maintains moderation and decency, serves his neighbor, cleans the stable, gives the horses fodder, etc. If he goes on performing works such as these, he is doing better works than any Carthusian monk. For since he is baptized, believes in Christ, and in assured hope is waiting for eternal life, he knows that whatever he does in his calling pleases God. Therefore everything that he does in his occupation is a good and precious work. To be sure, they do not seem to be great, outstanding works: riding out to the field, driving to the mill, etc. But because God’ s law and command covers them, such works cannot but be and be called good works and services rendered to God, no matter how insignificant they appear to be.

In like manner also a maidservant does good works when she performs her calling in faith, obeys her mistress, sweeps the house, washes and cooks in the kitchen, etc. Though these works are not as glamorous as the works of the Carthusian who hides behind a mask and has people gaping at him, still such works are much better and more precious before God than those of the Carthusian who wears a hair shirt, keeps his vigils, gets up at night and chants for five hours, eats no meat, etc. Although these appear to be glittering and shining works before the world, yet they have no command and order of God. How, then, can such so called “good works” possibly please God? Likewise when a peasant or a farmer helps his neighbor, serves him where he can, warns him of the danger threatening his body, wife, servant, cattle, and goods, helping him when he needs help, etc., such works do not make a great show, but they are nevertheless good and precious works.

When the civil government punishes the wicked and protects the virtuous, and when the citizens yield obedience to the government and do so from faith in Christ and in the hope of eternal life, they are performing good works, even though they do not shine and glitter in the sight of reason…. If you ask reason for advice, the works of a servant, a maid, a master, a mistress, a mayor, and a judge are common, lowly works compared with the Carthusian’s keeping his vigil, fasting, praying, abstaining from meat. But if you ask God’s word for advice, the works of all Carthusians and all monks, melted together in one mass, are not as good as the work of a single poor maidservant who by baptism has been brought into the kingdom of God, believes in Christ, and in faith is looking for the blessed hope.

These two articles St. Paul would keep alive among Christians: the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ and the knowledge of the office entrusted to us, so that we may rightly learn to know our occupation as Christians. Through baptism and through the gospel we are called as heirs of eternal life. Therefore we should wait for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, since we are now Christians and heirs of the kingdom of heaven, everything we do in our calling and occupation is altogether a good and precious work. Also for that reason we should be zealous for good works….

Now, therefore, since we have heard what blessed hope we should look for, we should also learn what good works are, namely, those which result from faith, in the calling commended to us, according to God’s command and word. Although such works do not glitter in the sight of reason, they are nevertheless precious before God, while the Carthusian and the monk cannot see and understand these things. For example, I am a preacher; that is my office. If now I believe in Christ and look for the blessed hope and then go and tend to my preaching and perform my calling, even though people hold my office in low esteem, I would not trade my office for all the works that all the monks and nuns do in the cloister….

Likewise also that wife is a living saint who believes in Christ, looks for the blessed hope and appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in such a faith goes and does what belongs to the calling of a wife….

Just as reason knows nothing of the blessed hope of eternal life, so, too, it does not understand what constitutes truly good works. It reasons thus: This maid milks the cow, the farmer plows the field. They are performing common, lowly works which also the heathen perform. How, then, can they be good works? But this man becomes a monk, this woman becomes a nun; they look sour, put on a cowl, wear a rough garment: these are exceptional works which other people don’t do, therefore they must be good works. Thus reason argues. Thereby reason leads us away from the true knowledge, both of the blessed hope and of good works.

Martin Luther, “Of Our Blessed Hope” – A sermon on Titus 2:13 preached on August 19, 1531 in Kemberg. Translated by Arthur Schulz in “Journal of Theology” Volume 35, Number 3 (September, 1995). Quoted at length by Franz Pieper in “Christian Dogmatics” Volume 3, pages 40-42 (ET), pages 47-50 (German).

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