Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Sanctification Rag

So I've been hanging out once a week with a church planting couple in our area. He's saying the right things (by my lights) about being Christ-centered, about using Gospel methods to share the Gospel message. That piece, "gospel methods," is even more foreign to our evangelical churches than is the gospel message, which is saying something. Most churches, in my opinion, just have too much on their plate. They're preaching about money and sex and parenting and health and changing the culture and homosexuality and dream-interpretation and how to be confidant and optimistic all the time and everything else under the sun, and the Gospel that Jesus preached might make its way into the mix every now and then. Or it might not.

Perhaps most of the people who attend these busy-busy churches are happy with all that, and get a lift out of all the urging and the mandates and the focus on doing doing doing. Some people seem to thrive on that kind of stuff. Those that don't have probably all departed and are either struggling int the wilderness (angry, sad, or just spent), or perhaps they'v managed to stumble into a church that just kind of quietly reminds people of who God is and what he's done.

A bright young man named Nate wrote a pretty interesting blog post a couple of weeks back. Nate happens to be my son, and I thought I'd interrupt my blogging hiatus to respond to his post. He says some rather strong things about the Christian's favorite subject--sanctification. Says it's mostly idolatry. We idolize this ideal about the Christian life and pursue it and try to measure our progress and talk about how we're better than we're used to be, etc. Here's what Nate says:
If I'm going to worship God- through word, sacrament, music, liturgy, or anything-- it's going to be a God who commands and compels my attention, and the attention that we give to our sanctification is quite noticably not on this God. Christ, while he certainly does sanctify his people, is designed to be the object of attention. What he gives is not given to be an object of attention. Just a signature- something that draws attention back to him. In other words, why are we talking about your pornography problem? Or the fact that you overcame your pornography problem? These may be slightly interesting, but...

...not as interesting as Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. I will say this categorically about everything you can possibly experience in life. Tongues, prophecies, healings, helpings, victories, defeats, epiphanies, blindnesses, baptisms, and burns. The life more abundant is his life, not yours. And you think far too highly of yourself.
What Nate says of most if not all discussion about sanctification is that it is more often than not a rejection of the sufficiency of Christ and the cross. Or it reflects a desire to subjugate Christ and the work of Christ to the purposes of one's own sanctification (so that one can grow spiritually, be a good husband, etc.). And Nate says that when we do this we are operating as "enemies of god."

Nate's words have an undercurrent of deep frustration here. Maybe he's too strong in his dismissal of all talk of sanctification, I don't know, but I do think that we almost always over-confidant in our methods, and we almost always over-state their results. We talk about our sanctification as if life after we get saved is one long steady upward climb, when it's really more like a roller coaster ride for most of us. So in that sense I think it best to not go there, no matter how many Puritan preachers you can find who would tell me otherwise.

The only method I would give you is this. Get with Jesus. Stay close. Follow him around. Imbibe his words and his attitude. Sit at his feet. Even then you'll have shocking downfalls, just like Peter. But don't worry. Jesus still loves you.


Lore Ferguson said...

Someone recently sent me an email response to this post I wrote ( saying:

"When someone understands he has liberty because of redemption, what does he do with that liberty? At that point, where are our boundaries? That, "we" being saints who are completely justified in the eyes of God. What, then, is sin and/or what is legalism to that person?"

I'm still trying to figure out how to respond to that because it sounds like to me he just wants a clear line to be drawn, he wants to talk about sanctification because he wants clarification and I'm not sure that that's a helpful conversation. We need to, like you said, get with Jesus, stay close, follow him...

This post, and Nate's, are helpful to me. Thank you for always sticking close to truth and preaching it boldly, both of you.

Nate said...

For the record, I do think there's a Gospel-centered way to refer to our sanctification, a way that is full of reverence for and joy in what Jesus has done. It just doesn't really spend a lot of time dwelling on practical results, or on our moral improvement.

I haven't read your post yet Lore, but as for the question you've been asked, it's a common question, and one that's usually indicative of the problem more than anything. THe very fact that we are tempted to ask "well, yeah, but where are the boundaries" when confronted with the the scandal of salvation usually expresses little more than a dissatisfaction with Christ. It means he's still too scandalous for us to accept on some level. The boundary is Jesus. If we understand the liberty we have because of his redemption, there's not much question of boundaries, just gratitude and love for Jesus.

Lore Ferguson said...

Tony Woodlief noted a few weeks ago that he noticed that "People who say: "Everyone talks about grace, but nobody talks about sin," are not usually caught talking too much about grace." Worth noting.

Your last line is spot on. Thanks.

nance marie said...

i agree with the method that you give.

nance marie said...

i suppose i would call it the "change of heart" that takes place.