Archive for June, 2008|Monthly archive page

Sanctification, Concrete Imprints, and Lexical Gymnastics

Sanctification is not exactly the easiest concept for Christians to wrap their minds around. Debate rages and views are espoused, as is evident by the amount of books that are presently written or being written today on the subject. Visit a Christian bookstore and you will find a majority of the books on the shelf deal either directly or indirectly with the issue of sanctification. We are to become Wild at Heart, we are to Break Free, and for some strange reasons we are even told that we must Get Out of That Pit. I thought I was already rescued from the pit? Confusion is abounding about sanctification and just how Christians appropriate it. Christians certainly appear to want to become “better” Christians or at least are striving to become “better,” that is, since the market for such literature appears to be making Lifeway’s bottom-line healthy. Please don’t get me wrong, I love Lifeway, they are not at fault, we are. A major component of the reason that Christians struggle with the issue of sanctification is that they have not truly sought to understand the Biblical view of sanctification.

One of the problems that exists with beginning a discussion about sanctification is how one defines the terms associated with it. When I was a young boy I assisted my dad in pouring a new driveway. When I say we labored, I mean we labored. Part of the challenge of pouring our driveway was that we lived on a hill. Not just any old hill, but a hill that would make a Tour de France rider get off his bike and start pushing. There was not only tremendous effort, but there was also tremendous exactness. My reward for the effort I exerted alongside my dad? I was allowed to place the imprint of my hands and my name in the wet concrete, a permanent reminder of my accomplishment and growth as a driveway artist. Many Christians approach sanctification in this way. They define sanctification with terms like progress, exactness, effort. And I do believe that many Christians hope that by defining sanctification with such terms that at some point, God the Father will tap them on the shoulder and point to the corner of the driveway for them to concretize their effort. Several of the views that might be grouped under this view of sanctification are the Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Contemplative. The Reformed view flirts with this somewhat, while the Lutheran view is content to stand back and admire the Father’s work. Herein lies the problem with defining the terms associated with sanctification, no major view has a monopoly on such definitions.

Here is what I mean. Each view appears to have to do some lexical gymnastics with the terms of sanctification in order to allow such terms to fit perfectly with their theological understanding of sanctification. As believers we should not have to look at the definitional “degree of difficulty” in order to determine which view is precisely right. Everyone eventually falls off of the balance beam at some point. Each writer desires to define progress in the Christian life, when this may be a faulty starting point in the discussion about sanctification. I am not at all convinced that sanctification can or even should be discussed in a linear, gnomically concrete manner. What may be more appropriate to define is what is meant by growth in the Christian life. Less lexical pommel horse routines may need to be attempted if growth is focused on, rather than progress. Growth certainly appears to be addressed in the pages of the New Testament much more than progress. Come with me back to the driveway illustration for a moment. I failed to mention above that I was only five years old at the time I helped my dad pour the driveway. My effort in contributing to the artistry of the driveway was negligible, if any at all. One factor, though, that has never changed is the imprint of my hands and my name. Permanence is a wonderful concept to dwell upon, isn’t it? Sanctification may be more about the fact that when I became a child of God my name was inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life without any effort on my part to pick up a pen. Much of my appreciation of this fact is due to the growth I have experienced in direct relation to this fact. No amount of lexical gymnastics will get me there, only my growth in appreciation of what has already been accomplished on my behalf.

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Evangelicals Said What?

A recent study by the Pew Forum Group revealed that, “…57% of Americans agree with the statement that ‘many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life.'” When I first read this statement I admit that I was concerned for a couple of reasons. First, I have never been one to place much confidence in polls, as there is often bias about what questions are asked and how they are asked, more on this later, and secondly I am a bit skeptical about the blanket term ‘evangelical’ that is often thrown around without adequate explanation of just who might be invited to the evangelical family reunion. What I discovered is that my skepticism may possibly be right on both points. There is a great article posted on Micah Fries blog which details this study and the problems that it has raised through a press release from Chris Turner, Media Relations Manager for Lifeway Research. I encourage you to run over and read it and then let me know what you think…

Pre-Sermon Thoughts

First, let me say that I realize that I have not written anything in a long time. Well, actually that is only partially true. The main reason that I have not written in over a year is because of all the writing I was doing my last year in seminary. Now that my seminary experience is over (for now at least)…I plan on writing more. I find often during my sermon prep for the week that I come across various insights that never make it into the final draft of the message. I am not sure why this is, maybe it is due to time constraints or possibly that I am getting forgetful. This week I am studying from Acts 10:1-48, better known as Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, the centurion. Reading the passage initially, I get the overarching theological theme that rests over this chapter, namely that the gospel is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews which results in Peter’s great statement, “I realize now that God is not one to show partiality…[emphasis mine].” Through all of this the thought that keeps running through my mind is not one of a theological nature, rather a practical one. Consider this, that Peter often is one to not “get it” completely. When he does “get it right,” he really gets it right. Here is one of those shining examples of Peter hitting the mark, yet I can’t help but think that not very far in the future, Paul has to oppose Peter for the very same thing he is standing up against, the exclusion of the Gentiles. This may sound discouraging at first, but I take it as great encouragement. God is after the obedience of the nations and I for one am thankful for the example of men like Peter who even though they may stumble, God does not give up on using them. As Lewis writes through Screwtape, “…the terrible habit of obedience…produces no objective results.” We can say of course, the opposite!