Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Shotgun Shells: Guilty or Not-Guilty?

If sanctification is not about effort or applying a “means to an end” theology to our lives, then why are so many Christians harboring guilt with respect to sanctification? If you pay close attention, many Christians are living a guilt-ridden existence. You can see it on their faces, they are horrible at trying to hide it. Sanctification and guilt should never cohabitate in the heart of a believer. I should never feel guilty about the fact that I haven’t become more sanctified by now in my twenty years as a Christian. I should never be battered with guilt even though I am guilty. Let me see if I can explain what I mean.

Second grade was a tough year for me. Besides the fact that it was the first time I ever visited the principal’s office (more on this in a minute), it was also the fact that I had the meanest teacher in the entire Mark Twain Elementary School system, or at least this is what some well-meaning third graders felt obligated to share with me. Now, to get back to the point. One of the greatest events in the life of a second grader is show-and-tell. Desiring to impress my teacher and amaze my friends, I searched the house for the item that would drop jaws to the floor and cause tears of pride to well-up in the enraptured audience. Shotgun shells was what I came up with and I suppose for a second grader these met the above criteria superbly. Little did I know that bringing shotgun shells to school was not only not superb, but it was also flirting with a class C felony. The students were impressed as I pulled them from my backpack. Not so much for my teacher. Her hand covered her mouth and she began to clutch the desk as if she was going to faint. Needless to say, show-and-tell didn’t end with applause, rather it ended with the long walk to the principal’s office. Surprisingly, though, my discipline was waved by the principal. Apparently, second graders sometimes just don’t know any better.

Reflecting on such experiences often awakens in me something that I have always known as believer, yet never seem to experience as completely as I desire to, namely, the knowledge that even though I am guilty as charged, the final verdict is not-guilty. I never felt guilty for what I brought to school that day, even though I was guilty for what I brought to school that day. This is what I enjoy so much about the Lutheran view of sanctification. The other views (see below)seem to place you on the precipice of falling into a guilt-ridden existence as a believer. This is not where I want to be. I am afraid of heights. Rather, I would prefer to live with the knowledge that in Jesus Christ I have “redemption, the forgiveness of sins [emphasis mine]” (Colossians 1:14). All of my sins past, present, and future have been forgiven and no amount of sanctifying effort on my part will allow me to appreciate this fact more than I already do.

A Means to an End or an End to a Means?

The question I have posed as the title of this post is directly related to the issue of sanctification in our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. Does this question imply that I am to do nothing with respect to sanctification? Should I contemplate my sanctification so as to appropriate my growth in the fact that I am already sanctified? By no means! What I desire to say and what has solidified in the conversation about sanctification, for me at least, is that sanctification is not a means to an end, but an end to a means. Sanctification is not a means by which I reach for God and grasp His promise of an objective hope known as eternal life in heaven. If this were the case, then I might be tempted to wake up every morning and really get busy doing good for the Lord. Rather, sanctification should be viewed as an end to a means. What God has done for us through Jesus Christ effectively puts an end to any means by which we might self-justify ourselves, even righteous talk of progression by means of sanctification! This is the language of Jesus Christ being our sanctification. (1 Cor. 1:30) When Paul talks about Jesus Christ here, he says that Jesus is our wisdom from God. And in case we miss it completely, Paul unpacks it further by explaining what he means; righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He is everything! This negates any attempts we might even be tempted to make where boasting about our progress is concerned.

The Lutheran view and the Reformed view do well here, they seem to understand the necessary tension that must exist between talking about sanctification while not allowing the discussion to slip into a tacit approval of works righteousness. The other views seem at times to slip into this trap, maybe not intentionally, but certainly if taken to their logical conclusion then the end is works righteousness. This does not have to be. Sanctification is not the Pelagian magic wand we wave to get God to open wide the gates of heaven. Sanctification, rather, is spoken of as a completed act by which we can rest comfortably in the knowledge, and the growth in this knowledge, of the depth of what God has wrought in us as new creations.