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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Aroused by Christ’s Double-Grace


In my previous post (Too Much of a Good Thing?) I dealt a bit with how there are folks within my own clan within the Christian tribe who seem to foster a “let go and let God” mindset with regard to sanctification. I used a specific example from Steve Brown and his book, “Three Free Sins”. As I tried to show, he (and others) are correct in their emphasis on the liberal love of God announced in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But I also attempted to show where they go too far, by having the Gospel promises swallow up and neutralize all the directives in the Sacred Scriptures. In this post I will endeavor to show the beauty of sanctification that explodes in splendor from the liberating love of God in Jesus Christ.

To begin with, a simple perusal of Paul’s writings will show the connection between the gracious Gospel and healthy holiness. Take the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, for one example. In the first three chapters, Paul clearly articulates what God has done for us in Christ, “predestines us for adoption through Jesus Christ” (1.5), “blessed us in the beloved” (1.6), “in him we have redemption through his blood” (1.7), “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us alive together with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ” (2.5-6), “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2.8-9), “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2.13), “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2.18), and the list goes on. These are precious promises that we don’t cause, nor do we have to make ourselves fit for. It’s God’s initiative, God’s work, God’s rescue action! Then, hard on the heels of all these prized promises, Paul launches us into the way these promises should impact our lives, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4.1-emphasis mine MWP). The rest of chapters 4 through 6 unpacks this charge in the areas of church fellowship, personal morality, family relations, and standing up against the devil and his onslaughts.
Interestingly enough, you can see this gracious Gospel/healthy holiness algorithm clear back in chapter 2 where Paul gracefully moves from one to the other in 2.8-10:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Calvin brings out the unbreakable connection between the gracious Gospel and healthy holiness in his Institutes 3.11.1:
“The whole may be thus summed up: Christ given to us by the kindness of God is apprehended and possessed by faith, by means of which we obtain in particular a twofold benefit; first, being reconciled by the righteousness of Christ, God becomes, instead of a judge, an indulgent Father; and, secondly, being sanctified by his Spirit, we aspire to integrity and purity of life” (emphasis mine-MWP).
Here is the “twofold benefit” or double grace: justification and sanctification. Though the two can be distinguished, they are not to be separated. Calvin makes this clear in 3.16.1, when he is tackling the Roman Catholic conflation of the two:
“Though we distinguish between them, they are both inseparably comprehended in Christ. Would ye then obtain justification in Christ? You must previously possess Christ. But you cannot possess him without being made a partaker of his sanctification: for Christ cannot be divided. Since the Lord, therefore, does not grant us the enjoyment of these blessings without bestowing himself, he bestows both at once but never the one without the other. Thus it appears how true it is that we are justified, not without works, and yet not by works, since in the participation of Christ, by which we are justified, is contained sanctification as well as justification” (emphasis mine MWP).
Calvin, following the Biblical pattern, keeps both justification (Gospel promises of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus) balanced with sanctification (the ways those Gospel promises effect and change our lives). Falling off the Gospel horse on either side leads to serious misreading and mishap in the Christian life.
Instead of embracing Steve Brown’s “The gospel of free sins makes getting better sort of irrelevant” (115), the Gospel makes “getting better” a joyful relevance. Instead of concern for “purity, obedience and holiness” being a symptom of neurosis (116); purity, obedience and holiness become our increasing desire and delight because we love the one who first loved us, “"If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14.15 – see also verses 21-24).

Finally, observe that holiness, working out the applications, implications and consequences of our salvation, is what we are commissioned to do – but it is totally God who is working it out in us;
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2.12-13).
Mike

[for more on this idea of "Double Grace" see J. Todd Billings' works "Calvin, Participation, and the Gift", as well as the more accessible "Union with Christ", and his piece "Union with Christ: Calvin's Theology and Its Early Reception" found in the newly published work "Calvin's Theology and Its Reception".

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