quod pro nobis traditum est

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

growth in godliness

This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness;
not health, but healing;
not being, but becoming;
not rest, but exercise.
We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way;
the process is not yet finished, but it has begun;
this is not the goal, but it is road;
at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being
- Martin Luther, A Defense and Explanation of All Articles
(AE 32:24)


Jon C. Bischof said...

This is a truly thought provoking and poetic qoute. I wonder what the context or issue is that sparked this comment from Luther?

Whenever we speak of our becoming what we were baptized to be (sanctification in the wide sense), I find that folks are often confused by two questions that plague the conscience:

1. How do I know that I am being sanctified (in the wide sense)? Practically speaking, this questions ends up leading one to look for ways to measure his advancement in sanctification as though sanctification takes place in incremental stages and empirically gradual increases.

One might be able to watch mercury rise in a thermometer and record these changes that indicate a rise in temperature; but sanctification is not so easily observed and measured. Sure, there are things we can do that hinder our sanctification (sin); but a decrease in outward observable sins does not necessarily indicate an increase in actual righteousness.

One reason why our Lord uses the wind to illustrate our conversion to faith is that you cannot see it...Likewise "the kingdom of God does not come in a visible way" says Jesus. So as carefully as we may want to watch for it and measure it in our own lives, our sanctification remains a matter of faith and not sight.

I say this not because I want to find any excuse for my own lack of observable increase in sanctification; but simply because santification is, like so many matters of faith, simply not obvervable in a measurable sort of way. We Christians all know that it is going on, but when we start to worry about 'how much' or what stage of sanctification we might be in, it inevitably distracts us from the one who sanctifies us--Jesus. In other words, trying to measure your sanctification always slows it down and might even be preventing it.

2. The other question often raised is associated with the first.
When am I sanctified?

Not to dodge the issue or be trite, but simplest and still the best answer continues to be the eschatalogical answer: Now and Not Yet.
Scritpure says both. We are already completely sanctified (at baptism, at conversion) and we are currently being sanctified.

When will it be complete? When will I truly be able to measure it and say with confidence that it is perfect and finished?

Well, something earthshaking will have to happen first. He will have to appear everywhere at once and then and only then, in the twinkling of an eye, we will have our answer about sanctification.

Our best advice in the meantime is: Keep working on it. Stop worrying about it. Don't give up on it. Wait for it.

If these snipets of advice seem contradictory, I realize that; but as one who is holy and is not yet holy--this is the best advice I can give. Anything more or less than that would be saying too much or believing too little.

Fr. Timothy May said...


This is well stated. First, sanctification is not empirical, not dependent on visible measurement, and, can actually take our eyes off of Jesus.
Second, sanctification is now and not yet. We are totally sanctified in Christ and, yet, due to our sin, pure holiness in body and soul comes here and there, now and then, but is not full until heavenly glory.
Just yesterday, when you shared this, I had written this to some Catholic friends, "...Lutheran theology does not like to focus all things on the sanctified, or moral, life or emphasize them over the objective work of God in Christ (Incarnation, Cross, Sacraments, etc.) so that the focus remains primarily theocentric, without denying that good works follow."
Finally, the Gospel for Sexagesima, Luke 8:4-15, speaks of such things as the scattering of the seed of the word as "mysteries of the kingdom of God" and "the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience." Who makes the "good ground", the "noble and good heart" and the "fruit" possible? None other than the Lord Jesus, the one who spreads the seed and the one who bears among people the "kingdom of God."
As you state, a "decrease in outward observable sins does not necessarily indicate an increase in actual righteousness" that we may put our trust in our own righteousness. I think what tempts us to focus primarily on the sanctified life is just this - a lack of "patience." Christ Jesus is the One who brings "fruit to maturity." We are called on to focus on Him, the author and finisher of our faith. "But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (1 Cor. 1)