Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cooperating in Sanctification?

Luke 8:4-15 (ESV)
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: [5] "A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. [6] And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. [7] And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. [8] And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold." As he said these things, he called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
[9] And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, [10] he said, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. [11] Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. [12] The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. [13] And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. [14] And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. [15] As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word hold it fast in an honest and good heart.” One of the more controversial statements of the Book of Concord is that man cooperates in Sanctification. I tend to think this is distorted today. We live in a Wesleyan world, and as with the abuse of the third use of the law notion, we just haven’t shed our pietism enough to read the Book of Concord for what it says, rather than what those who want to justify Wesleyan theology would like it to say.
Wesley, in his “Plain Account of Christian Perfection” gives a wholly Arminian view of sanctification, where man does not really cooperate at all with the Holy Spirit, but is completely responsible himself for sanctification and must work to be completely sanctified if he expects heaven when he dies. And so Wesleyan preaching is preoccupied with teaching people how to do good works that they might attain this sanctification on their own.
Somehow, the confessions in some Lutheran circles have come to be as abused as scripture in American Evangelicalism, and people proof text them with no regard for their context, in able to present the same horrid doctrines as “Lutheran” what are found in American Evangelicalism (Wesleyanism). These doctrines are as opposed to the confessions as they are to scripture. Man does not cooperate in sanctification in such a manner as sanctification is something which he must attain of his own will. What the confessions, in short, mean to say here, is that the Christian, who has been baptized, renewed, born again, or in short, sanctified, now lives that sanctified life, he is given a new will, and the picture pointed to in the confessions is Romans 7. In fact man is very weak, and is pictured as more being pulled along in sanctification. And the cooperation that is there presented is not one of man doing good works, and earning jewels for his crown, or constantly becoming better and better and ceasing to sin, but that the new man holds to God’s word, does not despise it, goes to hear the word preached in accord with the 3rd commandment, and thereby lets the Holy Spirit continually work sanctification in him, forgiving him his sins day in and day out. That is, the work of sanctification is the Holy Spirit’s who works through the means of God’s word read, preached, and administered in the sacraments. The new man’s “cooperation” is not in dieting, quitting smoking, or giving up cusswords as too many in the Evangelical world and even the Lutheran world would have you believe, but it is merely in this, that Jesus says above “hearing the word, they hold it fast in an honest and good heart.”
Others hear the word, believe for a while, but do not hold it fast. This too often because pastors quit preaching it, and other pastor’s preach something else entirely, namely good works, and progressive sanctification. It is shameful. But people are led astray by such preaching, which appeals to the Old Adam in all of us much more than does any other sinful behavior whatsoever. The desire to earn one’s salvation, whether we put this endeavor under the heading of justification or sanctification, is the work of satan par excellence. It is giving into the lie of satan who says we can become like God. It is to trust in yourself and your own abilities, to make yourself your idol, rather than to trust the God who sacrificed himself for you on the Cross, who has justified you and sanctified you in the waters of Holy baptism. It is to trust in yourself, rather than to fear, love and trust in God above all things.
And being led astray by such teachings, the people believe for a time, perhaps for the few moments or a week after being given the gospel as bait, and being told to pray the sinners prayer, before being switched to so called third use preaching and the treadmill of self sanctification. Yes the sun, with it’s hellfire and brimstone scorches them before they can mature, even as the cares of the world choke their faith out.
The reformed want to explain this parable away, say the people never really did believe, “the perseverance of the saints” they point to, which doctrine has no real foundation in scripture. They didn’t really believe they say. “They had a false belief.’ Right. It isn’t what the parable says. It simply says they believed for a time, received the word with joy, and then lost that faith for whatever reason. But this lets the reformed off fairly easy, a reformed pastor is free to preach and harp on good works, and be absolutely devoid of gospel content in his sermons, and if the people go astray, well they never believed in the first place.
On the other hand, what we have here is an exhortation to continually preach the word, preach the gospel by which people are not only called to faith but sustained in it, and an exhortation to hold on to it dearly, hold fast to it, study it day in and day out, and thereby let the Holy Spirit continually work in you through the gospel as it is read, preached and administered in the sacraments. There in and through the word, what has been begun by the spirit continues to its completion.


Anonymous said...

Would you explain the third use of the law?I'm not clear on that. Thx
Sue J

Bror Erickson said...

Third Use of the Law, The Lutheran confesssions maintain that the Law works in three different ways, as a curb,a mirror and a guide.
As a curb it manifests itself in society with government and all that entails.
As a mirror it shows us our sin and our need for Christ,
as a guide it shows us how to live God pleasing lives.
But that the law works in three different ways does not mean you can preach it in three different ways, and that is the problem.