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Meditations on Sanctification As An Objective Act

September 13, 2011

The recent Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference provided me (and several of my compadres) with the opportunity to do some extended reflection upon the Christian doctrine of sanctification, and especially its relation to Christ’s work of justification and the rest of the ordo salutis. A number of papers (mine included) drew upon such figures as Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and T.F. Torrance as resources for thinking a bit outside the traditional Protestant box on this topic. What I’d like to do here is simply cap off my conference experience with a bit of extended reflection on this.

Christian Perfection As Performance

First, a bit of biographical context: I was reared not just in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition but in a very particular stream of it, one in which the doctrine of sanctification is absolutely central. The Church of the Nazarene is one of the major denominational inheritors of the holiness movement, which originated in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century. Early holiness teachers like Phoebe Palmer drew upon Methodist resources in preaching a doctrine of “entire sanctification.” In brief: According to Arminian theology, God first works upon the heart to convert the sinner (viz. the gift of prevenient grace, enabling her to mortify the flesh and turn to Christ) and lead her to justification. As historic Protestantism teaches, this inaugurates the process of sanctification, or Christian perfection, through which the believer is continually purified and shaped into the likeness of Christ.

The original stamp of the holiness movement, however, was to suggest a “second work of divine grace,” subsequent to justification, by virtue of which the believer may be entirely sanctified. Rather than a lifetime of working out one’s salvation, entire sanctification can come in a moment as a result of earnest prayer and openness to the fullness of God’s desire to bless and empower His people.  This should certainly be the goal of all believers.

Pair this with a child’s black-and-white worldview and sensibilities of doing good, and the shame of doing wrong, and you have a formula for legalism and sanctification portrayed in terms of human responsibility — and the guilt that inevitably comes from failure. Perfection in holiness (understood entirely in moral and performative terms) is the goal of living as a Christian man or woman, and every sin of commission and of omission, including every failure to maintain spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, etc., is a profoundly deep failure to be a Christian.

Now I’m not suggesting that this is the normative or inevitable end of Wesleyan holiness teaching. But, in the absence of a well-balanced teaching ministry, it seems to me that children and young believers such as I was will likely end up with such an understanding of their own Christian life and their relationship with God. (Let’s teach our Wesleyan kids about the power of grace and forgiveness, the depravity of human nature, and the importance of eschatological consummation of their redemption, for example.)

As a result of my conversion to Reformed thinking in my mid-20s, I found it necessary to push to the topic of sanctification far from my eyes. I was basking in the freedom of divine grace — I had no patience to work out a more properly oriented and balanced doctrine of Christian perfection. I still find this subject difficult to reflect upon, and I confess that this is entirely because of my biography. And so I am seeking a doctrine of sanctification that is liberating (it ought to be a positive doctrine, right?!) and not condemning.

Sanctification Done For You

One theme that emerged from the conference, then, is a belief shared by many twentieth century thinkers that sanctification belongs with justification as a work that is already accomplished, objectively — without us and for our sake — by Jesus Christ. Rather than sanctification being anchored by the cross but effectively worked out on the subjective pole by the Holy Spirit (with the cooperation of the faithful believer), it is a part of the fuller work of redemption that Christ has already finished and made true of us. Just as we are justified in Christ, we are already sanctified in Christ.

At first blush this move has a lot to offer, but also some potential problems in how it might be worked out with respect to the Christian life. Does what we do matter at all to God? What of all the imperatives of Scripture — “be holy” and “be perfect”? I have some at least preliminary thoughts on this aspect of the discussion, if anyone wants to pick it up in the comments thread or thinks it is worth a second post.

To begin with, however, I’d like to focus on the benefits of this shift in thinking of sanctification as an objective, completed act of God in Christ. Certainly there is a subjective pole in the reconciliation of men and women with God — for as much as we live in community as the body of Christ (and not in and of and for ourselves), we are still individual men and women striving to life lives of faithful obedience to our Lord. And certainly there are biblical imperatives that direct us to this end. But the nagging sense I always had while in the Wesleyan tradition was that my reconciliation with God — my “salvation” itself, if you will — was contingent, if ever so slightly, upon my own contribution to it. Rather than saving me, Christ enabled me to be saved. Even where Christian perfection was pushed out of the sphere of salvation, the synergistic picture of my life in Christ remained.

Today, I don’t think this squares with the gospel. The work of Christ is not merely about opening the door of heaven to me; nor is it about merely getting me inside, leaving me to get my life transformed a little further on down the line. The work of Christ is reconciling, what Karl Barth described as the exaltation of human existence to fellowship with God. This is the sanctification of the Christian — returning her, as a prodigal, to the loving embrace of the Father. And not only returning her home, but putting on her the finest robes and a ring on her finger, making her fit for fellowship with God. She may still have a “part to play,” as it were: she must repent and live according to the new life she has been given, the favored state in which she has been placed by the Father’s grace. But the point of the gospel as I see it is that this is a work that has been done to her and for her. Her sanctification, in every theological sense of the word, comes to her from outside of herself and affects her transformation, and not vice versa.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2011 3:04 am

    Sounds like some fruitful discussion. Yes, any subjective pole must rest on and draw from the objective. The objective work of Christ is revealed in our subjectivity, but not actualized by it. There are so many Christians who say Christ plus nothing, but that’s not really what they mean.

  2. September 14, 2011 4:00 am

    Hi Darren…
    Thanks for your post. I found your reflection on your own experience in growing up within the Holiness Tradition both honest but also consistent with many others I’ve heard. As a Salvation Army Officer, I’m very familiar with what you’ve described, but would suggest that it’s not necessarily the case for all. I’m sure you’ll agree with that.
    I’m not comfortable with sharp distinction between objective/subjective sanctification as I think it’s built upon a dualistic understanding of the relationship between God/Christ and creation, and indeed grace and nature. I find this underlying theology much more problematic than the suggestion that I may (or may not) be subjectively involved in my own justification/sanctification to any degree. This dualistic understanding of the relationship between God and creation, grace and nature, suggests that salvation is in fact “super-natural” (an adding of grace to nature), whereas I would suggest it’s better stated that it’s truly natural (and the opposite being that sin and evil are “un-natural”). So I can affirm the suggestion that I am involved in my salvation (call that subjectivism if you must), but only because I view grace and true nature as one. There is no nature apart from grace. Any ability that I have to do anything is, in fact, a graced ability, and so any “working out of one’s salvation”, any sanctification, any response to God is ultimately a work of grace.

  3. September 14, 2011 9:57 am

    Thank you for this inspiring post! Speaking for myself, I’m impressed by the work of Torrance (and also Barth and Bonhoeffer) in this regard. It has changed my talking about regeneration, for example.
    However, in the Netherlands we had A.A. van Ruler, who kept saying that in the end the ‘appropriation’ of our salvation can’t be understood in pure christological terms. What we need, is a pneumatological approach. I’m inclined to agree with him.
    The key question, so it seems to me, is how we can relate these two ‘poles’: the fulfilment of our sanctification in Christ and the ‘working out’ of that sanctification in our lives by the Holy Spirit.

  4. September 14, 2011 11:11 am

    One more remark (in addition to my former comment): I don’t mean with a pneumatological approach that our salvation becomes dependent upon our subjective efforts. But in the light of the New Testament, we should be able to articulate the way in which we may share in the salvation in Christ and how it is worked out in our lives. But, I realize, that’s nothing different from what you said yourself… 😉

  5. September 14, 2011 4:05 pm

    Thanks Darren. Stirs up lots of stuff I’m thinking about too.

    As a fellow child of the holiness tradition I share similar biography with you, although in my particular stream it was the “crisis experience” (or baptism of the Holy Spirit) and the call to “deeper life” that were the emphasis rather than a presumed state of “entire sanctification” (although that was a clear and compelling hope). In this there were always differences of opinion about whether the “crisis experience” or the the “second blessing” was a one-time event or a progressive or recurrent experience, and to this extent I think there was something really valuable in it which might blend well with the emphasis you want to promote. More on that in a second.

    I resonate with the problem of legalism and guilt, and even though I don’t think it is unique to the holiness tradition, it takes on a prominent flavour since there is this need (via prayer or enthusiasm or what have you) to seek this crisis experience and so to enter this other part of Christianity. I think the big problem, probably even where legalism is not an issue, is that the connection of that “other part” (i.e. sanctification) with the first part (justification) is not wholly clear. Its like Jesus does this one thing, then we do this other thing. The forgiveness inspires the follow through, and gives a reboot, but the follow through is pretty much wholly on our shoulders as human agents.

    And so this is where I too find Barth and co. helpful. The sanctification and the justification both have God as the primary agent, and their “entirety” or actuality is not in doubt since God has indeed reconciled us to Godself in Christ (this being more than a statement of legal standing but also a reorientation of our entire being). But where does human agency come back in? What does the road of sanctification actually look like? That seems to me the question. And that’s where the holiness tradition might have something helpful to say.

    Inasmuch as justification and sanctification are a work of God in Christ that we accept by faith, then so the daily life of growth in God consists of that ongoing act of faith. There are, if you will, daily “crisis experiences” in which we must either obey in faith or go our own way. Prayer and Bible reading and life in Christian community and witness to the world — these are all options before us as we face the road of faith-ful living open before us by God’s grace — but they are not prerequisites to getting on that road, nor are they means to either an experience or an accomplishment of sanctification. They are simply what that road looks like, since Jesus is on that road ahead of us, having accomplished it on our behalf. Our place on that road is not in doubt, since it is new every morning, and so it is a matter of following, not ascending.

    Anyway, that’s a long response, but that’s where I think I want to go with what you are presenting.

  6. September 15, 2011 9:54 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Athanasius96, I like your preference for “realized” over “actualized.” In this respect the conversion of the Christian is predominantly (though, I would argue, by no means exclusively) noetic. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, men and women come to recognize in faith that not only their status before God has been changed (their ‘forensic’ justification) but their nature as human subjects has, as well. The challenge of the Christian life is therefore not to become more and more sanctified, but to live according to one’s sanctification.

    Jon, you’re surely right to press in that direction. Faithful living, or the imperative of following Christ as one who obeys the will of the Father, is “what the road looks like.” I guess the point I’m wanting to stress now is that this subjective side emphasized by the Wesleyan tradition — which is wholly necessary and important for life in Christ — ought to be excluded from the doctrine of reconciliation. It is not the ‘subjective pole’ of the salvation we have in Christ; it is the result of that salvation, the road upon which we are placed.

    Adam, I’m not sure if that sort of redefinition of the objective/subjective dynamic satisfies your concern. But I take your point about sin and human nature (which is very much in line with Barth’s view) — that being sinners in need of redemption is not our ‘natural’ state but an imposition and subversion of the created order. Grace is the means of its restoration … though I wouldn’t be comfortable speaking of this grace as innately present in nature (a la Kuyper, et al) or otherwise accessible to us apart from God’s radical inbreaking in Jesus Christ.

    Arjen, thanks for sounding the pneumatological alarm. It’s important to keep the work of the Spirit in view here (whereas my original post could give the impression that the question is over whether or not the believer can attain to her sanctification all by herself). Whatever good I’m able to do in being a little better Christian today than I was yesterday is rightly attributed to the Spirit of God who is in me — and that’s another function of the one grace of God, that He does not save us and then leave us to go on our merry way as we were.

    I think the implied distinction between christology and pneumatology, however, is false: the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and the fact that the Spirit has His own mission or work shouldn’t suggest to us that this is a “second work” that is separate from the one work of redemption. That work is accomplished by Christ at all points, not by Christ and the Spirit working as a tag team to cover the objective and subjective poles.

  7. September 15, 2011 1:38 pm

    Darren, thanks for your reply. I appreciate your insistence on the one work of Christ. A division between Christ’s work and the work of the Spirit results all too often in an underestimation of the work of Christ.
    However, the question can be posed the other way around as well. What about the work of the Spirit? He hasn’t been poured out on all flesh in vain, has He?
    Let me put it otherwise. In his book ‘Incarnation Anyway’ Edwin Chr. van Driel claims that the category of ‘assumption’ is unhelpful for explaining the way in which we, human beings, share in salvation. Therefore, we need pneumatological categories like ‘inspiration’, ‘renewal’, ‘re-creation’, ‘imitation’ (p.141).
    In addition to his remarks I would mention somewhat different categories however, like ‘participation’, ‘sharing’, ‘union’. The question remains how to conceptualize that.

  8. September 15, 2011 3:12 pm

    Darren, I don’t see how you can exclude the subjective pole from the doctrine of reconciliation without excluding sanctification from it as well. By that do you just mean that it comes under another category, such as the doctrine of revelation? But aren’t we right back where we began, in that Jesus does this one thing and then the road that we’re placed on (ie. living a sanctified life) is this whole other thing? I don’t see how we can exclude the subjective from the doctrine of reconciliation without basically excluding ourselves in the process. Perhaps I just need to dig further into what you mean.

    Also, it should be noted that most of what we’re talking about here seems to gravitate toward an individualistic register. I think it informative to think about a people being sanctified (washed with pure water, as Ephesians 5 puts it), and us as individuals finding our way forward in Christ’s accomplishment as a part of that community which is realizing Christ’s sanctification of humanity as He goes on His way to full redemption. Something like that.

  9. Cody Lee permalink
    September 16, 2011 12:11 am

    Jon, I don’t mean to speak for Darren, but you don’t exclude the subjective pole from reconciliation, it is included in Christ. He has accomplished both sides, objective as well as subjective, and that is objective to us. Then our subjective side is a participation in all that Christ has accomplished on our behalf, thereby putting the full weight onto the Lamb. Reconciliation is objective to us, both the subjective as well as objective aspects are in Christ. I think that is the point.

  10. September 16, 2011 12:41 am

    That’s not what it sounded like, and you still have to talk about what the subjective participation looks like, no?

  11. Cody Lee permalink
    September 16, 2011 1:25 am

    Yes but his point is that the subjective side has nothing to do with the reality that we already are reconciled in Christ apart from even our own participation. Why that is precisely what we participate in.

  12. September 16, 2011 2:13 am

    I get that the work is done by Christ, I guess its this language of “excluded” and “nothing to do with” that is tripping me up. To me it seems like we are excluded altogether.

  13. September 16, 2011 8:45 am

    Cody, I think that’s right. Barth’s point (as an example) seems to be to exclude human activity from the locus of reconciliation (justification + sanctification), but not to exclude the subjective pole. If the objective side of redemption is what Christ did for the world, and the subjective side is how I as an individual am included in that, then both are complete in Christ, according to Barth.

    Now that doesn’t mean that there is nothing left for me to do. The gospel has an imperatival mood, as well, and this too we might locate at the ‘subjective pole.’ The difference is that this is excluded from the one work of reconciliation, and thus from the sanctification of men and women, as well. It’s still present; but dogmatically speaking it is located elsewhere.

    All this is to carefully specify that men and women are objects of reconciliation, and not in any way co-subjects (or prepositional modifiers, e.g. “God saved us … through our acceptance of Jesus Christ.”). Even at the subjective pole of reconciliation, the work is being done in and for them.

    And Jon, if you point out to me that Barth’s threefold form of the doctrine of reconciliation also includes the vocation of men and women, I won’t have an answer. 😉 I suppose that ought to be run in terms of our being reconciled to God in Christ (our justification), through his exaltation of humanity (our sanctification), for obedience to the Father’s command (our vocation). That includes the objective and the subjective, the indicative and even the imperatival, but without allowing human agency or activity to be a constitutive part. Insofar as vocation is an aspect of our reconciliation, it is not because we do but because we are summoned to do. (But you’ve read more of IV.3 than I have, so tell me if any of this gives with your reading of volume IV as a whole.)

    The individualist critique is certainly worth making, but since I’ve been reading some odd covenant theology this week I’m not eager to speak strictly in terms of the community, either. But surely the subjective, individualized aspect of reconciliation is subordinate to the objective, universal work of Christ.

  14. September 16, 2011 8:56 am

    Arjen: The language of human inclusion is important to get right, I agree. I’d want to defer to a careful exegesis of Scripture to find the best language to refer to this. The Protestant traditions have certainly latched on to Paul’s “being in Christ” language to address this, but obviously even that needs to be worked out a bit further. One of the works of the Holy Spirit is to unite us with Christ (cf. Romans 8:9-11f.) and with one another (Phil. 2:1) — thereby, I would think, making Christ (or actualizing Christ as?) our true, representative head.

    The work of the Spirit is further implicated in the locus of Christian vocation. Believers are sent to the world to declare Jesus Christ in and by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8 … actually, pretty much all of the book of Acts).

  15. Cody Lee permalink
    September 16, 2011 2:22 pm

    Darren, since salvation is both objective and subjective, would you agree that everyone is saved in one sense, but they are saved so that they will participate, and that is the one we have a role in making a response. The response does not cause anything ontologic to happen. It is where we are able by the Spirit to experience what is already true. By Christ being both the God-humanward, and the human-Godward acts of salvation, He has taken us with Him before and apart from anything we can do.

    The Spirit has been poured out upon all flesh, and now the Spirit is drawing all people to Christ. One can resist the Spiirit, or make the free response to follow Christ. I want to say that all people are already in Christ apart from the Spirit’s work, but that the Spirit brings another sort of inclusion, namely participation and experience of what is already true via the incarnation,

    What do you think?

  16. September 16, 2011 3:19 pm

    Darren, I guess I want to amplify Barth’s emphasis on the prophetic office of Christ (and yes, that’s in the volume on vocation) wherein we pay attention to what exactly Christ’s taking on of the subjective pole entails. Christ not only has accomplished our sanctification but is bringing it about, or is active in its realization today. In other words, Christ not only does the reconciling but also the revealing. And so He takes the subjective pole without taking it away from us. Rather he provides it for us not only once and for all but in an ongoing sense. This revelation is more than just noetic but is transformative, even though in our case the realization is provisional, being as we are in this time between the times (this middle parousia, if you will).

    Interesting here is the fact that Torrance’s critique (shared by many) of Barth’s fourth part-volume (on baptism) is that he too far divides the work of the Spirit from the response of the believer. But those critics also tend to think Barth gets this better in the posthumously published stuff when he puts human agency or participation under the rubric of invocation. The accomplishment of Christ as to our sanctification is not in doubt, but our participation involves our invocation of Christ’s work in our daily lives. I don’t know if this is making sense or even if you think I’m saying something different from you, but it does seem to me that we have to figure out how to hold together Christ’s accomplishment and our participation so that the realization of our sanctification is not some other thing wherein we are responding (i.e., imitatio) to a completed act that, for all intents and purposes, only informs our response but does not carry into it in the dynamic sense.

  17. September 16, 2011 8:52 pm

    I like what you’re saying, Jon! This is an important nuance to take not of. My concern, as well, as that there no longer remains any active aspect of sanctification for us; even if that us is given telos and trajectory in the humanity of Christ by the Spirit (Eph. 2). I think the way you just sketched this is fruitful.

  18. September 16, 2011 8:52 pm

    *take “note” of

  19. Cody Lee permalink
    September 17, 2011 3:13 am

    Jon, you said,

    ” Rather he provides it for us not only once and for all but in an ongoing sense. This revelation is more than just noetic but is transformative”

    Yes He provides it for us, but that’s not the same thing as what He has done. Let me explain. When He accomplished our sanctification, that was completely perfect and in our place because we couldn’t do it. So now what we are doing is not something different from what He has done for us, but by the Spirit we can participate in what has been done for us. It was done for us so that we could do it, but the hinge is not on us to ‘do it’, the Hinge is on Christ. Our salvation lies in Christ, not in our participation. Now granit, we cannot experience that salvation without participating, but our sanctification is a completed work. I think that is what Darren is trying to say. It’s objective to us, and we can participate in that, and should, and need to, but our salvation is not dependant upon us, but in what Christ has accomplished for us.

  20. Cody Lee permalink
    September 17, 2011 3:17 am

    Jon, I would also say that ‘now’ the problem does seem to be ‘noetic’ since ‘ontologically’ meaning in reality, we are not who we seem to be, but our lives are hidden in Christ, that would mean everyone. So the alienation of our minds is what the Spirit is breaking through in order for us to experience the salvation that is already ours.

    Like you said we live in the time between the times, and looks can be decieving. What is true, doesn’t show completely but is constantly breaking in by the Spirit. So yes there is a sense where ‘real’ changes are occuring, but they were already true.

  21. September 17, 2011 9:34 pm

    “we cannot experience that salvation without participating, but our sanctification is a completed work” — I thought that was what I was saying. Are we disagreeing here? I want to also say that this work is a work that Jesus is effecting in our day to day lives as well, and if we can’t describe this then I’m not sure we’ve really talked about sanctification all the way yet. The legalist can have a field day with the already-accomplished sanctification too.

    I think we need to be able to talk about what participation in our sanctification is … and how we as subjects are not excluded from this. And I think this is more than noetic, otherwise aren’t we saying that all it takes is a cognitive realization and then we follow suit with participation? I don’t feel very well served by that image of participation in sanctification. It doesn’t really ring true in my experience, and it doesn’t seem to do justice to the great commandment(s), among other things.

  22. Cody Lee permalink
    September 17, 2011 11:03 pm

    “And I think this is more than noetic, otherwise aren’t we saying that all it takes is a cognitive realization and then we follow suit with participation? I don’t feel very well served by that image of participation in sanctification. It doesn’t really ring true in my experience,”

    you shouldn’t build your theology from your experience. It’s not just a mental ‘realiztion’ though it is that, there is somehting about participation where we are actually becoming what we already are. The already is breaking into the not yet. The point though is that it is already complete, my sanctification that is, and we participate in that. It’s not as if my sanctification hinges on my participation, only the subjective aspect of it does.

  23. September 18, 2011 12:12 am


    Like I said at my site; I think a purely noetic understanding of salvation appeals to an intellectualist anthropology that needs some “affective” help. There has got to be more to this (not less, eh); and so I think Jon is onto something.

  24. Cody Lee permalink
    September 18, 2011 3:51 am

    Bobby I think your missing what I am really saying, let me try to explain.

    When I say the problem is “now” noetic, I don’t mean that there is not the aspect where the ‘already’ isn’t breaking into the ‘not yet’, as if we are already experiencing our ‘glorification’ and we just need to open our eyes. No sin is still running rampet and last time I checked people are still dying, and satan is still doing his thing. The thing I am saying is that what God has accomplished in Christ even though it doesn’t look like it is already true, and now it is slowly being ‘actualized’ and one day it will be completely ‘actualized’ wether you like it or not, know it or not, or participate or not. What God has accomplished in Christ is true about us wether or not it is our ‘experience’ and one day Christ will be all in all, and at that point yes it will be ‘noetic’, and in that case it is now as well, but now in this life by the Spirit we are participating in that already existant reality before it is actually fully realized. We are as Christians the people trapped in the time between the times, yet we are experiencing already the times to come, yet not fully.

    Christ has taken up our life in a way that what He has accomplished is true of us apart from any appropriation of that fact. You seem to really only want it to be true about Christ, and somewhat true about us. The fact of it is, is yes in this life more is going on than a ‘realization’ because by the Spirit we are participating in the new reality before it is actually completely revealed. The thing I am saying is that it will be ‘fully’ revealed, we will partake of the new humanity wether or not we even know Christ, and the only barrier at that point to then must be noetic. That would mean to say then, that is really the problem now, since this is an already existant reality, though yet not fully actualized.

    We are in it, yet not in it, but participate in it by the Spirit, and will be fully in it in the future.

    Therefor our salvation does not depend on anything we do. Christ is our savior, we need to realize that and trust in Him. He will actualize what He has already accomplished in due time, and it will be true of everyone, and yet not everyone will follow Christ for some strange reason. Alienation of the mind is the only problem now, and yet even that has been overcome, but yet we must accept Christ as our savior in order to experience it.

    This time between the times mystery is crucial for understanding this. Just because there is a not yet does not mean that it is our job to bring about the already. It will come around, you can participate now, and then, or not, that is purely up to the person, but their salvation does not hinge upon it, only their experience of their salvation.

  25. September 18, 2011 5:12 am


    I understand times between the times; or not now/not-yet. That’s not what I’m getting at. I simply believe there is more that needs to be said, in the vein that Jon is tapping into; and so that’s what I think. It’s not that I’m missing it.

    I think there are scriptural realities that need to be brought into your thinking—like the Great Commandment[s]—which will only help to thicken what you are saying.

    Plus, there is the anthropological issues that I think are important to consider further. That’s all I’m saying.

  26. September 18, 2011 5:13 am

    *I meant now/not yet; not “not now” 😉 hehe.

  27. September 18, 2011 7:04 pm

    Cody, I appreciate the sharpening here. I feel like I’m pretty much on board with most of what you and Darren are saying. But I’m trying to figure out where we disagree.

    When you say “It’s not as if my sanctification hinges on my participation, only the subjective aspect of it does” I just want to say yes. But I actually want to go further and say that in the ongoing subjective aspect we are dealing with Christ’s work on our behalf as well. I would consider this ongoing subjective aspect as also a part of Christ’s sanctifying work in us. So it is not at all the case that I “only want it to be true about Christ, and somewhat true about us.” I agree that “our salvation does not depend on anything we do.”

    I think that we do have something to do with the subjective realisation of our sanctification in Christ, and it is more than noetic but involves our whole person and in fact our social environment too. That part that we play doesn’t add anything which Christ lacks, as if this is a zero-sum game between God’s agency and ours, and as such is our participation in His accomplished work, by our surrender to his ongoing actualization of it.

    Maybe this is where we differ? Basically I want to include an account of our agency in the doctrine of sanctification and I don’t think that necessitates a departure from God’s primary agency and accomplishement in that regard. I’m pretty sure I’m with Barth on this one, but I am open to those who might disagree. To be clear (I hope), I want to say that the work of Christ carries on in us, He is the primary agent and we have a secondary, participatory agency in it. Thus we can affirm that our sanctification is an accomplishment of Christ, but there is no dilemma between this and his ongoing revelation of Himself in our lives and communities.

    I don’t think I’m building theology off of experience, but trying to understand sanctification as something Jesus does once and for all times. Since an experiential deficit was how Darren framed his approach to the topic I thought I’d refer to the experiential fallout again. Actually, one of the things I like about what you and Darren are saying is precisely that I think it overflows in a better account of this subjective experience. Without this account I think we are prone to fill in the subjective aspect of sanctification with our own less-than-Christological self-help strategies (i.e. legalism, etc).

  28. Cody Lee permalink
    September 19, 2011 3:37 am

    Jon, I actually like what you’ve said here. There is the aspect where if we want to ‘experience’ our new life in Christ we must participate. We must have faith, repent, and live that life of obedience. The thing about that though is that is our response. That is how we enjoy what is ours. We actually by having faith are already participating in Christ’s faith by the Spirit. No one says Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit. The sheer fact that you may repent is your participation in Christ’s repentance on your behalf.

    The point is that we can do these things because Christ has already done them for us, and in our place. When He did it in our place, that means that in Him we are already the new man. The Spirit comes to help us live out that reality, not to make it a reality, because it already is.

    Christ has fulfilled both sides. He is God’s grace poured out for us, and our reception of that Grace. Sanctification is a done deal, as with justification and everything else. We are there, and by the Spirit we are able to live it. So you could say that our salvation is dependant upon our subjective sactification through our participation, but that would only be the subjective aspect of it, meaning our experience, because our salvation is an objective reality. All have been saved, in one sense, and yet we need to experience it, and that takes our participation.

    Christ has already sanctified us, and so now by the Spirit we participate in that sanctification and partake of it as our subjective experience.

  29. Cody Lee permalink
    September 19, 2011 3:44 am

    Jon, what do you think about the fact that all will be resurected? All will participate in the One resurection, wether or not they believe or even know who Christ is. This also implies that they will be resurected into that new humanity that Christ created through His death and resurection.

    So what do you think the problem for the reprobate will be at that point? The new humanity, and creation will be fully actualized, so do you think at that point the problem will be ‘noetic’?

  30. September 19, 2011 6:48 pm

    Cody, I don’t know if I want to go too far afield in Darren’s post without his participation, but the resurrection question definitely brings an interesting angle to the issues we’ve been talking about. My initial thought is that the “problem” at the resurrection for those who remain non-participants in Christ’s reconciliation is not stricly noetic. I imagine the resurrection would be to a new body of some kind but I can’t imagine it thriving in all the ways (social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual) that the resurrected bodies of the participants would. Might we not have some reason to believe that the resurrected will actually have the noetic part taken care of? In other words, they’ll recognize Jesus as Lord (ie. every tongue confess)? So then the issue would be their participation or lack thereof. I have found myself resonating with ideas I’ve heard recently which depicted the resurrected unsaved in similar terms as to those sent outside the city in the Old Testament. But those are just initial impressions from your question. Happy to hear others.

  31. September 20, 2011 2:21 am


    That sounds something like Robin Parry’s ideas on such things.

  32. Cody Lee permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:40 am

    Not really, Robin Parry thinks everyone will participate, no one has said that here.

  33. September 20, 2011 9:03 am

    Apologies to all for my absence from this thread these past few days. Let me just say a few things by way of catch-up, which I hope won’t be too repetitive or beating a dead horse.

    My main point is to exclude an active human participation in any aspect of the work of reconciliation, which is from start to finish a work of Jesus Christ (by the will of the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit) alone. I see how this could be misunderstood, as if we have nothing to do with this reconciliation at all. What I’m talking about is active participation — i.e. we do something, will something, choose or accept something, in order to make our justification and/or our sanctification take place. In contrast, we certainly do participate passively — i.e. Christ is our head, the true man, and the work that he does, he does for us. Dogmatically speaking, if sanctification is properly a part of reconciliation, then Barth has seized sanctification out of the hands of striving men and women and restored it to its proper place. If it is our perfection, or the ‘exaltation’ of human existence, it belongs with the exalted Christ (and then us with him).

    Note that this trades on two less-than-traditional moves: 1) the objective work of Christ is not just our justification (one ‘moment’ in the ordo salutis, but our reconciliation (comprehending the whole of the ordo); 2) sanctification is defined in terms of the exaltation of human essence, i.e. the restoration of prodigal sons and daughters to the Father. Other aspects usually pinned to sanctification, such as Scriptures call to obedience, etc., ought to be relocated because they are not a part of the ordo salutis (even if they result from it).

    Whatever we describe in terms of human moral responsibility and imperative, then — and Scripture is clear that we must! — it needs to be called something else, and described in such a way that there is no suggestion of our active, causal participation in our reconciliation to God. So in IV/2 Barth turns to language of ‘conversion,’ which seems to be noetic but not strictly noetic. That’s at least a place to start. It’s subjective, it involves our wills and our agency, but it is not a secondary cause of our reconciliation.

    On this account, we are excluded from the ’cause’ of our reconciliation, but included (radically so) in its ‘effect’ — because, of course, it is for us. Christ’s humanity is ‘vicarious,’ etc. And the doctrine of sanctification has been relocated from (mostly) the subjective side to (entirely) the objective side of his work, so that we benefit from its occurrence but do not contribute to it.

    Cody: Yes, I’d say that the proper role of the human person is her subjective response to what has been done for her. Offhand, it seems that this should take two forms: 1) a response directed toward God, in gratitude; 2) a response directed toward other men and women, in proclamation. The Spirit enables both.

    Jon: You’re right to push this into dynamic terms of the ongoing work of Christ. I’m a neophyte when it comes to eschatology (and prefer to always remain so), but as much as the work of Christ is objectively ‘there and then’ it is also ‘here and now,’ viz. his Spirit poured out on the church. That may help to make it a tiny bit clearer that I’m not attempting to exclude human participation in the regenerated Christian life, but in the accomplishment of reconciliation.

  34. Cody Lee permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:15 pm

    Good stuff Darren!

  35. September 20, 2011 3:51 pm

    Darren, methinks that you are right, but that the accomplishment and the actualization or revelation of reconciliation are overly polarized (and not inclusive enough of the third term Barth thinks essential: vocation). but I think I’ve covered that in my comments already so I digress.

  36. Cody Lee permalink
    September 20, 2011 6:47 pm

    Watch this, I think Gary Deddo has some great words that are relevant to this topic.

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