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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Cycle of Sanctification

In my last post, I asked "who is the gospel for?" One perceptive commenter, Elaine P, recommended I post this article by Pr. Don Matzat. She is right. It is a good article.

Issues, Etc. Journal - Spring 1998 - Vol. 3 No. 1

Hitting For The Cycle

What is sanctification? How is it produced? To grow in our Christian faith and life, do we simply go in circles and do the same things over and over again? You got it!

by Don Matzat

On a recent Issues, Etc. interview, we discussed the subject of sanctification. My guest, a Reformed theologian, compared the various views on sanctification with a wind-up doll. When you wind-up the Pentecostal doll, it speaks in tongues. The Reformed doll grabs the third use of the Law. The Holiness doll goes after perfect sanctification. And what about the Lutheran doll? Well, from his perspective, when you wind-up the Lutheran doll it simply goes in circles.

After giving some thought to what he had said, I came to the conclusion that he was right. Lutherans go in circles. Or, to put it into baseball parlance, we hit for the cycle. Let me explain. . .

Think of a baseball diamond. At home plate, put the Law. At first base, the Gospel. At second base, Faith. At third base, Good Works or the Christian Life.

Now then, when an unbeliever steps up to the plate, the first thing he is hit with is the Law. He becomes aware of his sin before God.

This drives him to first base where the Gospel confronts him with the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

As he rounds first base, the Holy Spirit produces faith causing him to grasp the Good News and rejoice in his salvation.

As he rounds second base, faith, being no idle notion, brings the Holy Spirit, and produces good works. His life is changed as he motors to the Good Works of third base.

In the third base coaching box there are a variety of coaches holding up the "stop" sign.

"Stop," they cry. "Come over here and speak in tongues to get really holy." Others offer the dream of perfect sanctification. Some promote their own evangelical house rules – don’t drink, smoke, dance, or go to movies. Some theologians of the Reformation group are debating the third use of the Law.

The Apostle Paul is also in the coaches box waving the runner through. "Get to home plate," he shouts. "Keep going! Don’t stop at third base."

So the runner rounds third and heads for home saying to himself, "Wow! I am really a good, holy Christian."

As he gets to home plate, he is in for a surprise. He gets nailed by the Law again. This time, though, it is not Romans 1 and 2, but rather Romans 7.

"So, you think you are really hot stuff," the Law says to him. "Quite a good Christian, eh? You are merely a wretched man born out of the wretched root of your father Adam."

Filled with sorrow and contrition, he wanders back up the first base line declaring, "Almighty God, merciful Father, I a poor, miserable sinner. . ." This time, as he gets to first base, he not only hears the Good News of forgiveness, but his pastor is waiting for him with words of absolution – "I forgive you!" He also hears Jesus saying to him, "Take and eat, this is my Body and Blood given for your forgiveness."

"This is fantastic," he cries as his faith is again built up and his heart is filled with great joy. He heads toward second base renewed in his faith. As a result, his behavior, actions, and attitudes are again being adjusted.

This time, as he arrives at third base, the coaches box is filled to overflowing. Everyone wants him to stop. One former football coach offers "Promise Keeping." Someone else wants to put a "What would Jesus do?" bracelet on his wrist. Bearded psychologists are there offering self-esteem, support groups, and help for his wounded inner child.

The apostle Paul is still there waving him home. But this time he is being backed up with some of the saints of the past – Martin Luther and C.F.W. Walther.

So our faithful baserunner heads back to home plate only to get clobbered with the Law again.

He continues to run the bases and his understanding of sin deepens. He grows in the knowledge of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. His Faith increases and good works freely flow from his life. Much to his amazement, as he reads the Bible, he discovers that this is exactly what God wants for him.

As he grows, he learns to love the worship of the Church. He discovers that various elements of the liturgy deal with either the Law, Gospel, Faith, or Good Works.

The traditional hymnody of the Church enhances his experience of Christian growth. He sings with enthusiasm "Alas, My God, My Sins are Great," "Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness," "My Faith Looks Up to Thee," and "May We Thy Precepts Lord Fulfill." In so doing, he is running the bases again and growing.

So, we go in circles! Fight the good fight, and run the good race, but whatever you do – don’t stop at third base!

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VirginiaLutherans said...

Excellent article and analogy. Thanks Elaine for pointing it out!

Der Bettler said...

Many times it is difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate the realtionship between Law, Gospel, Faith, and Good Works. This is especially true when it concerns those who have been brought up in a muddle of all of them, or with one piece missing.
My question is, how many Christians really get out of the, "Wow! I am really a good, holy Christian" mode? There seem to be very few Christians who aren't constantly patting themselves on the back for doing this or that good work. God's Law has convicted me of doing that very thing several times (although I know that's the point).
It seems that any time we try to point out the Pharasaical tendencies of trusting our good works, we get called every name in the book (legalistic, nit-picker -- and I realize this has been a rather hot topic here as of late). Are there any good ways to broach this subject with a fellow Christian without him turning on me?

Ryan Schroeder said...

That is an absolutely excellent post. Thanks you for sharing.

Kelly Klages said...

Actually, this article sounds like a great way to broach the subject with anyone. The point is that pretty much no one gets out of the "Wow! I am really a good, holy Christian" mode in this life, and to do so (again) we need a good Law-clobbering every time.

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