Paul's Passing Thoughts

Paul Dohse Session 1: Church Has Never Been About Biblical Sanctifcation

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on August 23, 2019

Presenter’s script doesn’t follow presentation exactly.  

Justification and sanctification. These are biblical words, and perhaps the first theological words learned by Christians. Justification speaks to the justification of the believer; he or she is justified. And when justified, saved, and identified as being righteous. So, justification, salvation, and righteousness are terms that speak of salvation and are used interchangeably throughout the Bible.

Sanctification speaks to the Christian life and Christian living. It speaks to spiritual growth. It’s being set apart from the world and the ordinary. Justification is a onetime finished work that is final. Sanctification is a progression of spiritual growth until glorification which is the resurrection of the Christian and the redemption of the body.
Few Christians would disagree with these definitions because it fits with what people, lost or saved, sense to be the case intuitively. What did you think becoming a Christian meant? What do most people think becoming a Christian means?

Intuitively, people think becoming a Christian means a new and different life. They think it means being devoted to God, but primarily, they think it means becoming a better person. I am not sure how people view Christians in our culture presently, but I know how they used to view Christians, at least during the 80s and 90s when I was very devoted to church and my Christian testimony. Somebody walking the walk was both respected and resented. People would clean up their act in your presence, being around you was synonymous with how you act at church.

People reject the gospel because intuitively, they know it is exchanging their present life for another life. They understand the gravity of it. Even the most devout Christian is leery of dying and going to heaven because we are more comfortable with what we are familiar with. Perhaps the late Steve Jobs said it best: all Christians want to go to heaven, they just don’t want to die to get there.

Romans chapter 2 states that every person born into the world has the works of God’s law written on their heart; this is why the gravity of the gospel and what it means is intuitive. Though the lost cannot explain it theologically, they get the new birth. They know salvation means a new life, and they know God brings that about through His power. They know becoming a Christian means giving up their present life as they know it and becoming someone different; they understand the gravity of it, and that’s why they resist the gospel.

New Christians and lost people know more about the gospel than people who go to church. This is fact; church is a deprogramming of what it means to be a Christian. New Christians know that they are saved, and it’s time to get on with growing into being a new and different person. That’s why they became a Christian to begin with. But church has NEVER been about that. While it seems, anyone would agree that one should, “Practice what they preach,” and would reject, “Do what I say, and not what I do,” this is indeed exactly what church propagates, and always has.

Why and how would any Christian know anything about sanctification and Christian living? Church has never been about that. Church, from the beginning when it hijacked Christianity in the 4th century, has rejected the concept of becoming extra ordinary people who glorify God with their lives. Church has always been a tension between orthodoxy and what people know intuitively. New Christians go to church looking for sanctification wisdom, but never find it.

From the beginning, church has been at war with sanctification. It has knowingly participated in bait and switch false advertising. It allows people to come to church based on the assumption of sanctification, and then goes about to indoctrinate them according to its justification only orthodoxy. That’s church, and that has always been church. If you believe that church is about a biblical definition of “discipleship,” you believe a lie; you have bought into a scam. Being a disciple, or learner, isn’t about learning how to add virtue to your life, but rather learning more and more about the depths of your need to be saved through learning the depths of your depravity. You are not a new person, but rather, to further the progression of your salvation, you need to learn more and more about who you really are. That’s the purpose of church; you go there to plunge the depths of your evil which magnifies the cross and furthers the progression of your salvation.

The historical proof of this fact is strikingly evident and well documented. In our day, the who’s who of evangelicalism proclaim the church to be “confessional.” What’s that mean? Dr. Michael Horton wrote a whole book to answer that question titled, “Christless Christianity.” What is Christless Christianity according to the thesis of his book? Any Christianity that promotes glorifying God through good works.

The question for us all is whether we believe the church is the place where the gospel is regularly proclaimed and ratified to Christians as well as non-Christians. Like many Emergent Church leaders, Kimball invokes a famous line from Francis of Assisi that I also heard growing up in conservative evangelicalism: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Kimball goes on to say, “Our lives will preach better than anything we can say. “12 (We encountered a nearly identical statement from Osteen in the previous chapter.) If so, then this is just more bad news, not only because of the statistics we have already seen, which evidence no real difference between Christians and non- Christians, but because despite my best intentions, I am not an exemplary creature. The best examples and instructions—even the best doctrines—will not relieve me of the battle with indwelling sin until I draw my last breath. Find me on my best day— especially if you have access to my hidden motives, thoughts, and attitudes—and I will always provide fodder for the hypocrisy charge and will let down those who would become Christians because they think I and my fellow Christians are the gospel. I am a Christian not because I think that I can walk in Jesus’s footsteps but because he is the only one who can carry me. I am not the gospel; Jesus Christ alone is the gospel. His story saves me, not only by bringing me justification but by baptizing me into his resurrection life.

Conformity to Christ’s image (sanctification) is the process of dying to self (mortification) and living to God (vivification) that results from being regularly immersed in the gospel’s story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Another way of putting it is dislocation (from Adam and the reign of sin and death) and relocation (in Christ). That my life is not the gospel is good news both for me and for my neighbors. Because Christ is the Good News, Christians as well as non-Christians can be saved after all. For those who know that they too fall short of the glory that God’s law requires—even as Christians who now have a new heart that loves God’s law—the Good News is not only enough to create faith but to get us back on our feet, assured of our standing in Christ, ready for another day of successes and failures in our discipleship.

We do not preach ourselves but Christ. The good news—not only for ourselves, but for a world (and church) in desperate need of good news—is that what we say preaches better than our lives, at least if what we are saying is Christ’s person and work rather than our own. The more we talk about Christ as the Bible’s unfolding mystery and less about our own transformation, the more likely we are actually to be transformed rather than either self-righteous or despairing. As much as it goes against our grain, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for justification and sanctification. The fruit of faith is real; it’s just not the same as the fruit of works-righteousness.

Yes, there is hypocrisy, and because Christians will always be simultaneously saint and sinner, there will always be hypocrisy in every Christian and in every church. The good news is that Christ saves us from hypocrisy too. But hypocrisy is especially generated when the church points to itself and to our own “changed lives” in the promotional materials. Maybe non-Christians would have less relish in pointing out our failures if we testified in word and deed to our need and God’s gift for sinners like us. If we identified the visibility of the church with the scene of sinners gathered by grace to confess their sins and their faith in Christ, receiving him with open hands, instead of with our busy efforts to be the gospel, we would at least beat non-Christian critics to the punch. We know that we are sinners. We know that we fall short of God’s glory. That’s exactly why we need Christ. I know that many of these brothers and sisters would affirm that we are still sinners and that we still need Christ, but it sure seems to be drowned out by a human-centered focus on our character and actions.

Kimball writes that the “ultimate goal of discipleship .. . should be measured by what Jesus taught in Matthew 22:37-40: `Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul.’ Are we loving him more? Love others as yourself. Are we loving people more?”13 I was raised in conservative evangelicalism on this same diet of sermons that ended with a question like this one. A truly radical change in our approach would be to proclaim Christ as the one who fulfilled this law in our place, bore its sentence, and now freely gives us his absolution. Only then, ironically, are we truly liberated to love again. For all of the Emergent Church movement’s incisive critiques of the megachurch model, the emphasis still falls on measuring the level of our zeal and activity rather than on immersing people in the greatest story ever told. It may be more earnest, more authentic, and less consumeristic, but how different is this basic message from that of Joel Osteen, for example? Across the board in contemporary American Christianity, that basic message seems to be some form of law (do this) without the gospel (this is what has been done).

Though leading evangelicals boldly proclaim a sanctification-less progressive salvation via the church day in, and day out, most Churchians will deny it. They say “amen” in church, but when confronted outside of church, we hear, “I have never heard that at our church.” Whether wittingly, or unwittingly, they are complicit in bait and switch false advertising. While saying amen to week in and week out sermons proclaiming the total depravity of the saints, they will agree to fire a pastor who got caught in some sort of sin. Why? They want to uphold church advertising which promises a changed life while the message inside is hostile to any idea that any person can change for the better. Perhaps a good example is Paul David Tripp’s book, “How People Change.” If Tripp will title his book as such, knowing grade-A-well he doesn’t believe that people can change for the better, and he is a “Christian” leader, how much more will his followers be willing to falsely advertise? Sadly, many people will buy such a book because most people have a desire to change for the better.

Theologically, church uses doctrinal jargon that is deliberately confusing; a sort of word shell game between justification and sanctification. They bemoan the “separation of justification and sanctification” by saying these are “never separate, but distinct.” But of course not, in the church book, sanctification is merely justification in motion. So-called “progressive sanctification” is really progressive justification. John Calvin called the two a “double grace.” Indeed, the word “grace” is used often to nuance a salvation subject. Calvin avoided saying “double salvation” which would pull the whole elephant out of the barn for observance rather than sharing the elephant one toenail at a time. At any rate, the church’s deception regarding biblical sanctification is deliberate. In the aforementioned book, Horton states the following:

Where we land on these issues is perhaps the most significant factor in how we approach our own faith and practice and communicate it to the world. If not only the unregenerate but the regenerate are always dependent at every moment on the free grace of God disclosed in the gospel, then nothing can raise those who are spiritually dead or continually give life to Christ’s flock but the Spirit working through the gospel. When this happens (not just once, but every time we encounter the gospel afresh), the Spirit progressively transforms us into Christ’s image. Start with Christ (that is, the gospel) and you get sanctification in the bargain; begin with Christ and move on to something else, and you lose both.

In other words, viewing salvation as a onetime finished work by God and moving on to growing as a disciple results in the loss or absence of salvation. Proclaiming finished salvation and a progressive sanctification to be a false gospel is a position held by the church from the very beginning. One author cites Origen, one of the first Church Fathers, as holding this position: “…this spotless one [the church] is pure only because she is daily, hourly absolved by the blood of Christ from her [the bride of Christ] daily, hourly faithlessness and harlotry.” John Calvin expresses the same idea throughout his Institutes while this idea is the primary thesis of Luther’s soteriology altogether.
Furthermore, this tension between commonsense and church orthodoxy coupled with being comfortable with theological contradiction is indicative of many well-known church scholars. Nothing illustrates this better than the history of church infighting. When we speak of commonsense, we are referring to being created in the image of God, we are referring to what is self-evident. We are referring to the individual’s ability to reason.

The scandalous history of the church isn’t just shameful for leaving every vestige of decency undisturbed, but for its completely illogical thinking and pure ignorance dressed up in intellectual and scholarly acumen. Church scholars like “Dr.” Albert Mohler have perfected the academic aurora for purposes of intimidating the laity and self-aggrandizing complete with reading glasses and bowties. However, the church’s pedigree of logic is a comedy of errors and confusion. As of 1970, it is absolutely clear, and thanks to this ministry, well-documented, that the hallowed halls of Westminster Seminary, a bastion, if not the bastion of Protestant scholarship, had no earthly idea what Luther and Calvin taught concerning soteriology.

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