Re-examining The Idea Of "Christian Progress" (Part 2)

In response to a previous posting on the idea of "Christian Progress" in Sanctification, I received an email from a dear and well respected friend.  He states, 
"Does the believer show any progress as a person in living a righteous life even though he will always have the old nature. For example, does the believer experience what the Apostle Paul said when he said that the grace of God teaches us, trains us (Titus 2:11-12). Is there anything learned over time, or is it just moment by moment? Does a person really experience any change of mind, like hating what you used to love and loving what you used to hate? Can this be talked about without implying that the old nature is reformed? I think a discussion of this might balance out the teaching about living in newness of life which you gave. You did not ask in your opening if there could be progress in reforming the old nature, as I understood it. You seemed to be asking whether there could be progress in a Christian life. Just a thought."
In followup to his questions I thought I would make this into a 6 part series.  We have covered one side of the coin in saying that the old nature does not make progress.  However, is there progress in the new nature?  How can we think about this?  To glean some insights on this I am going to appeal to a previous blog posting where I posted an article by Gerhard Forde where he speaks about a Lutheran View of Sanctification.  Here are his generalized thoughts on the subject:
"Under the pressure of the total gift, we might actually begin to love God as God, our God, and to hate sin.  Think of it: We might actually begin to dislike sin and to hope for its eventual removal. Ordinarily we feel guilty about our sins and fear their consequences, but we are far from hating them. I expect we do them, in spite of all fears and anxieties, because we like them. Sanctification under the invasion of the new, however, holds out the possibility of actually coming to hate sin, and to love God and his creation, or at least to make that little beginning. It is not that sin is taken away from us, but rather that we are to be taken away from “sin”heart, soul and mind, as Luther put it.
In that manner, the law of God is to be fulfilled in us precisely by the uncompromising totality and unconditionality of the grace given. Sanctification always comes from the whole, the totality. Whether it takes place in little steps, in isolated actions against particular sins, in those tender beginnings, it is always because of the invasion of the new. Always the totality is intensively “there” the total crisis, the entire transition, the dying and becoming new. What is the result of this? It should lead, I expect, to something of a reversal in our view of the Christian life. Instead of viewing ourselves on some kind of journey upward toward heaven, virtue and morality, our sanctification would be viewed more in terms of our journey back down to earth, the business of becoming human, the kind of creature God made. Our problem is that we have succumbed to the serpent‟s temptation, “You shall not die, you shall be as gods.” Creation is not good enough for us; we are always on our way somewhere else. So we even look on sanctification in that “light” our “progress” toward being “gods” of some sort. If what we have been saying is true, however, our salvation, our sanctification, consists in turning about and going the other way, getting back down to earth. The trouble we have is that it is a long way back for us. To get there we must learn to trust God, to be grasped by the totality of his grace, to become a creature, to become human." 
Next Blog Posting In This Series: February 4th of 2012


Help a Southern Baptist out.
So would it be correct to say that God, through the work of Christ, saves us in order to give us back to creation? To actually be human?
I love Gerhard Forde by the way.
Hey Mitchell,

Good question. I haven't come across this language a whole lot before. Couple of pithy thoughts though.

1) Why are we saved? This is not a simple one phrase answer. We are saved from God's wrath; saved from death; saved from ourselves; saved from the Devil; etc... John Piper has a neat little book that captures 50 reasons why Jesus came to die.

2) There is a great application of this justification though in regards to sanctification. So often we are trapped in the idea of moral improvement which simply reinforces us gazing at our navel. I have seen so many Christians and have experienced this myself... the burden of performance, trying to earn God's approval and being just a little more better so as to earn an extra kudo from God. We believe that we need to ascend to God in our piety, works, holiness so as to earn and meet God's holiness. Without a proper understanding of Justification we will always turn inward to self to try to elevate ourselves before God. This turns us inward and away from our neighbor. However, as the doctrine of Justification grabs a hold of us, we are free to see that everything is done! Thus we don't have to 'work' at improving or sustaining this relationship with God. The reason being, Jesus has done everything. Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. Therefore, because of Jesus' perfect work and life for us we are then free to look outward to our neighbor. No need to ascend or climb. Jesus has already descended. No need to huff and puff. Jesus has finished everything. Luther once said, "God doesn't need our good works, our neighbor does." In other words, everything has been finished for us in Christ. Now we 'get to' look outward and serve our neighbor.
I hear you man. "Justification by faith alone on account of Christ alone" - at least for someone who grew up in a tradition that encourages "navel gazing" - is a tremendous undertaking. It falls into the category of one of things that's simply too good to be true... but it most certainly is. Thank you for your time bro.
Right on Mitchell! It is almost as if we have to reprogram the way that we approach all of the scriptures and life. I have and still do my share of navel gazing. It is not natural to look outside of 'self' to Jesus. Very painful yet liberating as 'self' is crucified and we are daily resurrected in Jesus.

Check out the following page posted below. I think you will appreciate it. If you can think of anymore A versus B statements please drop me an email (