Yes, You Are Completely Sanctified By The Word Spoken To You

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is certainly obvious from this parable in our Gospel reading that Jesus deserves all the credit for declaring you and me clean and for connecting us to him. Indeed, as dead helpless branches, you and I have been forgiven at the cross and then grafted into the true living vine by the power of the Lord’s word and promise pronounced upon us.  Once connected to Christ by his word though, notice that the calling is not for you and me to work towards becoming ‘more’ connected or ‘more’ grafted into Christ, but the calling is to simply abide and remain. What does this mean?  It means that you can confidently know that you have already been cleansed and are fully and completely grafted into the vine through the Lord’s powerful word, his word that delivers the benefits of Mt. Calvary to you.  Yes, you can say with confident joy that you are completely justified because of Jesus’ death on the cross and you can also know and confess that you are completely sanctified—that is to say made clean—by the word spoken to you.  Listen dear friends, you are reckoned saints for Jesus is your complete sanctification![1]

Being sanctified in Christ though means that you are not subject to the enemies of assurance, those enemies being adjectives; adjectives like: more, greater, true, further, higher, real, and nearer. Indeed these enemies of assurance all communicate that the branch’s grafting to the vine is lacking; however, you are not lacking anything in Christ. Indeed, adjectives can strip assurance and create the impression that the goal of the Christian is to move closer or upward towards the vine in order to obtain something that it is lacking. Regrettably, adjectives give the impression that the branch should ascend up the vine to obtain a greater or improved ontological status. But this is not the case for you.  The reason being, you have every spiritual blessing in Jesus because he has declared you clean.  Yes, his word has declared you clean; it is what it is.  Otherwise stated, it is not necessary for you to move upon the Holy One, but rather it is the Holy One who has moved upon you with a declarative word. “You are clean!”

Being sanctified in Christ also means that it is not up to the branch to try and produce fruit (i.e., good works) as a bargaining tool for being connected to the vine or as a payment for the status of being declared clean. Rather, this sanctification is the source of all good works, works that the forgiven Christian gets to bear. The implications of this are clear. The good works that each of you bear certainly have no power to make you more clean or more connected to the vine. The good works that you walk in are a result of being connected to Jesus by the word and faith, not the cause. The fruit of good works can be thought of as marks of faith and grace; they are descriptive not prescriptive. Thus, we must be on guard from believing that the reason for being connected and staying connected to the true vine is due to our good works or some inherent strength that we supposedly bring to the table.
Now, while it is spot-on to confess that good works are not the cause of sanctification and do not preserve faith, it must be noted that it is certainly true that evil works do destroy faith.[2] 

What this means is that even though you are cleansed by God’s forgiving word, we are daily in need of the vinegrower’s (i.e. the Father’s) work upon us, because the old Adam still clings to us. The Father though does not act upon us by applying spiritual cosmetics to our sin in order to masquerade our sin as legitimate fruit. Furthermore, the solution to the old Adam is not an exhorting pep talk to encourage the old man to tap into willpower so that he might somehow produce fruit, or possibly reform his old ways.  Just try harder! Rather, what is needed is an end to the old Adam and his sin. What is needed is death. Your sinful nature needs to be cut off and thrown away, that is to say, drowned in the waters of baptism, for you have been baptized.[3] The Vinegrower needs to act upon the branch by pruning and stripping the branches of unneeded leaves.  Thankfully, God will not allow or permit the branch to simply exist in an unpruned status.  It must be fertilized, acted upon, and tended to, for to not do so would be to let it degenerate into a wild and barren branch.  To not act upon it would be to allow it to decay into nothing.  God does indeed cultivate, feed, prune and strip the branches so that they yield good fruit.[4]

Truly, the branch is pruned to make it bear more fruit, but fruit for whom? Martin Luther once said, “God doesn’t need our works, but our neighbor does.” This is also certainly true in the parable before us, for the vine does not produce fruit as a means of circular consumption. The branches are not a means that the vine uses to bear fruit for itself. Furthermore, as branches, you and I are not the source of good works, the vine is. What this means is that we don’t produce good works, but bear good works.[5]  Good works are prepared in advance for us to walk in, which teaches us that we don’t do good works to become a Christian, rather we do good works because we already are Christians. Thus, a proper understanding of the doctrine of vocation helps us understand that God not only prepares good works, but He gives us the opportunity to serve our neighbor with these good works in our callings. These vocations are avenues in which God has called us to bear fruit.

Blessed Baptized Saints, Jesus says that apart from him we can do nothing.  Yes, you can do nothing apart from Christ.  This Christian life is not the establishment of the unholy trinity of ‘me, myself, and I’ as an independent autonomous vine, it is rather to abide in Christ the true and only vine, by faith; continually receiving the word and sacraments that are for us.

Blessed Baptized Saints, as branches of God the Holy Spirit, you and I only do good to the extent that he rules, leads, and guides. If God the Holy Spirit would withdraw His gracious hand - if you and I ceased to be branches of his verbs to and through us - we could not for one moment remain in the faith, let alone bear good fruit.  You are dependent upon the vine and cooperate as they receive all that is good and salutary from the vine.

Blessed Baptized Saints, because good works are the fruits of the Spirit, you and I get to look to Christ and his word rather than ourselves and what we are doing. The reason for this is, if we look to the good works to spur on more good works, our endeavor will prove to be futile at best. It is foolish because Jesus, the true vine, is the author and perfector of faith; fix your eyes on Jesus, his word is for you.

Baptized Saints, you are completely justified because of Jesus’ death on the cross and you are completely sanctified (i.e., made clean) by the word spoken to you.  You are reckoned saints for Jesus forgives you of all your sins. Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.  There is no condemnation for you are in Christ Jesus.  You are clean, Jesus is your complete sanctification.

Jesus is the true vine, we are the branches, and we live this sanctified life from the true vine.  Receiving, faithing, living—in Him and His Word for us! 

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

[1] The term Sanctification, as used here, is to be considered in its wide sense where it speaks of everything that God does in the one who He turns from sin to holiness (i.e., God’s work of repentance, faith, justification, sanctification, and preservation of the person).

[2] See: Ephesians 4:30; 5:5; 1 Corinthians 6:9-ff; Galatians 5:21; Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5-6.

[3] See:  Romans 6:1-ff.

[4] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapters 14-16 ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, trans. Martin H. Bertram (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House,1961), 212.

[5] See: Ephesians 2:10.

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