Augustinian Influenced Sanctification Versus Lutheran Sanctification

Excerpt from: Steven A. Hein, The Christian Life: Cross or Glory (Irvine, CA: NRP Books, 2015), 64, 74-82.

Much of western Christian thought from post-Apostolic times to Luther was absorbed by a quest for personal holiness.  This was certainly true for St. Augustine [354-430 AD].  Even though Augustine championed salvation by grace apart from works, he understood the grace of God primarily as a divine power that progressively transforms the sinner.  In other words, God requires a holy and righteous life, and by grace He continually produces what He demands.  He infuses divine grace into the baptized Christian which gradually reforms the sinful character of the believer, eventually making him righteous and fit for the coming Kingdom.  Augustine worked with a moral model of sin and grace.  The dominant element of God's salvationing the sinner was understood to progressively reform the sinner's character and produce an increasingly virtuous life.  

Augustine's moral model of grace as an infused, reforming power dominated the thinking of the western Church for the next 1200 years. . . . 

[In the 1500s though, Luther] repudiated any kind of reform in God's salvationing of the sinner.  God's justification does not make his sinful character progressively more righteous.  [But rather,] the righteousness of Christ that brings the sinner favor with God covers the sinner with Christ's righteousness as completely as the metaphor of the robe of righteousness; it does not infuse and then reform the human soul, contrary to the doctrines of Rome. . . . [Indeed, Luther's] understanding repudiated Augustine's moral model of grace as a divine power that progressively heals the sin-sick soul unto righteous spiritual health.  

. . . 

Since Luther's rediscovery of the Gospel of Christ's free pardon, many thinkers within the Protestant world (and even some that bear the name Lutheran) returned to Augustine's understanding of grace, but now under the banner of sanctification. . . . [Otherwise stated,] Augustine's moral model of grace has dominated Rome's understanding of justification and, ironically, was appropriated by John Wesley to become Protestantism's standard understanding of a second work of grace called sanctification.  In both instances, the grace of Christ is understood as a reforming power that makes the sinner's character progressively more righteous when coupled with the efforts and works of the believer. . . . They have depicted sanctification as a program that gradually reforms the inner character of the sinner - an additional work of grace that follows after the justification.  This second grace involves a special working of the Holy Spirit that enables the Christian to experience a progressive victory over sinful habits and achieve a growing holiness in life and works.  Jesus saves the sinner in conversion by bestowing his free pardon.  Then, the Spirit and the committed Christian join forces to put away sinful living and bring forth a growing Christ-like life of obedience.  The former work is understood as justification, the latter as sanctification.  Two different works of grace are involved.  We are justified by the grace of Christ's pardon, and then we are sanctified by the grace of the Spirit's power that progressively reforms the Christian's sinful character, and energizes a holy obedience to the precepts of the Law.  The focus of justification is conversion, and the focus of sanctification is the Christian life that follows.  As reflected in the Wesleyan take on the old revivalist hymn, Rock of Ages: Be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure.  The Son saves us from the wrath of God in conversion (justification), and then the Spirit progressively makes us pure (sanctification).  

With this understanding, justification becomes simply a prelude to the dominate focus of Christian life, sanctification. The believer's quest for holiness and obedience in daily living takes center stage after conversion.  The astonishing reality that Christ pardons wretched sinners like me fades into the background of daily Christian concern.  The attention is now on greater obedience to the Law and acquiring the Holy Spirit's resources to energize the task.  The Savior from sin and death vanishes, and the Holy Spirit takes over to help us in the service of holiness through the works of Moses.

When the sanctifying  work of the Spirit is believed to be progressing appropriately, according to this model, a significant victory over sinful behavior takes place.  Moreover, greater levels of obedience to the Law are being achieved, and the blessings of God are increasing in one's life.  If these results are not unfolding successfully, the problem is understood to lie with the believer.  The Christian is somehow failing to do his part.  The problem may be a lack of trust in the Holy Spirit, a failure to yield to the Spirit, insincere repentance, or a weak commitment to a life of obedience - any or all of the above.  In any event, the Christian has failed to do his part.  Here sanctification is depicted as a cooperative affair where the believer's role is critical for success.  Often the believer is told that his role is important to appreciate for a true God-honoring faith, lest one become lackadaisical and lapse into a dangerous attitude of cheap grace.

. . . 

[The Lutheran view of sanctification differs from this drastically. In other words,] we miserable unholy sinners are apprehended by Christ and recreated back into the image of God in our baptism.  The water and the Word where we are splashed with grace is the beginning of God's work of sanctification.  We may think of Baptism as a portal through which God has His way with us, remaking us anew, and dragging us into His Kingdom.  It is where God enters our space and time, sinks down into the mud of this fallen world, and makes what He desires us to be.  Baptism is where God first nailed and killed us in the cross of Christ and then raised us up in faith as a new creation.  We may think of Baptism as the gate to God is where He descends to us; where He deals with us according to His pleasure; and where the Savior makes himself and His saving gifts manifest. . . . He comes to kill and bring us into a spiritual death, drowning us in a word-joined watery grave.  From such a watery bath, we are brought forth as a New Creation fashioned in the image of God.

. . . 

[This Lutheran emphasis of] Baptism marks how God carries the Christian from the beginning of life in Christ to the fullness of salvation.  Christians can actually say: I was baptized, and I will be baptized.  Baptism is simultaneously a dying and rising work that is accomplished at the beginning (as the gateway to God); it is a work that God continually accomplishes in the Christian's life; and, it is what He promises to accomplish in the end.  The Christian lives and grows by a dying to sin and a living and growing in Christ that returns him to his baptism again and again.  Notice the radical difference here.  This does not involve human choice and commitment to get more spiritual goodies from God - as if Christianity provides us with an edge for better spiritual living - life goes better with God!  Rather God is the whole show.  We are apprehended by Christ.  He moves in on us and crucifies us to die with Him to sin - and then gives us His righteousness and life itself.  

We make progress in Christian life by starting over again by God's baptismal work.  We are always beginning anew - dying to sin and being made alive by His saving Word.  Dying to live is Baptism's signature on the whole character of Christian life.  God slays and makes alive again.  He does not stop at the baptismal font, but His baptismal covenant is renewed in us continually through His ministry of Law and Gospel.  Dying to sin by the Law and rising again by the Gospel constitute the present-tense of Baptism for all of God's children.  These words kill and make alive, rendering us sinners and saints at the same time.  

. . . 

We do not have to look else where for a second plan or word from God.  The pardon of Christ's righteousness is the power that renews and matures us into the stature of Christ.  Sanctification happens when we are grasped ever anew by the unconditional grace of God's pardon in Christ.  It happens when we are transformed by the reality that living under grace is the end of all striving to fulfill what He demands in His Law.  True sanctification is the hidden secret of God that continually happens when we are captivated again and again by the free grace of Christ. . . . 

This does not imply that sanctification is not the business of the Holy Spirit or the result of of His power in our lives.  This is certainly true and important.  A problem arises, however, if we identify the work of the Spirit in sanctification apart from the power of the Gospel which bestows the righteousness of Christ.  Here is where God has chosen to do everything for our salvation.  When we look for the Spirit's power separated from the saving Word of Christ, or conditioned by anything we must do or not do, we have vacated both the work of the Spirit and the Gospel's power unto salvation.  Sanctification is not related to a supplemental power of God separate from, but then added to the pardoning grace of by which we are justified.  Rather, sanctification results from the powerful impact that God's justifying pardon has on our faith and life in Christ.  From our new life in Baptism, the Gospel pardon matures us as a new creation, frees from the slavery of sin, and empowers us to walk in the Spirit.  It strengthens and develops faith.  The Holy Spirit's power in sanctification and the Gospel's power that saves sinners (justification and sanctification) are the same power!  

To read more on this subject:
-Think Twice, Martin Luther Never Reverted Back To Augustine's Theology of Justification
-Beware, There Exists A Deep Gulf Between The Teachings of Augustine And Luther On Justification

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