This is the second section of my paper. The first can be found here.

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The Lutheran View

Summary. The simplified way to communicate the Lutheran view is to say that sanctification is growing in understanding of how justified one is in Christ.[1] In this view, it is not as if sanctification is a process that takes place after one is justified. Instead, it is another aspect of our justification.[2] There are the ethical good works which a Christian will perform.[3] Yet, these good works are motivated by the faith which one has in work of God.[4] Faith frees a person to live a life of godly service and love.[5] Works, however, are not to be used as being a clear basis to establish the existence of true faith.[6] There is no linear progression in one’s ethical development.[7] It is not as if there is a goal which one is trying to attain in one’s ethical development.[8] This does not mean, however, that there are no advancements in ethical behavior.[9] There is the fruit of true faith which is spontaneous acts of good works;[10] but this advancement is not caused by attempts to attain it. The advancement the Lutherans would have us strive to obtain is grasping the immeasurable amount of grace we live in.[11] And it is by grasping this truth, how much we are sanctified in Christ, that our heart begins to love the things of God.[12]

Benefits of this View. The primary benefit is the centrality of Christ within this framework of sanctification. Everything is understood and lived within the finished salfivic work of Christ. There is no hope of meriting one’s salvation here. People can slip a merit theology in the back door when constructing a doctrine of sanctification, effectively saying, “Christ did justify me, but now I have to keep the ship afloat with my works.” Such a danger finds no place within the Lutheran view. From beginning to end the believer’s eyes are directed to Christ—His work and His accomplishments. The believer never should slip into despair when considering his own sinfulness and failures, for the believer’s salvation, from beginning to end, rests totally, finally, and sufficiently in the work of Christ on his behalf.

Problems with this View. The central objection to this view comes at the issue of motivation and action in dealing with sins. How does the bible instruct the believer to deal with sin in his life? From what the Lutherans would say, true obedience springs from the amazement of grace. As one grasps how justified they are in Christ, advancement in ethical living happens; the Christian does not aim at making a progress toward a more sanctified position.

Forde defends this by appealing to the texts which state that sanctification is a present possession for the Christian. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul tells the Corinthians that they are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” In verses 28-31 of the same chapter, Paul says that Christ is our “righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Hebrews 10:10 says that Christians “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”[13]

The question, however, cannot be settled just by referring to the biblical testimony about definitive sanctification. Theologians outside the Lutheran tradition have recognized a definitive aspect of sanctification.[14] Definitive sanctification can be adequately worked into other models of sanctification as well. So then, the evidence must move beyond the fact that believers are sanctified in Christ. Thus, we must ask, does the bible limit sanctification to the definitive understanding or should we see more to sanctification?

Many verses testify that there is a present striving to attain holiness for the believer. Philippians 2:12 states, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” The verb for “work” (κατεργάζεσθε) clearly speaks of the believer making an effort in his sanctification.[15]

In 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul admonishes the believers that by cleansing themselves of all defilement they will bring “holiness to completion in the fear of God.”  The words, ἐπιτελοῦντες ἁγιωσύνην, speak of “a process of sanctification.”[16] In Hebrews 12:14, the author plainly communicates a linear movement in regard to growth in holiness: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” The word the author uses for strive, διώκετε, “draws attention to an intensity and urgency that the community needs to display in order to heed the exhortation.”[17] The same verb is found in Romans 14:19 when it gives a similar imperative about love, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”  Once again the verse speaks to an action the believers must do.[18] Such verses clearly communicate that there is more than a definitive aspect. What they communicate is that Christians are commanded to make knowledgeable endeavors to be more Christ like in their lives.[19] “Everything [in the verses] points to a consistent and active endeavor.”[20] Merely letting faith produce fruit does not work with these verses.

Another question which can be raised is that if the Christian is only supposed to look upon their justification, not attainment of obedience, why don’t the Apostles teaching reflect such an emphasis? Paul, along with the rest of the Apostles, was a minister of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:1-18). Yet, Lutherans would have us believe that Paul would teach as if he was under the old covenant with regard to commands. In all of his epistles, however, there is not even a hint that when Paul gives commands that he considers himself as speaking as if the old covenant is still applicable for Christians. Namely, that the commands are only to drive people to trust in Christ. Instead, imperatives flow out in indicatives. Paul will tell the Christians to do something because of their present identity in Christ. There is no hint that Paul is solely driving Christians to trust in Christ’s work on the cross;[21] he knows that the Spirit is presently active in believers. Thus, he speaks about his boldness about the success of his ministry with the Corinthians (2 Cor 3:1-6). He speaks as if obedience is attainable. If the Lutheran view is true, then we must ask why Paul, along with the rest of the Apostles, speak this way. Why is there not clarity about the believer just needing to see his need for Christ? The most obvious answer would be that the Lutheran view is foreign to the teachings of the Apostles. They speak as if the commands can be obeyed by those indwelt by the Spirit.

Such is the central problem in the Lutheran view of sanctification. In an attempt to avoid legalism, the view has dismissed the biblical teaching about the Christian’s need to progress in holiness. Yet, the bible clearly speaks of a growth in holiness that is linear, a movement toward a goal.

Application to Ernie. The Lutheran’s counsel to Ernie would be to rest fundamentally in the grace of God given to him through the sacrificial death of Christ. Christ is his righteousness, thus, there is no fear as to whether or not he is accepted by God. He is justified before God because all his present sins were placed on the Lamb slained. What he must grow in is the knowledge of this grace, and as he grows in knowledge of it, he grows in love for the One who has given him such grace. This is where Ernie grows: in the knowledge of how justified he is in Christ. Will the lustful thoughts go away? Maybe, but Ernie will not be trusting in his adherence to the law any longer. His faith will be rooted in Christ and he will grow stronger and stronger in this faith. The Spirit may decrease the pattern of lustful thoughts in his life, but Ernie will be unaware of such a work. What he will be aware of is how justified he is because of Christ.


[1]Gerhard O. Forde, “The Lutheran View,” in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, ed. Donald L. Alexander (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 13.

[2]Oswald Bayer, Living By Faith: Justification and Sanctification, Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 58-59.

[3]Ibid., 56. This is where the break in categories happens. Lutherans would not equate sanctification with ethical/godly living. “Now living morally is indeed an important, wise and good thing…But it should not be equated with sanctification.” Forde, “The Lutheran View,” 14.

[4]Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, Trans. Thomas H. Trapp (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 283.

[5]Ibid., 289. Also compare Forde who uses the term, “spontaneous” to describe this. Forde, “The Lutheran View,” 14. The Christian accomplishes the work without a personal acknowledgment of the effort which accomplished the work. For instance, a Christian would just be generous when an opportunity arises. There would not be an internal effort in the person to push him to accomplish it.

[6] Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 291. Also, “But this process of sanctification cannot be assigned grades. Believing means that one is removed from being in charge of oneself and responsible for one’s own judgment.”

[7]Bayer, Living By Faith, 62-65. Also, compare Forde, “It is not that we are somehow moving towards the goal, but rather that the goal is moving closer and closer to us…It is the coming of the kingdom upon us, not our coming closer to our building up the kingdom.” Forde, “The Lutheran View,” 29.

To contrast this view, other traditions would say that we are to attain to the image of Christ in our daily lives. So, let us say that that one is trying to be like Christ in regards to anger. Other traditions would say that you need to progress to the point where your use of anger matches the way Christ gets angry. There is a goal in this sanctification.

The Lutheran view, on the other hand, says that ethical living is not about the progression. There is no goal one obtains. One does not make an intentional effort to motivate themselves to not be angry.

[8]Ibid., 66. Also, compare Forde, “It is not that we are somehow moving towards the goal, but rather that the goal is moving closer and closer to us…It is the coming of the kingdom upon us, not our coming closer to our building up the kingdom.” Forde, “The Lutheran View,” 29.

To contrast this view, other traditions would say that we are to attain to the image of Christ in our daily lives. So, let us say that that one is trying to be like Christ in regards to anger. Other traditions would say that you need to progress to the point where your use of anger matches the way Christ gets angry. There is a goal in this sanctification.

The Lutheran view, on the other hand, says that ethical living is not about the progression. There is no goal one obtains. One does not make an intentional effort to motivate himself to not be angry.

[9]Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology, 292.

[10]Forde, “The Lutheran View,” 29

[11]Ibid., 28.

[12]Ibid., 29.

[13]Ibid., 16-17. He would also point to 2 Thessalonians 2:13 as basis for the Lutheran view.

[14]“We are thus compelled to take account of the fact that the language of sanctification is used with reference to some decisive action that occurs at the inception of the Christian life, and one that characterizes the people of God in the identity as called effectually by God’s grace. It would be, therefore, a deflection from biblical patterns of language and conception to think of sanctification exclusively in terms of a progressive work.” John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray: Volume II Select Lectures in Systematic Theology (Carlisle, PN: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 278.

[15]“ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε is an exhortation to common action, urging the Philippians to show forth the graces of Christ in their lives, to make their eternal salvation fruitful in the here and now as they fulfill their responsibilities to one another as well as to non-Christians.” Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Commentary, ed. by I Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 280.

See Moises Silva, Philippians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. By Robert Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 118-123, for a defense on why σωτηρίαν should been seen as sanctification and not total salvation.

[16]Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Commentary, ed. by I Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 513.

[17]Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. by D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 472.

[18]C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary, ed. J. A. Emerton and C. E. B. Cranfield (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1975), 721.

[19]Other verse which speak of active endeavoring of holiness: Rom. 12:2, Gal 5:25, 1 Thess. 4:3-5; 5:15, 1 Cor. 14:1, 1 Tim. 6:11.

[20]G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1952), 101.

[21]Though, as will be brought out in the Reformed view, it is an aspect with every command.

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