A Proposed Consesus on Articulating Sanctification

Please allow me to present the following article: Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature 

One day, all of the redeemed will be made perfect as Christ is perfect. That will happen when Christ appears (1 John 3:2). Yet, there are many disagreements and exceptions to be taken with the best systems for articulating sanctification.

For example, the Reformed view of inevitability in sanctification presents trouble for some as it plays out in daily life. Yes, the Father is the husbandman which tends our fruitfullness (John 15), and yes, all of the redeemed are kept by God’s grace (Jude 24); but the earnest Christian who is frustrated by defeat asks, “Isn’t there more to our salvation than a time of final rescue off in the future… isn’t there any direct help and comfort for right now? I am tired of trying and failing, and I feel alone and orphaned.”

One also could guess that “crisis theology” only would set up the sincere Christian for constant fretting, unnecessary and overly harsh preaching, and continual navel gazing; and it is the perfect breeding ground for (witting or unwitting) meritorious sanctification. I say this, though I do understand God corrects his children; and I have had my share of those corrections (Heb. 12)…and will have, no doubt. Furthermore, legalism and externalism caps one’s spiritual discernment and extraneously moulds one’s conscience, and therefore, stunts one’s ability to grow in grace.

Yet, a progression of growth in grace and the matter of partaking of the Divine Nature are fully present in the biblical data (2 Pet. 1:4, 3:18; Heb. 12:8). Now, some within Keswick will go so far as to deny that any real change to the believer is possible, because they go too far with the truth, “I am weak.” Keswick sometimes adds, “and I will always be weak.” This is said in order to emphasize “let go and let God,” because “Christ is strong, and always will be strong” if we let His supply of grace strengthen us in our weakness. But, just as Reformed theology perhaps goes too far in saying sanctification is inevitable and is accordingly accused of passivity, even so Keswick is feared by many Reformed theologians for its ability to be taken too far by saying ‘Let Go and Let God’ to the danger of passivity.

On another side, when dealing with spiritual formation, one must answer the question of “is there a possibility of real, inner change in this present life; and if so, is it permanent?” C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” Keswick sometimes denies that consistent yielding to the Holy Spirit’s grace ever produces any real change in the believer’s character. That’s discouraging. In contrast, the Scriptures affirm both growth in grace and an experiential knowledge of Jesus that is indeed possible (2 Pet. 3:18); and that, the believer can be and should be changed within himself (2 Cor. 3:18) in this present life, according to the plan and purpose of God (Rom. 8:29). After all, isn’t Christ’s likeness the point of “you in Christ and Christ in you?” Christ gave his life for us in order to give his life to us, so that he may live his life through us. When we allow this in-flow and through-flow consistently, real change does happen to us. “Let the weak say I am strong” (Joel 3:10).

Moreover, it is God’s plan to leave believers in the world, though they are not of the world (speaking of new nature), having been sent into the world by Jesus as He was Himself sent by the Father…  “as he is so are we in the world” (John 17:13-18, 20:21; 1 John 4:17). That being said, Wesleyanism (I do not say the original teachings of John Wesley) sometimes takes the matter of entire perfection to its extreme by saying that one becomes totally sinless through means of a “second blessing” or an event. This is contrary to the Scriptures, which affirm that no one can claim to be sinless in practice though they might be declared righteous in God’s eyes (1 John 1); and that “if” one sins, Jesus is the Advocate (1 John 2). Then, there’s the fact that even the Apostle Paul, the God-ordained founder of the Gentile churches and bodily witness to the 3rd heaven, proclaimed himself a sinner (1 Tim. 1:15; Phil 3:12).

How do I articulate sanctification, then?–“Total Participation in Jesus Christ.” Whenever one is in total participation with Christ, he is as perfect as he may be this side of eternity. In that sense, he is perfect in practicality, because he is exercising his being perfect positionally. The Christian life is really all about relationship…a real, reciprocating, cooperative, love-filled, mercy-soaked, joy-drunk, subservient partnership with God in order to both receive illumination and appropriate the grace bought by and found in Christ, made possible by the Spirit of Christ. For this reason, Christ commanded that wherever the gospel of the kingdom is preached, everyone ought to mention the woman who was forgiven much (Matt. 26:13; Mark 14:9; Luke 7:36-49).

Besides this personal description for sanctification, one can find answers on this website–amid other posts–if not particularly here. And, I would say that hopefully I am what Paul was. Hahaha! No, in all seriousness, I point to the article from antiochian.org as my articulation, though I am not Antiochian Orthodox Christian. I am, however, what C.S. Lewis presents in Mere Christianity; I am what the original and best teachings of John Wesley are, concerning Agape love as access for one’s being filled with all the fullness of God; I hold the truest form of Reformed tradition, which gladly acknowledges Gods grace and the Promises of the Word (pointing to Divine Nature) as the source for real change; I am what is the essence of Keswick in its teaching the need to reckon one’s self dead to sin in order to take on or access or yield to the Spirit’s influence, and so, be living toward God–alive in grace…. But, I digress, and that is not the main reason why I write.

I write mainly to say that the article from antiochian.org does a good job tracing the biblical theology, the historical theology of patristics, and even modern era scholars/denominations on Theosis, or what one could call kin to “the Spirit-filled life” and the more debated concept and often counterfeited reality of what is the “filling of the Spirit” and the “fullness of the Spirit.” Fullness is, in truth, a concept of the Christian life as old as the biblical texts themselves but deviated from by the Catholic Church as far back as the split between East and West (c. 1048-1234 A.D.). Thus, fullness was overlooked by reformers in the 1500’s. Regardless, if one is filled by (yielding to the influence of) the Spirit consistently, then others call him “full” (Acts 6:1-6).

At another angle, I rejoice to say that I am Augustinian only so far as goes the doctrine of original sin (though I may disagree that it is passed on physically when it is a matter of natures); and though I am dispensational, I assert it is not accurate or precise to say anyone of a truly Anabaptistic mooring is “Augustinian” in matters of sanctification (let alone many other matters of theology), or that, “dispensationalism” is an appropriate or adequate term for stating one’s source of sanctification theology! I stand with Mr. Pratt and Mr. Ryrie on my assertion (please see: http://www.dbts.edu/journals/2002/Pratt.pdf).

Now, the first section of the article from antiochian.org is challenging for a “protestant” to wade through (as the article admits), because the reader must be patient to ask himself “what is the author really saying here.” But, once one gets into the next sections, he will be absolutely affirmed and refreshed by the article’s ability to provide what I feel to be an articulation which all of us from anabaptistic moorings could rally behind, concerning a balanced and biblical view of sanctification. While the article does say that theosis is a catholic understanding, it does so in the contextual meaning of universal, indicating both the Eastern and Western churches. As for the stories of “saints,” which are given as proof to verify deification is possible in the believer, I cannot speak against them… though I would choose to rely on the Scriptures above the patristics and any such account. I will say that where an example from history does not contradict the Scriptures or where the one receiving such a miracle forbids worship of himself but points to Christ, then I am inclined to agree with it… for that is in keeping with the Spirit. The term ascetic devotion is used in parallel with the concept of self-denial, mortification of the “flesh,” or sanctification. Knowing that the author defines this term, then let us not assume that the author means any excessive or abusive connotation, such as the asceticism which the Scriptures clearly condemn as “will worship,” or in connection with the erroneous doctrine that the physical body (or all things physical, for that matter) are themselves intrinsically evil. Finally, when the author speaks of “acquiring the Holy Spirit,” please note that he also qualifies this by stating the Spirit is the constant. By “acquiring” is meant our participation in Christ, so as to receive.

Furthermore, and more than anything, I thought the article might gain anyone of the Anabaptist faith tradition some ground in theological discussion and perhaps a proper articulation in explaining to those of the Reformed tradition that the “Spirit-filled life” of Keswick and also the best traditions of Wesleyan thought are not relatively new nor spurious at all. Rather, one would be wise to (without feeling it necessary to espouse the corpa of Antiochian Orthodoxy) utilize the historicity of the Orthodox doctrine called “Theosis” to explain that Keswick and the Wesleyan concept of “Agape Love leads to the Fullness of God” has its complement (though differently named) represented in a great majority of historical theology, as well as adopted in modern denominational & non-denominational doctrines, such as are mentioned by the article.

……………………………………..

OTHER RESOURCES:

http://www.xenos.org/ministries/crossroads/OnlineJournal/issue1/fiveview.htm

http://thetwobooks.wordpress.com/2010/06/05/sanctification-the-augustinian-dispensational-view/

http://www.biblesnet.com/Watchman%20Nee%20Changed%20Into%20His%20Likeness.pdf

http://www.stempublishing.com/magazines/cf/1882/As-he-is-so-are-we-in-this-world.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anabaptist

http://www.anabaptistchurch.org/Differences.htm

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/july/3.17.html

http://trinitypastor.wordpress.com/2008/12/11/augustine-on-sanctification-good-works-flow-from-those-who-have-become-drunk-on-gods-mercy/

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