Friday, February 24, 2012

Magical-Mystical sanctification tour...

Sanctification by works can take all manner of forms.  I think most Christians get sidetracked into some type of it, mainly due to the fact that we are by nature law-creatures.  Being sinners born under the covenant of works, we are wired to work for a wage, even when the very thing we are working for has already been freely given through faith.  Tell me what to do to grow in Christ and how to do it!

Early in my Christian life (1970's) I was with a church in southern California that taught salvation was accomplished by Christ alone and received by faith alone.  Jesus' words, "It is finished" summed up our understanding.  Not too bad, eh?  We were adamant that there was no law or works we had to do to gain or keep God's favor... until we got to the practical "how to" grow/live the Christian life, i.e. our template of sanctification.  We knew enough to eschew any works of outward law-keeping, Mosaic or otherwise, as a means of spiritual transformation.  After all, the Christian life is a spirit-life.  Yes, we had a better way!

Sanctification for the enlightened was to follow certain spiritual disciplines in order to "mystically experience" Christ (which was really measured by nothing more than one's inward feelings).  And, of course, in our thinking this had nothing to do with works.  Little did we know...  Around that system of a mystical experience of Christ we built our theological means of growth and grace with our own particular "confessional" terms and phrases:

  • experience life
  • to know the Lord
  • experience reality
  • touch the Lord
  • pray the Scriptures
  • come into His presence
  • practicing His presence
  • "get out of" your soul and into your spirit
  • set your mind on the Lord
  • live in your spirit, not in your mind.
  • the highest authority is your spirit

We had certain verses that pointed the way and supported the above.  To advance in the Christian life meant to encounter daily, hourly, even moment by moment, an inward Christ through a subjective experience.  Faith need not apply, at least not in the same way that faith, as a God-given grace, receives the gift of salvation from him.  This wasn't about receiving, but climbing and attaining.

The way it worked was, more or less, as you set your mind on the Lord and spent time "in God's presence," you were gradually being transformed into the image of Christ (assuming your "sense" or feeling bore witness to His presence)... [What that means is a whole other topic]  You knew you were in his presence when you obtained that certain "peaceful, easy feeling."  This mystical sanctification model hung, in a large part, on proof-texts like 2 Cor. 3:18 - But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.  On paper it sounded pretty good, especially to those who weren't into that outward works-righteousness thing.  But it was really nothing more than a subjective, feelings-based, attain-to-the-glory-now, climb-the-ladder-scheme that inevitably led to the same three outcomes of any other method of works-sanctification:  hypocrisy, self-deception, lack of assurance, and even despair.


  1. Good stuff, Dad. I want to hear more...

  2. Like the Galatian false teachers, the sanctification by works teachers do not deny justification by imputation. But we live in a day when there is little antitheses between law and gospel. It is being taught that law and gospel are the same in some ways. In this way, you can say one thing, say another thing that contradicts the first thing, and then put them together as different “perspectives”.
    Very often, no distinction is made between sanctification by Christ’s blood and sanctification by Christ’s Spirit.

    The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia), by Theodore Dwight Bozeman, p 20:

    “Penitential teaching expressly echoed and bolstered moral priorities. In contrast, again, to Luther, whose penitential teaching stressed the rueful sinner’s attainment of peace through acknowledgment of fault and trust in unconditional pardon, many puritans include moral renewal. In unmistakable continuity with historic Catholic doctrine that tied ‘contrition, by definition, to the intention to amend,’ they required an actual change in the penitent. For them, a renewal of moral resolve was integral to the penitential experience, and a few included the manifest alteration of behavior. They agreed that moral will or effort cannot merit forgiveness, yet rang variations on the theme that repentance is ‘an inward sorrow . . . where unto is also added a . . . desire to frame our life in all points according to the holy will of God expressed in the divine scriptures.” However qualified by reference to the divine initiative and by denial of efficacy to human works, such teaching also adumbrated Puritan penitential and preparationist teaching of later decades.”

    Stoever, A Faire and Easy Way, explains that “John Cotton professed himself unable to believe it possible for a person to maintain that grace works a condition in him and still not trust in the work. Even if a person did not trust in the merit of the work, he still probably would not dare to trust a promise unless he could see a work…”

    “Grace and works (not only in the case of justification) but in the whole course of our salvation, are not subordinate to each other but opposite:as that whatsoever is of grace is not of works, and whatsoever is of works is not of grace.”