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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Apologetic Dialogues on CD | Main | Open Their Eyes by Pastor John Samson »

    Pietistic Vs. Biblical Sanctification

    How many of us try to clean ourselves up before approaching the Lord's Table, as if there were some degree or level of purity that we could reach that would make us acceptable to God? The command to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself should be sufficient to make you recognize your utter inability to do so. In all likelihood, the thinking that we have to make ourselves right and acceptable before God before he will accept us probably derives its origin from the influential but flawed theology of Pietism. For what man could ever clean himself up enough to make himself acceptable to God? And if he could clean himself up to that degree, then what further need would he have of a Savior or the nourishment of the Lord's Supper? He would be self-sufficient. The whole point of both the gospel and the Lord's Supper for Christians is to continually recognize our own spiritual bankruptcy and dependency on the grace and promises of Christ.

    In his letter to the Galatians Paul asks Christians who were in danger of thinking they could add to Christ's work or make themselves acceptable by some other way, "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3). No, this is folly, because what God still wants from us as Christians is a broken Spirit, one which still recognizes its own moral and spiritual inability and complete need of God's grace to move on. One that says, "have mercy on me, I am insufficient for the task.". Anyone who thinks, therefore, that they can approach the Lord's table with a pure undefiled heart are really missing the point of the gospel.

    This erroneous concept of post-Christian self-sufficiency, I believe, comes from the mentality that we were saved at some point of time in the past, when we prayed or confessed our faith, but now since we are already a Christian it is our job to keep ourselves 100% pure. If not 100%, what will God accept? 99%? We don't even approach that. We start by grace but think the Christian life is maintained by self-effort and that Christ blesses us in accord with how well we are doing. We believe we got into the kingdom without works but now think that to maintain good standing before God we must personally maintain our justification before God. Now we must scale the mountain of the Christian life by making ourselves good enough for God.

    We think this way because the covenant of works is etched on our conscience since creation. It is unnatural to think that someone else has accomplished our standing before God and it still offends our pride, even as Christians. But I believe the Scriptures affirm that the more we grow in grace, the more we despair of ourselves and recognize our need for Jesus Christ. At the time of salvation the Holy Spirit made us lose all self-confidence so we might trust in Christ alone. So I would argue that the first principle of our growth in grace is likewise, to dispair of all hope in self and, as Paul said, to have "no confidence in the flesh".

    Our sanctification is a fruit of the Spirit as we lose ourselves in the wonder of Christ and His work for us. We can never separate the spiritual benefit of sanctification from Christ Himself, the Benefactor. So true Christianity is not a religion about focusing on our own spirituality but rather a focus on our union with Christ, apart from whom, the Scriptures declare, we can do nothing. The degree that we focus on our own spirituality and spiritual ability to please God is the degree that we exhaust ourselves by trying to draw from our own natural resources.

    The obsession we have with inner piety is evident in many of our approaches to the Lord's Table. This, believe it or not, is actually counter-productive to the Christian life for it focuses on us rather than what Christ has accomplished for us. The Gospel as represented in the elements of the Lord's Table is about God remembering not to treat us as our sins deserve because of Christ. It is God's covenant promise toward us ... but we approach it as if it were Law rather than gospel, for we spend most of it reflecting on how good we have been, rather than the goodness and all-sufficiency of Christ toward us. But that is what the bread and wine point to. The Table should be a celebration and a time of awe and thankfulness for what Christ has done for us in reconciling us to God, not a glum time to navel gaze and obsess on our own perfectionism. This would be to misapprehend its very purpose.

    This constant self-focus in our worship is probably one of the main reasons for a lack of interest in frequent communion. Thinking that our morality is what God is after, we resist the idea of coming to Him often in this way. The feast becomes something about us rather than God's promises to us in Christ. Pietism, therefore, actually militates against the gospel for Christians by making us, perhaps unconsciously, believe that as Christians our performance is what we bring before God, to make us acceptable at the Eucharist. But the preached gospel and the visible gospel (the Table) are both given, not because we are equal to the task but given to remind us that God's favor is on us because of Christ and that in nourishing ourselves on Christ and the word, we might have strength, trust and delight in Christ to do what He commands. Christ is risen for us. It is about what God has done, not what we do. How is it that we so quickly forget the gospel as Christians?

    Grace is not something we can muster up ourselves. We approach the Lord's Table because we need grace. If we were not dependent and needy then we would not need the gospel or the elements of the Lord's Supper. Only Christ can give us such grace -- this is what Christ wants us to recognize and a recognition of our own spiritual bankruptcy and His all-sufficiency is how we actually grow in grace. The gospel is about the promises of God, and our pietism does nothing to change His promise one way or another. We exhibit true piety only out of the overflow of the new life that is in us, not out of some hope that God will find us pleasing in ourselves. No, God is already fully pleased with us in Christ. There is nothing we can add to what Christ has done. The gospel in the elements is a seal of God's promise to us and we should therefore rejoice and rest in it.

    The reason He instituted the gospel and the Lord's Supper for us is precisely because grace depends on Him. Our failure to recognize this is one of the greatest reasons, I believe, for a weak church. Pietism is actually counter-productive toward sanctification when it tells us that we must be perfect to approach the Table. Rather, it is the Spirit who works through the gospel and the sacraments that cries out to God through us ...only He brings us into communion with Christ, not our piety. The Gospel and the sacraments are God's seal to his unswerving promise toward us. The covenant is ratified as we listen and partake. While we must approach the table ourselves, the stress of its purpose is ALWAYS on the faithfulness of God toward us.

    As Christians, God indeed gives us demands to obey His law, but He works through us via the gospel to sanctify us that we might love His Law. If one reads the Sermon on the Mount we recognize that the law's demands on all of us are more difficult than imagined, not less than the Old Testament. But as a result, many think that we begin in the Spirit and are perfected by the flesh, as if the Law could give us the power to sanctify ourselves. Our sanctification, rather, is no more grounded on our ability than justification. The law commands us to live a certain way, but does not give us the power to do it. The fault is not with the law but with us. But thanks be to God, this obedience that is required of us by the Law has already been rendered by Christ. Because of what Christ has accomplished, the Spirit now works in us the life that the Law was unable to accomplish.

    The ideas of the world about piety have seeped into the church and it teaches us that that the purpose of Christianity is simply to make us better people. But I would argue that Chrisitianity is not about us but about Christ and what He has accomplished. This breaks our pride for it breaks our autonomy and discounts the very possibility of human contribution. Christ has accomplished what the law in us never gave us the power to do. Apart from this Christocentric understanding, the law can only lead us to either hopelessness or self-righteous pride. Let us then remember the gospel way of Christ and feed on Him alone for our sustenance. The error of Pietism is that it is not Christocentric enough.

    May the Holy Spirit be pleased to unite us continually to Christ that we may abide in Him and bear much fruit to His glory.

    -J.W. Hendryx

    Posted by John on March 13, 2006 01:05 PM

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    » More on the Lord’s Supper from ryan::wentzel
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    Comments

    Great entry John! Man it is so important for the church to never "move on" past the Gospel. The Gospel is the central core that both intially saves and produces continual life-change, that both justifies and sanctifies the believer. That is why we tell students in our ministry to constantly preach the Gospel to themselves, so as to remind them that, "Christ alone, not our works, both good or bad, makes us acceptable before God."

    This being my first time to comment here, let me first say how much I enjoy and benefit from this site. It is a real blessing and treasure that I turn to daily. Thank you for all that y'all do to make it available!
    This subject is very interesting to me and I have discussed and debated much about it. I'll be brief and not attempt to really make any case one way or the other (at this point). My question is this:
    While I certainly agree that all the good things that I have and do are gifts of God - even my obedience and growth in grace are of Him - yet, is there not any way in which we can say that one person's cooperation with the means of grace and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit bring positive consequences, blessings, or greater favor...in other words, "good things" into his life, and in the same way, another's resistance to the Spirit and more frequent lapses into sinful acts bring the opposite. This is by no means an attempt to make the whole thing into a formula, or to say greater faith = greater prosperity...however, is there no sense in which we can say that God is more or less pleased with our actions and gives or witholds His blessings and good gifts according to the our individual and personal (meaning that it is not compared with others but is according to our faith and uniqueness of personality) progress in sanctification. I hope this actually came out the way I am thinking it. It is a very tricky subject and the potential for misunderstanding is great...so, let me say again: I believe wholeheartedly what Christ said in John 15:5, that without Him I can do nothing. But I also know that sanctification, unlike justification, is synergistic - I do something. I also know that heaven holds rewards based on what I've done with what He's done in me...but what about here on earth? What do you think we should expect? Anything? Thanks!

    John:

    You have written a great article. I must sincerely agree with you. Sometimes we act in the mental framework of pietism so unconsciously that we don't even realize how prideful we are. Indeed we need to think and meditate more in the complete work of Christ, and not to rely in our work. Is so sad when even the teaching and preaching of a church is oriented toward what you call Pietistic sanctification. I mean, when the sermons are full of content like "if you do not come to certain number of meetings, if you are not in any work of the church, then you are not spiritual enough". We all know that a cold faith is reflected in a cold love toward the church and the lost, but is a fatal error to judge ourselves and others in light of what we do or what we don't, instead of in Christ's grace to us.

    I still have a question for you. Your reflection is oriented to the Lord's Table significance to us. Considering all you have written, and using the context of the 1 Corinthians 11 passage, how can we understand the meaning of eating and drinking "unworthily", and to "examine" ourselves? Perhaps you have alredy answered this in the article. I mean, to eat and drink without "discerning the Lord's body", is to enter into communion relying in ourselves and not in the gospel. What do you think?

    Johan

    Cindy:

    The crux of it is this: God has placed in us a new heart that has desires we could have never had when unregenerate. It loves God's law and desires to obey Him although we often fail to do so. The law however, is no longer looked at by God as something that condemns us (Rom 8:1) because Jesus did what the law was unable to do for us.

    The function of the law as believers actually serves to keep driving us to Jesus. People wonder why God leaves us in sin. Because it functions as a means to see our dependence and keeps us close to Jesus. The purpose of sanctificaiton IS REALLY at its full purpose worked out when we have learned to lose all confidence in self, abide in Christ, with a spirit of utter dependence. That is also what happens at our initial conversion and is a truth that does not stop needing to be heard as we grow in sanctification, for it is this that we feed on to grow in grace. That is our greatest lesson, even as believers, but which we find so hard to grasp and learn. Christ is what the gospel always points to and is the key to both conversion and sanctificaiton.

    You are correct that the term monergism only applies to the work of the Spirit in regeneration. Yet now that you are reborn, your new life is animated by the Holy Spirit. Any right thoughts and growth that takes place is the result of His grace and indwelling because of the gospel working itself out through us. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling because it is God at work in us to will and do according to His good purpose. It is indeed our willing, but is such because of God's prior movement of our desires. While we do not respond to anything to become regenerated (monergism) yet we do in fact respond to God when new life is placed in us, because of His welling up a love for Him inside us. We give him ourselves because we love him, not simply because it is duty or we are thinking to get some benefits outside of Christ. To have Christ is our greatest benefit because we are His bride. Our love for our husband, itself a gift of God, drives and animates us.

    WHAT HE REALLY WANTS IN OUR SANCTIFICATION IS THIS: THAT WE LOSE ALL CONFIDENCE IN SELF AND GIVE GLORY TO CHRIST. That is the end all be all. We grow in grace by feeding on Christ in the preached and visible gospel (sacraments). The gospel is what transforms us as He becomes greater and we become less. The obedience and the love of God is created more and more by Christ as we are confromed to his image in the hearing of the gospel and applying it in daily life. Sin is less attractive the more we lose ourselves in Christ. The gospel is what works this thinking in us. A gospel-centered sanctification realizes where all of its resources are to grow, that is Christ.

    Johan

    I believe the text you refer to is in the context of persons coming to the Lord's table while there are divisions in their local church (11:18) They are partaking of the supper not recognizing and honoring one another. "Unworthy" mannor would therfore, in this context, refer to their treatment of fellow believers in approaching the table. In this case probably the poor. Among the things that the Lord's Table symbolizes is the unity of His people. The rich selfishly not sharing with the poor in meals was in contradition to one of its very purposes. In the Supper we recognize Christ our covenant head and His body, the church. Approaching the Lord's table with motives apart from this understanding was given a strict warning by Paul.

    The idea is not that we can continue in sin willfully and still approach the Lord's Table. But rather, that we sin and fall short of God should not hinder us from coming to the Table. If we have unrepentant sin and are unwilling to repent then we should be under church discipline which may include removal from the privilege of the Table altogether. Unrepentant sin should never be grounds for approaching the Table. Meaning sin chosen as a lifestyle that you are unwilling to change. Rather we should admit we have sin. We do not love God as we should but we should lament that. See the difference? Lifestyle versus lamenting?

    One things I am trying to point out in the essay is that a guilty conscience should not keep us from the Table. We need the Table because of guilty consciences to know that Christ has forgiven us. This is not an excuse continue in sin however. We come to the Table broken but rejoicing in Christ and what He has accomplish and hod fast to His promise. We do not just hold to sin and say AH we are forgiven (if you do this please read Romans 6)

    John:

    Thank you very much for your explanation, you have helped me a lot (with your article and with your answer) to clarify my understandig of the 1 Cor. 11 passage. With respect of your commentary:

    "One things I am trying to point out in the essay is that a guilty conscience should not keep us from the Table. We need the Table because of guilty consciences to know that Christ has forgiven us"

    I believe is a great and short resume of your article, and the understanding we all should pray for in our lives and in the church. I mean, that's why in theological terms the Lord's Table is called one of the mediums of grace, isn't it? God has given a way to give comfort, hope, joy and strength of faith to the person who repents of their sin and puts its faith in Jesus. In other words, we come to the Lord's Table because we are sinners and in need of Jesus work, and we recognize it in participating. God bless you John, you are really a blessing for many people.

    Johan

    John,
    Thanks for your response. I very much agree with you and you have certainly pointed out what Paul tells us in Romans 6. It surely is not that we do good for what we can get, but that we cannot help but act according to our new nature...and it is our delight to do so. I hope that my question did not seem a crass attempt to make the power of the Spirit into a means to an end. Not that I think you were taking it that way, but words on the screen often do not do justice to intent. However, if you don't mind, may I try another time to make my question clearer. Though the good we do is the fruit of God's Spirit working in us to will and to do what pleases Him, still there are plenty of verses that set our actions in the position of either pleasing or displeasing God and producing favor/blessing or displeasure/withholding of blessing (?). Do you see what I am asking? These are God's words and He did not give them to us in vain...with that understanding, what are we to make of verses like these?
    (The passage in context is linked after the verse, but I'm not sure if the links will transfer...they do not seem to be active in the comment box.)

    Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.
    1 Thessalonians 4:1-3 (in Context)

    The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7-9 (in Context)

    Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. Romans 8:7-9 (in Context)

    So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
    2 Corinthians 5:8-10 (in Context)

    I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord.
    1 Corinthians 7:31-33 (in Context)

    On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5 (in Context)

    And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,
    Colossians 1:9-11 (in Context)

    And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:5-7 (in Context)
    Ephesians 5:9-11
    9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

    Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Colossians 3:19-21 (in Context)

    This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 1 Timothy 2:2-4 (in Context)

    And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
    Hebrews 13:15-17 (in Context)

    1 John 3:21-23
    21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

    Again, thank you so much for your time and effort in addressing this. I have many questions and few to ask.


    cindyu

    Sin is displeasing to God, I agree. If somewhere it apprears that I said otherwise, then I miscommunicated.

    Again, the point of the essay is that in light of God's holy standard to love Him with all our heart and to be perfect, our woefully having fallen short of this every day should not be a hinderance to approaching the Lord's Table. In fact the grace of the gospel is exactly what we need for falling short. The Gospel and the Lord's Table remind us of our inadequacy (sin) and Christ's all-sufficiency. There is no sin that should keep you from going to Christ.

    But those who live in sin as a lifestyle are either not redeemed at all or are currently undergoing discipline from the Lord for He is not pleased. Committing sin but hating it and committing sin and loving it, with no willingness to let it go are two categories.

    All that we do in Christ will indeed be rewarded, but this is unrelated to salvation or maintaining our standing before God -- God is already satisfied with regard to our standing with Him.

    But God remains the same. He hates Sin, and through the gospel, is working sin out of us more and more. He loves righteousness and is displeased when we sin.

    John,
    Fair enough...I agree with you that my questions did, indeed, not exactly pertain to the point you were making about guilt and coming to God. I was just taking a bit of a tangent into an issue that I am truly curious about. I did not mean to muddy the water of your essay. Keep 'em coming!

    Great write John!!! Wonderful reminder to our "works" drifting mind of the awesome grace of God through Christ to us the broken & needy, which is the alone cause of our salvation.

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