R. Scott Clark


[Brackets are GospelPedlar’s edited attempts to leave out the ongoing conversation between certain parties].

…One of the features of the older Reformed orthodoxy that attracts me to it is its realism about the human condition. Caspar Olevianus (1536-87) taught that we Christians are but partly regenerate. By that he was referring not to regeneration in the sense of “awakening from spiritual death to spiritual life” but in the older sense of “progressive sanctification.” He understood that process is imperfect, halting. Indeed, one of his most frequent adjectives for the Christian life and sanctification is “inchoate” [Only partly in existence; imperfectly formed]. It is inaugurated in this life but it is never finished.

Following Calvin, he taught a doctrine of “the double benefit of Christ,” i.e., by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone we are justified and the justified are also being sanctified. Contrary to some more modern views, Calvin and Olevianus did not make progressive sanctification absolutely parallel to justification. The latter is always logically prior to the former, but, in broad terms there is a rough parallelism. Those for whom Christ obeyed and died, for whom he was raised, whom he has brought into union with himself, by the Spirit, through faith, he will sanctify.

Calvin and Olevianus, like Luther and the Westminster Divines were realistic about Christian experience. It is not always (or even often) a series of unalloyed triumphs. It is just as often a series of failures. It is a constant death. Americans don’t deal well with failure or death. We want to see progress. We want to see the job finished. That’s why perfectionism has flourished in this country but here’s a place where the Reformed faith is just downright un-American: we believe that all our faculties are corrupted (depraved) and that sin is not theory but a reality. To shock some of my more perfectionist students I like to say that I believe in original sin and I practice it. I’m not proud of that fact but it’s a reality.

I don’t think that the older Reformed writers were far from Paul… What Paul offered us was not a victorious, triumphant Christian life, but a theology of the cross. Even the Apostle, speaking existentially[Derived from experience], did not know what would become of him. Our sins are so many, they mount up and accuse us. They mock us and rightly so—except for Christ and his righteousness.

When the law and my sins accuse me I say, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa[my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault]. It’s all true. I am a stinking wretch. I’m not living the victorious Christian life. I’m still struggling with the very same sins with which I struggled at the very beginning of my Christian life. Should I try harder? Yes, but I fail to meet even that law. Do I need exhortation? Sure, I need the law. It doesn’t produce perfection in me or even godliness, but it does drive me to Christ, who was and remains perfect for me. When the law and my sins accuse me righteously I confess but I also say, “If Christ is for us, who can be against us?”

The Spirit is not done with me but I doubt that I’ll ever be what [some people] think[s] I should be or could be. Maybe if I was a [certain denomination] I would be more holy? For now I’m just a lowly, struggling, cross-carrying, Calvinistic realist. Maybe Calvinist sins are greater than those of the evangelical [certain denomination] or maybe Reformed folk think of sin, death, and the Christian life differently because we operate with different paradigms?

That’s why I’m so thankful for gospel preachers like [a certain person] and [a certain person] and others. They don’t want me to sin (quite the opposite!) but they also know that the law doesn’t produce sanctity. The issue is not whether we should be sanctified. God’s Word is clear: “be holy!” The question is “how?” Through what instrument has the Spirit willed to work real sanctity in his elect? The paradox of the Christian life is that it is the gospel that produces holiness. There isn’t a straight line between the goal (sanctity) and the present. It’s a wandering line that takes us through the cross and through the grave and through trial and through despair and somehow, through that, the Spirit mysteriously works sanctity and conformity to God’s holy law.

Can anyone of us see this sanctity? Here I suspect is the sticking point. We want a quantifiable sanctity but I doubt that the Spirit is in the business of giving us a quantifiable sanctity. That’s a theologia gloriae.

[The Theology of the Cross (Theologia Crucis) is a term coined by the theologian Martin Luther to refer to theology that posits {a proposition that is accepted as true in order to provide a basis for logical reasoning} the cross as the only source of knowledge concerning who God is and how God saves. It is contrasted with the theology of glory (theologia gloriae), which places greater emphasis on human abilities and human reason.]

Just as the church is often invisible to the world, so I suspect, our sanctity is often invisible. That’s why Paul, after his exhortation and encouragement to godliness in Rom 8:1-11, reminds us of our semi-eschatological state, that we’re in a state of groaning now, waiting for consummation—this is not the eschaton—and consoles us with the sweet gospel promise that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Even we, who are united to Christ, who are indwelt by the Spirit, don’t know how to pray as we ought (v. 26). I guess that Paul wasn’t a very good holiness preacher either. How could he say such things about victorious, triumphant believers?

I’m sure that my lack of sanctification troubles my perfectionist friends. It troubles me too but when I am grieving over my sins and looking for hope it’s [a certain group] who bring me a cup of cold water. It’s the good news that Christ obeyed for sinners like me, that he was crucified for my filthy sins, that they’re all covered by Jesus’ perfect righteousness, that he is interceding for me now, and that the Spirit has graciously raised me from death to life and united me to him, that keeps me from giving up.

God forgive me but I’m not a [certain denomination]. I’m still a wretch. Merciful Father grant me grace to live according to your holy law and forgive me for the sake of Jesus’ perfect righteousness when I do not.



Sanctification. Posted on January 28, 2011 by R. Scott Clark @ Heidelblog