Thursday, December 29, 2005

The ugly sides of justification and sanctification

My first blog, the one that evolved into Katie's Beer, was always meant as a journal or record of the days that my family exists on this earth. At the very least, I will print up the pages and put them in a scrapbook which waits for the day when my children will be interested in their history. This blog, Be Strong in the Grace, was also meant as a journal of the spiritual life of my family. It was born of a small amount of anger at the false teachings we fell prey to in earlier days, but a greater sense of joy and urgency in making a permanent record of being retaught Christ's doctrines and laying them on top of man's doctrines we had chosen to follow in the past.

The one good thing of coming from a pietistic life to a life of grace is the removal of the large sack on my back; the sack which contained the good works which proved that I would be found in Christ on judgment Day. To say that a weight was lifted off my back on that day, the day I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of the futility of my own efforts to sanctify myself, is a gross understatement. To realize that I had been forgiven long ago and had been given salvation long ago was a bittersweet joy. How many days of my life had I wasted following man's teachings on how to be a better Christian! Days of self-imposed suffering that I could never have back.

Once the heavy load was removed by Christ, I sometimes was overwhelmed with freedom. I listened to secular music, amazed by the depth and beauty of many songs. I could watch movies and television shows, weed through what was good and bad, and be prepared to discuss a popular show's merits with friends and co-workers. I didn't fall into a trap of listening to or watching today's seedier fare; my well-honed aversion to offensive material remained in place. I enjoy my freedom to participate in what is good in today's culture, while being able to identify faith-harming offerings. My kids are another matter...

My two children were raised by a pietistic mother up until they were of confirmation age, 5th and 7th grades. Up to that point, I had carefully controlled what they watched, listened to and did. They obeyed me, most of the time, because they wanted to be found good Christians. I had observed that kids easily pick up on pietistic motivation, but that often backfires in the teenage years. Now that we have abandoned pietism for a life of faith and grace, our daily life hasn't changed that much, but our theological perspective has changed. My kids are teenagers now. They have both attended confessional Lutheran schools and gone through rigorous catechismal training. They have gone from self-centered praise sessions with little gospel preached to balance the law-based sermons, to more reverent and liturgical divine services with law and gospel rightly proclaimed. Both of them are able to explain to their friends concepts I never knew at their age - justification, sanctification, law and gospel, liturgy, etc. They are loving and wonderful children and I have every confidence that they will happily grow into Christian adulthood.

Yet from these two well-educated and well-loved souls sometimes comes gossip, slander, anger, coarse talk, and other sins. They sometimes defend television shows, movies and music that are completely incompatible with Christian doctrine. When I witness these acts, my old pietistic voice shouts at me that I've failed as a mother and as a Christian. Then I'm faced with the choice of beating down their spirits in an indignant and angry voice while waving God's Word in my hand or confidently running to Christ for the grace to calmly and lovingly point them to the cross.

This week, I was blessed, reassured and challenged by Reverend Paul T. McCain's post, Walk in Christ, As Christ Loved Us. He writes:

We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, and raised to new life in Him. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, purchased and won from sin, death and hell by the precious blood of Christ. How then are we to deal with popular culture that surrounds us with vile and degrading speech, sexual impurity and all manner of sinful behaviors, which are rewarded, praised and idolized by so many?

Sadly, there are some who believe that they are free to consume the sinful pollution pumping out of the sewers of popular culture. Some Christians are so confused about what lives of sanctification are all about that they mistakenly think that concern about such things is somehow "pietism" or that striving to lead holy and pure lives marks one as a Pietist. This is wrong. This is error. This is sin.

The Gospel is never an excuse. Justification is about justifying sinners, not sin. The Gospel is about forgiveness of sin, not license to sin. We are set free to live new lives in Christ, not remain in the muck and mire of sin. We are not to think that we can do whatever we want just because we can run to church on Sunday to be forgiven.

We all need to keep a close guard over what comes our out of our mouths, and what we permit to fill our eyes, and our ears. We are to be serious about lives of Christian sanctification. No excuses. No avoiding the subject. We say, "No" to anything that is contrary to God's will in our lives, and say "Yes" to the upward calling of God that is ours in Christ Jesus. Lord, have mercy on me for those times I've forgotten, and neglected, my calling in Christ! Read on...

Still, I am sometimes bothered by my teens', and sometimes my own, immature understanding of grace and forgiveness. Too often they talk and act with the false confidence that they are already forgiven for whatever they might do. Is this what confessional Lutheranism has brought us, I wonder? Then I am reminded that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, pietists and Lutherans alike. We each have our areas of weakness. The Pietists grow to depend on salvation by works and Lutherans are tempted to flaunt their grace. Still, the Holy Spirit comforts me with God's Word proclaiming grace, forgiveness, peace and power.

The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning, I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly that we preach to save those who believe. . . We preach Christ crucified. . . Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Cor. 1:18-25

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