Dangers with misunderstanding Justification and Sanctification

This was an email conversation that I had with a guy in NY who I knew from my Nazarene days. He continually makes negative comments on my twitter/facebook status and recently when I asked the twitter/facebook world what the gospel was, he commented "you need help."

Here's the thread. I want to thank Gene Schlesinger, Pastor of Theological Development for 1.21 Church in Winston Salem, for helping me think through the drastic issues we run into when we confuse sanctification and justification. I've been studying these 2 doctrines along with Sin and Grace while I prepare to move and plant.


Matt Chewning January 25 at 8:44am
When I posed the question; "What is the gospel?" you mentioned that I needed help. I am assuming you meant what you said, so I am curious to understand what area you think I may need help in? With the mentioning of the "good book" I'm assuming that you are speaking of the bible; are you thinking that I am not pursuing a scriptural outlook? Maybe you can shine some light on that for me. Just some thoughts, matt

Name Unknown January 25 at 12:27pm Report
When you say what is the Gospel that poses alot of different views,and alot of personalities come into play,my quick version to what is the Gospel is JESUS ,He sums it up for me,Bill was close to being on the money with this and my remarks put some light on your question for others to shed some wisdom,on another note try to watch what you say on facebook,teachers are held to a higher accounting,Blessings brother.

Matt Chewning February 1 at 11:04am
The Gospel is Jesus. We'll I guess that makes some sense. Since Gospel means "good news" I am assuming that you feel that the Gospel is the Good news of Jesus. I would agree with that. I guess what I was trying to figure out is if a non-believing friend asked you what the gospel was, how would you respond? Also, how do you explain the gospel without just telling someone to be more moral and lose their bad habits. How do we explain the gospel without just trying to do behavior modifications? Anyway, these are the things that I am trying to think through. I'm learning that Christianity has nothing to do with morality or behavior, and everything to do with Sin, Grace and Justification. Morality and Behavior is a part of sanctification which is a crawl and not a sprint. Sanctification is the promised fruit through salvation and justification. In the church we tend to try and do behavior modifications by giving people the list of things that Christians should and shouldn't do; rather than consistently exhorting people with the Gospel and teaching them what it means to walk with Christ. BIG DIFFERENCE.

I would like to know how you deal with that. Pertaining to my face-book status; I appreciate your willingness to chat with me about that. I want to be careful to be honest with myself about where I am at with Christ and not pretend that I am more Holy or sanctified than I really am. At times I may tweet or face-book about my liberties (sex with my wife, a beer, watching a rated R movie). I'll also tweet or face-book about my sin (anger, pride, lack of discipline) I don't see my liberties as sin or a stumbling block for people out there on the Internet world, that's just where I am at. I'd rather be honest than a Pharisee. Maybe it's immaturity or maybe it's just who I am in Christ. I am not sure. Anyway, this is where I'm at. A response is welcomed. Matt

Name Unknown February 1 at 1:07pm Report
Answer: If JESUS was sitting next to you or standing next to you.would you say things ? Do things? or put things on the net?None of us are perfect or sinless but again when we were saved we became born again and are told to put off our old selves and become a new creation. This means watching what we say,what we do and what we watch.If we cause one little one to stumble it would be better if we were to tie a millstone around our neck and be tossed into the sea.Leaders lead by example, chose your words wisely,and be careful to try and not cause someone to stumble.Remember that we are going to be held accountable for every spoken word and deed.And like I said those who are teachers of the word will be held more accountable.I have been learning to keep it simple and not complicate GODS word I plant the seed and GOD sends someone to water it.John 3:16 does sum it all up. HIS SON DIED FOR US. (JESUS) No name is greater.

Matt Chewning February 1 at 5:01pm
Thanks for you're reply. I do think that you may be misunderstanding some very important orthodox Christian doctrines. The first would be justification. You mentioned "when we were saved we became born again and are told to put off our old selves and become a new creation. This means watching what we say,what we do and what we watch." That isn't a biblical statement, close but not at all accurate. I am assuming that you are trying to quote from 2 Corinthians 5:17. The problem is that you are not accurately quoting that verse, and if you read it in context, you're missing the point. In context it says, (vs 14-18)

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself."

See the last line. "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself." In your note you're saying that we are now told to put off our old self and become a new creation. That is wrong. The bible is actually saying that "Christ has turned us into a new creation." There is nothing that we have to do in order to become this new creation; Christ did it all and continues to do it all in us. Becoming a new creation does not mean "watching what we say,what we do and what we watch." Becoming a new creation means that God takes our heart of stone and turns it into a heart of flesh Ezekiel 36:26. This is not based upon our hard work or our doing, but instead of Christ's doing and his grace. Ephesians 3:8-10 says For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

You have a misunderstanding of justification and sanctification and when you confuse those two, you run the risk of becoming a legalistic bigit. When you think that you are justified because of "what we say,what we do and what we watch." than you cannot help but to boast in your efforts. However, we are never to boast in our efforts, but only boast in the cross. Paul says to the Galatians in chapter 6 "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul considers himself a fool for boasting in his doings (17In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.) In other words, it is foolish for us to boast in our doings because it is not even our doings. Rather, it is Christ who works in us both to will and to do (Philippians 2:13).

Point being.....Christianity is not a bunch of well meaning people running around trying to do good for the name of Jesus. Rather it is a bunch of wicked hearted people who have been purchased by the blood of Christ through faith alone. It is the love of Christ that compels us to do good; not our desire to be loved by Christ. We are loved because of what Christ has done, not because of what we do. We are saved because of who He is and not because of who we are.

Now onto progressive sanctification. This theology can be primarily explained out of Philippians 1:3-6 which says "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." We are promised that Christ will continue to mold us into his image as we continue to trust in the Gospel as our means for salvation. As you can also see in the text, sanctification is not received by trying hard or moralism, but rather a continual looking and partnering in the gospel. This sanctification is a crawl rather than a sprint. The problem is that typically when someone becomes a new believer, we try and sanctify them by telling them all the right rules to follow rather than teach them to dwell in the gospel and pursue Christ daily. This is a distortion of scripture; it is Christ who progressively sanctifies, not man.
In some conversion experiences there are things that the Lord may choose to take away immediately and then their are other things that take time to overcome. For example, in my life, when I was saved, immediately my vulgar language was supernaturally taken away but things like sex before marriage or cheating on college exams took time for me. Other people I know were alcoholics or wife-beaters before conversion and God took those things away immediately but other areas in their lives like anger, vindictive sarcasm, etc took more time.

The last thing I want to hit on is this idea of "causing one to stumble." I get confused about this because its hard to understand contextually what Jesus is speaking about in Matthew 18, Mark 9 and Luke 17. One thing that we can be sure about is that it is obvious that he is speaking to his disciples about pride and their thinking of "who is the greatest in the Kingdom". He is not talking about liberties and freedoms in Christ. I guess it is just hard for me to believe that if I'm at Chili's with my family and decide to have a beer, that 1/2 of the people eating will fall into alcoholism. Or if Beth and I are out with our fiends and I make some smart comment about how I am hoping for a romantic night with my bride, that the other guys in the group will struggle with lust that night. I think that at times Christians are overly careful to the point of not being themselves. Just this past week a buddy and I went to a local bar earlier than our crew got there and had a brew for the sole purpose of meeting unbelievers and telling them about Christ. Last year Beth went to a gay bar with 3 girlfriends in D.C. and had a chance to share Christ in one of the most hedonistic environments.

That being said, I do take 1 Corinthians 10:23 very seriously. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others." If I'm out with a couple and know that the guy is a porn addict, I am going to make sure my wife is extremely modest that night. Or if I'm out with an alcoholic I'm probably going to order a coke and lemon. Same is true with my language; I'd probably be more careful with the words I'd use if I am around a person I don't know than if I am around people I do know.

I'd recommend to you to be careful with throwing bible verses around. Don't just quote stuff because you think it will plead your case. Read it in its context and discern its real meaning. Be careful not to feminize Christ like he is some Good ol' boy with a long perm and perfect nails holding doors for everyone and careful not to get his hands dirty. I can assure you he is not. Scripture points to Him being a loving and humble man who's more like a strong construction worker than a hair dresser, a guy who hangs with the wrong crowd (Luke 19), hates religion (Matthew 23), and isn't afraid to whip a guy when necessary (John 2, Revelation 19), all with a beer or glass of wine in his hand (John 2). If you recognize me writing something inappropriate on Facebook or Twitter. You have the full right to confront me on those issues. Hebrews 3 says to exhort one another as long as the day is today. Just be completely humble, gentle, patient and bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4).

With Love, Until all have heard. matt


Anonymous said...

Genial fill someone in on and this mail helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you for your information.

Mom said...

WOW! I love reading your responses which defends your belief and gives others a good understanding of your faith. Good job!

Anonymous said...

Hey Matt,
Great responses. Hope everything is working out okay with that person.....
See ya all soon,