"I'm not getting embroiled in this debate, but here is what I think.
Justification is not sanctification. Scripture uses two terms for a reason. So to say that sanctification is justification is a mistake and ends up eliminating sanctification altogether. If you want to call it the "new obedience," fine. I'm OK with that.
On the other hand, the word sanctification is the same word used for "saint..." and "holiness." Those are not things you can achieve yourself by anything you do. The thought of us making ourselves holy? God forbid!
I also think sanctification is used in two senses in Scripture. There is the 1 Corinthians 6:11 sense (But you *were* washed. You *were* justified. You *were* sanctified...etc). There is also the 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 sense, in which we cooperate. Yet we must explain what is meant by cooperation here. It does not mean libertarian free will. I like the horse and rider illustration used by Luther here. It is God alone who sanctifies, yet we willingly act. The Spirit, therefore, drives our sanctification, both positionally and ongoing, or progressively. (We ARE sanctified, we are also BEING sanctified, etc) We do not perfect the Spirit (much less ourselves!) by our actions, yet we willingly repent and desire to please God out of sheer thankfulness for what He has done for us at the cross, in our baptism, and continuing through Word and Sacrament.
Ap V (IV II) 73-74a
SD II 65-66, 88
That is what I think."
I suppose now I am getting embroiled in this debate in a way. I think there has been much more heat than light shed on the topic and it's probably not worthwhile to stay quiet and keep people guessing as to where I stand much longer.
From the outset, I recognize that one side of the discussion recoils at any mention of cooperation or synergism. I sympathize. I am squeamish with those terms as well. Holy Scripture is clear that we are not saved by cooperation or synergism, and a misuse of these terms will lead to an abuse of the Law and preaching that results in constant moral exhortation apart from the Gospel; or something in addition to the Gospel that perfects us. That misuse and abuse is clearly a big mistake.
Yet, to coin a cliché, throwing the baby out with the bathwater (I hate this phrase. Why am I using it?) is not something we want to do. The simple fact is, from where I stand, I can see two types of sanctification spoken of in the Scriptures. BOTH of them are completely driven by the Gospel, not by the Law. We're not sanctified by the Law, nor is our new obedience by the Law. This is a mistake. St. Paul states in Galatians:
Galatians 3:1-3: O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Lex Semper Accusat. The Law always accuses. But is that all the Law does? I don't think so. We have numerous Confessional statements regarding the third use of the law. We also have numerous Confessional statements that plainly say we cooperate in this "new obedience." After all, it is us doing the actions, albeit they are driven by God. We act out of our own will precisely because we want to; out of sheer thanks for what Christ has done for us. Not as robots, for it is us acting and not God acting for us, but as new creations, driven by God to act in love.
Holy Scripture is clear that we are sanctified; as a state we already have. Christ has made us holy. That is the meaning of this sanctification. This sanctification is positional and is something belonging to everyone in Christ. The Scriptures speak of this a lot. One prime example is found in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 6:11: And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
God is the active agent in positional sanctification. He alone does this completely apart from us.
Yet, I also will not shy away from holding to what could be called an ongoing or progressive sanctification in which we cooperate. However, allow me to clarify what I mean by that.
I DO NOT mean that we are continually getting better and better and becoming more and more conformed to the moral law. It is true that our conformation to the moral law can increase, but only in great weakness, because it is God who works in us (Phil 2:13). But it does not always increase. We are still simul iustus et peccator, after all. We may do more good works on certain days than others.
This all means that if a person is looking to themselves and the quantity and quality of their works as assurance for salvation, they will eventually come to the conclusion that they are not saved. Only Christ crucified given to us extra nos (outside of ourselves) can assure us. What other conclusion could a sinful human come to? I suppose one could come to the conclusion that they are doing really well, but in that case, all they are doing is putting on their spiritual pride. And ironically in the process they're sinning.
I DO mean that God continually works in us and He is pleased to use us as His instruments on Earth to act on His behalf, mainly through confessing the truth about Christ crucified, but also acting in love towards our neighbor. So, I affirm that God continually sanctifies us and we cooperate with this sanctification.
I DO NOT mean that we are making ourselves holier by our cooperation. This would be a vast undermining of the Gospel and sola fide. I DO mean that God continually works, and despite the fact that He is pleased to include us in His action, He is still the sole sanctifier. Our cooperation does not mean we are sanctifying ourselves. We are simply acting upon the grace that God has given to us, as a horse responds to its rider, as Luther said.
I DO mean that we are aware of sin and live a life of repentance for our sins, as Luther's first thesis famously states.
I prefer to use language that says that we are willing participants of our own will precisely because we ARE holy, and as we ARE holy and saved, in that light we cooperate in an ongoing sanctification in our Christian life, of which God is the author.
A good biblical example of this is found in 1 Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
This is a clear example of us cooperating or participating in, not only a state of sanctification that we already have, but also in a process where God continues to work in us. Only the Gospel can drive these things, not our cooperation or the Law.
Therefore, I affirm an ongoing or cooperative aspect of sanctification. However, in the same breath, I also think that preachers of the Word need to be very cautious with this topic. Using exhortation wrongly can and does lead to a neglect of the Gospel, a downplaying of sola gratia and sola fide, and in extreme cases, outright moralism where the Gospel itself is turned into just another command to follow.
In other words, assurance cannot be had by looking inwardly at our works or fruits. Even this ongoing sanctification is completely driven by the Gospel. Only Christ and His work given objectively to us can assure us. It's driven by what is given to us in our Baptism, the Word, and the Sacrament. Our cooperation drives none of this nor does it merit us anything. Yet, God is pleased to have us as children justified by faith who desire to follow Him and cooperate in our lives. And it is us doing the acting, not God, although God is the sole driver of the actions.
Thus, I argue that it is completely valid to speak of sanctification in similar terms as salvation. Just as we can say that we are saved, are being saved, and will be saved, I think we can say the same regarding sanctification: We are sanctified, we are being sanctified, and we will be sanctified.
+Grace and Peace+