Note: I have chosen to write in the propositional way that I find most valuable for actual articulation of theology (rather than just an exhuberance of felt communication which actually contains little non-diet content).
1. Human beings are not sanctified in the sense that their nature becomes less impure through hearing God’s Word.
We do not become better, therefore, by hearing God’s Word. Our nature remains what it is. We do not really become good people in the sense that we cease to have concupiscence or lose our lustful inclinations.
2. Sanctification in the new man corresponds to concupiscence in the old man.
We do not abrogate the distinction between the new man and the old man here, and just as the New Testament clearly speaks to us in this language, we should not refuse it. Instead, we need to see that the tendency to do good works in the new man is a characteristic of the spirit, from whom the new man is born.
3. The goal of the Christian faith, therefore, is not to redeem the old man by transforming him into being capable of doing good.
Anyone who pursues this discipline of trying to make the old man less inclined to do evil, curtailing him by means of the Law, or exercising him as rationally as possible, always fails. He is not acceptable to God, by nature.
4. Good works are good things which God prepared for us ahead of time.
This blunt proposition needs to be stated almost as an axiom, because we have a tendency to disparage works or view them as a psychological outflow of the hearing of the Word. The proper thing that flows from hearing is faith.
5. Good works do not occur merely psychologically, but through effort.
In the new man, the will has been worked by God into a condition that it is capable of doing good. The will has become, as it were, a good tree, due to the work of God’s Spirit. This is not an accomplishment of human reasoning or training. Next, I need to point out the thrust of the proposition. It is impossible to do good deeds without faith. However, it is also impossible to do good deeds without effort. Now, we cannot so automate good deeds that we neglect to point out that they will involve in their very act of performance the willing and even happy effort of those who believe.
6. The basis of Sanctification is not immediate self-improvement, but utility with respect to the divine plan.
Here I suppose there is some squabble to be had. The meaning of sanctification is essentially this: we get to participate in doing good things. How can this be, since we are sinners? It is practically a miracle of God’s grace. He has done this. Now, the works that he ordained for us to do ahead of time are marked by their utility in view of the divine plan. That is to say, if God has prepared certain works for me to do, then it is good for me to do them on the basis of his preparation, not on the basis of my holiness. Accordingly, no notion of self-improvement or psychological enhancement in sanctification leads to better behaviors intrinsically or by nature, unless it is already a good work which God has planned for us. The good of sanctification does not flow from our changing, but from God’s pre-planning. So, if God has planned for us to do a work that we can argue is good, such as (to pick an example) giving more money to the church by spending less this thrifty good work will indeed do good, not because we are improving thereby, but because God has prepared the work and readied it for our performance. This is the safest way to insure that God retains the glory, as far as I can see it.
7. In Sanctification, the works are worthy of doing in themselves.
Here we me to utterly invert the paradigm of the explanation we give for Justification. In Justification, we explain that none of works actually justify us in this manner. However, in sanctification, the mere doing of the work itself is the whole end and goal of sanctification. Why is this? We do not gain any purity or righteousness from the work. But the work itself is good and ought to be done, because God has prepared it. And they therefore need no further argument to augment their cause other than God’s divine and glorious plan of salvation, which includes our doing good works after he has freely by grace saved us from our sins.
8. The term Sanctification, therefore, properly refers to the way in which the Spirit uses us to do good.
We live in the Spirit. Again, this is not a tool we use to help the old man. It is directly contrary to the old man, who thinks according to the letter of the Law. Here is a grand and noble thing: God has good works for you to do. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine that God has a use for you? Your actual thinking, working, and doing were planned and originated with God. Accordingly, since God has these uses for us, we are quickened to do them. This does not involve a aquittal of the old man. He is still slain in sin, dead in tresspasses. The new man, however, has been brought to life and given these good deeds to do.
This doctrine is true for every Christian. It is an article of faith. Every Christian is to use his powers to do good. There is no exception. The new man is like a good tree that does good. His works, therefore, ought to be described and not deplored as useless.
Again, we can have confidence and faith that the Spirit knows what he is doing. We can therefore seek to do good in the confidence that God actually uses our efforts to do good.
How does this relate to the Pauline sentiment that “the good that I would I do not do”?
This ought to be explained according to the doctrine of the will.
9. The old man and the new man are at war with one another.
This sheds some light on the problem in sanctification. The old man constantly drives good works as a restitution made to God for sins, or something even more Pelagian, that they are actually worthy and atoning before God on account of our energies. This old man lives in our members, in our flesh. For this reason, it is well to ascribe the glory of Sanctification to God, who graciously bestows his Spirit upon us.
10. Good works, therefore, are not a bodily performance, agreeable to the flesh, but an exertion of the renewed will against the very body it makes into a living sacrifice.
This proposition contains a fuller expression in order to put some of these problems in the same expression. Good works are not acceptable to God on account of the character in which we perform them. This kind of speaking, nowadays, means that our psychology is such that we have pure motives. No, God had pure motives when he gave us work to do, therefore our works are good.
This quality of good works, therefore, can only be explained by saying that the renewed wll can willingly dedicate itself from the mind to doing the works God has prepared for us to do.
11. As such, the exercise of the will in these good works is Sanctification as well.
We should eagerly desire to do these good works from our will, just as we gladly pray to our Father, “thy will be done.” This does not constitute a purification of the natural will, but a graciously given agreement that comes from faith and affects us as the Spirit works in us “to will and to do.”
12. Accordingly, the sum of the Christian life on earth is doing good works.
In a very practical sense, everything we do as Christians constitutes an attempt to do good in accordance with God’s will. This should not seem like a puzzling paradox over and against our expressions against the natural man. Also, we should see much concordance with the idea that God works for the good of those who love him and similar expressions in Scripture. God has good things planned for us to do. This is what prompts and energizes our good works. They are matters he has chosen to give our powers the opportunity to perform. These actions, therefore, we should eagerly do.
13. Preaching is a reminder of Christ crucified and a work of the Spirit.
The Spirit does intend for us to get a Pelagian boost and then go on our way doing good deeds with patent energy. No, rather he has ordained that we do good works in Christ. This remembrance of Christ, therefore, in itself is a good deed God prepared for us to perform.
14. The goal of “focusing” on Christ or being “christo-centric” is not a reduction or obstruction of good works.
One does not enhance the glory of Christ’s worthy sacrifice by refuting the value of human works. The doctrine of sin already teaches well the error of our ways and the need for a Savior. All this can be carefully explained under the Law as sin. Doing good works is not sin. For if we say that all our works are worthless rags, we have to understand, thereby, an allusion to the blasphemous use of human works in Justification. Yes, our works are the works of worthless servants. Yet they are good works. When we focus on Christ in the church, are expounding on that without which all our works would, in fact, be no more desirable to God than used tampons.
15. Thus, the majority of the Christian life is a pursuit of good works, but preaching Christ purifies our efforts from worldly thinking.
I call into question every systematic over-complication of this point. The Christian life is about doing good deeds in vocations, with love in our hearts for our neighbors. A builder does a good deed by constructing good buildings. He doesn’t just do it for the abstract excellence, but he also possesses a desire for the welfare and benefit of his neighbor, guiding him as well. Now, in any case, our emphasis on good works is sufficient for six days, and six days we should work. But the business of our vocations is not so good or excellent that it cannot get riddled with perplexity and make us aghast at others or confused as to how to proceed. Consequently, it would not be well to only think about doing good works. We must also be brought back and purified by Christ. This does not constitute a second redemption but a present purification in that once-for-all redemption.
These are a handful of thoughts that convince me that I have been wrong to abandon the field of good works as if it were insufficiently demanded in the face of the need for doctrinal purity. In truth, the doctrinal purity serves and purifies the works, but the works themselves need to be done. God has prepared them to be done, and our doing of them is sanctified by his having pre-planned them. So we are become holy objects by his redemption and usage of us. Such is the kind of thing that I consider sanctification to be, and I consider going to church and getting the forgiveness of sins to be good works we should all perform as Christians.