05 September 2007

Grow in Grace?

This grows out of an ongoing conversation with Pr. Weedon and others, and yet another installment of that conversation today at lunch:

Do we actually grow in God's grace? Once brought to life and faith in our loving, merciful God, does God's grace actually change us, or transform us? Sometimes we may focus so much on the "forensic" character of God's justification of us sinners - a point that is quite true and essential indeed - that we lose sight of how His grace, mercy, and love also change or transform us. We should remember that it's not a matter of either/or, but rather a truth of both/and. Yes, God's grace does work to change and transform us!

St. Peter can give us such sweet Gospel (as in 1 Peter chapters 1 & 2) and yet still exhort us to "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). St. Paul can teach us quite well on God's justification of the sinner (see Romans 3-5) and yet still exhort us, "by the mercies of God, to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1). Martin Luther can even teach us that Baptism means daily dying to sin and its desires and rising to newness of life in Christ (Small Catechism on Baptism). This must be why Luther can be quite comfortable explaining more in his Large Catechism, again when he discusses Baptism:
For this reason let everyone value his Baptism as a daily dress...in which he is to walk constantly. Then he may ever be found in the faith and its fruit, so that he may suppress the old man and grow up in the new. For if we would be Christians, we must do the work by which we are Christians" (Concordia, p. 431).
Not only are we forensically forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, but we also get to grow in His grace as His holy people, growing more and more into the image of Christ Himself!


William Weedon said...

Beautiful to note too that according to St. Peter it is not grace that grows in us, be we in it. It is given whole, and we are given the unspeakable joy of growing up into it more and more.

Paul T. McCain said...

I think Bill just put his finger on perhaps the critical distinction here. I too have been wondering for quite some time about a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" position some among us have taken over against sanctification: which is the life of holiness in Christ. That it is IN Christ is true. That is is all about HIS holiness is true. But it is life in Him. Life...not a static thing.

The older I get the more I experience that my growth in grace is growing into an ever deepening awarenes and realization of how much I need that grace and an increased love and longing for it, to be in Christ, to "know Christ and the power of His Resurrection."

But there is no doubt that there is to be growth! Where the terrible idea came that we are to be more like raisins on the True Vine, rather than growing like wonderful fruit is something I'm still trying to figure out.

Where the aversion to sanctification has arisen among us is something else that has been puzzling me for quite a long while.

Randy Asburry said...

Yes, Bill, we certainly grow in grace, and at the same time that grace would seem to renew and regenerate us...all the time...so that we keep growing in it.

Paul, I sure hope that growing in grace is not a matter of getting older, because then I'd have to admit to...well...getting older! ;-)

Seriously, I wonder if our "don't ask, don't tell" approach to holiness/sanctification/growth in grace is really due to our (over-)nervousness about works overshadowing faith. It almost seems as though we are so afraid that human works may overshadow God's grace in the whole picture of our salvation given by God, that we end up trying to ostracize "works" from our vocabulary and our thinking altogether.

Perhaps a better approach would be to "recategorize" the matter of our works; simply to view them differently. They are not something to be avoided (as if any mention of doing good works will necessarily entail slipping into "works righteousness"); rather, they are to be seen as the fruits of faith, but fruits that are truly there. Our works are not the spark or cause of our salvation, but they certainly are the natural fruit and outgrowth of faith in God's mercy in Christ Jesus--fruit and outgrowth that can also be encouraged. And what farmer doesn't want to see, and delight in seeing, the fruits that his trees, which he himself planted, can produce?

Actually, the real question should be this: Why should we so nervously avoid talking about the good works, the growth in grace, which God Himself exhorts us to do in many and various ways in the Scriptures?

William Weedon said...

It is especially striking in Titus!

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and *to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are ZEALOUS for good works.* 2:11-14

"This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to *devote themselves to good works*." 3:8

"And let the people learn to devote themselves to good works." 3:14

Zealous for and devoting themselves to good works - not to earn heaven, but to LIVE heaven right here and now, anticipating that glorious appearing when He who is Love will vindicate love itself as LIFE.

Brandon said...

Perhaps part of the reluctance to talk about good works comes from a healthy fear of being unclear. It seems like so much doctrinal error is a matter of improper emphasis as opposed to improper words.

Calvin for instance says: "Only if we walk in the beauty of God's law do we become sure of our adoption as children to the Father" (Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, Trans. Henry Andel. Baker Book House, pg 11). Which seems to be a clear reference to 2 Peter 1:10.

Calvin's words aren't necessarily wrong, but the emphasis he and his followers place on looking to our holy life for certain proof of our salvation lead to some pretty scary consequences. My point is that perhaps we ought to be careful, not in talking about good works, but in how we talk about good works.

Pastor Asburry, I'm often uncomfortable when I talk about works being the fruit of our salvation. They are, of course, as Scripture makes clear, but it seems as though we moderns cannot understand the natural integration that picture implies. I suspect that we think of fruit as a "product", something separate and distinct from the tree, which must be processed in our factory of gratitude and then sold back to God as proof that we love him.

Maybe it be better to simply "talk salvation," to proclaim it, and trust that this does indeed bear fruit in the lives of the hearers? Of course, we should also understand that proclaiming salvation means proclaiming what we are saved to. (Hint: its a life of good works).

Paul in Titus 2 seems to think that Salvation does exactly that, it "trains us" in good works. And why wouldn't it? Fix the tree and the fruit starts bursting forth. No need--or use--in yelling at the tree to bear good fruit.

Oh, and by the way, since when did "Good" works get a bad connotation. "Good" by definition is "desirable". Asking someone to do good works is like asking a chocoholic to eat a chocolate decadence cake -- it's what he was made for!

Randy Asburry said...


So, we address an issue of improper language or emphasis by not addressing the matter at all? (Just kidding! ;-)

You make a good point about emphasis, and the Calvin quote illustrates it well. My point is that we need not avoid talking about the fruits of salvation called "good works," nor about "growing" in God's grace and mercy. Nor do we need to find ways to avoid talking about maturing and being transformed by God's grace in Christ Jesus. After all, Scripture talks this way quite often, as do the Lutheran Confessions.

While "talking salvation" is certainly the key to growing and bearing the fruits of faith (fruits generated and effected by the Holy Spirit Himself, without any merit or worthiness in me!), my point is that we can certainly talk also about the fruits themselves. Yes, the Gospel IS the power of God for salvation, but we can also discuss and exhort one another to good works. While we cannot "yell" the fruits from the tree (an illustration I myself like to use!), we certainly need not be afraid to discuss the fruits of faith, or describe them in some detail, or delight in them when God sees fit to produce them in us.

That's really my point. Instead of being leery that we'll somehow step into the trap of "works-righteousness" at any mention or exhortation of good works - and thus altogether deemphasizing the salutary, Scriptural teaching on "good works" and "Christian life" - perhaps we need to have the confidence that Scripture shows: we certainly can talk about growing in God's grace and being imitators of our loving heavenly Father.

As for the "fruit" analogy? Well, Scripture is bold enough to use it, and maybe we "moderns," especially us city-slicker types, need to get more educated - classical education, that is - on matters of horticulture! ;-)

Paul T. McCain said...

How about these couple quotes from a Lutheran pastor? Do these speak to the issue of growing in grace and/or progress in sanctification.

"In the battle of flesh and spirit, in which true Christians stand, they not only overcome sins, they carry off all kinds of precious virtues as their loot of their combat. The longer they battle, the more universal, comforting, and untiring their love becomes. Their joy becomes purer, their peace becomes firmer, their patience becomes stronger, their kindness becomes more sincere, their goodness becomes richer, their faith and faithfulness become more constant, their gentleness becomes more unconquerable and their self-control becomes more immaculate. In short, the end of the true battle of the flesh and spirit is an advance in sanctification. This resulting sanctification is as far from perfect as the victory of the spirit over the flesh is complete. Indeed, every Christian must confess, with Paul, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect" (Phil. 3:12). Nevertheless, where that battle truly exists, a fighter must be able to add truthfully, as Paul does, "I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Phil. 3:12). Oh may God grant that we all become and remain true fighters against the flesh and sin. May Jesus Christ, our eternal Prince of victory, help us all for the sake of His battle with death."

CFW Walther
God Grant It
p. 717

"There is time when a person's body ceases to grow. This is not so in spiritual things. If a person has become a Christian, a new spiritual being (or, as our text says, a new "inner being" - Eph. 3:13-17), is created in him by faith and the growth of this being never ceases until death. In Christianity, there is no standing still. Whoever does not go forward, goes backward. The life of a Christian is not marked by being, but by growing. The goal toward which he strives is so high that he can never say he has reached it and can rest from his efforts. Even Saint Paul says, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own" (Phi. 3:12). Of what does the strengthening "in your inner being," the spiritual growth of the Christian consist? Paul shows us in today's text when he says, "That Christ may dwell in your heart through faith" (Eph. 3:17). An ever growing and stronger faith, through which Christ dwells in our hearts, is above all else, necessary for the strengthening of the inner being. A person becomes a Christian through faith. Once he vividly recognizes that he is a sinner, it is obvious to him that he cannot stand before God with his own righteousness and cannot atone for his sins himself. . . . Paul says he often prayed to God that He would make the Ephesians stronger. By this he meant that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith and that they might be "rooted and grounded in love" (Eph. 3:17). We see here that, through love, Christianity becomes akin to a firmly rooted tree and a house on a solid foundation. Should this really be attributed to love? According to Holy Scripture, isn't it faith alone that makes one just? Isn't it faith alone that gives life, light, comfort and power? Isn't it, then, faith alone that rightly roots and grounds the Christian? This is of course true, but Scriptures says that faith without works is dead, a mere empty picture of faith. True, living faith is active through love. Therefore, as there is warmth and light in the presence of fire, there are love and good works in the person whose heart has been warmed by the sun of faith. As the tree is recognized by its fruit, faith is recognized in love. The person who is weak or lacking in love cannot be a strong firm Christian. He may call himself a Christian, but where is the proof that he stands firm in the faith? Therefore, in the hour of death, woe to the Christian who boasts of faith but did not show any love. It will probably be difficult for him to show that he comforted himself with Christ and id not doubt because, although faith alone avails before God, we owe love to our neighbor and need love ourselves so we are strong. The individual who wants to become inwardly strong must always become more zealous in love. He must also extend the scope of his love. . . A Christian must also become purer and more unselfish in his love. He must not ask, "What's in it for me?" He must not do good for the sake of the thanks he hopes to receive, the reward he expects, or the praise that might result. His left hand must not know what his right hand is doing. He must learn to endure ingratitude and not allow his love to grow cold on account of it. He must keep a heart full of love toward those who offend and provoke him-even those who have done flagrant wrong to him, hated him, and persecuted him. He must always become more tender, holy, and godly in his love. He must have patience with his neighbor's weakness, sins and defects. He must also not be ashamed of the greatest sinner, but have mercy on him. . . . He must, finally, arrive at the point where he strives to let his entire life be a life of service to his neighbor, being ready to give up his possessions and even his life for his brothers. Oh, it is well for such Christians! They have become "through faith, rooted and grounded in love."

CFW Walther
God Grant It
pp. 745ff

William Weedon said...

Gotta love Walther when he preaches like that!

Past Elder said...

Before I was Past Elder I was Elder. That was in WELS. We used to put it "We do good works because we are saved, not in order to be saved" to the kids and such adults as would come to Adult Sunday School.

I just haven't had a whole lot of trouble with this subject since I heard it put that way -- in Adult Bible Class.

Am I just too oversimplistic to get why this should be a problem? Or is that phrase just a WELS thing? Or do you have to be ex-RC to breathe a sigh of relief when you make it out of the Tiber and read the BOC?

Maybe it's the "too Catholic" thing, like making the Sign of the Cross (which we do at home following the LC, though I have never ever seen it done at a Lutheran service in 11 years this December as a Lutheran, and the kids are quite prepared to join in "Come, Lord Jesus ..." when Grandma intones it at holiday meals, or Pastor at parish dinners!).

FWIW, God Grant It is getting to be my favourite Lutheran book right after the Bible and the BOC.

Randy Asburry said...

Good stuff, indeed, from Walther! I may have to get that book yet. ;-)

Christine said...

Maybe it's the "too Catholic" thing, like making the Sign of the Cross (which we do at home following the LC, though I have never ever seen it done at a Lutheran service in 11 years this December as a Lutheran,

To quote my Prussian Lutheran mother: "We didn't make the sign of the cross because that was what the Catholics did -- we were Protestants."

Most Lutherans still feel that way.

Randy Asburry said...

But some folks - such as several in my beloved congregation, and that number keeps increasing year by year - do in fact delight in "crossing themselves"! They are learning that it's not "a Catholic thing," but *a Christian thing.*

Christine said...

But some folks - such as several in my beloved congregation, and that number keeps increasing year by year - do in fact delight in "crossing themselves"!

Bless them, may their tribe increase.

Surprisingly, it seems that the ELCA Lutherans who are far more doctrinally liberal than the LCMS have the greatest aversion to "praying with the body". One also rarely sees a crucifix in their churches, at least in the newer buildings. The influence of the American Protestant mainstream is heavy, although that should not be surprising with the ecumenical relations the ELCA has forged. They have sadly lost much of the catholicity that Luther wanted to retrain.

I still have to remind myself not to genuflect when I attend family events at my sister's ELCA congregation although I will cross myself when the Trinity is invoked.

Christine said...

"that Luther wanted to retrain."

Ouch, that should of course be "retain", not "retrain".

Paul T. McCain said...

I read in a little book that Martin Luther wrote that we are to begin each day, and end each day, begin each meal, and end each meal, by making the sign of the most holy cross, and at any time during the day when we feel a desire to pray or to be reminded of Jesus love for us, we are to make the sign of the most holy cross.

Makes sense to me.

Oh, that "little book" is the Small Catechism.

Did you know that when the Wisconsin Synod reprinted the Small Catechism in recent years they actually dropped Luther's comments about making the sign of the cross? Yup. Sure did.

Randy Asburry said...

Crazy American Lutherans! ;-)

Past Elder said...

Yes, they did. And. if memory serves, the entire section "Of Subjects" (sometimes rendered "Of Citizens") was left out of the Table of Duties. One section was for sure, and I think it was that one. Pre-blogging, I used to bug the Q&A guys on their site about stuff like that. Then I found a better way -- join LCMS.

On my blog, I use the ELS translation of the LC for a link to the LC specifically. I think it's pretty good.

Past Elder said...

And I gotta tell ya, though I've said this on other blogs --

I just love being over for dinner at RC friends. Invariably, they don't do the what they take to be the "Catholic" grace before meals, and drop the Sign of the Cross and say some sort of generic Protestant grace. Then I ask if I can say grace as Luther suggested, which in the great spirit of ecumenism they always say yes to. So I proceed to do so, and watch their eyes widen as I do exactly what they do when I am not there, make (and say) the Sign of the Cross and "Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord" -- the exact wording as taught to RCs of the same prayer Luther uses!

Even funnier is to watch my late wife's family before meals -- half RC and half LCMS. The RC half says grace pretty much the way the LC lays it out, the LCMS half doesn't! Of course, when I was WELS, I wasn't supposed to join in grace with either side! And of course, a son in law does not override the matriarch, Grandma. Come, Lord Jesus ...

I'm pretty sure God is happy with either one. From my days as a Righteous of the Nations, one of the quotes from the Rabbis I remember is "He who eats without thanking God, eats as if he stole the food".

Christine said...

And of course, Past Elder, because *your* Roman Catholic friends don't make the sign of the cross it means none of them do? And because my Prussian Lutheran mother (Pastor McCain, I assure you she was very familiar with Luther's Small Catechism -- in German) didn't make the sign of the cross it means no Lutherans do?

Lutherans who take their faith seriously will show it and the same goes for Roman Catholics.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Past Elder:

Given that you are a rascal (in the very best sense of the word), you might want to pray the Table Grace the way my junior high kids do:

"In nomine Patris et + Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Benedic, Domine, nos et haec Tua dona, quae de Tua largitate sumus sumpturi, per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen."

That would raise a few Protestant and Vatican II eyebrows. :-)

And one of the best parts of using Latin is that the prayers don't change wording with every new hymnal and new Bible translation.

I've learned two versions of the Small Catechism and three versions of the creeds (as well as all kinds of different wording in the Divine Service from TLH, LBW, LW, LSB, and even the old 1970(?) Worship Supplement!). Which means I now have to read what's in the book because of the years of inconsistency.

I hope my son picks up on Latin from a young age so I can teach him the catechism and his prayers the right way once and for all. ;-)

Past Elder said...

I'M a rascal? Who's the dude who shows up in an ice cream parlour in a cassock with a woman and a kid who looks just like him? That's the greatest thing I've ever heard of, maybe even better than that! If Nancy (my wife) were still alive and I were a pastor I'd head straight for Baskin Robbins. Nancy would have loved it, especially the "Wow, Father's pretty open about having a little on the side" looks, right up to when her husband says "Relax, we're Lutherans, the real catholics". That would beat dinner with RCs any time! Oh well, ain't gonna happen.

Another nice thing about Latin is it makes the "pick a text and stick to it" admonition from the Preface to the LC easier to follow. Of course, Rome tinkered with the Latin too here lately, so you gotta reverse Tiber swim to even stick to it in Latin any more.

Anybody wanna jump on this, speaking of Latin -- how is it that when my friends, christine's friends and any other Western crossers cross, they do it in the order indicated by Latin rather than the language they are using? You touch the left shoulder first in the West because the adjective follows the noun it modifies in Latin -- spiritus sanctus -- so the hand is over the heart at the word "spirit". So in Spanish I can stick to left-right, but in English or German I ought to switch to right-left like the Greeks (for one of whom you'll probably be mistaken)!

Rascal, I think, ulimately derives from a late Latin word for one who scrapes in the mud, ie a commoner, and is related to the word "rash". I'd go to seminary for the cure and end up actually knowing something, but I'm too old (57) and having had my first kid at 46, couldn't pull off the Baskin Robbins thing any more anyway, probably come off as great uncle.

Bless us and save us, Mrs O'Davis.

Paul T. McCain said...

They are excellent preachers of the Easter truth, but miserable preachers of the truth of Pentecost. For there is nothing in their preaching concerning sanctification of the Holy Ghost and about being quickened into a new life. They preach only about the redemption of Christ. It is proper to extol Christ in our preaching; but Christ is the Christ and has acquired redemption from sin and death for this very purpose that the Holy Spirit should change our Old Adam into a new man, that we are to be dead unto sin and live unto righteousness, as Paul teaches Rom. 6:2 ff., and that we are to begin this change and increase in this new life here and consummate it hereafter. For Christ has gained for us not only grace (gratiam), but also the gift (donum) of the Holy Ghost, so that we obtain from Him not only forgiveness of sin, but also the ceasing from sin.”

Martin Luther, On The Councils and the Churches, quoted by Dr. C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel : 39 Evening Lectures, p. 121

Christine said...

That would raise a few Protestant and Vatican II eyebrows. :-)

Oh, I don't know, there's a few of us Vatican II Catlicks who don't mind praying Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord. Amen in Latin.

And after the noon meal I do like to add: Mensae caelestis participes faciat nos, Rex aeternae gloriae. Amen and for the evening meal: Ad cenam vitae aeternae perducat nos, Rex aeternae gloriae. Amen

Past Elder said...

Well rock my soul!

I've NEVER said grace in Latin.

Guess that proves it, I'm all messed up, time to hit the Reconciliation Room (fka confessional) and come home to Rome, Rome on the range, where the deer and the buffalo -- oops, got a little carried away there.