giving away success: further thoughts on decisions and the separation of sanctification from justification.

i want to continue on with the idea that numbers aren’t necessarily the best way to measure success as *the* Church. to clarify, i think success as the Church has nothing to do with size of building or the amount of programs running etc. rather, i think we are successful as the Church when we are actively BEING the people of God in our world and the inner-workings of the Church are taking place (more on this in another post).

what i’d like to talk about at the moment is the separation that has occurred between justification and sanctification.

Fitch names individualism as one of america’s ‘sacred cows’. he describes individualism as, “namely, the individual who validates everything in America by making an autonomous, critical, authentic decision.” to all my Canadian’s, essentially the same thing can be said about us.

since individualism has such a grand effect on evangelical christianity the question is then raised: “should ‘decisions’ be a measure of success for evangelical churches? the question is not ‘do decisions for Christ matter?’ rather the question is ‘are decisions for Christ significant and of ultimate importance if they do not represent an individual’s actual decision to follow Christ into a life of discipleship and become part of the kingdom of God via the body of Christ?'”

really when it comes down to it, it’s not about how many people raise their hand while everyones heads are bowed and eyes are closed (no one looking around now!). rather, it’s about “successfully immers[ing] lives into the life of Christ and his kingdom.”

decisions only really make sense when taken in context. unfortunately, we try to manufacture decisions for Christ in no context at all and therefore run the risk of those decisions not making any sense. as fitch puts it, “apart from a context, a decision will appear to be an arbitrary act made on the spur of the moment for short-term immediate gain with little long-term consequences.” decisions only make sense in the context of a life story/narrative and one’s cultural context. if we simply make decisions about raising your hand on a sunday morning we can’t truly make sense of that decision. here is why: “often a new convert makes a decision for Christ solely for the “benefit” of “one’s escape from hell.” the decision was not presented as a call to repentance and a life of service and redemption under the lordship of Christ. as a result, many decisions are shallow and last only as long as one is concerned about death or never go any further than one’s initial ticket out of hell. many of the decisions we count then are decisions made for self-oriented reasons in the purest of consumer senses, a transaction to get out of hell with no understanding that eternal life is “the end of one’s sanctification” (Rom. 6:22).” because of this, “decisions” are often a poor measure of kingdom activity “and indeed the focus upon them leads to the abuse of the gospel message into a purely self-serving selfish gospel that rejects the essence of “denying one’s self, picking up one’s cross and following me,””.

we must, as evangelicals, christians, jesus followers or whatever we may call ourselves reexamine the theology that allows us to separate one’s justification from one’s sanctification (the theological basis that allows us to place so much importance upon a “decision”).

for most evangelicals a “decisions for Christ” represents the changing of legal status before God. in other words, when a person “accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior” they go from being unjustified and outside of God’s grace to being justified, covered by grace and rendered righteous before God. the problem arises when we separate that decision to accept Christ’s atonement for sin in faith, justification, from one’s ensuing sanctification. as Fitch says, “inherited from the Lutheran Reformation, this distinct separation is what keeps us from associating salvation too closely with its outworking in one’s life, in other words with a salvation of “works.” as inheritors of the agenda of the Reformation, it keeps us from the “Roman error,” to make salvation somehow connected to or even dependent upon the outgrowth of works in a new convert’s life.” so, at the risk of acknowledging a “salvation by works” we tend to over-emphasize one’s decision to accept Christ and be justified.

Fitch describes how we ought to counter this trend: “amidst a fragmented culture, however, with many competing ways to live, a decision must be followed by the serious engagement of that decision maker into a way that makes that decision intelligible. we must preach salvation not just as an escape from hell, but as an overall repentance and turning away from a world gone awry into its own self-indulgences. we must preach salvation not merely as a personal ticket out of hell but as the entrance into the reality of the lordship of Jesus Christ where God is working to bring about his kingdom unto the day that he returns. this may require bringing together justification and sanctification into a more unified ordo salutis where one simply cannot make sense without the other.”

this makes sense scripturally doesn’t it? certainly so. rarely, if ever, do the new testament writers use the term salvation to focus only on justification. “instead, salvation entails justification, the decision to repent, the invitation into new life, sanctification, and healing. indeed, salvation is the invitation to repent and become a subject of the kingdom of God (matt. 3:1-3). when one is converted, he is converted to a different way, to following Christ.”

finally, allow me to end this brief discussion with one last quote from Fitch:

“in a post-Christian culture where so many have no foundation in the Christian life and even worse have been totally immersed into the ways of a self-indulgent consumerist paganism, preaching salvation may require substantive ways of initiation wherein one’s decision is led immediately into a path toward baptism, discipleship, and a life of service to Christ in the world.”

amen.

peace.

jt.

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