Where should the emphasis in the gathered church be?
I started thinking about this the other day when I read something Dr. Black wrote regarding Felix Manz:
Whenever we downgrade good works, wherever we make sanctification some kind of appendage to justification, whenever we emphasize more what God does for us than what He does in us, we have become proponents of an unbalanced Christianity. The doctrine of justification by faith is taught in the Scripture, and I rejoice in it! But an emphasis on the forensic and juridical nature of our salvation can easily lead to a light emphasis on the "good works that God has foreordained that we should walk in them." In this regard, Luther's theology was decisively one-sided, and it was his disparagement of good works that caused him to collide with the letter of James.
(note: I looked up “juridical” because I didn’t think it was a real word. Turns out it is. Learned something new today)
So it has kind of been bothering me. Are we overemphasizing justification? I am treading on shaky ground here because I recognize how central the doctrine of justification by faith alone is. Reformed theology spends an awful lot of time focused on justification. It is where our great debates take places, where we write our polemics and where we find our areas of greatest emphasis. It is the subject of many (if not most) of our conferences. This is quite understandable because justification gets to the heart of how any sinner has been redeemed from an eternal hell and made right with God. Without justification, there are no Christians and there is no church. We must recognize this. That still begs the question. Can we focus so much on justification that we ignore sanctification or as Dr. Black describes it relegate sanctification to a secondary doctrine?
In other words, from a practical standpoint within the gathered church should our focus be on the doctrine of how we were saved or should we focus on how we should live now that we are saved? I fear that in our understandable concern to recover the central doctrine of justification by faith alone, we have pushed the role of sanctification into a secondary role in the church. Are we not called as Christians to live holy lives, lives unstained by the world? As I have said ad nauseum the ritualism and sacralism of the traditional church can exacerbate this by giving people a sense of religious fulfillment that is completely foreign to the Bible and that stands in marked contrast to what we are called to as Christians in the Word. We are not made more holy or sanctified by merely eating a cracker and sipping some wine at church, even if we dress it up by calling it a “means of grace”. We are sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit working in us demonstrated by a life that is progressively and demonstrably more holy, a change that is observable in our lives.
God did not send His Son to die to save us so that we could sit around reminiscing about how swell it is to be saved. He regenerated us and left us on this earth to live out the life of a Christian and proclaim the Gospel:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10, emp. added)
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. (Titus 2: 11-14, emp. added)
I think that passage in Titus is just stunning. It literally made my head hurt today. That passage is going to be a focal point of an upcoming blog post because I think we tend to stop at “bringing salvation for all people” and not focus on what else Paul is telling Timothy here.
The Scriptures don’t diminish the importance of good works at all. Jesus, Paul, James all speak of us living holy lives and doing good works, not to be saved but because we are saved. If we are not living lives that are progressing in holiness and lived out by our works, we are not living a balanced Christian life. So to answer my original questions, yes it is possible to overemphasize justification. I think we can spend so much time and effort thinking about, writing about and talking about how we were saved that we forget what we are to do now that we are saved. It is not so much that we need to focus on justification less, it is that we need to focus on sanctification more. If the church is indeed a gathering of redeemed sinners who go out into the world to proclaim Christ we need to emphasize justification to lost sinners but we need to emphasize sanctification within the gathered Body.
I might be way off-base here. I haven’t had time to really flesh it out. Thoughts?