Nature, Grace, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

 

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In a previous post, I argued that if we want to see the renewal of the church, it must be a renewal that takes the triune nature of God seriously. I quote at length Gordon Fee to that end. Fee argued that the Charismatic gifts are for the building up fo the church, and should not take pride of place or seen as the absolute end of the Christian life. The Holy Spirit makes us into the image of Jesus Christ to the Glory of the Father (as I said in this post).

One concern about the Spiritual gifts that I continually struggle with is the relation of humanity’s natural capacities, our ability to think, feel, reason, etc. and the gifts of the Spirit, especially the gifts of tounges and words of knowledge. When I’ve heard the gifts of prophecy taught, it is said that we need to discern the difference between our thoughts, the devil’s intrusions, and God’s words. The thing that bothers me about this is that it can end up neglecting or denigrating the goodness of human nature; as if the Holy Spirit fills us not to make us human, but to transcend our humanity.

To approach this question properly, we need to ask what humanity is, what we were created for and how we attain that end? In short, humanity is created by God out of his goodness as the image of God composed of both soul and body, we were created for life with God, and we attain that end through God’s grace and the economy of salvation (see Aquinas, Summa, 1.93, 103).

Two things are important to note here: 1) God’s goodness is the grounds of his grace; to say that God creates out of his goodness is to say that he creates freely and graciously (see Aquinas, Summa, 1.6). Therefore, 2) from the beginning, human nature is created by the free grace and goodness of God. This means that we are both natural creatures with specific aptitudes etc. and beings created for God. We were created with the need for God; a necessary openness to God’s work of creating and sustaining us towards being made into fullness of the image of God (Sin complicates things, because both the capacity for God and the natural gifts of human nature are both marred, but they are redeemed and renewed in Jesus Christ). Thus, while Aquinas affirms that grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it (Summa, 1.1.a8), this perfecting of nature is established in the reality that creation is already God’s goodness poured out as grace.  God created humanity for himself, which means we need him to achieve our end goal – life with God. The path to that end goal is Christ, and according to Scripture, it is the Holy Spirit and his manifold gifts that build us up to that end goal (see. 1 Cor. 12, Eph 4). To sum up, Humanity is created as a creature made for the creator and on their way to the creator (see Summa, 1.93; 1e11ae.1-5; and this post).

If this is true, then charismatic gifts could fall within the realm of grace perfecting nature. But what of our original concern: the overriding of natural capacities? While grace does not destroy nature, nature being what it is, a graced contingent reality opened to God, is dependent on the creator. Could it be that the gifts of tounges and prophecy are not a negation of nature, but God using our nature and infusing it with his grace to build the body of Christ up out of God’s goodness, and freedom? Is it possible that our minds and language are sanctified for use beyond our understanding or capacity, to God’s glory and praise? I propose that we can answer both of these questions on the affirmative.

If these thoughts are tenable for the Christian life, there is room for God to both use one’s ‘natural’ talents in a ‘supernatural’ way and to infuse us with his grace in a way that is beyond our apprehension. For example, God could direct one’s reason, submitted to God to draw a conclusion about another person’s life that is, in fact, a word of knowledge; or God could simply infuse into one’s mind a thought or word that is  ‘from the outside.’ Both of these are acts of God sanctifying human nature, the first within our capacity for a particular end and the other beyond our capacity and understanding.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, come from the outside and can seem to overwhelm our human nature; but the truth of the matter is that they are simply making us capable of what we were created for: communion with God. The gift of tounges draws our mouths, hearts, and mind into a space where we trust that God is at work in a way that we cannot understand (by the way, it is still your lips and mouth and tongue that move!). In the gift of prophesy we are encouraging and building the body of Christ up towards our mutual end goal: Life in God. Both of these gifts, along with the rest of them orient us towards becoming the unified body of Christ,  as we journey towards our end goal: fellowship and friendship with the triune God in Glory.

 

Holy Scripture: What is it and what is it for?

 

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Introduction:

In the life of a Christian, there is an expectation that one read, study, and inwardly digest Holy Scripture. This is integral to the Christian life, as we can see in the collect for the Second Sunday in Advent:

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When we read Scripture, a question arises, that is not so easily answered: what is Holy Scripture?

A few quick answers come to mind:

  1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. This verse names what Scripture is, “God-breathed” and communicates the purpose of Scripture, i.e., to complete and form the Christian into the likeness of Jesus. 
  2. Hebrews 4:12-13  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. This verse is complex and significant because it seems to correlate the written word of God with Jesus Christ himself. It, like 2 Timothy 3 directs our attention to the formative and active nature of God’s Word. 
  3. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Here Paul notes that he received what was delivered; that Christ died and rose again which was in accordance with Scripture, i.e., the Old Testament. Here we see Christ and his work as the content and goal of the Scripture (see my blog entry on the Gospel). 

From these verses, many of the shorthand answers of what Scripture are presented: it is God-breathed, it the Word of God written. And while these answers are well and good, more needs to be said. Why? Because these answers seem to separate what Scripture holds together: what Scripture is and what it is for. Any doctrine of Scripture must hold together these two questions, and the answer for the second must be derivative from the first. Further, these answers often seem to side-step critical scholarship and function in a rhetorical posture of defensiveness.

The answer to critical scholarship cannot be a blind turn to non-rational belief – “The Bible says it, I believe it.” At the same time, I do not think we need to concede grounds to scholars who read Holy Scripture like another book. Thus, we need a way to articulate what Scripture is and what it is for, in the context of faith seeking understanding.

What we are dealing with when we try to understand the nature of Scripture is how a human text can communicate who God is and what God does. Often, people fall on one of two sides: either emphasizing its supernatural revelation and downplaying the creaturely aspects of it, or emphasizing the creaturely elements of it and ignoring the possibility of divine revelation.

Many analogies are used for the relationship between the human and divine aspects of Holy Scripture, the Incarnation of Jesus is perhaps the most popular one these days. Jesus is fully God and fully human, but one person; similarly, Scripture is fully divine and fully human. The problem with this analogy is that it abstracts the utterly unique work of God in the incarnation into a principle. Further, the analogy falls apart because the two natures of Jesus are held together in the One person of the Son, there is no correlate point of union for the Scriptures. Where do we go for a better understanding of what Holy Scripture is and what it is for?

Let’s begin by considering Article 6 of the 39 Articles of Religion:

HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Here we see the content and purpose of Scripture defined. the material is the Old and New Testament; the purpose is “Salvation.” Further, the article describes the Holy Scripture as authoritative for salvation. That said, the article leaves off specifying the way that Scripture is capable of containing all things necessary for salvation. In other words, how human written words are considered Holy. How can human words communicate all that is necessary for salvation? To answer this question, we need to consider how Scripture is situated in God’s work of salvation for humanity and the world, what is often called the economy of salvation.

In considering What Scripture is, I will turn to John Webster, who has written profoundly and extensively on the nature of Scripture. His reflection on the doctrine of Scripture began in earnest in 2003 when he published Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. While I have not studied his writing in depth, there seems to have been some development and refinement between then and more recent essays. Thus, I am drawing on a later essay where he articulates the ontology of Scripture as a part of the economy of God’s outer works.

The Triune God’s Divine Economy

To articulate a theology of Scripture, we must start with the triune God, and see how Scripture relates to God. In Theology, we distinguish between God in himself (Theology proper), and the divine economy, God’s work in the world (from creation to consummation).  Webster distinguishes between these two aspects of theology in the following.

Systematic Theology has a single but not simple object: God and all things relative to God…The one complex matter may therefore be divided into (1) God absolutely considered, that is, considered in himself in his inner life as Father, Son, and Spirit (theology), and (2) God relatively considered, that is, considered in his outer works and in relation to his creatures (economy) (God without Measure, I.45-46).

Webster describes in more detail what the divine economy is in four points: 1) The divine economy is grounded in the immanent perfection of the Holy Trinity. 2) The divine economy unfolds as the history of fellowship in which creatures are summoned to know and love God.  3) The divine economy includes the history of redemption. 4) In all this, the divine economy is revelatory (The Dominion of the Word, 117-118). This final point grounds Webster’s next move: The divine economy, the mission of the Son and Spirit reveal God, and this revelation is mediated in a particular form:

The work of Word and Spirit, through which God gives creatures a share in his knowledge of himself, is mediated through creaturely auxiliaries. of these, Holy Scripture is the chief; through its ministry of the divine Word in the Spirit’s power, God makes himself known and loved (ibid., 120).

Webster started with God’s infinite being, which is the source and end of the God’s outer works of creation and redemption, which reveal who God is. This economic work is the mission of the Son and Spirit. The Son and Spirit make God known through the creaturely auxiliaries of the Scriptures. What is the nature of these Scriptures?

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Webster describes Scripture “as prophetic and apostolic testimony” (ibid., 120). It functions as “a unified set of creaturely communicative acts having their origin in God’s calling and authorizing certain persons in the communion of the saints” (ibid., 120). In other words, God calls, forms and sends  prophets and apostles (the Old and New Testament writers) as special ambassadors of God’s own Word. So we have specific people who God chooses as creaturely instruments to communicate God’s self-revelation. How do these writing become Holy Scripture?

“Holy Scripture is the textual settlement of this embassy. In it, prophetic and apostolic speech is extended to into the church’s present… Scripture is a creaturely reality ordered to divine communication” (ibid., 120).  So God providentially commisions, forms, and orders the life and writings of the prophets and apostles to communicate who God is and what God is doing. Thus the Scriptures are a human text, but human texts ordered by God with the distinct purpose of communicating and revealing God.

In his book, Holy Scripture,  Webster describes this reality in terms of the creaturely text being ‘sanctified’ by which he means: “the biblical texts are creaturely realities set apart by the triune God to serve his self-presence” (21).

To expand on this notion of creaturely realities being used by God to communicate himself, Webster offers the Lord’s Supper as a parallel example:

Bread and wine are signs in the economy of salvation; by them, the ascended Christ distributes the benefits of his saving achievement, comforting, and nourishing his people by his presence. These functions do not detract from the created materiality of the elements, but indicate, rather, that such created realities are taken up into the divine service. So also Holy Scripture: prophetic and apostolic words are no less creaturely for being servants of the divine Word; indeed, their creaturely nature is therein fulfilled. (The Dominion of the Word, 121).

This analogy is stronger than the Analogy of the incarnation because it simultaneously holds the creaturely reality of the writings of the Old and New Testament, while confessing that through God’s providential and sanctifying work, i.e., the mission of the Son and Spirit these words are ordered and used to communicate divine revelation.

How, precisely, do these prophetic and apostolic words in the Scripture exist as creaturely servants to the divine Word? Webster responds: “Scripture is ‘inspired’ in the sense that its entire course (from pretextual tradition to canonization, including supremely the work of textual production) is superintended by the Spirit” (Ibid., 121).

This is profoundly significant for dismantling the dualism we talked about earlier: either fully divine texts (humans merely writing what they hear from God verbally) or fully human texts. The Holy Scriptures are human texts written by divinely commission Prophets and Apostles, which communicate the Divine Revelation of the Triune God while remaining creaturely in nature. The whole process of the writing of these texts is understood to be inspired by the Holy Spirit who is the proper author of the texts; though he never supersedes or overrides the creature in the inspiring process. The Holy Spirit’s work of superintending the creation and writing of Scripture is what it means for Scripture to be inspired.

Conclusion

Scripture is God-breathed, it is the Word of God written, but it is this by means of God’s providentially ordering, sanctifying and inspiring commissioned prophets and apostles by the Holy Spirit to communicate the Word of God through in and with the words of Scripture.

When we see how Scripture fits into the greater economy of God’s work, the purpose of Scripture is made more explicit by its nature. God uses human creaturely realities to bring about his purpose and will; just as the Lord’s Supper communicate grace and life to Christians, so the Holy Scriptures communicate to believers the truth of who God is, who we are and what God has done and is doing to save us.

Theological Thoughts on Ecclesiastes 5:2: Let your Words be Few

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Ecclesiastes 5:2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

Talk about God is so blithely thrown around in church and the broader culture, that this verse and its warning seems almost impossible to abide. In the wider culture, the forces of secularity have reduced talk about God to a sarcastic joke, meme, or worse. In the church, we suffer from speaking too much, or too poorly about God, much like our culture we’ve lost our ability to speak of God without catchphrases or cliches.

In this verse, the preacher of Ecclesiastes warns his readers of two things, gives them two reasons for this warning, and concludes with the result of listening to this warning. He urges his readers to not be rash or hasty in uttering a word, either externally (mouth), or internally (internally) about God. Why? 1) because all our words are ‘before God’and 2) ‘God is in heaven and you are on earth.’ For these reasons, our words should be few.

This verse reorients humanity’s pride and arrogance (rash and hasty) to a proper understanding of who we are in light of God’s infinite majesty and creative saving power. What do the two statements about tell us about God?

God is present everywhere and knows everything. God’s omnipresence and omniscience remind us of the utter difference between God and humanity. God is the creator, and we are creatures. The triune God is the creating and sustaining God. To say anything before God, externally or internally, is to stand before the one who made you out of nothing, and who continues to sustain your existence.

In Christian theology, the creation and providential sustaining is the undivided work of the Trinity, but it is often described as the work of each Person, for example, the Father creates, the Son sustains. We see this reality testified to by Paul: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16). The Word of God, the Son of God, incarnate in the Virgin Mary, and maintaining the world in all its contingent reality, is the one in whom and through whom our existence is preserved and brought to its proper end: the vision of God. 

The difference between God and his creation is reinforced by the next clause: “For God is in heaven and you are on earth.” Heaven is the location of God’s reign, rule, and authority. Despite human sin and rebellion, we do not thwart God’s authority, power, and rule by our ineffective and destructive loquaciousness. God’s Word does not return void in the battle for his creation.

Our foolish speech is silenced, redeemed and reordered by the one who is from heaven and has come to earth: the Eternal Word of God who became incarnate. Our prideful ramblings are made quiet in the face of the one who in himself is the eternally Spoken Word, reveals in humility, both in the cry of a baby and the cry of a dying man.

In Christ, knowledge of who God is, who we are, and how we are to speak of God rightly, is revealed, as Paul said, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).  In the mission of the Son, the eternal Word of God silences our pride and hasty words and orders them towards God. How? By revealing himself in the flesh, taking our pride and arrogance to judgment and death, rising victorious and true, and sending his Spirit to teach us to think and speak rightly of God. The Holy Spirit takes Christ’s humility (Romans 12:1-2; Phil 2:5-11) and gives it to those who trust in Jesus, confess him as Lord and are baptized into his death.

It is because of Jesus that our words are “few” and not silenced entirely. For the immensity of God, both as he is in himself and God against sin leads us to baffled silence. We observe this in Job’s confession at the end of God’s speech in Job 42:2-6

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

But, when God unites us to himself in Christ his immensity, infinity, and plentitude, leads to the fear and knowledge of God which begins to order our minds and hearts rightly. In light of the mission of the Son and Spirit for our salvation, we slowly become wise as we confess that all things are from God and ordered towards him.

In comparison to the infinite Word of God, redeemed and sanctified talk of God, submitted to the continued mortification and vivification of the Spirit, is minuscule in proportion, and yet it is still invited and encouraged. “Let your words be few.” We were created and redeemed to know God and his Son through the power of the Holy Spirit: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

The church is called to witness to the God who is in heaven, who is in control and who in his infinite love sent the Son and Word of God to save the world. To do this in step with the Spirit, our minds – our intellect, emotions, and wills – must be aligned to Jesus Christ. We must allow the Holy Spirit to order our thoughts, our desires, our wills toward God. We must desire what is truly good and keep our minds on what is truly beautiful and long for what is truly true: we must desire the Triune God of Grace. “Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). When we delight ourselves in the Lord, we discover that he is the deepest desires of our hearts. 

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Cyril of Alexandria

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“God in his love for humankind provided for us a way of salvation and of life. For in believing in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and making this confession before many witnesses [at baptism], we wash away all the filth of sin, and are enriched by the communication of the Holy Spirit, and ‘are made partakers of the divine nature’ and gain the grace of adoption. It was necessary, therefore, that the Word of the Father when he humbled himself to emptiness and deigned to assume our likeness, should be for our sake the pattern and way of every good work. For it follows that ‘he who in everything is first’ must in this also set the example.” Cyril of Alexandria (ACD, 2.147).

A few observations:

  1. God not only provides a way of salvation but a way of life as well. Jesus’s life is both an example and the path of the good life. Put another way, Jesus is the Means and the end of true human life. Jesus saved us for eternal life with the Triune God, and this life begins now.
  2.  Cyril narrates the order of salvation in relation to baptism: belief, confess, baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, “made partakers of the divine nature” and given adoption. This path of salvation is grounded in believing and encountering the Triune God who loves humanity, it is enacted through the sacrament of baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit who testifies to us that we are adopted children of God.
  3. “Partaking of the divine nature” is a quote from 2. Peter 1:4: “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” What it means to partake of the divine nature, without transgressing the creator/creature divide has been greatly debated. From this quote, we can say that it means, at the very least, being filled with the Spirit, united to Christ and given the grace of adoption. In other words, partaking of the divine nature is being brought in to a relationship with the triune God for our salvation, and it is grounded in the triune God’s work of salvation. 
  4. Salvation, life, baptism, adoption, being filled with the Holy Spirit, all happens because the eternal Word of the Father, the equal Son of God, became human for our sake so that we can have life in him. The Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the means and path by which we are united to God, receive forgiveness, are justified, sanctified and filled with the Spirit.  Thus, partaking of the divine nature is grounded in and located in Jesus Christ, who is the mediator between God and humanity.

Aquinas on The Beginning, Ordering, and End of Theological Contemplation

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Mark 12:30-31 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

In a previous blog post, I quoted J.I. Packer who says that the Christian life is at its fullest when we are worshiping God with our heads, hearts, and hands – our minds, wills, and actions (note that emotion is not identified with the heart). Additionally, I’ve talked about John Webster’s understanding of the Pastor as Apostolic Contemplative Theologian. A part of the church’s service to God is thinking about him well, conforming our minds to the mind of Christ (Romans 12:1-2). Jonathan Edwards said it well: “The basic goal of any intellect is to work toward ‘the consistency and agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God.’”

When it comes to studying God, it is wise to ask, how can or should we conform our thoughts with who God is? In Christian theology, there are two primary ways to go about this: the order of knowing and the order of being. The order of knowing is roughly based on the Christian’s experience of encountering the Triune God: so we may start with Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit, and then God the Father. In recent years, many theologians have attempted to think about theology with the order of knowing as the primary ordering of theological inquiry. It also makes personal sense to many in the church because it relates to their personal experience. For an engaging and sensitive articulation of the order of knowing, while acknowledging the difficulties with this view, read Fred Sander’s The Triune God.

But, while this ordering makes personal sense, we must consider, who is the subject of theology? The answer is the Triune God. If that is so, shouldn’t the subject of theology, order our study of God even if the way we know the subject is tied to historical revelation? It is a question like this one that has pushed some theologians to order their theological reflection on the revelation of Scripture not in terms of our experience of God, but in terms of who God is and what God does. However, in having our minds conformed to the knowledge and love of God in Christ we must allow the ordering of our understanding of God to be dictated by who God is, not our experience of God. Theological contemplation is grounded in our experience and knowledge of God as he is revealed in Scripture, but it is properly ordered by the subject matter of theology: God and his works.

Let’s turn to a few quotes from Thomas Aquinas to see how he orders his contemplation to God and the works of God, while, founding the knowledge of this ordering on the Revelation of Scripture.

Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae is a masterful example of rigorous theological reflection in this mode of theology. While Aquinas organizes his theology in terms of God and all that relates to God, he offers two other supplementary organizing principles that help make sense of the primary ordering. In the first article in the first question on The Nature Sacred Doctrine, Aquinas ponders whether revelation is necessary, or whether humanity can know what is needed for life via philosophical reflection. Aquinas posits:

It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical knowledge built upon human reason. First, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: The eye hath not seen, o God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee (Isa. 66:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation…Where as man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of the truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. (1.1.1a)

Aquinas distinguishes between philosophical science and divine revelation and argues that knowledge of God must come from divine revelation because humanity was created by God, is directed to Him as our end, and God is the one who saves humanity. In other words, all of the Christian faith is grounded in the divine revelation of Holy Scripture. Tn this Aquinas begins his theological argumentation and contemplation assuming divine revelation for the salvation of humanity as the grounds for contemplation.

Further, he also holds that all of creation finds its beginning and end in God, and thus all creaturely reality is reflected on theologically in relation to God:

“Sacred doctrine does not treat God and creatures equally, but of God primarily, and of creatures only so far as they are referable to God as their beginning and end.” (1.1.3. reply 1).

Therefore, the material of revelation is Sacred Scripture, and the subject of theology is God and his creatures in so far as they are related to God. This thought brings us to our final quote:

But in sacred science, all things are treated of under the aspect of God: either because they are God Himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end. (1.1.7a).

In theology then, according to Aquinas, God is the primary subject and ordering principle. Everything – Anthropology, Christology, Ecclesiology etc. – must be considered in light of God Himself, and God as the beginning and end of all creatures. Thus, for Aquinas, the order of knowledge, which includes being incorporated into Christ through the Holy Spirit, is assumed for proper theological contemplation.

Aquinas ends up ordering his whole theological account in the Summa along these lines: he begins with God, then all that comes from God. Within this account, he orders the economy of salvation around the reality that all creatures come from God and end in God. Thus, he considers creation, fall, Grace, and finally Christ as the means and end of humanity’s return back to God. In general terms, Aquinas’s ordering of theological inquiry is simply the order of God’s own revelation: “In the beginning, God” and “God created the heavens and the earth.”

How does this ordering help the church in its worship and mission?

First, it puts God at the center of theological endeavors, not humanity’s experience of God. When someone becomes a Christian, they encounter Christ, are filled with the Spirit and brought into the Body of Christ. This conversion reorients them to God as the beginning and end, and thus it is appropriate, if not vital, to begin learning the Christian faith, and the Christian experience in terms of God and then us. In doing so, our minds are sanctified and brought into alignment with the virtue of humility. We need only look at the Apostles and Nicene Creeds to see that this ordering of our knowledge of God and salvation along the lines of God’s Triune being (and only then divine missions) is the proper way to learn the Christian faith.

Second, Theology cannot be separated from the life of the Church or the spiritual life of the individual Theologian. To worship God with our whole minds requires that we are already in the realm of God’s kingdom. Theology done rightly is not rigorously guided by Scriptures and continually submitting to the Holy Spirit’s sanctification of our minds. It is grounded in the worship of the Church and the frequent reception of the means of grace: the Word and Sacraments.

Third, there is no necessary opposition between the order of knowing and the order of being, but the order of being should take precedence in contemplating God because he is the subject of the divine revelation; the one Christians come to know by means of the free divine initiative to reveal God to us. We saw that divine revelation, specifically Scripture, is the grounds for our ability to contemplate God. Scripture is taken as the work of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the words of the prophets and apostles to reveal who God is and what God does. God reveals himself to humanity as the God who is both infinitely beyond human knowledge and who condescends to share with humanity true knowledge of himself.

Much of what I’ve attempted to say is summarized by Theologian and Thomist Giles Emery in the following quote:

The elaboration of a theology works in three stages, which one can formulate as follows. The first comes from the acknowledgment of the revelation of the Trinity through its action in the world, listening to and following the witness of Scripture. The economic and soteriological current runs through the heart of this unfolding of the Trinitarian mystery… The reading of Scripture and Christian experience is its main resource… In the second stage, beginning from their economic revelation, this theologian puts forward a speculative [read rigorously contemplative] reflection on the persons, in their distinction and their unity. This is the doctrine of the immanent Trinity or in Thomas’ own language, the doctrine of the Trinity ‘in itself.’ A third and final phase uses the two initial moments as a guide into a speculative reflection on the actions of the persons within this world. This is where a genuine doctrine of the ‘economic Trinity, the Trinity as ‘principle and end of creatures,’ is conveyed. (Giles, The Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, 415-416).

What we see in our quotes from Thomas is an assumption of the first stage as the content of divine revelation, which then grounds his theological investigation of God in himself and God at work in creation as the beginning an end of all created reality. This leads to the third stage, as one can see in many of his articles in Questions 27-44. Some theologians may prefer to focus on the first stage, but for Thomas, the subject matter of his investigation leads him to order his theology beginning with God and then everything else.

Many questions remain for me in my exploration of Aquinas, such as, how does the Gospel relate to the ordering of theological contemplation? How does God’s knowledge of himself relate to our knowledge of Him? How do we guard against overestimating and underestimating humanity’s apprehension of the Triune God’s divine life? Thus, while I am genuinely taken by Aquinas’s mode of theological contemplation, I have a lot more to consider and learn.

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Thomas Aquinas On the Image of God in Humanity

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In Christian Theological Anthropology, a fundamental question arises: what does it mean to be made in the image of God? There have been many answers proposed to answer this question. Two of the most common responses to this question is that the image of God is primarily found in the reality that humans are intelligent and relational creatures because God is intelligent and relational. Another common appraisal of the image of God in humanity is that humanity is the representative of God in the created world. When Aquinas is brought up in this discussion he is often plastered with a simplistic negative assessment: he believed that the image of God resided in the intellectual faculties of humans, that is not what Genesis 1:27-28 meant by the image of God. Therefore his assessment is incorrect. While Aquinas does focus on the intellectual facilities of humans in a way that, perhaps, is not the original meaning of Genesis 1:27-28, his view is much more nuanced than and is investigating.

In this post I want to consider a few quotes from Aquinas’s articles on the Image of God to propose the following: 1) that Aquinas’s doctrine of the image of God is not static. Instead, it has three factors: creation, redemption, and glorification. 2) In these factors, it is Christo-centric. 3) And while he does focus on the human mind as the seat of the image of God, it is the human mind directed towards God, thus revealing the relational dynamic of the image of God in humanity.

From the beginning of Aquinas’s Summa, he establishes three essential principles: 1) that the human creature is made for a particular end: to know and love God, and the only way we can know God is through revelation (1.1.a1). 2) Theology proper is the study of God: God himself in his infinite life and that which comes from God, i.e., all that is not God. This is how Aquinas says it, “But in sacred science, all things are treated of under the aspect of God; either because they are God himself; or because they refer to God as their beginning and end” (1.1.a7). Theology proper, i.e., theology ordered towards who God is and what God does start and ends with God as the beginning and end of all that exists. 3) since theology studies derivatively all that comes from the Triune God in his creative activity, the study of theology traces God’s creation, redemption, glorification, and the return of the creature to God – i.e., the mission of the Son and the Spirit for the reconciliation and restoration of the world (see 1.43-44). Taking these points together, in relation to our topic, human nature and the image of God will have a particular direction, one that is grounded in God as humanity’s creator and God as humanity’s end.

Our quotes come from Aquinas’s 93rd question in the first part of the Summa. He introduces the question as follows: “We now treat of the end or term of man’s production inasmuch as he is said to be made to the image and likeness of God” (1.93.Pro). So in treating the end goal of humanity’s creation, Aquinas establishes what the image of God in humanity is; in do8ng si the end, i.e., the beatific vision of God, or communion with God, shapes the beginning.

In the first article, Aquinas established what the image of God is in man. He argues, that humanity is an imperfect likeness of God, not imperfect because of sin, but imperfect because humanity is a creature, not the creator. This imperfection is akin to a painting of a real thing (1.93.1a). Humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, but not perfectly so because they are creatures and because there is only one perfect image of God:

The First-Born of creatures is the perfect image of God, reflecting perfectly that of which He is the Image and so he is said to be the Image, and never to the image… The image of God exists in his first-born Son; as the image of the king is in his Son who is of the same nature as himself; whereas it exists in man as in an alien nature, as the image of the king is in a silver coin. (1.93.reply 2).

The image of God in humanity is from God and is directed towards humanity’s end: perfection and union with God in Christ Jesus who is the perfect image and likeness of God. Notice, that for Aquinas, in the scope of redemption Christ, not Adam, is the first born of creation. He is the perfect image of God in the creation, and he is the one in whom our imaging of God is made perfect.

This is made evident a few articles later, where Aquinas considers whether all of humanity has the image of God or not:

Since man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature, he is the most perfectly like God according to that in which he can best imitate God in his intellectual nature. Now the intellectual nature imitates God chiefly in this, that God understands and loves Himself. Wherefore we see that the image of God is in man in three ways. First, inasmuch as man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men. Second, inasmuch as man actually and habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly; and this image consists in the conformity of grace. Third, inasmuch as man knows and loves God perfectly; and this image consists in the likeness of glory. Wherefore on the words, The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us (Ps 4:7), the gloss distinguishes a threefold image of creation, of re-creation, and of likeness. The first is found in all men, the second only in the just, the third only in the blessed (1.93.a4).

Setting aside the definition of the image for a second, notice how Aquinas defines the image of God in humanity via the whole of the economy of God’s work in the world: Creation, re-creation, and glorification. Mankind was created to know and love God, after the fall humanity was re-created when the perfect image of God, the Son, came and saved humanity. The image is brought to completion and perfection when humanity knows and loves God as much as is humanly possible in the beatific vision. This threefold distinction not only shows how the image of God is related to the work of Christ in creating, saving, and glorifying humanity in his own body, it also demonstrates that the image of God is in all of humanity. However, because mankind was created to be in communion with God, there are different levels of image bearing correlated to where one is in relation to the true image: Jesus Christ. Thus, the image of God is both a given reality in creation, but because we were made for God, it must also be re-created and perfected through the mission of the Son and the Spirit so that humanity can delight in and know the one for whom we were created.

This final point helps us make sense of why Aquinas, following Augustine, sees the image of God as especially located in humanity’ intellectual nature. For Aquinas, the intellect is not mere rationality, it is the location of our knowledge and love; our knowledge of God and our desire for God. our ability to know and love is what sets humanity apart from other creatures (1.93.a6). But this knowing and loving are not a general knowing and loving, but knowing and loving God. Aquinas quotes Augustine who argues that the image of God in humanity is most reflective of God when it is knowing and loving God (1.93.a8). In other words, the fullness of the image of God in humanity is directly connected to individual humans united to God in Christ through the Spirit who builds up in us the mind of Christ and fills us with the love of God.

Thus the location of the image of God is connected to the intellect not because knowing is the most God-like feature of humans, but because we were created to know and love God. When humanity is united to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, actively pursuing him in love and knowledge, that is when we are most reflecting the image of God, at least while we are still on earth. In the new creation, the image will be made perfect, and we will be like the first-born of all creation, the perfect image of God without defect: Jesus Christ the Lord.

From this discussion, we can see that Aquinas’s understanding of the image of God is about reflecting and participating in the knowledge and love of God. That for which humanity was made is grounded in Christ who is the perfect image, and it is brought to completion through the economy of salvation.

When we talk about the image of God, Aquinas’s understanding gives significant direction: 1) we must affirm that everyone has the image of God, and thus has an intrinsic value and significance. 2) At the same time, because we were created to be in a relationship with God, those who are oriented towards God in Christ have the potential to reflect the image of God more faithfully, insofar as they are orienting their lives towards the knowledge and love of God; i.e., growing in sanctification. 3) Knowledge of who God is and what God does, combined with a desire and delight in God is the path of conforming to the image of God in Christ Jesus (see John 17:3). 4) The image of God is still being brought to completion through the invisible missions of the Son and Spirit in the lives of Christians. 5) The end for which we are created was revealed at the beginning: We were made in the image of God to enjoy him forever in Christ.

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Augustine On the Love of God the Father

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I think one of the hardest things for people to get about Christianity is the love of God the Father. The images throughout history of a wrathful, angry, miserly, simply pissed off God the Father, are frequent enough that he ends up as a trope in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was perhaps wise of the Eastern Church to refuse to paint him, and the Reformation Church to cast aside all depiction to avoid misunderstanding (at the very least). This angry Zeus image is often countered by a placid, loving grampa or cosmic jolly Santa Claus.

I’ve struggled with seeing God the Father as loving; his love always felt conditional. The possibility of him blowing up at the slightest misstep always kept me on my toes, my knees, as I resented him for being so angry.

I tried to self-medicate the broken image of The Father by imagining him as my “Abba” my Dad, but it only worked in starts and fits. It always felt like that angry God was lurking behind ‘Abba.’ After a long time, however, I’ve slowly come to see God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ: The eternal Loving Father who love me, and the world, enough to deal with my sin and my shame.

My journey through this will take too long to account in this post, but I think that this quote from Augustine summarizes how I’ve come to see my eternal, loving, heavenly Father.

The love, therefore, wherewith God loveth, is incomprehensible and immutable. For it was not from the time that we were reconciled unto Him by the blood of His Son that He began to love us; but He did so before the foundation of the world, that we also might be His sons along with His Only-begotten, before as yet we had any existence of our own.

Let not the fact, then, of our having been reconciled unto God through the death of His Son be so listened to or so understood, as if the Son reconciled us to Him in this respect, that He now began to love those whom He formerly hated, in the same way as enemy is reconciled to enemy, so that thereafter they become friends, and mutual love takes the place of their mutual hatred, but we were reconciled unto Him who already loved us, but with whom we were at enmity because of our sin. Whether I say the truth on this, let the apostle testify, when he says: “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

He, therefore, had love toward us even when we were practicing enmity against Him and working iniquity; and yet to Him it is said with perfect truth, “Thou hatest, O Lord, all workers of iniquity.” Accordingly, in a wonderful and divine manner, even when He hated us, He loved us; for He hated us, in so far as we were not what He Himself had made; and because our own iniquity had not in every part consumed His work, He knew at once both how, in each of us, to hate what we had done, and to love what He had done. Tractates on John cx.6. 

 

There are a few things that this passage hits just right on the head:

  1. The Father’s love is not dependent on the Son’s work of reconciliation. He loved us from before the creation of the world. In fact, his love, as Augustine says is ‘immutable’ unchanging. That is indeed good news.
  2. The Son’s work of reconciliation was not because the Father hated us. Instead, it is because the Father loved us in our sin and estrangement. We were dead in our iniquity, and in his love, God the Faher sent his only beloved Son to rescue us. We were created good, and God the Father with his Son and Spirit, saved us from the deformity of sin, not to make us loveable but because he loved us, and wanted to make us lovely once more.
  3. Because God is our creator and Savior, because he knows what we were created for, he can hate the sin in us, while loving the one he created to be with him and without sin. He hates the deformity in us, with the goal of saving and healing it, and he loves us who have been deformed, again in order to make us new.

While Augustine does not hit on wrath in this quote, I think it is worth saying something about that in conclusion. There are a few misconceptions about wrath, first that it is somehow a particular feature of the Father – that caricature again. It is more appropriate to attribute wrath to the Father, Son, and Spirit together. The Triune God is wrathful against sin, not just the Father. Further, Wrath is perhaps better understood as a sub-attribute of God’s love, rather than an eternal attribute. God is eternally existing in the abundance and plentitude of his Triune life. God freely creates out of this life, and in that creation, sin comes about in creaturely rebellion against God. God’s eternal attitude towards his creation is love and grace, presented in the fact that he sustains creatures existence. Wrath is God’s love turned against the rebellion and destruction of his good creation. Thus, wrath is an attribute of his love that arises in the external works of God in his creation. God hates the sin, has wrath against it, while loving the creature he created – to the point of destroying sin in us. Finally, the triune God’s wrath against sin is poured out in Jesus Christ on the cross against our sin and death. The work of Christ death was a Triune action to deal with sin and death in the context of the Trinity’s own eternal and abundant life.

(I submit these thoughts without an expectation that I am right in all cases. I share these thoughts in submission to the Lord of the universe, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to his Scriptures, and for the edification of the Church).

Contemplative Apostolic Theologians: A Quote from John Webster

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If the Pastor-Theologian’s job is to proclaim Christ and his Gospel in every aspect of his life, i.e., to know the one big idea, (see: The Pastor-Theologian as A Hedgehog) then the Pastor-Theologian will need to approach the task of theology in a particular way. The quote below summarizes this way quite well.

Towards the end of his essay “Theology and the Peace of the Church,” John Webster offers this reflection on the dual discipline of the theologian in the church as both contemplative and apostle.

Theology is an aspect of the church’s intelligent participation in the order of peace. We are rational creatures whose actions are to be regulated by the intellect so that we may come to enjoy what Augustine calls ‘the well ordered harmony of knowledge and action which constitutes… the peace of the rational soul.” In fulfillment of this, theology is both contemplative and apostolic. Contemplative first, because whatever it may offer to the church derives from sustained and disciplined and unselfish attention to divine revelation in its limitless depths and scope; everything depends upon contemplative absorption in God and the gospel of peace. Apostolic second and by derivation, because the rule of charity in the church requires that gifts by communicated, not hoarded, such that theology is part of the flow of love, what John Owen calls a ‘contribution of supplies of grace, and light, and help of obedience, unto other members of the body. Theology, then, serves the church in its imperfect state by attending to and speaking about the God of peace and the peace of God. (Dominion of the Word, 164).

For Pastor Theologians, the discipline and drive towards contemplation is always called out to be apostolic, to be for the church in love. In ministry, it is tempting to be either contemplative, or apostolic, but pastor theologians must train themselves to be both a contemplative and apostle.

In meditating on this quote, I want to distinguish between contemplation and theological contemplation. Theological contemplation involves submission to God and his Holy Scriptures, sanctified reason, rigorous inquiry, prayer, studiousness, and intellectual engagement with the subject of theology: God and his works. Contemplation as a prayer discipline is a sub-genre of theological contemplation, where the pray-er seeks to engage in quietly being present to and meditating on Christ and his scriptures)

To be a contemplative theologian is to attend Christ and his Gospel in a disciplined, open, patient, and humble posture. As I wrote in another blog (The Patience of God in Theology and the Parish), theology takes time and patience. And more than time, the communication of theology and its hearing involve submission to the Triune God. We must read, talk, walk and think at God’s pace, because, in our very thinking, reading, talking and walking, Christ is actively sanctifying our thoughts and actions through the Holy Spirit. Theology must be contemplative and in being so it must be disciplined and submitted to the one we contemplate. It must be absorbed in, enthralled by, and rationally disciplined in exploring the depths of the God who creates and redeems us. All that is to say that theological contemplation, for the Pastor-Theologian is a vital task for the church (What that looks like in detail, will be worth considering in another post).

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Yet, theological contemplation must lead to apostolic preaching and teaching, because the very person theologians contemplate is love and pushes us towards the love of God and others by sharing the fruit of rigorous theological contemplation. Further, the theologian invites and hastens the body of Christ into the contemplation of God through their teaching, preaching, writing, and living. Contemplation is not for oneself only, though one must be changed by it for it to truly benefit others.

Note that according to Webster, the apostolic is grounded in the contemplative, and cannot be had without it. This is a severe rebuke to the church which almost always values doing over being. Christianity is grounded, not in our action, but in our reception of God’s saving triune action for us, it is grounded in the Gospel of Christ and Christ who is the Gospel.

Pastor-theologians are focused on one thing: Christ and his Gospel, and for us to be contemplative apostles, we must contemplate the mystery of the Gospel: God of peace and the peace of God.

Thankfully, Christians throughout church history have exemplified this pattern of Contemplation and apostolic ministry. In a future post, I will share one example of this way of theology in the life of Augustine of Hippo.

L’Abri a Way of Life for the Church Part 2: Francis Schaeffer Encounters the Trinity

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Have you ever wondered why Christians struggle, or just don’t, live what they believe? Francis Schaeffer questioned that to the extreme:  he let go of everything he believed and started from square one to ask “is any of  Christianity true?” This search for truth led him to experience the beating center of the Christian faith: the reality that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loves and saves humanity. One could go so far as to say, that the Trinity is the center of all of Schaeffer’s thought.

In my first post about L’Abri, I talked about the foundational reality of life at L’Abri: trusting and dependent prayer. I also pointed to the reason for this way of life: Schaeffer’s desire to live life in total trust in God’s existence and providence.

What are the grounds for this belief? Especially in a world that is immersed in a cynical distance from faith in the supernatural, combined with the suppression of anything that smells of transcendence concerning real things. We are allowed to believe in some kind of transcendence for personal experience, or in the movies, but not in life. Life is brutishly natural. Schaeffer wants to offer a view of reality that is diametrically opposed to this suppression of transcendence.

In this post, I want to show the content of Schaeffer’s belief in supernatural reality with the help of Fred Sanders. I argue that Schaeffer’s life and the life of L’Abri as a witness to the existence of God is grounded in the reality and experience of the Triune God of Christianity.

Fred Sanders, in his book The Deep Things of God, demonstrates a deep, though often implicit, Trinitarian grounding in a broad swath of evangelicals throughout Church history (As an aside, I found this book very healing in my own struggle with evangelicalism. In short, I discovered the doctrine of the Trinity outside of evangelicalism, but this book helped me see the implicit Trinitarian theology at work in evangelical pastors and theologians). Sanders profiles several evangelical theologians and pastors throughout the book, one of those profiles is of Francis Schaeffer (pages 181-189). 

After pastoring for several years, Schaeffer had a crisis of faith. He stepped back from his faith and started exploring it again, to discover whether it was really true and real, and what the implications of Christianity are if it really is true. After wrestling for months. This is what Schaeffer concluded:

I came to realize that indeed I had been right in becoming a Christian. But then I went on further and wrestled deeper and asked, “But then where is the spiritual reality, Lord, amongst most of that which calls itself orthodoxy?” And gradually i found something. I found something that I had not been taught, a simple thing, but profound. I discovered the meaning of the work of Christ, the meaning of the blood of Christ, moment by moment in our lives after we are Christians – the moment-by-moment work of the whole Trinity in our lives because as Christians we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That is true Spirituality. (Schaeffer, “Two Contents, Two Realities,” in Works vol. 3 (416-417). 

Of course, this quote leaves us wondering, what does this ‘moment-by-moment work of the whole Trinity” look like? What does the supernatural reality of the Trinity look like in our daily lives?

The Holy Spirit indwelling the individual Christian is not only the agent of Christ, but he is also the agent of the Father. Consequently, when I accept Christ as my Savior, my guilt is gone, I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and I am in communication with the Father and the Son as well as of the Holy Spirit – the entire Trinity.  Thus now, in the present life, if I am justified, I am in a personal relationship with each of the members of the Trinity. God the Father is my Father; I am in union with the Son, and I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is not just meant to be a doctrine, it is what i have now (True Spirituality, 271). 

Schaeffer’s point is that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not something to merely be believed, it is the warp and woof of the Christian life. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit inseparably work to bring about our salvation; they meet us in a real and personal encounter, and live with us in daily communion, as the triune God.  That is the Christian life.  True to evangelical form, Schaeffer emphasizes that this encounter is an experience of personal relationship, personal relationship with the whole Trinity.

Our relationship is never mechanical and not primarily legal. It is personal and vital. God the Father is my Father; I am united and identified with God the Son, God the Holy Spirit dwells within me. The Bible tells us that his threefold relationship is a present fact, just as it tells us that justification and Heaven are facts (Basic Bible Studies, 362). 

This personal and vital relationship with the Triune God of the universe is the heart of the Christian life and the center of the Gospel. Evangelicals summarize the personal encounter of the Gospel that leads to conversion with the phrase, “accept Christ as Savior.” Schaeffer uses this phrase and reveals its Trinitarian depth: “When I accept Christ as my Savior, my guilt is gone, I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and I am in communication with the Father and the Son, as well as the Holy Spirit  – the entire Trinity.” (True Spirituality, 269). This is the Christian life, nothing less than life in God.

In a world that lives under the suppressive exclusion of transcendence, Christianity declares that the God of the universe dwells in every Christian who puts their faith and trust in Christ. The reality of the Trinity in the Christian life, True Spirituality, subverts and rebels against the oppression of transcendence. God offers “a moment-by-moment, increasing, experiential relationship to Christ and to the whole Trinity” (True Spirituality, 264). The Transcendent personal triune God breaks upon our brutish naturalism and reveals a whole way of life, real belonging, real wisdom and knowledge, and real joy: life in the happy land of the Trinity.

This is the vision of God and reality that grounds the continued ministry of L’Abri. Should the church seek to live in this reality? yes. Will it? It is my prayer and my pursuit.

 

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Richard Hooker on Christ our Righteousness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Corinthians 1:30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

In church, we can through around a lot of big words. And sometimes how they relate to Jesus and our life can be confusing. I find it easy to forget how justification, sanctification, and glorification relate to one another, to my life, and especially to Jesus Christ. In my studies, I’ve found that seeing how all of these relate to being united to Christ helps align the words to the reality of salvation.

Richard Hooker, in his sermon, A Learned Discourse on Justification, offers a helpful summary of how justification, sanctification, and glorification all relate to Christ and our union to him. Hooker argues that all of humanity stands before God as unrighteous and enslaved sinners. But Christ, in his death and resurrection is made the “righteousness of men.” Following Paul in Romans 5, Hooker argues that just as all of humanity were captive in death because of Adam, so all were made righteous in Christ. In Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, he saved humanity from sin through his atoning and substitutionary death on the cross. 

In other words, those who are in Christ are united to his work of salvation, are made right with God and humanity. Christ’s being our righteousness – a reality that comes from outside of unrighteous humanity, i.e., we do not earn nor do we deserve it; it is a total gift. It is one work of salvation in the one person of Christ, but it is distinguishable in three different ways.

“There is a glorifying righteousness of men in the World to come: and there is a justifying and a sanctifying righteousness here. The righteousness, wherewith we shall be clothed in the Lord to come is both perfect and inherent. That whereby we are justified is perfect, but not inherent. That whereby we are sanctified is inherent, but not perfect.” (Sermon II, sec. 3).

Hooker’s language is Old English and can be a little confusing, so let me parse out a bit what he is saying.

First, the glorifying, justifying, and sanctifying righteousness is Jesus Christ’s life and work applied to us. There are not three different righteousness, but one right person, Jesus Christ. Imagine one beam of light refracting out of a prism. Jesus is the righteous one who works his righteousness for humanity in three distinct but united ways.

The first refracted beam is glorifying righteousness. Hooker begins with glorifying righteousness to establish the end goal of human salvation:  communion with the triune God perfectly and inherently. Perfectly meaning that we are as we were created to be, and inherently, it is an internal condition – we are made entirely holy inside and out. This is the goal end to which God created and redeemed us to draw us into union with God in Christ. But we do not yet have this righteousness.

The second bean is the justifying righteousness. In the death of Christ, we are justified by his perfect righteousness,  but it is outside of us.  We are declared sinless and united to Christ’s death. It is important that the death of Christ justifies us from the outside and is perfect because it establishes the security and reality of salvation. We are made right with God because of Christ’s perfect obedient righteousness, and it has nothing to do with our ability to be right with God. Christ the righteous one dies for the unrighteous. The perfect righteousness of Christ becomes ours as a gift without works. The reality of justification is sometimes scoffed at as a mere judicial fiction. It is not fictitious because it is a perfect gift given and established in the infinite Triune life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nothing can change the justifying work of Christ, it is done and accomplished it is perfect, and it is given to those who are united to Christ in the Holy Spirit. Which brings us to the third beam of refracted light.

Jesus’s righteousness, his life, death, and resurrection, is infused into us through the Holy Spirit, making his righteousness ours internally but not perfectly. This is the processes of sanctification. Jesus is our righteous and gives us his Holy Spirit who infuses us with Christ’s virtues, habits, and life. It is not perfect, that comes in glorification, but it is a real infusion and process of growth and maturing. This righteousness is no less a gift, while at the same time it is internal and real because it is the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us, uniting us to Christ, who gives us his eternal life and love with the Father.

In his magnum opus, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Hooker puts what we’ve been saying differently.

“Thus we participate Christ partly by imputation, as when those things which he did and suffered for us are impulsed unto us for righteousness; partly by habitual and real infusion, as when grace is inwardly bestowed while we are on earth, and afterwards more fully both our souls and bodies made like unto his in glory. The first thing of his so infused into our hearts in this life is the Spirit of Christ…” V.56.11.

Here we see that we are perfectly justified by the imputation of Christ’s work on the Cross for us, and sanctified internally by the infusion of grace in our lives through the Holy Spirit which eventually leads us to be glorified perfectly and inherently.

In the end, what Richard Hooker helps us see is that Jesus Christ is our righteousness at all points in the Triune God’s economy of Salvation. When we struggle to believe we are loved, known and forgiven, Christ our justifying savior is there to tell us that he has completely saved us. When we struggle with Sin and the desire to know and love God Christ our sanctifying savior is with us and in us through the Holy Spirit drawing us further up and further in. When we look to the future, Jesus our glory is there calling us home and cheering us on to the full communion that awaits us in the new heavens and new earth. This is the light of the Christian, and because it is all Jesus Christ, we have nothing to boast about, and that is good for us because Christ is our Righteousness.

This compact summary of Christ as our Righteousness helps me think clearly and worship more faithfully the fantastic and beautiful Triune God. I hope it blesses you and leads you to worship God the Father, Son, and Spirit in heart, mind, and action.