Following up on my previous post and the discussion on the priority of grace before any imperatives for ethical behavior, I began to think about why many churches (esp. Chinese churches) focus so much on messages about holiness, commitment, and sacrifice. Not that these are not important or bad, for which I believe they are rightly virtues that Christians ought to pursue. But when they are preached exclusively without a prior message of grace and what God has already done, it easily becomes guilt-tripping that demotivates instead of encourages.
I think the problem lies in that we only believe in “justification by grace through faith alone”, but when it comes to sanctification, it easily falls back to works, using our will power, determination, and striving efforts. I suspect there is something wrong with our view of sanctification, feeling so remote from the grace that initiates our faith. And then I found this article written by a Lutheran theologian on “Sanctification by grace alone”.
“Lutherans recognize that Christians as sinners are never immune to the Law’s moral demands and its threats against sin, but in the strictest sense these warnings do not belong to Christian sanctification, the life believers live in Christ and in which Christ lives in them. In Roman Catholic and some Protestant systems, the Gospel brings the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, but is replaced by the Law which sets down directives for Christian life and warns and threatens the Christian as Christian. Law, and not the Gospel, becomes God’s last and real word for the believer. So Christianity deteriorates into an implicit and eventually coarse legalism and abject moralism.”
We are not only “justified by grace through faith alone”, but we are also “sanctified by grace through faith alone“. Both processes are the work of the Triune God in us, as it is said in Hebrews 12:1-2: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” God grants us faith and perfects our faith. The “Holy” Spirit is the one who “sanctifies” us. Let us never think for a moment that it is up to us to walk the remainder of the Christian path after we are saved. God’s grace sustains us from the beginning till the end.