We met with about 20+ young adults and I led a discussion on justification and sanctification. The notes from it are below. During the discussion I learned much about trusting God and remembered in a powerful way that God doesn't demand that I justify myself. Justification is toxic to a relationship of trust and love. God doesn't demand it - God gives it. We are made right.
It was a great time and for me, it was especially affirming to see old friends and people who had welcomed me into their faith community years ago.
Afterward, the 3 of us from Prince of Peace stayed downtown for dinner at Busboys and Poets and we chatted about church, the youth, our own struggles. We laughed and shared good food. The whole evening felt like one big IV drip of God's love. Which brings me to the presentation. Based on one of my favorite Luther quotes - brought to me originally by my friend Rachel. Not health, but healing...
This life therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness; not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not what we shall be but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished but it is going on; this is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.
M. Luther. "Defense and Explanation of all the Articles,” Second Article (1521)
Guiding Question: How do we grow in righteousness?
Two theological terms for how we become right with God and others:
#1) Justification – being found blameless. (As in a court of law)
…Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith…. Romans 3:21-26
#2) Sanctification – being made holy.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
Jesus is the only one who can justify us before God. This is a centerpiece of Lutheran theology. We cannot justify ourselves. It’s grace that we are justified.
Lutherans aren’t so clear about sanctification. We tend to de-emphasize sanctification because we are convinced that despite all the ways we appear to become more saintly, there always lives in us a powerful sinner. We need God’s grace just as much at the last moment of our lives as we did at the beginning.
But what about this quote from Luther and all the ways Scripture and our faith tradition say that we can grow in righteousness? How do we grow in righteousness?
1) How do you define righteousness? What is self-righteousness?
2) How do you try to justify yourself? How does justification work in your human relationships? How are justification and trust related?
3) How do you think you are “growing in righteousness?” What are the roadblocks? What are your resources? What’s God’s role in your improvement?
4) What does morality – being good – mean to you? What kind of morality litmus tests do you see in contemporary American Christianity - both the Christian right and Christian left.
5) Think about religions/ denominations you know. How do you think that justification and sanctification work out in those religions? If every major religion teaches similar things about morality, what is distinctive about Lutheran Christianity?