Saturday, February 14, 2009
Reformed Spirituality: Reflection on Justification, Adoption and Sanctification
A Reflection on Smaller Catechism Questions 30-35.
In Question 32, we are told that our union with Christ (in Q30) results in us being made to “partake of justification, adoption, sanctification,” which are then described in Questions 33, 34, and 35 respectively. Looking at the answers in the catechism: what is similar and what is different between these three benefits of Justification, Adoption and Sanctification?
Question 33 defines justification as “an act of God’s free grace.” Reformation Christians know justification is an event, whereby we are once found in the courtroom of the Judge and once declared righteous based on Christ’s work. What might make this doctrine more precious to the believer is realizing not all Christians enjoy this Pauline perspective on justification. Roman Catholicism sees justification as a process, and so we are never out from under the glare and judgment of the righteous Judge. Our works are continually on trial, to be weighed in justification. How we view God and relate to Him in the rest of our Christian walk flows from this difference.
In our calling, we receive a new relationship between us and God. Obedience is not to appease a Judge, but in love of the Father as we are now, in an event and act, also adopted as sons and daughters (Question 34). Thus, our obedient works are not under the eyes of a Judge, but a Father and accepted as such. Our elder brother Jesus has perfectly pleased our Father, and now our poor works are accepted in that light, as a Father accepts a bad drawing of a child, so our good works are accepted by the Father. Still we grow, still our good motives are mixed with bad so that we must repent even of our good works, but seeing the Christian life as a life of repentance, as both Calvin and Luther described it, does not mean was live in fear in a process of justification, but in joy in the light of adoption.
The means of our status as children of God also informs our devotion. Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4-5, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” We receive our adoption by the work of the Son. This is because, as Paul tells the Galatians earlier, of their union with Christ. “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God”( Gal 3:26) Christ has his Sonship by nature. In Christ’s work, He allows us union with him to share in the blessings of sonship. Paul tells us the Holy Spirit applies this to us in chapter 4, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”(Gal 4:6) Paul specifically describes this as adoption in his later letter to Romans where he writes, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15)
Seeing all the members of the Trinity involved in our salvation softens our hearts to our new family role. A Father we once feared has been given the title of “Abba” or “Daddy.” Close familial love replaces our alienation. Christ is looked up to as, firstly our Savior, but also our example. We learn from Jesus as we would an older brother. As an adopted member of the family, we can look to Him to see how to talk to the Father as Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer. We can see what actions please the Father in Jesus’ conduct. We can relate about suffering we both share in the experience of life. All these are benefits given to us by the Holy Spirit, the tie and rope that raises us up into the divine family.
What is accomplished by following the Law then? Certainly, we add nothing to Christ’s fulfillment. We do, however, share in the likeness of our Lord in our conduct. Just as Paul delighted in “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” not that Christ lacked full punishment of sin, but that Paul could walk in the same path as Christ. The imitation of Christ as the Son of God allows the believer as the adopted son of God to pattern their life in the manner in which they will grow up into. This might be likened to a child following an older sibling's foot prints walking in deep snow. The future perfection will allow us to walk more fluidly and perfectly, but until then we merely have the example of our older brother to follow. We add nothing to His path, but make gains in the path due to His going ahead of us.
Sanctification is infused with new meaning in this light, for sanctification occurs in the shadow of adoption. We are in the process of being “renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.” The application of Christ’s death and resurrection, thus, are applied to sons and daughters of God.
[If you would like to explore the aspects of Adoption as related to Obedience, listen to an interview of Peter Lillback as he discusses this theme in Calvin.]