Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sin & sanctification

Haggard has admitted to sexual sin, although he’s vague on the details. A few further reflections:

1.You notice that these Televangelistic scandals tend to involve Pentecostals (e.g. Bakker, Swaggart, Haggard). Maybe that’s just a coincidence, but there may also be an underlying factor.

Obviously, Pentecostals are no more prone to temptation than anyone else, whether Christian or non-Christian.

However, they do have a different way of handling temptation.

Progressive sanctification is the standard model of sanctification. It stresses the means of grace, broadly defined. The walk of faith involves a lifelong struggle with sin.

But charismatic theology is an extension of the Wesleyan tradition, with its incipient or sometimes explicit perfectionism.

Pentecostalism, especially in its popular forms, is apt to look for a shortcut to sanctification.

You deal with temptation by receiving the baptism of the Spirit, or having an “anointed” preacher pray over you and cast out that demon of alcoholism, drug-addiction, sodomy, pornography, compulsive gambling, &c.

Of course, this doesn’t work. It’s especially ineffective in the case of compulsive-addictive behavior, which is very ingrained, and tends to mask other inadequacies.

In fact, it may even be counterproductive. For it fosters a false expectation of “victory” over sin.

The Christian, having been “delivered” from his besetting sin, let’s his guard down.

2.A related problem is the tendency to focus on the sin rather than the sinner. To single out a particular sin and act as if that can be treated in isolation to the sinner—like a lumpectomy.

But we don’t outgrow a sin. At most, we grow spiritually.

Spiritual growth is holistic. It’s the sinner who is the object of sanctification, and not some particular sin.

To the extent that we overcome a particular sin in our life, that’s a side-effect or secondary consequence of spiritual growth in general.

We progress or regress as whole persons. It’s not as if parts of us are ahead of other parts, which trail behind.

3.Now I’ll make a general observation that has nothing to do with Pentecostalism in particular.

One immediate effect of conversion may be to diminish temptation. It’s like falling in love. When you’re under the spell, everything seems fresh and new and wonderful.

Your ordinary impulses fade from consciousness because you’re filled with the joy of your new experience.

But, of course, that wears off. Once the initial euphoria begins to lose its shrink-wrapped sheen, the old impulses reassert themselves.

4.And this can place the convert in a real bind.

On the one hand, he may have lost all his old friends as a result of his conversion. So he can’t go back.

But if he admits to something like homosexual temptation or pornographic addiction, then he may lose his new friends as well.

Either way, he’s going to lose face. Either way he will end up feeling even worse off than before. Without a friend in the world.

Maybe he won’t lose all his new friends, but he doesn’t know what will happen if he comes clean, and he’s not prepared to take the risk.

Having gone that far in the walk of faith, there’s a strong incentive to cultivate a double life rather than return to his old life by making a clean break with either one or the other.

And this is not necessarily the same thing as sheer hypocrisy. For he may sincerely feel that, if he just gives it more time and effort, he will be able to wean himself away from his besetting sin.

But, of course, by leading a double life, he is dieting and overeating at the same time. Like a man who imbibes salt water to slack his thirst, the more he drinks, the thirstier he becomes.

5.What’s the solution?

There’s nothing that will work with everyone, but a couple of things would help:

i) People need to be taught a correct understanding of conversion and sanctification. It will save them from fostering false expectations—expectations that are bound to be dashed sooner or later.

ii) Churches need to offer ministries in which it’s safe for its members to confess a besetting sin without burning all their bridges in the process.

12 comments:

  1. SO what, then, is the "correct understanding of conversion and sanctification"?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Here are a couple of classic definitions from the WCF:


    CHAP. XIII. - Of Sanctification.

    1. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them, the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

    2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

    3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

    CHAP. XIV. - Of Saving Faith.

    1. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.

    2. By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

    3. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Steve said,

    "One immediate effect of conversion may be to diminish temptation. It’s like falling in love. When you’re under the spell, everything seems fresh and new and wonderful.

    Your ordinary impulses fade from consciousness because you’re filled with the joy of your new experience."

    What are your opinions on whether or not initial conversion always takes this form? I don't know much about this, but can there be conversion without initial joy?

    ReplyDelete
  4. "SO what, then, is the 'correct understanding of conversion and sanctification'?"

    Sorry, you're probably looking for an answer from Steve, but I'll just jump in here for a split second. Steve recommended a series of books by theologian Paul Helm in his Christian starter kit: The Beginnings; The Callings; and The Last Things. I recently purchased them all. They're pretty cheap, too. (Look for them on someplace like Amazon or directly from Banner of Truth.) The Beginnings and The Callings might be especially helpful here. Monergism Books also highly recommends a book called The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. All right, sorry, I'll step aside now.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "What are your opinions on whether or not initial conversion always takes this form? I don't know much about this, but can there be conversion without initial joy?"

    Yes, that's possible. C. S. Lewis is a case in point.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Pastor Munchie11/05/2006 9:25 PM

    blah blah blah...

    blah...

    blah blah.

    Those wacky Pentacostals...if only they were God-fearing Reformed Presbyterians, then they'd have better luck with avoiding these icky scandals.

    They're so wacky...they need to believe in 'real' things like talking donkeys, plants, and snakes. That's the ticket.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "What are your opinions on whether or not initial conversion always takes this form? I don't know much about this, but can there be conversion without initial joy?"

    I recall at least one such story in A Pastor's Sketches (vol. 1) by Ichabod Spencer.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The Red Rocker11/06/2006 6:48 AM

    >One immediate effect of conversion may be to diminish temptation.

    I think maybe a better way of putting it is it gives you new interests. You just simply don't have the interest in various worldly, flesh-oriented, and even evil things you may have had interest in prior.

    Like for instance, think about this: when you're totally in the illusion of the world any member of the opposite sex (whatever gender you are) may seem attractive in some illusory way. Once you wake up via regeneration and then conversion people tend to start looking like they really are. Not just in terms of aesthetic looks, but in terms of intelligence and character and so on. And when you begin seeing human beings that way very, very few of them can tempt you in the old way.

    ReplyDelete
  9. What I like is the way that "pastor munchie" doesn't use this issue to score cheap points.

    The trouble, I agree, is the 'instant sanctification' aspect of Pentecostalism (and other traditions) which can leave a person who finds themselves subject to a besetting sin or temptation feeling that they are the only such person in the room.

    What is necessary is to take seriously the matter of remaining sin in the believer's heart. I reccomend John Owen's little book on 'The Mortification of Sin', published by Christian Focus for less than five pounds.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Amen!
    Too many people want to be "good enough" to stay in their church, leading to a double life that is fueled by the fear of being genuine with other believers.

    This flies in the face of such verses as James 5:16, for how can you admit your sins in a dangerous environment?

    Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

    ReplyDelete
  11. 1.You notice that these Televangelistic scandals tend to involve Pentecostals (e.g. Bakker, Swaggart, Haggard). Maybe that’s just a coincidence, but there may also be an underlying factor.

    It seems to me that when dealing with Penecostals, one is dealing with an extraodinarily large number of ministries, and that there are far less Reformed ministries (I don't have any statistics on this; it's just my gut reaction).

    I wonder if the names one hears are Penecostal simply because (1) the only names one would recognize are Penecostal and (2) there are far fewer Reformed pastors out there to begin with.

    Who are the Reformed names that most people would recognize? Sproul, McArthur (quasi-reformed)? Compare this with the many huge mega-church Penecostals.

    Like I said, I'm pulling these numbers out of my ass, so I don't know that this is the case at all. Maybe another way to look at it though.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Steve writes:

    "i) People need to be taught a correct understanding of conversion and sanctification. It will save them from fostering false expectations—expectations that are bound to be dashed sooner or later."

    I agree.

    The Perseverance theology of Calvinism fosters false expectations of persevering inevitable growth and sanctification.

    These expectations are necessarily dashed when struggles and failures persist in the one who thought that perseverance was guaranteed, yet has not been faithful to his own responsibilities in sanctification.

    For a recent blog article on the issue of perseverance and sanctification, please refer to

    Will All True Christians be Presented 'Blameless' at the Judgment Seat of Christ

    Antonio da Rosa

    ReplyDelete