Eric Landstrom, Christian Discipleship and Sin

, posted by Eric Landstrom

Laugh and grow in Christ.
“Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Consider your joy in salvation. Repeatedly well-meaning, well-intentioned disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ justify their poor, worldly, unloving behavior displayed toward one another by appealing to the fact that they are sinners and by expressing their belief that they are obligated and must manifest their sinful behavior to the detriment of their relationship with our Lord and to the detriment of their relationship with their fellows. I’m grieved at the proliferation of such defeatist attitudes and I’m angered that such attitudes are taught as though they are orthodoxy in seminaries and from the pulpit as though pericopes such as Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:3, and Romans 6:15-18 have been torn from the Bible from a lack of understanding. Brethren, are we not dead to sin and alive in Christ? I hear claims that although justified we’re all helpless sinners but how come I never hear of the justified reckoning themselves dead to sin? If you don’t know enough to grieve over this sad state of affairs then my heart cries out that what I’m about to say will be heard.

There is a criticism of the Western theological tradition made from the Eastern tradition that the West’s view of satisfaction leads to an improper theological consideration when satisfaction theology is incorporated into individual Western theological traditions. More disturbing to the Eastern tradition is the application of satisfaction theology leads to improper views of sin that work to hinder the works of God to bring about personal sanctification and good works (theosis* in the Eastern tradition). Like Protestant traditions, the Eastern tradition believes that good works, as Paul indicated, spring from the love of God and the love of one’s neighbors. Good works are the by-product of the Christian faith and come about organically from righteous thought and conduct that is embodied in believers who cloak themselves with the character and nature of Christ.

The Eastern critique is that Western judicial theology cultivates expressions of gloom in the general demeanor of its disciples particularly in public where outward signs of an individual’s exemplary character are patronizingly and piously manifested.** Theologically the underlying Eastern criticism is interesting and is premised on the idea that the original notion of sin as “missing the mark” has been changed in Western juridical theology to consider all sin as constituting a grievous legal transgression for which a form of legal punishment is due. For the Eastern tradition, the seriousness of missing the mark (sin) is the lost relationship with God for the non-Christian, or sinning Christian, the interruption in communion with God. The seriousness is not that some type of punitive punishment is necessary for atonement. For the Eastern tradition, the practical outcome of anybody practicing juridical theology is that sin involves a spiritual bankruptcy of a morass of guilt that results from the suspicion that any sin transgresses an undefined legal criterion of morality that is beyond a simple prayer of apology and a resolution to do better next time and an inability to recognize that God is continually providing by grace the means to do better if the grace he gives is picked up and acted upon in faith.

The hindrance to progressive sanctification in the Western tradition is obvious if it is believed that sin cannot be overcome by grace and that ultimately sinful temptations must be acted upon. The resulting spiritual bankruptcy leads to a loss of the joy of salvation, an emphasis on self-effort that leads to repeated frustration and spiritual suffering in the belief that God will leave the sinner in his or her sin, and condemnation toward those expressing theosis or the attitude of improving one’s relationship with God and their fellows by embodying more and more grace and faithfully acting on it.

Influenced by the Eastern tradition, Wesleyan theology embraces the call for progressive sanctification (theosis or perfection, the process of becoming more like God). In this, the Wesleyan tradition views sanctification not in the abstract as though personal holiness or self-righteousness is something that can never be realized in this life or that any attempts to repent ultimately leave the disciple defeated in their outlook of living out life in terms of reckoning oneself dead to sin and alive to God. Instead, the Wesleyan tradition considers sanctification in relational terms wherein the disciple ever strengthens his or her relationship or communion with the Lord by continually embodying the grace God rains down and acting on the grace in faith. Hence, John Wesley’s primary contribution to Western theology was the rediscovery and emphasis that like justification, sanctification is also by faith. The practical application of this doctrine begins when the disciple realizes that he or she doesn’t need to act on the daily sinful temptations but by God’s grace is able to finally and at last be made free from sin and become a servant of righteousness (cf. Rom. 6:18).

By the grace of God do we go,

Eric Landstrom

* In the Eastern tradition theosis is the call to man to become holy and seek union with God beginning in this life and later consummated in the resurrection cf. 2 Peter 1:4.

** When I interned under the General Secretary of the Evangelical Free Church who was in charge of ordinations and pastoral discipline, I learned the more rigorous the outward piety, the more a sense of shame was likely to conceal and allow sin to fester rather than express personal confession and petitions for prayer and help. Rigorously pious church cultures were also less likely to actually help those who were steeped in sin in preference for standoffish condemnation.