Thursday, September 09, 2010

Power of Christ and Sanctification

Rescued by Jesus Christ
Many Christians understand the mercy and Justification of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But many could speak more of the transforming and sanctifying power of Christ's Atonement. The basic doctrine begins understanding that all mankind are fallen and lost as a consequence of living in a fallen world. Therefore, none of us could even take one step towards God without His mercy and condescension to reach down and "rescue" or "save" us from our "spiritual free-fall" from glory to eternal damnation. This rescue is by virtue of Christ's grace and mercy alone and not any works of our own as Paul explained in the Bible. To sum up, this means, "God makes the first move" and empowers every move toward heaven thereafter.

Justification by Grace
But what happens after we have been saved. Obviously, there isn't a person alive that has not sinned, nor does a believer gain the ability to live a sinless life immediately. Some Christians believe that living sinless is not the point. However, we both agree that Christ's righteousness is imputed to the believer who is then empowered to receive the Holy Ghost by virtue of Christ's righteousness and not their own. The Holy Ghost makes any righteousness possible, and because even one little sin breaks the whole law, even one sin would make receiving the Holy Ghost impossible forever. So, because Christ's righteousness if imputed unto the believer, the sanctifying and perfecting and purifying influence of the Holy Ghost can begin to operate in our lives as though we were righteous. This "declared righteousness" is what is known as "Justification."

The issue here is that the initial reception of the Holy Ghost through the grace and merits of Christ is not the end but only the beginning of a new life, and new walk as a disciple of Christ. The path of Christian discipleship still remains ahead. The straight and narrow path of Christian discipleship lasts a lifetime. This is why Paul gloried God before His death "I have finished the course, kept the faith, and endured to the end."

Sanctification by Grace
Many Christians just don't get what LDS doctrine is all about. Many errantly claim that LDS believe that we "save ourselves" or "meet God part way". Any idea even close to this is categorically false. What people don't realize is that when LDS leaders are speaking to LDS members, they are focused on the message of "sanctification", "repentance" and "becoming better in Christ" and not necessarily on the initial Justification by grace and mercy, which has already happened. So, to outsiders and even some insiders, it may seem all this talk about "trying a little harder to be a little better" sounds like LDS are leaving Jesus Christ out of the equation. Again, nothing could be further from the truth.

Will and Agency
According to LDS salvation theology, the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ empowers every move of the believer. The grace and mercy and power of Christ doesn't end at the first move, but continues on until the work of purification, sanctification, and perfections is complete. The power of Jesus Christ's atonement empowers every step back into His presence, but the believer is still an active participant. God does not force his will upon us, therefore, while Christ empowers each step, the believer must choose to receive the empowerment. Man's will is our essence, our mind, our sentience. But just because man is sentience, doesn't mean he has a choice. Agency, freely given through and by Jesus Christ, gives man a choice to choose something better than a guaranteed eternal death and hell. But we still must choose.

Not a Fullness at First
What some believers are not taught well is that when a person is "Born Again" and they receive Christ through their faith, that the person does not receive the fullness of the Holy Ghost at first. Upon accepting Christ, we receive a certain portion of light and spirit which is proportional to our faith and personal righteousness at the time. While this righteousness is not the basis of our receiving the Holy Ghost at all, the fact of the matter is, the more we receive Christ, the more we align our lives with His will, the more light and spirit we will receive in our life. This is what is meant when the scriptures teach that we "do not receive a fullness at first, but grace to grace."

Remembering and Enduring
Look at it this way. Have you committed sin today? If your like me, then yes. So, ask yourself the following? How could you possibly have sinned at all if you have been "Born Again" and had become a "new creature." What did the Holy Ghost do while you were committing that sin? Was the Holy Ghost still with you while you were in the act of sinning? Where did the Holy Spirit go while you where sinning? How could you possibly sin after you have experienced the love of Jesus Christ? Is Christ's love and power and spirit not powerful enough to overcome your flesh? Isn't the power and love of Christ more powerful then whatever urges or appetites or habits you have? The answer is an obvious "YES." The issue at hand, is that after the initial Justification, and Rescue and being "Spiritually Born Again" comes the life-long process of sanctification, repentance, remembering and enduring to the end.

Spiritually Born Again
Let me clarify that LDS recognize that a sign of being Spritually Born Again doesn't mean sinlessness or perfection, but it means a deep desire and longing to be follow Christ and hope and faith that He will perfect us. Being Born Again means we wish we were perfect. Being a disciple of Christ means that we wish we could never forget, wish we never would falter, wish that we would loose all desire or disposition for evil forever.

Active Participants and Free Agents
So, how does the process of Sanctification happen and upon what conditions? First, Christ empowers each and every step. But as active participants in the process as we "work out our salvation with fear and trembling", believers are expected to participate. What believers are expected to do is to choose. Christ gives us the ability to choose. He give us the choice, and then He empowers our ability to make the correct choice. But, remember, Christ makes us free, we are not slaves. Therefore, as free agents, we must make the many right choices we are given. So, as George Bush would say, knowing that Christ is the empowerer, we are still the deciderers.

Heavenly Father is Holy
The Bible clearly teaches that "No unclean thing can dwell in the Kingdom of God." God is holy, and therefore, those that dwell in His presence must also be holy and not just "called holy." So, if we realize and accept that we are not perfect at first, but that eventual perfection and sanctification is necessary, required, and possible in order to dwell in the presence of God, then we need to understand how sanctification works. And when we understand how sanctification works, then we can begin to receive, apply, and enjoy the sanctifying power of Christ's atonement right now.

The Father and the Son
Much of the doctrinal disagreement on the need for sanctification I think stems from confusion about the nature of God. When Joseph Smith received the First Vision, He saw Jesus Christ standing on the right hand of Heavenly Father. They were 2 numerically distinct persons, individuals, and beings, who are 1 God, just as Stephen witnessed prior to his martyrdom and just as Justin Martyr explained to Trypho the Jew.

Saved From Our Sins
Because Jesus Christ, the Son of Our Heavenly Father, condescended to come to Earth and associated with sinners and publicans during his life, many Christians may not believe sanctification or becoming sin free is necessary. Many believe that being "called clean" or "declared righteous" is good enough and sufficient. However, when you realize who God the Father is and who the Son Jesus Christ is, then you realize that the scriptures refer to God the Father as "The Man of Holiness" and Jesus Christ as "The Son of Man."' The scriptures teach that, because of our unholiness, Man has been separated from the presence of God the Father since the Fall in the Garden of Eden and that God the Father has not dealt directly with man since that time (not even to Joseph Smith). Therefore, just because we feel that Jesus Christ accepts us as we are, "in our sins." We must realize that the power of Christ's Atonement and His mission is for the precise purpose to "save us from our sins." Therefore, at some point, when Christ has finished His work in us, He may present us perfect, and clean, and holy, and sinless to enter into the presence of The Father forever. In this way we understand that Jesus Christ was begotten from the beginning to perfect and complete mankind, and not to complete and perfect God the Father. God the Son is not a piece or part of God that if removed would detract from the perfection or completeness of God the Father who is perfect alone.

Not All Sin From Satan
In order to return holy, purified, and sanctified into the presence of God the Father, man must become sinless. Some may think that sin is impossible in the presence of God. Some may think that with Satan cast out that there would be no more tendency at all to do evil. But this view that sin would necessarily be impossible in heaven is based on an incorrect assumption that all sin is Satan's fault. The truth is that man can sin all on His own. Think about it, if it were impossible to sin in heaven, then Lucifer could never have rebelled in heaven, and would never been able to lure a 1/3-part of the hosts of heaven to his side before being cast out.

Growing Light and Grace
So, knowing that sanctification is necessary, required, and possible in Christ, here is the process. In order to receive more power, spirit, light, and grace that empowers righteousness, you have to be fully receiving the power, spirit, light,and grace that Christ has already given you. In other words, if you want seconds, you have to finish the food that is already on your plate. And that is what growing from grace to grace is all about. And in this way, the LDS focus and the Higher and New and Everlasting Covenant which is sanctification-centered, is fully and entirely grace dependent and not at all about saving ourselves or even taking one step towards heaven without Christ. Trying a little harder to be a little better is about receiving and applying the grace and gifts that Christ has already given us. Why ask for more, if we have cast aside what we have already been given?

Why Change?
So, why do LDS bother talking about sanctification and repentance. Why do we discuss ways to avoid this or that sin, or ways to have a good attitude in doing this duty or that duty? The reason is, that while it's nice to be forgiven, sin still has very real consequences. Sin is painful, and sin hurts and injures ourselves, and others. And the reality is that we can do all the praying we want, but if we have a serious sin or habit or addiction, Jesus Christ is not going to save us from the painful consequences of that sin. In reality, it is the good news of the gospel that Christ's atonement is not just mercy to forgive us our sins, but also empower us to stop the sinning. That is the beauty of the Atonement. Christ can overcome any addiction and empower you to escape it. And only when you put that sin or addiction behind you, then the guilt, and pain, and consequences go as well.

LDS 12-Step Program
I was part of a family discussion the other night about how the LDS Church has successfully implemented and utilized the 12-Step Program" for behavior modification and overcoming addiction. LDS considered the 12-Step Program to be inspired by God. However, there is a small but very important addition that LDS give to the 12-Steps that illustrates just what I have been discussing here.

First, here is the LDS version of the 12 Steps:
1. Honesty-most sin involves lying and making excused to others and to ourselves.
2. Hope-you must believe that change is possible.
3. Trust in God-you must recognize you cannot overcome sin or do anything good without God.
4. Truth-knowing is half the battle. In all cases, when we realize God's way really is better, and that we had been missing out all this time, then we wish we had never sinned in the first place.
5. Confession-we will confess to God and to those we have injured.
6. Change of Heart-we will desire to change and be sinless.
7. Humility-we will recognize our weakness.
8. Seeking Forgiveness-we will forgive ourselves, seek forgiveness, and forgive others.
9. Restitution and Reconciliation- where possible, we will make right what we made wrong.
10. Daily Accountability- we will set goals and systems to monitor our progress daily.
11. Personal Revelation- we will seek revelation from God to know what we are to do.
12. Service- we will actively serve others and help others in the same way we have been helped.

Power of Christ's Atonement
Above are the LDS-version of the 12-Step Program. These steps are very typical to those that are presented at a typical AA meeting. These steps are also very akin to the traditional 5-steps of repentance that are routinely taught in the LDS Church which includes: Recognition, Sorrow for Sin, Confession, Restitution, and Service.

Change of Heart
Now, here is the twist I was talking about before. When you join with an AA group, it is taught that you are an alcoholic and that you will be an alcoholic forever. Therefore, according to the traditional 12-Step programs, you can never have a drop of alcohol again. Alcohol will always be a temptation for you the rest of your life, and that there is always the risk of slipping back into the addiction.

However, according to LDS Doctrine and according to personal experience, the Atonement of Jesus Christ goes further that just helping us deny ourselves of our ever-present, wicked, evil and destructive appetites and desires. According to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the promise that if we exercise faith in Christ through first applying His grace and denying ourselves, then is the great promise that Christ, through His grace and mercy, will take that desire from us completely. Jesus Christ promises us that it is possible that He can remove any disposition or desire for evil in this life. Now that is the greatest miracle of all.

Now, critics may say, that they do not know any Christian believers, that are perfect, so actually becoming sinless cannot possibly be expected. However, I do now know what the purpose of arguing this point is. Sin causes suffering and pain, and real consequences. Righteousness, on the other hand, brings joy and happiness. I cannot understand why anyone who believes Christ, would have a problem with believing that Christ's has the power to overcome our flesh and can help root out of us any addiction or sin, or bad habit, if we desire and allow Him too.

Resurrection of Just and Unjust
I think the issue here is a misunderstanding of God's time line. As I see it, Adam and Eve had nearly 1000 years to work on their sins and repentance and sanctification after the garden. For us today, we have hardly 85 years or less during a time when more wickedness exists on the Earth than at any time in Earth's history. The good news however, is the promise of the Millennium. During the Millennium, the believers in Christ are promised to be resurrected to dwell on Earth with Christ for 1000 years. During that time we are told Satan will be bound and have no power. Therefore, I look forward to this period when we can complete our sanctification and be prepared for Jesus Christ to present us and this Earth as holy to Our Heavenly Father. However, the work we allow Christ to do in us here and now, will make sure we are physically resurrected in the morning of the first resurrection clothed with glory and immortality and not resurrected with the unjust near the end after spending the majority of the Millennium in spirit prison.

Moroni 10:32-34 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen.