Great Stuff Found on the Web — Forest Boar on “Justification? Check. Sanctification? Not so much…”

Another posting from Wild Boar from the Forest that caught my eye this morning .. He’s put up an article on Justification / sanctification that I wanted to call your attention to.



I had the opportunity this week to hear again from one of my dear fathers in the faith. He is the man who finally got me to see that there is a difference between law and gospel, and so is the man responsible for my being (as much as I am) a Lutheran, rather than a LINO.

In a discussion of sanctification, he opened my eyes to a battle I had never even known was raging (but which does, in retrospect explain some of the confusion I had at seminary when listening to different professors.)

Apparently, there is a faction in our synod that teaches that, while justification is a gift freely given (monergism), we must cooperate in our sanctification (synergysm.) Of course, this is complete nonsense. We believe teach and confess that “the Holy Ghost sanctifies and keeps me in the true faith.“ It is the work of the Holy Ghost to sanctify, just as the Father creates and the son redeems. To say that the first and third work without our help, but that the third person of the Trinity needs our assistance to do his work is ridiculous. In addition, this teaching would say that we are sanctified as we grow in perfection/grace/whatever. (I probably can’t explain it very well, because I don’t believe it.) The truth is, God makes us pure and holy in his sight. The fruit that we produce is not the result of our efforts, but a natural outgrowth of the faith we are given. If one believes that the new man is justified and holy before God (which is what sanctified means – made holy) while the old man is in league with the devil and the world, I’m not clear how one can hold to a Lutheran understanding of forensic justification while still maintaining a synergistic view of sanctification. As I said to this wise professor after he had explained the synergistic view, “Isn’t that what Rome teaches?” Indeed it is. (And to a lesser extent, the reformed.)

So beware, fellow pilgrims, of those who are teaching a synergistic view of sanctification. They may appear in some very strange places…

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff Found on the Web — Forest Boar on “Justification? Check. Sanctification? Not so much…” — 87 Comments

  1. @Holger Sonntag #32

    Dr. Sonntag,

    Thank you for your response. You have given this layman a great deal to think about and study. Above you write,

    @#32 Why can we not speak about it this way, why do we have to dismiss it as “psychology” that is somehow now binding on us? Why do we have to confuse it persistently with taking pride in one’s spiritual achievements before God? Don’t we all claim to be “confessional Lutherans”? You’d think that title has something to do with the actual Lutheran confessions and the way they speak, teach, and confess. Why does this even need to be defended among Lutherans?

    I think part of the answer is from the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth….” Are we not affirming in the explanation of the third article that God, by His will and not ours, sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith? This is what Luther writes in The Bondage of the Will. Concerning the term “free will”, “But, if we do not like to leave out this term altogether (which would be most safe, and also most religious), we may, nevertheless, with a good conscience teach, that it be used so far as to allow man a free will, not in respect of those which are above him, but in respect only of those things which are below him: that is, he may be allowed to know, that he has, as to his goods and possessions the right of using, acting omitting, according to his free will; although, at the same time, that same free will is overruled by the free will of God alone, just as He pleases; but that, God-ward, or in things which pertain unto salvation or damnation, he has no free will, but is a captive, slave, and servant, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan” (“The Bondage of the Will” translated by Henry Cole, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, p. 60, emphasis mine). Luther is clear that if we are “under the god of this world” we are “captives” of his will, but if we are captives of God then we are under His will. “Thus the human will is, as it were, a beast between the two. If God sit thereon, it wills and goes where God will; as the psalm says, ‘I was a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee’ (Ps. 73:22-23)” (ibid. p. 57). Any good that we desire or will to do is because God has, as Luther wrote, “sweetly breathed on [us] by the Spirit of God” (ibid. p. 56). What I gather from the above is that the good desires that come from God, from “above us,” are simply that, not ours but from “above.” They certainly are not caused by our wills and I think that is what Luther is getting at. If there is any sense of “cooperation,” I suppose it would be in that we don’t always resist these Godly desires given to us by God. But, I wouldn’t take that to mean we actively cooperate in bringing about, or causing, our sanctification, but to mean that we receive our holiness from God through the faith He has given us.

    I think I am pointing in the right direction, and hopefully I have made some sense even as a layman.

  2. Jim,

    Great quote from “Bondage of the Will.” My computer version of Luther’s Works is caput (long story) and so it is hard for me to do searches. I did not have time to check the hard copies via the Index volume so it is great that you provided that quote. I love it that Luther says it is most safe to just leave out this term (“free will”) altogether. That is the point I am trying to make. Apparently I got this insight from the old man himself and just forgot.


  3. @Pastor Tim Rossow #52

    It is a great quote from the Bondage of the Will. It mirrors the explanation of “Free Will” given in the Apology,

    73] Therefore, although we concede to free will the liberty and power to perform the outward works of the Law, yet we do not ascribe to free will these spiritual matters, namely, truly to fear God, truly to believe God, truly to be confident and hold that God regards us, hears us, forgives us, etc. These are the true works of the First Table, which the heart cannot render without the Holy Ghost, as Paul says, 1 Cor. 2:14: The natural man, i.e., man using only natural strength, receiveth not the things 74] of the Spirit of God. (That is, a person who is not enlightened by the Spirit of God does not, by his natural reason, receive anything of God’s will and divine matters.] And this can be decided if men consider what their hearts believe concerning God’s will, whether they are truly confident that they are regarded and heard by God. Even for saints to retain this faith [and, as Peter says (1 Pet. 1:8), to risk and commit himself entirely to God, whom he does not see, to love Christ, and esteem Him highly, whom he does not see] is difficult, so far is it from existing in the godless. But it is conceived, as we have said above, when terrified hearts hear the Gospel and receive consolation [when we are born anew of the Holy Ghost]. (source)

    75] Therefore such a distribution is of advantage in which civil righteousness is ascribed to the free will and spiritual righteousness to the governing of the Holy Ghost in the regenerate. For thus the outward discipline is retained, because all men ought to know equally, both that God requires this civil righteousness [God will not tolerate indecent, wild, reckless conduct], and that, in a measure, we can afford it. And yet a distinction is shown between human and spiritual righteousness, between philosophical doctrine and the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, and it can be understood for what there is need of the Holy Ghost. 76] Nor has this distribution been invented by us, but Scripture most clearly teaches it. Augustine also treats of it, and recently it has been well treated of by William of Paris, but it has been wickedly suppressed by those who have dreamt that men can obey God’s Law without the Holy Ghost, but that the Holy Ghost is given in order that, in addition, it may be considered meritorious.

  4. What we may be learning here is a difficult pill to swallow. The Lutheran Confessions may be operating with different definitions and assessments of the notion of free will. What you have quoted clearly chalks up sanctification to the Holy Spirit and what Jeff quoted in #1, to get all this started, is from the Formula.

    Does anyone know of any papers on this matter? Sounds like a great dissertation topic.


  5. @Jim Pierce #51
    As I said repeatedly, and as can be read frequently in the confessions, speaking about cooperation in sanctification is NOT the same as asserting man’s free will in conversion. Article 2 of the Formula of Concord makes exactly this point. Before our rebirth and renewal through the gospel, we cannot cooperate, prepare, contribute, or anything else in view of God’s grace. The text you quote from Luther makes this important point again.

    Dead people, after all, can as little bring themselves to lives as uncreated people can create themselves. This is the point Luther makes in the quote given by myself earlier yesterday. So here, there is no disagreement between us, which is a good thing!

    Where we disagree seems to be tucked away in your concluding remarks:

    “Any good that we desire or will to do is because God has, as Luther wrote, “sweetly breathed on [us] by the Spirit of God” (ibid. p. 56). What I gather from the above is that the good desires that come from God, from “above us,” are simply that, not ours but from “above.” They certainly are not caused by our wills and I think that is what Luther is getting at. If there is any sense of “cooperation,” I suppose it would be in that we don’t always resist these Godly desires given to us by God. But, I wouldn’t take that to mean we actively cooperate in bringing about, or causing, our sanctification, but to mean that we receive our holiness from God through the faith He has given us.”

    I agree with your first sentence: everything that good in us is from above (James 1:17). We can’t prepare for it or cooperate in bringing it about. We also can’t cooperate in keeping it in us, as the confessions state emphatically and as I quoted diligently. We also, and here I would go even farther than you, cannot cooperate with God’s grace in resisting less at certain times. We resist all the time because we are flesh (Rom. 8:7).

    I also agree that there is a kind of holiness that God gives to us by the gospel, and we receive it by faith. This is the kind of perfect holiness the Third Article in the Small Catechism is concerned about (“has sanctified me”) because by it we’re saved.

    However, this is not the kind of “cooperation” the confessions and Luther speak about. If we cooperated in any form with this kind of holiness — even if it were just by not always resisting — it would be dependent on our contribution, on something in us. Then our salvation would be the result of faith and love / lack of resistance; it would not be by faith alone. There are several pages in F. Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics about this serious problem.

    The kind of cooperation the confessions and Luther have in mind begins logically after our justification and rebirth by the Holy Spirit. Then we don’t simply follow our sinful impulses, but resist them as the Spirit gives us strength. We delight in God’s law, something which is impossible for the flesh (see, again, Romans 7-8). We begin to do the right thing — not because we “must” (understood as coercion by rewards and punishments), but because we really wish to do just that.

    Again, these new impulses as they are called in the confessions are owed 100% to the work of the Holy Spirit in us, which happens 100% through the means of grace. However, they are still new impulses in us. In other words, if there’s nothing new actually created in us, why does the bible speak about “a new creation” / recreation in this context (Eph. 4:20-24)?

    As a friend reminded me yesterday off-list, we’re not monophysites when it comes to Christ (affirming only his divine nature), so we’re also not monophysites, as it were, when it comes to the Christian (affirming only his human, sinful nature). The new man doesn’t simply evaporate and he’s also not simply identical with Christ dwelling actively in our hearts. He is a reality created by the Holy Spirit, and he becomes evident to us and others by his good thoughts, words, and deeds that serve the neighbor and glorify God.

    As it says so well in “Salvation unto us has come:”

    Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone
    and rests in him unceasing;
    and by its fruits true faith is known,
    with love and hope increasing.
    For faith alone can justify;
    works serve the neighbor and supply
    the proof that faith is living.

    While the confessions and Luther affirm the reality of this new man in us, they also warn us against obsessing about it. In other words, the fact that there is new spiritual life in us where there was only death before should not mislead us into now focusing on Christ’s work in us. Holy navel gazing is not a Christian virtue.

    This is so because our salvation always remains with Christ’s work for us and outside of us, the benefits of which are delivered to us by means of the gospel in word and sacraments (“faith … rests in him unceasing”). For, as was pointed out repeatedly, our new, incipient inner holiness is not perfect or complete; it is weak; it always has the old Adam spoil even the good we do (again, see Is. 64:6). The law still crushes us, if and when the shortcomings and sins are not forgiven (see again the quotes from the Apology’s article four referenced above), Psalm 143:2.

    This means: Lutherans affirm both Christ’s work for us on the cross AND Christ’s work in us. We put these two in their proper relation: Christ’s work for us saved us once for all. Christ’s work in us makes us more like him (cf. Rom. 8:29; 12:2; 1 Peter 1:14-16). Both are important gifts of Christ we shouldn’t refuse, but both need to be properly distinguished lest afflicted consciences are driven into utter despair or comfy consciences are left snoring.

    I know that there is a certain discomfort among Lutherans when we talk about sanctification because it is so often not properly distinguished from justification in the narrow sense (e.g., in certain synergistic strands of Pietism and Evangelicalism). The quick solution for this discomfort is often to equate sanctification with justification narrowly defined: it’s all God’s gift and we don’t do anything.

    The problem with quick fixes is that, while they provide some short-term relief and the ability to distinguish Lutherans from everybody else, they ultimately fail because they do not do justice to the complexity of the bible that is well captured in Luther and, after him, in the confessions of our church. To put it drastically, if you apply your quick fix in a discussion with a well-informed non-Lutheran, he’ll clean your clock and you’ll hate yourself. You can do better than that!

    So, while there is this “passive” meaning of sanctification (Christ’s holiness given to us) both in Scripture and in the confessions, it is by no means the only meaning of the term. There is also this “active” sanctification which, also merited by Christ and initiated and sustained by the work of the Spirit by the means of grace, takes place in us. The various passages for this in scripture I gave last night.

    In other words, we don’t and can’t combat the confusion regarding the coordination of justification and sanctification we see in other churches and Christians by adding another one of our own just to be more pious than they (“we don’t do anything in sanctification, so we’re more pious than you, ha!”). We shouldn’t make stuff up. All we need to do is faithfully repeat what God has spoken and what the confessions, following Luther’s lead, restate in their words.

    Finally, attributing everything good in us is by no means a peculiarity of Lutheranism. Last night we discussed that also Catholics and the Orthodox do the same. And this affirmation of God as the giver of every good and perfect gift in me and around me, while entirely biblical, true, and utterly pious, is — by itself — no safeguard for the proper understanding of the doctrine of justification. You could still claim: God gave me all this so that I am now able to work out my own salvation. That proper understanding comes first with confessing faith as that which grasps the perfect salvation acquired by Christ which is delivered by the gospel.

  6. @Andrew Strickland #49
    Just as an aside, since you brought it up: I’m all for community and love in the church, but, sadly, Luther’s 1519 book on the sacrament of the altar is still mostly the “Catholic” Luther speaking (G. Aulen’s affirmations to the contrary notwithstanding). In other words, the emphasis on the fruit of the sacrament as love and community is rather quite conventional and traditional. If you read the book, you notice that faith, word, forgiveness play no discernible role in the discussion of the Lord’s Supper and that Luther starts from some abstract definition of “sacrament.” Even though the thoughts are all nice, for the most part, he hadn’t “figured out” the proper understanding of justification.

    The “Lutheran” Luther speaks first in 1520 on this matter, based on the words of institution. As the focus on what saves us — faith in the word of promise — deepens, the focus on love and community lessens (see Small Catechism), not to disappear or because love is bad, but because when we speak about the sacrament of the altar we should zero in on what Christ does for us there.

  7. @Dennis Peskey #48
    Thanks much for the clarification! I see now better where you’re coming from.

    The distinction between holiness and cleanness seems to make sense as it mirrors the distinction between sanctification and justification in the narrow sense. This point is certainly well made in Lev. 16:30; Ps. 51:2.

    However, my question starts here: The Hebrew root thr, used in Lev. 10:10, is translated in the Septuagint often by katharizein, to cleanse, or katharos, clean; also hagnizein is used. This precise words appear in the NT both in the passive and active senses: You are being cleansed (e.g. Eph. 5:26; 1 John 1:7); cleanse yourselves (e.g., 1 Cor. 5:7; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 John 3:3).

    In other words, it seems to me that Lev. 10:10 and the distinction between (active) holiness and (imparted) cleanness does not ultimately provide us with a simple rule for reading the bible. Rather, the philological findings confirm that both justification and sanctification can have a broad and narrow, a passive and active meaning.

    I guess, when Luther was speaking about “purging sin” from us, he’s thinking of those passages in the NT that speak of an active self-cleansing that is distinct from, and a fruit of, God’s cleansing and forgiving in holy baptism.

    But maybe I’m missing some boat here. So feel free to educate me by sharing some more of Dr. Kleinig’s wisdom.

  8. @Holger Sonntag #56

    Dr. Sonntag, I am agreeing with much of what you are writing, but where I am having difficulty is fully understanding statements such as the following,

    The kind of cooperation the confessions and Luther have in mind begins logically after our justification and rebirth by the Holy Spirit. Then we don’t simply follow our sinful impulses, but resist them as the Spirit gives us strength. We delight in God’s law, something which is impossible for the flesh (see, again, Romans 7-8). We begin to do the right thing — not because we “must” (understood as coercion by rewards and punishments), but because we really wish to do just that.

    Again, these new impulses as they are called in the confessions are owed 100% to the work of the Holy Spirit in us, which happens 100% through the means of grace. However, they are still new impulses in us. In other words, if there’s nothing new actually created in us, why does the bible speak about “a new creation” / recreation in this context (Eph. 4:20-24)?

    If these new impulses “are owed 100% to the work of the Holy Spirit,” which I take to mean they are willed by the Holy Spirit and not by our wills, then what does it mean to “cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our sanctification?” What role does the human will play in the “active cooperation” of our sanctification if these impulses are “owed 100%” to God? Thus far, my understanding is that the human will doesn’t have an active role in our sanctification. Our will is the “beast” being ridden by God, if we are His. In other words, the Holy Spirit holds the reigns of our beast, the will. At least that is my understanding and I am open to correction if that is wrong.

    Thank you for the scriptures you provided above and in particular Romans 7:14-25, since I see much of those verses in what I quote from Luther and our confessions above and in particular verse 18b “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

    Thank you for your responses and I look forward to your answers to my questions above.

  9. @Pastor Tim Rossow #55
    Tim — as far as I’m concerned, no dissertations are needed to solve this “puzzle.”

    I’m happy to state it again (cf. Phil. 3:1): this discussion is NOT about the powers of the “free will” in the unregenerate man. It is NOT about the distinction between civil and spiritual righteousness. There are NO contradictions in the confessions concerning the powers of this “free will.”

    All the fine quotes that you and Jim are adducing only keep making this one single point: man’s will is bound to sin and destruction by nature. Great. We agree on that, and have been agreed even before this discussion started.

    Yet THIS discussion has been about whether the *regenerate* will of man cooperates — or: “must cooperate,” as it was originally phrased — with God in sanctification. The confessions affirm this, as far as I can see. How about you?

  10. Holger,

    As I am sure you realize, I subscribe to the Confessions unconditionally and so just to be clear, when I say there may be an inconsistency in the Confessions, I really am not trying to find one. I also must humbly confess that I do not know one tenth of what you know about the Lutheran Confessions. I greatly respect your knowledge of the faith. It’s just that I am puzzled and curious about what looks to be a contradiction. The following part of the Apology that Jim quotes above is quite clearly speaking not of justification, as you claim, but of sanctification.

    “75] Therefore such a distribution is of advantage in which civil righteousness is ascribed to the free will and spiritual righteousness to the governing of the Holy Ghost in the regenerate.”

    Spiritual righteousness in the regenerate is governed by the Holy Ghost. It is not talking about the unregenerate coming to faith by the imputed righteousness of faith but is talking about the regenerate and the actual righteous deeds they perform similar to the civil righteousness done by the unregenerate.


  11. Nevertheless there is this distinction between conversion and sanctification, that in the former man is purely passive, while in the latter he cooperates with the Holy Ghost.

    However, this cooperation must be rightly understood. It is not coordinate with the operation of the Holy Ghost, but subordinate to it. In other words, man cooperates in sanctification dependenter a Deo; that is to say, he works because and inasmuch as the Holy Ghost works in him.

    JT Mueller, Christian Dogmatics

    (I dropped two Latin parentheses and scripture cites)

  12. Good quote Joe. Even Mueller does verbal gymnastics to try and back out of the “free will” thing.

    The more that comes to light on this subject, the more I am convinced that the confusion comes from a non-scriptural notion, i.e. the spiritual free will, that we have allowed into the discussion because of our cultural conditioning.

    I could be wrong, but it just keeps looking that way.


  13. @Jim Pierce #59
    Happy to!

    Beginning at the end, who is the “I” Paul speaks about in Rom. 7:18? It doesn’t seem to be the same as the old Adam, that is, the flesh.

    In other words, the conflict in “me” that Paul speaks about is created by the gift of the Holy Spirit which creates in “me” the new man, man’s new spiritual nature, the sum total of all new, God-pleasing thoughts, words, and deeds produced in “me.” This new man does battle against the old man, man’s sinful nature.

    While created and willed by the Holy Spirit, the renewal of “my” will is not the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t will for me, but “converts” my evil will, so that, after conversion, my sinful nature is no longer the only reality within me. There is also the new man who delights in God’s will and begins to perform it, although he continues to be resisted by the flesh, the old Adam.

    A couple of quotes from the confessions (art. II of the Solid Declaration, great text!) say it much better:

    “20 It is as Luther says in his comments on ?Ps. 91?:?5? “?In secular and external matters affecting the nurture and needs of the body, man is indeed very clever, intelligent, and extremely busy. In spiritual and divine things, however, which concern the salvation of his soul, man is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, yes, like a log or a stone, like a lifeless statue which uses neither mouth nor eyes nor senses nor heart, 21 inasmuch as man does not see or recognize the dreadful, cruel wrath of God over sin and death but continues in his carnal security — even knowingly and willingly — and thereby runs into a thousand dangers and finally into eternal death and damnation. All pleas, all appeals, all admonitions are in vain. It is useless to threaten, to scold, or even to teach and preach?” *until the Holy Spirit enlightens, converts, and regenerates man,* 22 a destiny for which only man, no stone or log, was created. And while God in his righteous and severe judgment cast away forever the wicked spirits who fell, he has nevertheless willed, out of particular and pure grace, that our poor, fallen, and corrupted human nature should again become and be capable of and a partaker in conversion, in the grace of God, and in eternal life, not by its own natural and efficient aptitude, capacity, or capability — our human nature is in recalcitrant enmity against God — but out of pure grace through the gracious and efficacious working of the Holy Spirit. 23 Dr. Luther calls this a “?capacity,?”? which he explains as follows: “?When the Fathers defend free will, they affirm a capacity for this freedom in such a way that by divine grace it can be converted to God and become truly free, a condition for which it was originally created.?”? Augustine has written in a similar vein in his second book Against Julian.”

    “33 The Smalcald Articles reject the following errors concerning free will: “?That man has a free will to do good and to avoid evil,?” and shortly thereafter, “?That there is no scriptural basis for the position that the Holy Spirit and his grace are necessary for good works.?”? 34 The Smalcald Articles state further: “?*This repentance continues in Christians until death, for it contends with the sin remaining in the flesh throughout life, as St. Paul says in ?Rom. 7:23?, that he wars with the law in his members and that he does so not by his own powers but through the gift of the Holy Spirit which follows upon the forgiveness of sins. This gift purifies us and daily sweeps out the remaining sin and operates to make man truly pure and holy.?*” 35 These words say nothing at all about our will, nor do they say that even in the regenerated the will can do something of itself. On the contrary, they ascribe everything to the gift of the Holy Spirit, who purifies and daily makes man more pious and holy, to the complete exclusion of our own powers.
    36 In his Large Catechism Dr. Luther writes: “?I am also a part and member of this Christian church, a shareholder and partaker in it of all the goods which it possesses. The Holy Spirit has brought me thereto and has incorporated me therein through this, that I have heard the Word of God and still hear it, which is the beginning of my entrance into it. 37 For before we became members of the Christian church we belonged entirely to the devil and were completely ignorant of God and Christ. Until the Last Day, the Holy Spirit remains with the holy community of Christendom, through which he heals us and which he uses to proclaim and propagate *his Word, whereby he initiates and increases sanctification so that we grow daily and become strong in faith and in its fruits, which he creates.*?” 38 In these words the Catechism makes no mention whatever of our free will or of our contribution, but ascribes everything to the Holy Spirit, namely, that through the ministry he brings us into the church, sanctifies us therein, and effects in us a daily increase in faith and good works. 39 *Although the regenerated, while still in this life, reach the point where they desire to do the good and delight in it (indeed, actually do good deeds and grow in sanctification), nevertheless, as mentioned above, we do this not of our own will and power, but the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says, creates such willing and doing (?Phil. 2:13?),* just as the apostle ascribes this work alone to God when he says, “?We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them?” (?Eph. 2:10?).”

    “*We also reject the following formulas if they are used without explanation: that man’s will before, in, and after conversion resists the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit is given to those who resist him. 83 From the foregoing exposition it is clear that when the Holy Spirit’s activity produces no change at all for the good in the intellect, will, and heart, when man in no way believes the promise and is not prepared by God for grace, but wholly resists the Word, conversion does not and cannot take place. For conversion is that kind of change through the Holy Spirit’s activity in the intellect, will, and heart of man whereby man through such working of the Holy Spirit is able to accept the offered grace. All who stubbornly and perseveringly resist the Holy Spirit’s activities and impulses, which take place through the Word, do not receive the Holy Spirit but grieve and lose him.*
    84 Of course, there remains also in the regenerated a resistance, of which the Scriptures say that the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and likewise that the passions of the flesh wage war against the soul, and the law in our members is at war with the law of our mind.?
    85 Hence the unregenerated man resists God entirely and is completely the servant of sin. But *the regenerated man delights in the law of God according to the inmost self, though he also sees in his members the law of sin at war with the law of his mind.* For that reason with the law of his mind he serves the law of God, but with his flesh he serves the law of sin (?Rom. 7:22?, ?23?, ?25?). In this way one can and should explain and teach the correct opinion in this matter thoroughly, clearly, and definitively.
    86 The formulas, “?Man’s will is not idle in conversion but also does something,?” and “?God draws, but he draws the person who wills,?”? were introduced to support the view that man’s naturally free will cooperates in his conversion, contrary to the article of God’s grace. It is evident from the preceding discussion that this position does not conform to the form of sound doctrine but rather opposes it and therefore is rightly to be avoided in the discussion of man’s conversion to God. 87 *For the conversion of our corrupted will, which is nothing else but a resurrection of the will from spiritual death, is solely and alone the work of God, just as the bodily resurrection of the flesh is to be ascribed to God alone,* as was thoroughly demonstrated above from clear passages of Holy Scripture.
    88 It has also been explained in sufficient detail above that *in conversion, through the drawing of the Holy Spirit, God makes willing people out of resisting and unwilling people, and that after such conversion man’s reborn will is not idle in the daily exercise of repentance but cooperates in all the works that the Holy Spirit does through us.*”

    “Again, when Luther says that man behaves in a purely passive way? in his conversion (that is, that man does not do anything toward it and that man only suffers that which God works in him), he did not mean that conversion takes place without the preaching and the hearing of the divine Word, *nor did he mean that in conversion the Holy Spirit engenders no new impulses and begins no spiritual operations in us.* On the contrary, it is his understanding that man of himself or by his natural powers is unable to do anything and cannot assist in any way toward his conversion, and that man’s conversion is not only in part, but entirely, the operation, gift, endowment, and work of the Holy Spirit alone, who accomplishes and performs it by his power and might through the Word in the intellect, will, and heart of man. Man is, as it were, the subject which suffers. That is, man does or works nothing; he only suffers — though not as a stone does when a statue is carved out of it, or wax when a seal is impressed into it, for these do not know anything about what is going on or perceive or will anything in connection with it, but in the way and after the manner set forth and explained above.”

    The main point I’m making is this: “the regenerate … desire to do the good and delight in it (indeed, actually do good deeds and grow in sanctification), nevertheless … we do not do this out of our own [free] will and power, but the Holy Spirit … creates such willing and doing.” For the Holy Spirit is not given to those who (continually / merely) resist him and thus are not in fact renewed from within.

    There are, then, two wills in the Christian, if you will. Just like there are two wills in Christ, the God-man. However, unlike in Christ where there is agreement of wills, in the Christian there is war between the wills: the natural, “free” will in us wishes to do what displeases God. The spiritual will in us wishes to do what pleases God and therefore cooperates with God in sanctification, that is, in doing more and more good works according to the Ten Commandments.

    Luther’s image of man as a beast of burden ridden either by the devil or God cannot be pushed too far, as if there were no actual new will in man. Luther himself indicates as much in the context of this image, as quoted higher up on the thread: regenerate man “readily wills and does” what God commands. The confessions make that very point when they explain what “being purely passive in conversion” means and doesn’t mean.

    To be sure, we are God’s slaves. And as Pr. Rossow reminds us, in antiquity such slaves didn’t have a will of their own. They were just animated assets in their masters’ tool shed. However, the image of slavery again must not be overstretched, as if we, like probably most slaves, did the will of our master only reluctantly, after much beating, and with deep-seated hatred. Then we’d be no “living” members of Christ. We’d be dead, unbelieving members, ready to be cast into the fire.

    The new life in us created by the Holy Spirit is what sets us apart from the unbelievers and the common slaves, which is why we’re also called God’s sons and friends. It makes us willing, albeit imperfect servants of his will who, as God’s friends and children, cooperate with our big Brother’s Spirit. (Nice trinitarian finish, not?)

  14. @Pastor Tim Rossow #61
    Yes, Tim, the new life in us is governed, created, sustained, perfected on the Last Day — all by the Holy Spirit, all because of Christ. And we’re not saved by all this new life in us. Absolutely agree with it!

    HOWEVER, the new life is still a reality IN US that is not simply identical with the presence of the Holy Trinity in us. The old man is no longer the only reality in us. There is also the new man who daily arises and emerges in us out of repentance and faith (cf. Small Cat.).

    Your reference to “the spiritual free will” as being a product of “our cultural conditioning” got me thinking, however. Are you concerned that this doctrine of our cooperation with God in sanctification can be abused so that Christians, just because they are Christians, feel free to do, not what God wills, but whatever they will?

    If you are, let me tell you: I share this concern, having been imbued by Dr. Pieper with a deep aversion against Ego theology in all its pious-looking forms.

    The Lutheran confessions disallow such Ego theology on every page: man, unable to save himself, is justified and renewed by the Holy Spirit through God’s external word. The new man in us delights in God’s eternal will as it is published in Holy Scripture. He cooperates with God in doing this will, and in mortifying his own will.

    Is that it?

  15. One of my favorite quotes simplipying what sanctification, I learned in of my Lutheran confessions classes. Sanctification is the action the Holy Spirit does it is holification, making you holy. That does not imply any synnergy.

  16. Wow, ever try typing on a netbook? One of my favorite quotes that simplifies sanctification, I learned in a Lutheran confessions class. Sanctification is the action the Holy Spirit does. It is a holification, making you holy by the work of the Holy Spirit, not anything you have done. That does not imply any form of synergy.

  17. @Holger Sonntag #64

    I can see you were happy to do so! 🙂 Thank you for the explanation. As you were typing out your response I was reading Pieper’s section in his Dogmatics titled, “Who Effects Sanctification?” (III, p. 14). In there he references the Solid Declaration II, 65. In reading your explanations and in reading the Solid Declaration, in particular paragraphs 65-71, I think I understand better what you have been getting at with regard to “free will.” I agree that after justification our wills have been liberated to the extent that we can and do cooperate with the Holy Spirit in doing good works which proceed from Him, or as our confession puts it,

    From this, then, it follows that as soon as the Holy Ghost, as has been said, through the Word and holy Sacraments, has begun in us this His work of regeneration and renewal, it is certain that through the power of the Holy Ghost we can and should cooperate, although still in great weakness. But this [that we cooperate] does not occur from our carnal natural powers, but from the new powers and gifts which the Holy Ghost has begun in us in conversion, 66] as St. Paul expressly and earnestly exhorts that as workers together with Him we receive not the grace of God in vain, 2 Cor. 6:1. But this is to be understood in no other way than that the converted man does good to such an extent and so long as God by His Holy Spirit rules, guides, and leads him, and that as soon as God would withdraw His gracious hand from him, he could not for a moment persevere in obedience to God. (Sol. Decl. II, 65 )

    As Luther states in The Bondage of the Will, I think it would be good just to drop the term “free will” and not use it even in this case. I think what is meant by “free will” with regard to cooperating with the Holy Spirit is better described as “subordinated will” since what is being stated is that the human will is subject to the authority of the Holy Spirit as is expressed better in paragraph 63 of the Solid Declaration,

    But when man has been converted, and is thus enlightened, and his will is renewed, it is then that man wills what is good (so far as he is regenerate or a new man), and delights in the Law of God after the inward man, Rom. 7:22, and henceforth does good to such an extent and as long as he is impelled by God’s Spirit, as Paul says, Rom. 8:14: For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 64] And this impulse of the Holy Ghost is not a coactio, or coercion, but the converted man does good spontaneously, as David says, Ps. 110:4: Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power. And nevertheless that also [the strife of the flesh and spirit] remains in the regenerate of which St. Paul wrote, Rom. 7:22f : For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. Also, v. 25: So, then, with my mind I myself serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Also, Gal. 5:17: For the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

    I think the upshot of the above, and using the analogy provided by the Solid Declaration, is that we are “free” to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in so far as where the Holy Spirit is holding the reigns of the “horse cart.” Again, this is subordination of the will and I recognize why the term “free will” is being used in conjunction with cooperation with the Holy Spirit regarding sanctification, since we want to describe what it means to be a “new man in Christ,” and namely what it means that we do “good”—”henceforth does good to such an extent and as long as he is impelled by God’s Spirit.”

    What I also get from the above is that our “cooperation” (the horse pulling the cart through the power and workings of the Holy Spirit) is not the cause of our being sanctified. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit with the effects of that working in us seen by the fruits produced through us. Again, our “cooperation” is in a subordination of the will to God’s will. He is the one doing the “driving.” He tugs the reigns and we, quite weakly, respond and want to respond (Romans 7). Reminds me of the Lord’s Prayer… “Father… your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

    I thank you for a very thought provoking exchange. I have benefited from it greatly.

  18. @Holger Sonntag #65

    I think you and Pastor Rossow are defiantly on to somthing when talking about using words and phrases of old in today’s evangelical world. It reminds me of a question 124 in our old blue catechism. It states: What do you mean when you confess, I believe in Jesus Christ? Answer: I know and ACCEPT the CHRIST of the Bible as MY PERSONAL SAVIOR and trust only in Him for my salvation. Wow! How many modern lutherans, including myself would give an answer like that. I do believe there is from our circles a over reaction to words and phrases that our fore fathers had no problem using, just because our terminology has been hijacked by modern American evangelicals.

    I also believe this extends to looking at the christian as an old man / new man, and particulary language dealing with the new man. Walther himself has been accused of never getting over his pietism, although he was simply talking about the regenerate christian. Paul gives us a wonderful snapshot of the christian in Romans chapter 7 and 8. Chapter 7 is the christian in the flesh, whereas chapter 8 is dealing with the christian’s new man. Which Holger lays this out very precisely.

    Finally, thank you all for this wonderful theological nerd fest!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. It seems to me that this disagreement has to do with terminology. Dr. Sonntag is arguing that the new creature in us actually wills along with God that we do good works. Jim Pierce and Dr. Rossow are arguing that the new creature is actually not some autonomous being, but rather the new man governed by the Holy Spirit.

    It seems to me that the statement “we are syngergists regarding sanctification” could be problematic if people think that the new man who wills to do good works is really an autonomous being who casts the deciding vote regarding our sanctification.

    On the other hand, it could also be problematic if people think that sanctification is something that is accomplished utterly without the involvement of the renewed human will.

  20. I also wish to thank everyone who “cooperated” in bringing this to a happy concludsion. I’m somewhat exhausted but have learned many things in this fruitful discussion where we all stayed “on topic” and did not make up for lacking arguments by taking cheap shots at participants.

    Allow me one last remark: As Michael points out, old terminology can get us into trouble if we allow it to be defined by the dominant spiritual culture of the day. This is true for talking about “accepting” Christ, which is indeed not only in the synodical catechism, but also in Luther, but it’s also true of “free will”.

    When it comes to “free will,” we must be careful — especially in “the land of the free” — when we define what this freedom is all about. In a proper sense, freedom is primarily our freedom from the condemnation of the law, but also from the obligation to fulfill the law to be saved. It is not the freedom of choice. Also, it is not the freedom of moral license.

    This is why Luther, in his book on Christian liberty (, pulled both man’s spiritual freedom and his bodily bondage together: we’re free lords over all things (including the law) before God by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ; we’re the most dutiful servants before all men by love according to God’s commandments.

    And — insofar as we are Christians — we serve freely, voluntarily, spontaneously, that is, without being coerced against our old selfish will with rewards and punishments, but with a mind and will that is renewed by the Spirit himself (cf. Solid Decl. II, 60, 64; VI, 15-19), cooperating with God as He gives us the ability.

    Again, thank you all.

    Soli Deo laus.

  21. @Holger Sonntag #71

    You are certainly right about being careful in how we define “free will” and I want to take a moment to correct myself and apologize to all reading. I am wrong in asserting as I did above that “I think it would be good just to drop the term ‘free will'” since our Lutheran confessions clearly use the term and I don’t want to give any the impression that we should not use the very terms found in our Lutheran confessions.

    I probably should have asserted as you have done, Dr. Sonntag, that we need to be careful in how we define “free will” and confine it to the meaning given in our Lutheran confessions.

    Again, I apologize for my wrong words on that count.

  22. “For as soon as God’s Word takes root and grows in you, the devil will harry you, and will make a real doctor (of theology) of you, and by his assaults will teach you to seek and love God’s Word.” AE 34:287

    – or for those who prefer the abbreviated Luther:

    “Wir sind Bettler. Hoc est verum!” AE 54:476

    A grateful note of thanks for the imput provided by Dr. Sonntag – truely a steadfast blogger!


  23. This is amazing! In confirmation class we were taught that we contribute to our ongoing sanctification, albeit in a small way, and that no way do we contribute to our justification. There are a lot of people out there (out here) who I’m sure were taught and believed the same. Now after all this esoteric, controverted and convoluted discussion, it appears that Pastors Malkow and Naumann had it right, after all. Phew! I was starting to get worried.

    Johannes (greatly relieved)

  24. @Johannes #75


    Do you mean to write “cooperate” rather than “contribute?” If I am not mistaken, no one was arguing that we contribute to our sanctification, but that it is 100% God’s doing in us. Instead, we were discussing what “free will” means in the context of “cooperation” with the Holy Spirit in sanctification.

  25. Having had the pleasure of knowing Pastor Sonntag – and having been educated by him on many an occasion, I must say that this man belongs in a seminary! What are they waiting for? : )

    Thanks Pastor Sonntag.

    ~Nathan in Minneapolis

  26. Boys,
    When ya’ll are done, pulling on the wishbone, that is this post, can someone please post
    an explaination….. in layman’s terms, of this?
    Why is evangelism VS doctrine, – & – now justification VS sanctification? I was taught it was both, on both accounts, when was it or they split? When did the begin to VS each other? No small wonder, for all the discourse we have here, & elsewhere. Pick one, stick w/it, and stand firm. How hard is this?


  27. Dr. Sonntag has done a magnificent job posting on the topic of sanctification. It is an issue that has continued to concern me deeply. It started when I was chatting with a few young Lutheran mean, well, not really that young, in their early thirties, when they began bragging and joking about how they are free, in Christ, to “enjoy” slasher-porn movies and “enjoy” the lyrics of the rap artist Eminem. When I told them flatly, no, you are not free to “enjoy” such things, they said I was being a legalist and that they are free from the Law and free to enjoy things, because they are new creations in Christ. I was shocked.

    But then it began to dawn on me how many Lutherans out there have a true aversion to sanctification and have been led to believe that doing good works is supposed to “come naturally” to them and they are not really to give it much attention, thought or effort.

    These are deadly ideas and breed a very dangerous antinomianism that diminishes the force and impact of both Law and Gospel

    I was reading in Martin Chemnitz “Enchiridion” today and was struck by this explanation of why, and how, Christians are to be concerned about doing good works, and actively involved in doing them.

    [new_creation] From Martin Chemnitz in his Enchiridion:

    The Augsburg Confession and the Apology set forth the reasons thus: It is necessary to do good works commanded by God, not that we may trust to earn grace by them, but because of the will and command of God, likewise to exercise faith, and for the sake of confession and giving of thanks. Urbanus Rhegius, in the booklet De formulis caute loquendi, summarizes the reasons in this way:

    I. Because our good works are due obedience commanded by God which we creatures owe the Creator, and they are as it were thanksgiving for the favors of God and sacrifices pleasing to God because of Christ.

    II. That our heavenly Father might be glorified thereby.

    III. That our faith might be exercised and increased by our good works, so that it may grow and be stirred up.

    IV. That our neighbor might be edified by our good works and spurred to imitation and be helped in need.

    V. That we might make our calling sure by good works and testify that our faith is neither feigned nor dead.

    VI. Though our good works do not merit either justification or salvation, yet they are to be done, since they have promises of this life and of that which is to come. 1 Ti 4:8.

    In Loci communes Philipp Melanchthon lists in this order the reasons why good works are to be done:

    I. Because it is God’s command, and we are debtors.

    II. Lest faith be lost and the Holy Spirit grieved and driven out.

    III. To avoid punishments.

    IV. Since our works, though they do not fulfill the law of God and not merit eternal life, are nevertheless called by God sacrifices that both please and serve Him for the sake of Christ.

    V. Since godliness has promises of this life and of that which is to come.

    Luther sets forth the reasons why good works are to be done in such a way that, if they were briefly summarized, the list would be about this:

    First, some have regard to God Himself, namely since it is the will of God (1 Th 4:3) and the command of God (1 Jn 4:21). And since He is our Father, it therefore behooves us children to render obedience to the Father (1 Pet 1:14, 16–17; 1 Jn 3:2–3). And as He loved us and graciously forgave [our] sins, so we also should love the brethren, forgiving them [their] sins (Eph 4:32; 1 Jn 4:11), that God might be glorified through us (Phil 1:1; 1 Pet 4:11; Mt 5:16). Christ also redeemed us, that, being dead to sins, we might live unto righteousness and serve Him (1 Pet 2:24; 2 Co 5:15; Titus 2:10; Lk 1:74–75; Gal 5:25). Nor should we grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Th 4:8).

    II. Some motivating reasons for good works have regard to the reborn themselves. For since we are dead to sins, we ought therefore no longer walk in sins but live unto righteousness (Ro 6:2, 18; 2 Co 5:17; Eph 5:8, 11). Likewise, that we might have sure testimony that our faith is not false, feigned, or dead, but true and living [faith], which works by love (1 Jn 2:9–10; 3:6, 10; 4:7–8; 2 Pet 1:8; Mt 7:17; Gal 5:6). And that we might not drive out faith, grieve the Holy Spirit, [and] lose righteousness and salvation (1 Ti 1:19; 5:8; 6:10; 1 Pet 2:11; 2 Pet 1:9; 2:20; Ro 8:13; Gal 5:21; Col 3:6; Eph 4:30). And that we might not draw divine punishments on ourselves (1 Co 6:9–10; 1 Th 4:6; Mt 3:10; 25:30; Lk 6:37; Ps 89:31–32).

    III. Some reasons have regard to the neighbor, namely that the neighbor be helped and served by good works (Lk 14:13; 1 Jn 3:16–18). That [our] neighbor might be drawn to godliness by our example (Mt 5:16; 1 Pet 3:1). That we be not an offense to others (1 Co 10:32; 2 Co 6:3; Phil 2:15; Heb 12:15). That we might stop the mouths of adversaries (1 Pet 2:12; 3:16; Titus 2:7–8). And it is unimportant in what order the reasons are listed because of which good works are to be done, provided the Scripture basis of this article is retained complete and pure.

    Martin Chemnitz and Luther Poellot, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments : An Enchiridion, electronic ed., 98-99 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).

  28. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #80
    As Bonhoeffer puts it “cheap grace” How can one intentionally do what is wrong and not acknowledge the damaging effect of it.
    “This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives. Instead of opening up a way to Christ it has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our own disobedience.”

    Cost of Discipleship chapter 1

  29. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #80
    Pastor Daniel Preus, in his great little book titled, “Why I Am a Lutheran, Jesus at the Center,” has a section about vocation. On page 86 he says:

    “The most important works Christians do are often the simplest, performed as part of our daily life as God’s children. I couldn’t help but laugh one Sunday morning as I watched the offering plate arrive before a mother who had given her young son a quarter as a gift for Jesus. As she whispered that he should put it in the plate, he shook his head. She whispered more urgently as those to her right began to wonder about the progress of the offering plate. The young boy shook his head more vigorously. Finally, the mother shook the hand with the quarter until the coin fell into the plate. What a tremendous Christian deed. Her work has inestimable value. certainly this woman did what moms sometimes have to do-she forced her son to do the right thing. Even Christian parents must do this. But this mother brought her child to church and was teaching him that everything comes from God and that we give back to God because we love Him and want to thank Him.”

    I really don’t believe that mom gave much thought to performing a good work or thought it was a “good work.” It “came naturally” to her as a Christian mom in her vocation as mother.

  30. We are to give thought to doing good works, but how much more beneficial to give thought to Christ and His Gospel. Christ is our faith and our good works. We are the workmanship of His Father, new creations created to do good works. Any good works we do have been given to us by Christ and done perfectly by Him ahead of time. What else can we do when we are in Christ, part of the very body of Christ, but the good works of Christ given us in word and sacrament by the working of the Holy Spirit?

  31. We are definitely befuddled, apparently, about good work and their place in the life of the Christians. In spite of voluminous citation from Scripture and the Confessions, we still have this insidious aversion to sanctification among us.

    Such attitudes are not Biblical, not Lutheran and not acceptable.

    They are simply examples of antinomianism.

  32. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #85
    Dear Pastor McCain,
    Perhaps I didn’t express myself as clearly as I should have after I quoted from “Why I Am a Lutheran, Jesus at the Center.” I believe that a lot of good works done by Christians are not “consciously” thought of as good works in the context of one’s vocation. For example, the tending of a sick child in the middle of the night or the countless hours of helping with homework. I suppose when a Christian mom or dad look back at those times they might look at those acts of kindness as good works, but not during the moment, so to speak. I believe that’s what Pastor Preus was talking about when he said, “The most important works Christians do are often the simplest, performed as part of our daily life as God’s children.” Of course as Christians we do think about the good works we should do too. As Luther said, “Oh, faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good.” Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe the examples above are examples of antinomianism.

    As for your example of the two men, you were absolutely correct in giving them a good dose of the law. Of course, they were wrong in stating they were free to “enjoy” their sinful activity because of being new creatures in Christ.

    Thank you for helping us understand our faith.

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