Why The Old Adam Loves Crossless Sanctification

My concern with some preaching and teaching these days is the desire to move to sanctification without journeying through the cross first. This cross avoidance leads to what I call, “Crossless Sanctification.”

Sanctification can only happen as we go through the cross, not around it. In other words, it is easy to separate sanctification from the cross of Christ, which results in us stepping over the cross and trying to live out the sanctified life in the old Adam (i.e. old nature).

Personally, I can understand why this happens. For many of us, we are very hesitant in blending justification and sanctification. We rightly don’t want to mingle sanctified works of response with God’s justification of us in Christ. Therefore, we are very precise in making a division between these two doctrines. However, I believe we can err when we move sanctification too far away from justification. Thus when we separate them, we can end up compartmentalizing them.

Let me explain a little more specifically. The old Adam always wants to have his part. To get in on the action, the old Adam will try to wiggle and slide into the doctrine of justification. The old Adam will even try to hijack sanctification, which may result in works righteousness bleeding back into justification. This is one of the reasons for trying to keep the two doctrines separate and it is also the reason why many Christians throughout the ages have rightly fortified justification from the old Adam saying, “we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.” In other words, the fortification happens as the term “alone” from the Reformation is highlighted.

Due to the “Sola” of the Reformation and divine monergism, the old Adam can’t take credit in justification and is essentially restricted and evicted from the realm of justification. However, once evicted the old Adam moves to sanctification and then sets up a new residence under the alias of “the new man.” If the old Adam can’t take part of justification, he will attempt to secretly undermine sanctification underneath the banner of the new man. Keep in mind, in order for the old Adam to reign in sanctification, two things have to happen:

  1. The old Adam uses this separation of justification and sanctification to his advantage by keeping them compartmentalized. Once justification is compartmentalized it is reduced to a mere assumption rather than the central focus of the Christian life.
  2. When sanctification is separated from justification, the cross is removed from sanctification to allow the old Adam to reign in sanctification underneath the disguise of the new man.

Sanctification my friends does not happen by the power and will of the old Adam operating underneath the banner of the new man. Secondly, sanctification cannot be separated from justification leaving room for the old Adam to think it can contribute to sanctification, for they are distinctly different doctrines but not separate. We often believe that Justification belongs to God and sanctification belongs to mankind. No, they both belong to God. Furthermore, sanctification happens as we journey through the cross, not around or apart from the cross. Because sanctification is connected to the cross we confess that death is involved in justification and death is also involved in sanctification. The old Adam must find death at the cross and should have no part in justification as well as sanctification.

In justification we are put to death and resurrected. In sanctification we are daily put to death, and daily we are resurrected. Daily the old Adam is slayed and the resurrection of the new man comes forth. Daily our sin should be drowned and put to death and the new man should rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in the presence of God. This death and life cannot happen apart from the cross of Christ. As Paul shares in Galatians chapter 2,

“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved and gave himself for me.”

Sanctification is cross-centered and there is no room for the old Adam with or without his disguise. May we daily journey through the cross for our death and resurrection.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


Why The Old Adam Loves Crossless Sanctification — 24 Comments

  1. “In justification we are put to death and resurrected. In sanctification we are daily put to death, and daily we are resurrected. Daily the old Adam is slayed and the resurrection of the new man comes forth. Daily our sin should be drowned and put to death and the new man should rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in the presence of God. This death and life cannot happen apart from the cross of Christ.”

    Thank you! I don’t believe I’ve ever read a clearer explanation of how Justification and Sanctification “are distinctly different doctrines but not separate.”

    “Justification does not belong to God and sanctification does not belong solely to mankind. No, they both belong to God.”

    Is this a typo? (Does justification belong to God or not?)

    “If the old Adam can’t take part of justification, he will attempt to secretly undermine sanctification underneath the banner of the new man.”

    (Worth repeating)

  2. In light of some recent comments I’ve run across again on this issue, it’s time once more for the “Aversion to Sanctification” blog post, since the problem persists and appears to have become part-and-parcel of what some perceive to a confessional Lutheran understanding of God’s Word. More recent examples of this problem in action include a pastor posting a picture of a guy giving “the finger” and claiming there is nothing wrong with that and defending it, continued comments about how no matter what good works are done they are still “sinful,” and the ongoing effort to turn every comment in the Scriptures about the good works to which we are called into a discussion about the second use of the law, virtually laughing off Proverbs 31 and saying that text does not really apply to individuals but is really about Christ and the Church. But, I think the comment that took the prize was posted on my Facebook wall where the text of God’s Word was actually twisted to the point that the that indicates that God has prepared good works for us to walk in, to read “good work upon which God has prepared us to work” thus not about good works, but about Christ. All these things are put forward with the best of intentions, but they betray an unhealthy lack of balance and understanding on these issues. So here’s an oldie but a goodie.

    (( Moderator: I’ve removed the remainder of this comment and put it as a post here ))

  3. Interesting article. God gets all the credit for my justification – I did nothing to contribute. God also gets all the credit for my sanctification. I didn’t contribute anything to this either.

    Does this mean I shouldn’t seek or try to do good works? By me exerting effort to do something that I wouldn’t do otherwise – is this an example of my old man participating in sanctification?

    I don’t want to teach Bible class for 3 year olds. I don’t want to work in a soup kitchen for homeless people. I don’t want to confront a militant athiest about Christ. I want to drink beer and go fishing at the lake. How am I to tell the difference between sanctification through the cross and sanctification with the old man while I am simultaneously sinner and saint?

  4. Pastor Richards,

    As regards sanctification, is there really a new man who cooperates with Christ to drown the old man?


  5. O.K., so let me see if I’ve got a clue here, or if I’m just too dull to get it:
    I was given, through grace, the gift of faith in the waters of baptism, and was justified once and for all, assuming I don’t relinquish that faith, and was made simil justus et pecator (sp?), or in English, simultaneously saint and sinner. My sanctified soul remains married to my sinful flesh untill death parts them. Sanctification, as it is used theologicaly refers to the process where faith leads me to fulfil my various vocations in the most god[pleasing (pious) manner my sinful flesh will allow until then by staying in God’s word, worshipping receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion regularly, although trying to avoid the pitfall of believing that my good works in anyway contribute to my salvation (pietism). Is that correct? Please correct me where I have gotten it wrong, or been to weak in my exposition.

    @Rev. Paul T. McCain #3
    While I know I like to use you as a foil from time to time, I’m being absolutely serious in asking you if you will please explain, breifly, what you mean when you say good works. I’ve always been taught that good works simply arise out of our pious living of our vocations, as I desxcribed it above, and do not require any special effort to do “extra” good, since in pious living we are continuously, when acting through faith, acting on behalf of our neighbor. Do I have that wrong? I’m sure there are pastors and congregation that neglect teaching the depth of our fallen nature through a underabundance of law preached together with the Gospel resulting in comgregants who don’t understand the need for general piety, but we’re all sinners, and can’t do everything required of us, and the good things we do are as menstral rags, apart from the faith given to us at baptism. So how can we deliberately do good, except where our good intrntions accidently coincide with the holy spirit moving us forward through faith? Thanks for yours and anyone elses response.

  6. Good works? Small Catechism: Ten Commandments with Luther’s Explanation.

    Read the article posted above this one.

  7. Luther, who, however, had merely stated that faith is never alone, though it alone
    justifies. His axiom was:
    “Faith alone justifies, but it is not alone–
    _Fides sola iustificat, sed non est sola._”

    According to Luther good works, wherever they are found, are present in virtue of faith;
    where they are not present, they are absent because faith is lacking;
    nor can they preserve the faith by which alone they are produced.

    Introductions to the SymbolicalBooks of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, by Friedrich Bente

  8. @Eric Ramer #7
    We sang a hymn during the Divine Service yesterday (I forgot to revisit it to memorize the number and exact content, but I think it was LSB #696) wherein the second line of the 4th stanza said something like “grant me good freiends who will correct me…” When I posted the above on Friday I was seriously asking for you, as friends, to tell me if I have made a correct summarization, or to correct and rebuke me if I’m wrong. This article and the one Pr. McCain references above (for which I haven’t read all the comments posted since Friday afternoon yet) struck a nerve with me, and I’m really not sure if I’ve got it right. Talk about sanctification has always confused me, as I must confess, I’ve never heard it discussed much in congregations I’ve belonged to. I’ve always kind of assumed the position I’ve stated above, but now I’;m wondering if I’ve gotten it wrong. I’d go to my pastor with this, but he went on vacation this weekend and won’t be back till after next weekend. I’m not trying to be a smart aleck, or fish for controversy, I’d just like some friendly critique and correction please. Can anyone help?

  9. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #8
    OK, I’ve read the article and the entire comments string, through #67, and I’ve read through the Small Chatechism and I can’t say that I fet a clear picture of what YOU are confesasing constitute good works. I can’t see that what I’ve posted above is contradicted, and yet, I get the distinct impression that you would disagree. Please allow me to summarize my understanding in simple layman’s terms, and ask you kindly to correct me, if I’m wrong:
    What are good works? Good works are ANYTHING we do, in faith, that benefit our neighbors and do not necessarily require a specific desire to do them as good works, or any grand gestures or designs on our part. Simply put, it amounts to doing the “right” thing. Who are our neighbors? Everyone – friends, family, actual neighbors, co-workers, community, etc. Why do we do them? Simply because they are the right thing to do, and no other reason. They offer no benefit to us in effecting our salvation, but rather are merely outgrowths of our faith. That mey be too simplistic, but I’m trying to put it in terms I could explain to a 5th grade Sunday School class. Thanks in anticipation of your response.

  10. Eric,

    Good stuff. Try this:

    If a person who professes faith in Christ does what he believes is right (and is therefore beneficial to their neighbors) is that necessarily a good work?

    If not, why not?


  11. @Nathan #13
    Thanks for the response. Thak you too Pastor McCall, although I’m not sure which summary you’re refering to.

    WRT you question, Nathan, I guess, were I addressing my answer to a fifth grade Sunday Schooler, I would say that God can use anyone’s work to benefit his neighbor, but only he can tell if his professed faith is real or not. Therefor, it is impossible for any of us to judge the quality of someone elses faith based on the quantity, quality or content of their seemingly good works. I’m sure we will be astounded by who is and who isn’t reckoned among the sheep, when that day comes. That’s my best layman’s answer. I’m more comfrotable asking the questions than answering then, although I guess we’re all called to have an answer.

  12. @Nathan #16
    “what he believes is right”

    Aha! You were hinting at the possibility that what someone thinks is right is actually not right in God’s eyes — like embracing sodomy or defending a woman’s right to kill her unborn child for any reason at all.

    @Eric Ramer #11
    Your Sunday School class is blessed with you!

  13. Pastor Crandall,

    Yes – I think we underestimate how easy it is for us to fall into this.

  14. For consideration:

    “St. Paul shows that the function of the Law is to lay bare and make manifest man’s sin, his inate sinful condition. That is all the Law can do.”

    “Even the most disreputable congregation can be reformed only by the sweetest Gospel.”

    “…the Law will not renew the heart nor kindle love to God and the neighbor. At best is will produce only a forced obedience.”

    “Let no one think: ‘If someone preaches the Gospel to them, they will not do God’s will. I must preach the law and God’s threats.'”

    “We must indeed preach the Law, but only as preparation for the Gospel. Else we are not true servants of the Gospel.”

    “A New Testament preacher should as such preach only the Gospel, nothing more. When he preaches the Law, he is really performing a work foreign to his office.”

    “Luther means to say that you should just preach the consoling Gospel, and don’t think that will send people to hell. One or the other may take it as a comfort to the flesh, but don’t think such people will have a joyful death. They do not really have the Gospel in their hearts. But, do not let such incidents confuse you. Just keep on preaching the Gospel, as Christ told His disciples, ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’… God grant that one day people may say of you: ‘He preaches well, but his message is too sweet.’ Just don’t spend too much time on the Law. Come quickly with the Gospel.”

    -C.F.W. Walther, “Law and Gospel”

  15. Rev, McCall,

    Right. And Walther also said other things that might seem – on the face of it – to contradict those quotes that you just made.


  16. In all his lectures contained in Law and Gospel, Walther clearly had opportunity to spend ample time extolling the virtues of Third Use of the Law in a sermon if he so wished. Yet he is pretty clear. The Law only accuses. The Law produces only forced obedience. The Law must be preached ONLY as preparation for the Gospel.
    Now this does not mean the Law is not used differently elsewhere outside the sermon. Most of our instruction to our children, teaching, etc. is Law. But that’s not the point of a sermon. And Walther makes that abundantly clear.

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