Sanctification: Losing for Lack of a Lord

Jesus saves us from sin. But we sin on. This sinning on bothers people. We are saved from the penalty of sin in justification. We will be saved from the presence of sin in the resurrection. For the bothered, that won’t do. Salvation from penalty and presence but not from the power of sin? Sounds to them like half a Gospel.

Where is the power? The spawn of this question is the Holiness Movement, Pietism, Pentecostalism, Charismaticism, Moralism, Theosis, and so on. All of these movements fail because they locate a power intra nos, within ourselves. They try to make us lords over temptation and sin. These efforts are sincerely doomed. It’s a pitiful thing to watch. We are losing for lack of a lord. We never attain the lordship. The Devil, the world, the sinful self, and even the Law retain their tyranny.prison door open

All those theories comprise the intra nos Bataan Death March. Powers inside ourselves remain enslaved, and our enemies parade us in humiliation and torture. For many, faith dies in the prison camp.

All the “new new” things in how to try harder and try smarter are the “same old same old.” The denominations of Christendom are just Baskin-Robbins® 31 Flavors of intra nos power. Different flavors, but all ice cream.

There is no way to win, no way to unity, no way to victory unless we back up two steps.

We need to back up from intro nos to extra nos, to power outside of ourselves. Many people already know that and have written plenty about it. We should be thankful to them, and keep paying attention to their teaching. But there is a second, backing up step.

In the Small Catechism, Luther captions the Third Article of the Creed as “Sanctification.” That’s the fount of much theologizing about sanctification. But there are problems with this. Firstly, Luther is using “sanctification” in a very wide sense, whereas we now are talking about sanctification in a much narrower sense. Secondly, Luther’s view of the Third Article does not work cut loose from his view of the Second Article. We need to back up a step from the Third Article to the Second, and ask, does the extra nos power we need exist in the person and work of Christ before we ever reach the Third Article?

I propose that it does.

The Second Article confesses the person and work of Christ. As with each of the articles, Luther sought an explanation that had the following properties:

  • a single focus
  • based on a word or phrase occurring in the article
  • bringing together in a unity various elements in the article

Why did he seek a single focus? Because he was writing a catechism.

Luther reflects methodically on the structure of the article, in order to arrive at the meaning that is most comprehensible pedagogically. Attacking it from all different angles, he accentuates the central thought, which provides the structure for the commentaries in both the Large and Small Catechisms.1

For each article, he had options. The decision was not simple. He studied and struggled. His selection in each article is the fruit of a breakthrough of insight. For the Second Article, he could have centered his explanation on: (1) Jesus Christ; (2) his only Son; or (3) our Lord. He made the non-obvious choice of “our Lord.”

But wait a minute! Having done, how then is his caption the word “Redemption” rather than something to do with Jesus as Lord?

That’s just where the breakthrough of insight occurred. Albrecht Peters speaks of “Luther’s ingenious approach to articulating the entirety of what is in the Second Article in catechetical form”2 in equating Lord with Redeemer. Luther says in his explanation, Christ “is my Lord, who has redeemed me.” Luther unites lordship and redemption. How did Jesus become our Lord? By being our Redeemer. The act of redemption is the act of lordship. The act of lordship is the act of redemption.

The genius is in resolving two problems with a united answer. Peters says,

We distinguish between two aspects of this singular action of Jesus that brings about redemption … [identified] as the solutions to the question of guilt and the question of power. The question of guilt would read: By what means is my guilt expiated before God? The question of power would read: By what means am I rescued from the tyranny of the powers of destruction?3

Charles P. Arand explains how this also unites two previously competing ideas of the atonement.

Luther accents what might be called a Christus Victor motif without ignoring the Christus Victima theme. This is especially true in the Large Catechism. … The picture painted before the eyes of the catechumen is a battlefield. On one side of the battlefield, stretched as far as the eye can see, from horizon to horizon, stand Satan’s armies and powers (sin, death, and the power of the devil). Behind enemy lines, the human race lies captive under the power of the devil, condemned to death, and “entangled in sin and blindness.” Christ the champion appears on the field for battle (like David against Goliath) and defeats sin, death, and the power of the devil by means of his blood and death. Having routed the jailors and tyrants, Christ frees us, takes us as his own possession, and takes us home to his kingdom were we live in everlasting innocence, blessedness, and righteousness.”4

Peters makes more clear how Christ’s propitiation of wrath is the center and foundation, and how his liberating lordship rests on that foundation.

The reformer thus takes up both constellations of motifs: on the one hand, Christ as the one who vanquishes all the powers of destruction and powers of death and, on the other hand, Christ as our substitute and as our propitiatory offering over against God’s holy, judging wrath. Luther links both aspects in such a way that the hidden emphasis from the Western Church and the Middle Ages, on the punishing suffering of Christ, persists. The propitiation of God’s wrath remains the center, in terms of content, in the catechisms as well; at the deepest level, it is God’s curse of judgment that delivers us over to the powers of destruction. These powers stand in a unique relationship with God; according to the Large Catechism, on the one hand, they are our “tyrants,” caught up in rebellion against God, and yet, on the other hand, they are the “harsh schoolmasters” that God Himself put in place, which means that they are the authorities who run the prison; the real prison came into existence for us when God gave us over under the condemning wrath of His Law. “Death, sin, hell, all of these come from the wrath of God; they are its harsh schoolmasters.” Even among these ominous allies, Luther intimates that there is a pecking order; Satan stands at the top; he “clearly is to be identified as a prince over sin and the prince of death.” This is the specifically theological dimension; to it corresponds an anthropological aspect. As we are free, in heart and conscience, from the accusation of the Law and from the wrath of God that thereby brings its onslaught, we are free, as well, with respect to the battle against the satanic demons; for us, these have been rendered harmless, because the wrath of God no longer stands behind them.

By means of these insights, Luther deepens and personifies both the “classical theory of the atonement” of the Christus Victor model as well as Anselm’s teaching about satisfaction. By means of his hyper-realistic and drastic images of Christ’s victory over the dark comrades, sin, death and the devil, he reaches back into the tradition of the early Church and the Eastern Church and renews its emphasis on the motif of a battle that encompasses the entire earth. But because he points out, in, with and under the onslaughts of the powers of death, how Christ fully suffers the deepest, holy wrath of judgment from God that hangs over all human guilt, and inserts the Law at this point as well, into the list of the powers that effect the curse, the reformer deepens the early Church’s confession about Christus Victor by means of insights that are set forth initially by Paul: precisely by suffering the full consequences of the divine curse of judgment upon the guilt of human sin, Jesus Christ overcomes the original power of those that destroy.5

Luther – and Luther alone – has solved the problem of penalty and power, of Christus Victima and Christus Victor, and he has solved it in a single stroke: “Jesus is my Lord who has redeemed me.” In the redemption, he reversed the verdict of guilt upon which the sentence of imprisonment under the powers, our enemies, was based. Having deprived the jailers of the lawful basis of their power, their power has ceased, and Christ, not they, is our Lord. Jesus is Redeemer and Lord, or better, Redeemer-Lord.

The question of power is answered in Jesus, our Redeemer-Lord. This, like justification, is extra nos. It exists outside ourselves. It is given to us as a gift. Jesus is the Lord of grace and power. The Word of the Gospel, which reveals to us Jesus as answer to the question of guilt, at one and the same time, and in the same word, also reveals to us Jesus as answer to the question of power.

When we come to sanctification in the narrow sense, this is where we need to begin:

  • in the Second Article
  • extra nos

with Christ as Lord of power received by faith in the Word of the Gospel. We need to begin there, and then proceed into the Third Article. Anything else will be just Baskin-Robbins® 32nd flavor.


1. Albrecht Peters, Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: Creed, (Thomas Trapp, trans.) (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011), p. 106.
2. Peters, p. 107.
3. Peters, p. 148.
4. Charles P. Arand, “Luther on the Creed,” in The Pastoral Luther, Timothy J. Wengert, ed., (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), pp. 154-55.
5. Peters, pp. 161-62.

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