The Sanctification Gap: Part 1, Where It Came From

For a brief introduction to the matter, read my post here.

It seems clear that the Sanctification Gap exists, but where did it originate?  There are many contributing factors, but the issue, as we know it today, began with the Protestant reformation.  There are many factors that led to the expansion of this problem, but a lack of time and expertise forbid me from exploring them all.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church, he was not intending revolution.  What he wanted, rather, was a change from within the Roman Catholic church.  The problems he saw in the church, at the time, were primarily categorized by legalism, especially when it came to the selling of indulgences.  What Luther began to preach, then, was that salvation was through Christ, and that no work could save us.

Luther went too far in his judgment, to the point of referring to the Book of James as ‘the Epistle of Straw,’ due to its focus on works as proof of faith.  But as Luther pushed this concept of salvation by faith alone (a Biblically supported concept), he ended up laying the groundwork for many Christians to forget that works, while not salvific, are important to our Christian life.

Salvation, which we are good at preaching, does not stop when the Spirit enters our hearts.  The Bible tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, implying not only that our salvation is something that continues, but that we must work on it.  Note that we must not work for it, for the Bible is clear that salvation is a free gift of God.

Luther, in his attempt to move away from legalism, ran so far away from works that he forgot that living out what we believe is an important and necessary part of our life, and is, in fact, what we call Sanctification.

We see this as we follow the Protestant movement.  As the movement grew, the fear of being just like Roman Catholics (and, in the eyes of many Protestants, this was equivalent to being legalistic) followed suit, and we lost the ability to express proper methods of sanctification without being accused of legalism.  Even today, where many Protestants will say that you need to read your Bible every day, we refuse to use the phrase “Spiritual Discipline,” which sounds too Catholic or Legalistic, and use instead a phrase like ‘devotion.’

The Sanctification Gap, then, is a problem within the Protestant churches of today, and has been an issue since the Reformation.  On my next post, I intend to explore the nature of Spiritual Disciplines in history, as well as how we are to use them today.

Christ Abide.


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