The Sanctification Gap Part 3: What’s Moralism got to do with it?
“God loves you, regardless of what you’ve done or what you will do.”
Not many people would disagree with that, at least on a theological level. Most people are willing to concede that God’s love is true regardless of what we do. This may or may not translate into salvation (after all God loved the world, but the whole world will not be saved), but if God loved you before you were saved, surely any sin you commit after becoming saved will not change this outcome.
While we admit this on an intellectual level, we are quick to forget it in our daily lives. We think “God won’t like it when I do this,” and we instinctively translate that as “God will love me less if I do this.” We know that this is wrong, but we often do not live this out. This inclination may come from our tendency to equate approval with love, though I’m not sure where that inclination comes from, since it seems to be very common.
This issue led one of my professors to say that, “As far as love is concerned, God is not concerned with you becoming a better person.” While there is a sense in which this is true, I wanted to take a moment and address what that does not mean. It does not mean that God is not concerned with you becoming a better person. It also does not mean that God will not shape you into a better person, and do so out of love for you. The only thing it means is that God’s love for you is not contingent upon your good or bad works.
God still wants us to be better people. There are a myriad of Scriptures that describe to us the way we should live. By the very virtue of their existence we know that God is concerned with how we live. If God did not care how we lived, the gospels would have stopped with “Jesus raised from the dead, and you can now go into heaven.” They probably would have left out the Sermon on the Mount, and lots of Jesus’ teachings as well.
This sanctification gap is a difficult problem in our churches. Trying to find a way to teach how to grow after salvation, without presenting an impossible ‘perfection only’ ideal, is not an issue that I can solve with a series of blog posts. It isn’t one that can be solved by books being written or by lectures being given. This can only be solved by a change in the system, by a reorientation of the people.
We must seek to live in such a way as to encourage growth, condemn sin, and honestly provide examples both of godly living and of rightly reacting and owning up to our own sins. This sort of living is characterized by wisdom, prudence, openness, accountability, and love.
We must love one another, despite our failures and despite other people’s failures. We must seek to understand the mind and heart of God. We must allow the Spirit to move us, and allow Christ to be our sole savior.