Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Kudos to Wayne for "Be what you are"

I don't remember when Wayne (a.k.a. "Carrifex") first mentioned it to me, but some years ago he made a passing reference about characterizing the way that Paul discusses sanctification in his epistles as the argument, "Be what you are." (Actually, I think that Wayne told me that he got it from one of his seminary professors. But I got it from Wayne, so I'm giving him the kudos on my behalf.)

The idea is this. Paul doesn't argue, "obey the law so you become righteous and holy." Rather, he argues that we are already 100 percent righteous and holy in Christ. Good works naturally flow out of the new nature that we receive by God's grace and forgiveness in Christ. Our holiness result solely from the merits of Christ, and our good works flow solely out of those merits as well.

This pithy phrase captures a critical turn in Paul that helps us to understand how it is that sanctification has nothing to do with our justification, but nonetheless flows from our justification.

But I'm not thanking Wayne just for teaching me a pithy way of capturing an important concept in Paul's epistles, and in Lutheran theology. (Although Wayne is a pastor in the PCA, he was raised LCMS.)

More importantly, is that I've ripped off Wayne shamelessly in using it to explain this important idea to the guys in the prison ministries that I work with.

I've found that prisoners, and most prison volunteers, tend to express the first notion of sanctification I noted above, i.e., that we become holy and righteous by acting holy and righteous. To be fair, most of these people don't hold this position self-consciously. While they might struggle a bit with the tension this introduces with respect to the Gospel, they don't recognize how it undermines the assurance that comes from a right understanding of justification. (There is also a strong perfectionistic strain among both the prisoners and prison volunteers. I suspect that this arises from the churches that most come out of, and the churches that tend to people the prison chaplaincy, as well as engage in most prison ministry.)

What I've also found, however, is that Wayne's phrase, "Be what you are," provides an understandable and almost universally acceptable way of reframing sanctification in the more orthodox manner. Because it's so pithy, it's easy for the guys to remember, and I've found that it sticks with many of them. Weeks after introducing the phrase (and concept), I've had guys come up to me and say, "'Be what you are,' I still remember that!"

I'm impressed that they remember. Still better, though, is that it teaches them, and it teaches me, to look to Christ for our sanctification as well as for our justification. Like our justification, our sanctification flows solely from what we receive from Christ, not from what we offer to Christ.


Blogger Wayne said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 08, 2007 1:56 PM  
Blogger Wayne said...

Be What You AreĀ®

February 08, 2007 1:57 PM  
Blogger Paul Buckley said...

Be what you are: Jesus, too, seems to be saying that toward the end of Matt 5. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father." A superficial reading might lead you to conclude that according to Jesus, loving one's enemies is what achieves one's status as the Father's child. But what he actually says is a bit more interesting. Those being told to love their enemies already hear God spoken of as "your Father." That's true throughout the Sermon on the Mount, which almost always speaks of the Father as "your (or our) Father":

"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father."

"Your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

"Pray to your Father who is in secret."

"Your Father knows what you need before you ask."

"Our Father ..."

And so on.

Jesus is concerned with family likeness. It's peacemakers who are called sons of God. The command to love enemies is given to those who are already children of the Father. Love your enemies. Be the children of your Father. Be what you are.

February 08, 2007 11:35 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


Yes, I did hear from your lawyer. We've worked out a reasonable payment plan for what I owe for copyright infringement. :-)

Hi Paul,

Nice to hear from you. Sometime you need to let me know what you're up to these days.

On your comment: I'm reading David P. Scaer's "The Sermon on the Mount: The Church's First Statement of the Gospel." The key to his argument is precisely the insight that you point out.

The irony, of course, is that, in Lutheran circles, it's a matter of some contention of whether and where one sees the Gospel in the Gospels.

My impression is that the typical view among Lutherans is that the Sermon on the Mount is only "law."

February 09, 2007 7:10 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home