Sanctification: participation, not mere imitation

This post continues a review of Alexandra Radcliff's book, The Claim of Humanity in Christ, Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T. F. and J. B. Torrance. For previous posts in this series, click a number: 12, 3, 4, 67891011. 

Last time we saw how the Torrances view the atonement (justification in particular) as participation, not mere imputation. Now we'll see how they view sanctification as participation, not mere imitation.

The Way of Joy by Greg Olsen (used with permission)

It's somewhat common in Evangelical Christian circles to think of Christians as being called to "imitate Christ." To be fair, we should note that authors use the term "imitation," as it pertains to the Christian life, in various ways. However, it is often implied that Jesus came, set us an example, then left, calling upon his followers who remain to imitate his example, and so be transformed in character. They then note that this imitation of Christ is done through the power of the Spirit. In contrast to that approach, the Torrances (both TF and JB) emphasize the idea of "participation" rather than mere "imitation." In doing so, they ground their view of sanctification in several biblical truths, including these:
  1. That the human person Jesus Christ is alive (still) and, in his now glorified humanity is resident in heaven, from where, as our High Priest, he sends the Holy Spirit by which he lives in us.
  2. That in his glorified humanity, Jesus continues to include all humanity in his life and love. This is the reality of Jesus' "vicarious" humanity, by which he continues to include and represent us all. Thus, who Jesus continues to be in his humanity, has a direct bearing upon who we, as humans, are and are becoming. 
In that way, the Torrances see sanctification (which speaks to the Christian life and to our transformation) as directly related to justification. Radcliff comments:
For TF the resurrection [of Jesus] is evidence that justification is a creative event. Humanity is raised to new life in Christ, which means that there is a real ontological transformation. TF argues that an external, forensic notion of justification fails to effect a true re-creation of humanity through Christ's death and resurrection. (p. 71)
In short, TF sees justification as not merely a "declaratory act" (by which we are declared righteous) but as "the actualization of what is declared" by which we, in Christ and by the Spirit, are changed at the ontological level (the level of being) and invited into a real relationship, through the indwelling Spirit, with the living, glorified human person Jesus Christ.

Our participation in the relationship with Jesus is thus grounded in our justification in Jesus and experienced as our sanctification. In that way, the ontological transformation that we have, as humans, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus, becomes our personal, actual experience---not by merely imitating Jesus' example, but through actual participation, through the Spirit, in his ongoing life on earth. Thus the Christian mantra, rather than being "What would Jesus do?" is "What is Jesus now doing [and how may I participate]?"

As emphasized by the Torrances, we enter into this new life in and with Jesus by faith---or, more properly, by sharing in the faith of Jesus himself (again, pointing to the action of the Spirit in a person's life to unite us to Christ). Radcliff notes that for the Torrances,
justification is not a potentiality to be actualized by our faith; salvation is an accomplished reality in Christ.... "It's not faith that justifies us," TF asserts, "but Christ in whom we have faith." This does not mean that the Torrances diminish the gospel call for us to respond with faith. Rather, it means that faith cannot be understood according to logico-causal categories. Our response of faith is a participation in a response already made in our place and our our behalf by Christ. (pp. 75-6, italics added)  
In short, from start to finish (justification, sanctification and glorification) our salvation is the work of the God-man Jesus Christ, who through his vicarious (representative, substitutionary) humanity, unites us to the Father in the Spirit, transforming us at the ontological level, and who then shares with us, again by the Spirit, his resurrected, glorified human life as we participate with him in both his being and his doing. Radcliff comments that the Torrances thus teach,
a personal, filial, and ontological understanding of Christ's righteousness. Christ's life of perfect faithfulness is not an external transaction which merits righteousness; rather it transforms the humanity that he assumes vicariously, turning it back to a right relationship with the Father. His resurrection is the rebirth of a new humanity. The Torrances argue that we are righteousness not in terms of an external, legal status but by participating in Christ himself, which means that we are truly made righteous. (p. 82)
As already noted, this participatory view of justification and sanctification emphasizes (and requires) the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, a role that for the Torrances, according to Radcliff, is "pervasive." (p. 84). Radcliff also notes that "for the Torrances, the Holy Spirit is the means by whom humanity is unconditionally adopted into the divine life, with liberating, intimate, and transformative implications" (p. 85). Thus, the Torrances view Christ and the Spirit as inseperable in working for our salvation at every point, though as Radcliff notes in several places, the Torrances do not go into much detail on the particular role/work of the Spirit.

Next time we'll see more about what Radcliff says concerning the Torrance view of the Holy Spirit's work in our salvation, particularly as it relates to the ongoing life of a believer as they, by the Spirit, participate in Jesus' life and ministry in the world.

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