The essential work of the Spirit in our sanctification, and more about our participation (including the sacraments)

This post continues a series re-capping insights from 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 the series, click a number: 12, 3, 4, 5, 7

Last time, we saw that T.F. and J.B. Torrance view sanctification not merely as our imitation of Jesus (seeing him as a distant model to emulate), but as our active participation, by the Holy Spirit, in Jesus' ongoing love and life as our Mediator and High Priest. From this incarnational, Trinitarian perspective, the key question when it comes to sanctification is not What would Jesus do? (then trying to follow his example in seeking to transform ourselves), but What is Jesus doing? (then, by the Spirit, participating with him). "Participation" is thus a key word for the Torrances, and in this post we'll see how and why, noting their understanding of the essential work of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification.

Two modes of relating to Christ

Radcliff notes that for the Torrances, though they speak of one union with Christ, they see two modes of relating to Christ. For them, though all humans are included in the triune life by virtue of the hypostatic union that resulted from the Incarnation (by which the divine Son of God took on flesh, thus uniting his divinity with our humanity), not everyone knows of (and thus participates in/experiences) that union. Radcliff comments:
We can live in ignorance or denial of this [union] or we can live in agreement with it and enjoy its reality. For the Torrances, it is the role of the Spirit to open us up within our subjectivities for Christ so that we live out of ourselves in him. T.F. believes that humanity's objective union with Christ is subjectively actualized in us by the Spirit. J.B. writes, "Therefore we have to hold two things together. First, [Jesus] has already taken our humanity into the Holy of Holies, the presence of the Father in his own person. Second, he comes to us today by the Holy Spirit to take us with him into the Holiest of All." (p. 93)

Three moments in our salvation

In unpacking that idea, J.B. follows Calvin in identifying three "moments" of the one work of salvation that is accomplished by God: 1) the moment of eternity (which pertains to the eternal love of the Father), 2) the moment of history (which pertains to when Christ died and rose, securing our salvation) and 3) the moment of experience (which pertains to when the Spirit actualizes our union with Christ personally/subjectively by bringing us to faith and repentance). The Torrances see this often-overlooked third moment in our salvation as imperative. However, it does not stand alone---it rests fully on the first two moments, thus avoiding throwing believers back on themselves trying to earn, justify or somehow complete their salvation by their own works (even if those works are empowered by the Spirit). Concerning this third moment, the Torrances note that...
A response of faith by the Spirit is necessary for the subjective actualization of our objective ontological union in Christ. However, in order to show that this is not a burdensome task for humanity [i.e. one that is dependent upon our own efforts], they emphasize that Christ has already made this response of faith by the Spirit vicariously in our place. (pp. 94-95, emphasis added)
Despite their emphasis on the Spirit's work in salvation (the third moment), the Torrances have been criticized for giving the Spirit short shrift. It may well be that the Torrances should have written more about the Spirit's role, however, this criticism fails to account for the fact that the Torrances were careful to emphasize that salvation involves the work of the whole God: Father, Son and Spirit. Pentecostal trinitarian theologian Thomas Smail agrees with this emphasis, and as Radcliff points out, adds some perspective of his own:
[Though] we have to believe for ourselves, but we cannot believe by ourselves. The freedom to believe is the work and gift of the Spirit in his incorporating others into what Christ has done. With much [of] modern Christianity overemphasizing our human response, Smail commends T.F. for showing that our response is wholly dependent upon Christ's prior response on our behalf. However, Smail wishes to emphasize that the Spirit enables us to make our own response in Christ. (p. 95)
What some of the critics of Torrance theology fail to understand, particularly on the topic of sanctification, is that the Torrances view sanctification (like all aspects of salvation) as being participatory---as being about relationship, not mere transaction. For the Torrances, salvation, including sanctification, is done with us, not merely for us. The objectivity of Christ, who as one of us, acts on our behalf (as our representative and substitute) includes us in a way that does not displace our personal participation in what he has done, is doing and will yet do. Some critics of Torrance theology object to this idea because it sounds to them like some sort of co-redemption. To that criticism, Radcliff gives this reply:
The Torrances' emphasis on Christ's all-sufficient response in which we participate by the Spirit excludes any subtly synergistic notion of co-redemption.... The Spirit does not enable us to make our own autonomous response to Christ, [rather he enables us] to participate in Christ's response for us. (p. 96, emphasis added)

But how do we participate? (the role of the Sacraments) 

The Lord's Supper (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The issue of our participation, by the Spirit, in Jesus' vicarious humanity, including his work on our behalf, raises this important question: How do we then participate? We've already noted that our participation includes our response of faith and repentance (both gifts from the Spirit by which we participate in Jesus' faith and repentance on our behalf), however, as Radcliff notes, the Torrances have not written a lot about our participation (and she wishes they had!). That being said, Radcliff does note that both T.F. and J.B. emphasized the role of the Sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper) in providing key ways in which to participate. She offers this quote concerning the Lord's Supper from T.F. in his book, Reconciliation:
This union with Jesus Christ with us in body and blood by virtue of which he became our Priest and Mediator before God demands as it complement our union with him in his body and blood, in drawing near to God and offering him our worship with, in and through Christ, while his continuous living presentation of us before the Father on the ground of his one perfect all-sufficient sacrifice calls for our continuous living communion with him as the Son. It is in this union and communion with Christ the incarnate Son who represents God to us and us to God that the real import of the Lord's Supper becomes disclosed, for in eating his body and drinking his blood we are given to participate in his vicarious self-offering to the Father. (p. 98, emphasis added)
In this way, the Lord's Supper (and similar comments can be made concerning baptism) brings to expression our participation in the all-sufficient response that Christ has made and continues to make on our behalf. In the Sacraments, Christ is present to us, by the Spirit, in a particular, transforming and healing way. By partaking of the Sacraments, we are participating with Christ in his transformed-healed (glorified) humanity. Similar points can be made concerning other ways in which we are given to participate in Christ who, by the Spirit, transforms us from the inside out as we share in both who he is for us, and what he has, is, and will yet do as our substitute and representative. To put this in more common, colloquial terms, we might say that as we "hang" with Jesus by the Spirit, he "rubs off on us" and so we are transformed (sanctified) into his likeness more and more---a transformation that comes to fullness when we are glorified and so see him face-to-face.

Comments

  1. Sandy Shaw3/26/2018

    This is an important Post - and I am glad you introduced my old friend Tom Smail. According to the book ACTS, whenever anyone came into the Church of Jesus Christ, there were basically four 'elements' or 'stages' as people were 'born again' - Repentance - Believing in Jesus Christ - Baptism in water - and Receiving the Holy Spirit. Each is not mentioned on each occasion - and the order is not always the same - but if you check Acts 2, 8, 9, 10 and 19 you will these occurring in various vital ways. When someone comes to me trouble about their faith, or salvation, I invariably ask them - tell me how you were 'born again'? There may be crucial elements 'missing'.

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