Participating in Jesus' sanctification of our humanity

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, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11

Last time we explored the Torrances' view that sanctification, rather than being what we achieve through our works, is an already-accomplished reality in Jesus. The Christian life is thus not about making ourselves holy, but about participating, by the Spirit, in what already is true of us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. That being the case, an important question is this: How do we participate? 

Is the idea of participation in Christ just a nice theological concept, or is it a day-to-day reality? To many critics of Torrance theology, the idea seems far too conceptual. After all, we live on earth and Jesus (in his glorified humanity) is in heaven. One day he will return to earth, but in the meantime how can we participate in his sanctified humanity? As Radcliff notes, both T.F. and J.B. answer the critics by emphasizing that our participation with and in Jesus' vicarious humanity is quite real, and occurs by the Holy Spirit:
The Torrances believe that the outworking of [our] sanctification found objectively with justification in Christ comes as we participate by the Holy Spirit in Christ. The role of the Holy Spirit is to turn us out of ourselves to share in this sanctification found definitively in Christ. T.F. describes this as the Spirit "opening us up within our subjectivities for Christ in such a radical way that we find our life not in ourselves but out of ourselves, objectively in him." (pp. 136-137)

Icon  of Christ
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

It's important to note here that our participation in Christ, by the Spirit, is by grace, not by nature. As adopted children of God, we have a share in God's life, but we are not God (nor will we ever be). Nevertheless, in Torrance theology, our participation in Christ is real participation (koinonia, meaning participation, fellowship, communion, sharing). It's also important to note that this participation is not about merely striving to emulate Jesus---trying to do what he would do, seeing him as a model. Rather, our participation by the Spirit is about sharing in who Jesus is and what he has done on our behalf. Radcliff explains:
According to the Torrances, sanctification is a reality in which we participate, rather than a potentiality to be actualized. As Gary Deddo [President of Grace Communion Seminary and Special Assistant to GCI's President] writes, 
"What is complete and actual in Christ is truly and really ours even if it does not yet appear to be so. Our lives are hidden in Christ (Col. 3:3). Our life in him is being worked out in us by the Spirit. But this new being wrought in us comes through the sheer gift of our union with Christ. It does not come through our working out a potential that might be true if we properly apply ourselves. Rather the Christian life is living out and manifesting the present reality of our union with Christ." 
The Holy Spirit doe not enable the autonomous believer to work out his own sanctification: the Holy Spirit enables the believer to participate in Christ's definitive sanctification. This liberates humanity from the burden of depending upon our own endeavors for the outworking of our sanctification in our lives. (pp. 139-140)
Sanctification is not about what we do to make ourselves holy, but how we participate, by the Spirit, in our sanctification, which is accomplished already for us in, by and through Jesus. OK, so we're clear on that, but that still leaves us asking, how do we participate? Perhaps we'd like the Torrances to give us a "how to" list. If so, we'll be disappointed---they provide no such list. Yes, they mention certain practices (call them "holy habits")---we've already noted in this series of posts that they emphasize participation in the glorified humanity of Christ via the sacraments. However, for the Torrances, participation is more about resting in Christ than about certain activities. As Radcliff notes,
The outworking of our sanctification comes from a place of rest in what Christ has already accomplished and is a process of the unveiling of that reality... [it's not] an external process of becoming progressively more holy, which throws us back upon our own efforts.... We have already been made completely holy in Christ. The progression of time only serves the unveiling of the... definitive ontological reality of our sanctification in Christ [which] means that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves any more holy. (pp. 142, 144)
If we want to think about what we are to do in order to participate in Christ, the Torrances would want us to understand that what most honors God is "to accept our new nature and clothe ourselves with Christ" (p. 143). Thus we can say that our participation in Christ, by the Spirit, as it pertains to our sanctification, is not about a life-long struggle to live a holy life. Instead, it's about resting in (relying upon, trusting in) Christ to be for us who he actually is---both our justification and our sanctification. Our participation in Christ is thus largely a matter of faith---of trust, of spiritual formation---through and by which we are liberated by the Spirit to grow into the reality of who we truly are in Christ.

This objective understanding of sanctification does not negate personal (subjective) activity. Torrance theology, rightly understood, does not lead us to a life of passivity and inactivity. Rather, it liberates us from seeking to justify or sanctify ourselves by our own efforts. Radcliff comments:
We are set free from the burden of trying to accomplish our own sanctification and enabled to participate by the Spirit in Christ's holiness.... This means at one and the same time that we can rest in what has been decisively accomplished in Christ but also that we can be active in leading holy lives.... The Torrances' understanding of salvation presents our work as coming out of a... place of rest and satisfaction in what has been definitively accomplished in Christ. (pp. 145-146)
We are reminded here of the exhortation given to Christians in the book of Hebrews to put effort into entering God's "rest" (Heb. 4:11). We do so understanding that the fulness of our sanctification, which is already ours in Christ, will not be fully revealed to us and to the world until we are glorified and so see Jesus (and thus our true, sanctified selves) face-to-face. As Torrance asserts, "our sanctification will not be fully manifest until the Parousia" (p. 146), which is the revealing that will occur when Jesus returns bodily to earth.

In the meantime, sinfulness is a continuing reality. Though we are fully sanctified in Christ already, our behavior often sends another message. That is why in his epistles, Paul consistently calls on Christians to, in essence, be who they are in Christ. As T.F. liked to put it:
This Tom Torrance you see is full of corruption, but the real Tom Torrance is hid with Christ in God and will be revealed only when Jesus Christ comes again. (p. 147)
This "already, but not yet" understanding of sanctification is made clear to us in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, that remind us of...
...both Christ's presence and our estrangement from him at one and the same time. As the church lives in the eschatological reserve between Christ's ascension and Parousia, "it is still characterized by sin and evil and partakes of the decay and corruption of the world of which it is a part...so that it is not yet what it shall be, and not yet wholly in itself what it is already is in Christ." (p. 148, quoting T.F. in "Atonement," p. 312)
As Christians, we are defined by our identity in Christ, not by our imperfect behavior. Rather than being "sinners who are forgiven," we are "saints who sin." T.F. put it this way in a sermon he preached on Philippians 2:12:
Do you see, in God's sight, you are already secluded in the heart of Jesus Christ, you are already a new creature though to all outward appearances you may be far from it, you are already a saint though you know yourself to be a sinner. This is the glorious paradox of the Gospel. (p. 156)
In similar fashion, Karl Barth said this:
We who were once "children of wrath," "dead in trespasses and sins," are saints. We are holy.... There is no time for false modesty.... Hold your head high! You have dignity. You have worth. Not only have you been created by the gracious and omnipotent hand of God, you have been redeemed in the blood of His Son and sanctified by the power of His Spirit through Word and Sacrament. (p. 156) 
Note Barth's reference to Word and Sacrament---both are key to our participation in the sanctification that is ours already in Christ. Through the Word (Scripture) we are taught the truth of who we are (already) in Jesus. Through the Sacraments, we share in that reality, not merely as a reminder of the facts, but as a real way of being united with and nourished by Jesus who is the reality of our salvation in every aspect, our sanctification included.

The Spirit uses Word and Sacrament to help us put off the old nature (which, in Christ, is dead already) and to put on the new nature (which, in Christ, is ours already). Through Word and Sacrament we declare (and so hear again) the truth of the Gospel, and in hearing (and trusting in Christ who the Gospel declares) we participate in the life of Christ and so are transformed to align more closely with the truth and reality of who Jesus is and of who we are, by the Spirit, in union with him. In short, we can say that we participate in our already accomplished sanctification by fixing our eyes on Jesus. We'll explore that idea more fully next time when we conclude this series.

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