Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus

This post concludes a series recapping 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, 10

Throughout her excellent book, Dr. Radcliff emphasizes the understanding held by both T.F. and J.B. Torrance that sanctification is not about our efforts to become the sort of persons we ought to be. Viewed through the lens of the Torrances' incarnational Trinitarian theology, "a holy life does not stem from an introspective concern with our sin or from attempting to follow moral rules and regulations, but from our free participation by the Spirit in Christ's intimate relationship with the Father" (p. 167). The Torrances teach that in and through the vicarious humanity of Jesus our humanity is already fully sanctified. Our focus as Christians is thus not on trying to perfect ourselves, but on fixing our eyes on Jesus---looking to him, and in doing so sharing in his already fully-sanctified, vicarious humanity. As we look to Jesus, we become, through the power of the Spirit, more and more who we truly are in Christ. Radcliff comments:
When we are re-oriented by the Spirit to find our lives in Christ, this is the basis for a holy life. Scripture exhorts us to fix our eyes upon Jesus, which is the true meaning of repentance.... As we share by the Spirit in the Son's communion with the Father, we grow to reflect the reality of who we are in Christ. (pp. 167-168) 

"In the Arms of His Love" by Greg Olsen (used with permission)

Looking to Jesus rather than to our own performance does not mean that we are naive concerning the reality of sin in our lives. We understand that we do not yet experience the fullness of who we are in Christ. As the apostle Paul notes, at this present time we are "hidden in Christ" (Col. 3:3). We live in the "between the times" gap (Radcliff calls it the "eschatological reserve) that stretches from the incarnation of the Son of God to the promised bodily return of Jesus. When he returns to earth as a glorified human, we will not only see Jesus face-to-face, we (and others) will see who we truly are in Christ. In the meantime, as Radcliff notes, "we seek to live holy lives today." We do so with what the Torrances' call an "eschatological orientation" (p. 167), which means living with our glorification at the end of the journey in mind. We also live in this present age in what Radcliff calls, "the power of Pentecost":
At Pentecost, Jesus shared the Holy Spirit with humanity so that humanity might share by the Holy Spirit in Christ. The role of the Holy Spirit is to turn us out of ourselves to participate in the life of Christ....
     [Now quoting T.F. Torrance.] "Through union with Jesus Christ the church shares in his life and in all that he has done for mankind. Through his birth its members have a new birth and are made members of the new humanity. Through his obedient life and death their sins are forgiven and they are clothed with a new righteousness. Through his resurrection and triumph over the powers of darkness they are freed from the dominion of evil and are made one body with him. Through his ascension the kingdom of heaven is opened to all believers and the church waits for his coming again to fulfill in all humanity the new creation which he has already begun in it. Thus the church finds its life and being not in itself but in Jesus Christ alone, for not only is he the head of the church but he includes the church within his own fullness." (pp. 171-172)
Jesus is the living center upon whom we must keep our eyes fixed. As J.B. Torrance notes, "In faith we look primarily away from ourselves to Jesus Christ, desiring to be found 'in him,' clothed with his righteousness (Phil. 3:7-11)" (p. 173). This orientation of mind and heart is the essence of the ongoing repentance that is fundamental to the Christian life. According to J.B., this sort of repentance is a "joyful activity" rather than a burden, for we do not rely on the adequacy of our own repentance, but, in faith, rely on Jesus' perfect vicarious repentance on our behalf. Even in repenting, we look away from ourselves to fix our eyes on Jesus. Indeed, at every point in our journey with Jesus, all we do and believe is "shaped by the truth of God, in Christ, rather than by our own human experience" (p. 174). Radcliff notes that in the context of sanctification, this means that....
...what we believe should be formed by the truth of our identity as saints in Christ, as opposed to our earthly experiences of sinfulness. Paul often exhorts the early Christians to turn from their experience of sin to God and his truth [e.g. Gal. 4:8-9; 1 Cor. 6:19].... The whole Christian life depends on the clear consciousness of our position in Christ. (pp. 176-176)   
T.F. Torrance made this point in a sermon he preached on Philippians 2:12:
Don't 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. Christ has been tempted in all points as we are. He has tasted death for every man, and now presents us with a perfect redemption---and it is only because he has done that, that we may pluck up our courage and work, for it is God that worketh in us. (p. 177)
The Torrances thus conceive of sanctification as a participatory relationship grounded in love, not a transaction grounded in obedience to a code of law. For our sanctification (as with all aspects of our salvation) we look not to ourselves, but to Jesus and his relationship to the Father. We look to Jesus, not to the Law and our obedience (or lack thereof). Making reference to a book by theologian Julie Canlis, Radcliff notes that...
The Spirit directs us out of ourselves, away from our own attempts at perfect performance, to God and our relationship with him, which is the basis of living the Christian life.... The Holy Spirit ushers us into adoption, not workaholism; the Spirit tells us not so much what to do, but who we are. For T.F. any external conception of holy living by adhering to laws is excluded by Paul's language of the church as the "body of Christ." The church inheres in Christ; it does not follow abstract rules. (p. 182) 
As Radcliff notes, J.B. Torrance extends this relational, participatory understanding of sanctification to pastoral ministry...
....believing that instead of directing people with which is the right or wrong action to take, the first and foremost mission [of a pastor] is to direct people to Christ [and his gospel of grace] so that we might share by the Spirit in his intimate relationship with the Father. (p. 186)
Radcliff concludes her book (and so we now conclude this series) with this statement:
The Torrances' claim that the whole of humanity has its being in Christ liberates us from our own efforts to earn our relationship with God and, extending the implications to sanctification, become the kind of person that we ought to be. God has objectively claimed humanity for salvation in Christ prior to anything that we could contribute and the radical claim that this places upon humanity is to grow to reflect the ontological reality of who we are in him as we feely share by the Spirit in the Son's filial communion with the Father. (p. 193)
May that be the reality we both understand and live by. Amen.

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