Quite separately from this I found myself looking through Henric Schartau’s classic sermon “Jesus Only” (the linchpin of the chapter “Transfiguration Day” in Bo Giertz’s The Hammer of God, on which I have blogged before). The third part of his sermon, on sanctification, contains some insights from Schartau that seem very relevant to the discussion at Evangel.
First, Schartau explains how our good works do not increase our faith, but the other way round:
The more a person grows in faith in the Lord Jesus, the more he will also increase in good works. You do not, as you may suppose, receive more faith and grace from God by virtue of your watchfulness, meekness, patience, and devotion, but quite the reverse. In the proportion that Jesus becomes great and glorious to you, in the proportion that He becomes indispensable, you will increase in all the virtues that derive their strength from Him. The more faith, which is the origin of love, increases, the more will also love, which is the result of faith, increase.
Hence what matters is for our love for Jesus – “the proportion to which [he] becomes great and glorious to you”. And since “the origin of love” is faith, what will increase our love is not the demands of the law, but the promises of the gospel, in which Jesus’ love is declared to us and the Holy Spirit stirs up our faith and love for him. As Schartau continues:
Love for Jesus is the chief motive unto sanctification in a converted soul. It is love for Jesus that makes the believers submissive to Him in trials and sorrow, enabling them to bear His cross when the Lord finds it needful for their sanctification. Paul designates the knowledge of the love of Christ as the most immediate cause leading to one’s being “filled unto all the fullness of God.” In like manner it is love for Jesus that makes the most pleasing sins abominable and the most grievous duties light.
It is love for Jesus that enables us to love all men, because He has deigned to make them all objects of His love. It is love for Jesus which opens our heart so that we may have confidence in those who are known to be partakers of that same love of Christ. It is love for Jesus which quenches our anger when we are offended, which kills hatred and enables the believer to love his enemies, since Jesus has loved them too, precisely as He loved us even while we were yet His enemies.
So if pastors want to promote sanctification in their congregations, what is needed is a weekly proclamation of the gospel, of the forgiveness of sins in and through Jesus Christ; not “to-do” lists and checklists of appropriate Christian behaviour. The latter may well be more effective at “modifying behaviour”, at least in the short term; but only the former can change hearts, as people are stirred up to a greater love for Jesus.