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  • Writer's pictureMarissa Galvan

Ongoing Sanctification

Para ver la versión en español, vaya aquí.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

All Saints’ Day has been celebrated on November 1 since the year 835. We usually think about this celebration as a remembrance of those who have died… especially people who have died as martyrs of the faith. We also include those loved ones who have died… and this seems specially fitting for this year.

But, if you look at the description in the PCUSA website you will find a reminder that this is a day not only for thinking about those who have passed, but also about those that remain. It says that in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition this day has a different focus. The emphasis is on the “ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God.”

“Ongoing sanctification”. What does that mean? You could think that, with the emphasis on remembering those that have passed, that this Is talking about the addition of saints to the church eternal. But, I think it can refer to Usually, when we hear the word sanctification our minds can go to: 1) Catholic tradition and the process through which a person becomes a saint or 2) Wesley and the Methodists, where “sanctification is the process by which Christians become holy, sloughing off their sinful character and taking on the loving character of Christ.” Nevertheless, John Calvin, one of the most important theologians of the Reformed tradition did speak about sanctification. He describes it as “the general process of man’s becoming more and more in the course of time conformed to Christ in heart and outward life and devoted to God.” For Calvin, the cause of sanctification is union with Christ. There can be no participation in the benefits and blessings of Christ without being in Christ. The bond of this union is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is also the agent through whom sanctification occurs. So, you could say that Christians receive a double grace: not just justification (or salvation) that unites them with Christ but also sanctification.

What is the purpose and benefits of sanctification? We usually think of its impact in our own lives: we live in union with Christ, with faith, freed from sin and are therefore a new creation. This goes well with my understanding of salvation, not as the end of the journey of faith, but as the beginning since salvation continues to have an impact through sanctification. But, sanctification also has an impact in the way that I see the world around me, because it allows me to see how the kin-dom of God has come near, but also how humanity has walked away from the kin-dom in the broader sense of the world.

Sanctification then, moves us away from individual salvation to looking outside as ones whose whole world view has been transformed… and as I read the beatitudes, I become aware that the world as it is now… it’s not the upside down world that God wants.

Once again, while reading Raj Nadella’s commentary, he points to a word in Greek that have more meanings than the one we usually assign to it and as a translator, I love that. He says that the word Makarios, blessed or happy, also speaks of those who refuse to be wicked and find delight in following the Law of the Lord. That gives an extra meaning to the beatitudes. We are not just talking about happiness or blessing… but we are also talking about a set of values that impact the whole world, in which our happiness resides in obeying God’s values and sense of justice. The Beatitudes point us towards the ethical standards that are consonant with life in God’s kin-dom.

Dr. Nadella then looks at verse 4 and makes an interesting comment. He says that “the most common translation of verse 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (“Bienaventurados los que lloran, porque ellos serán consolados) does not capture the full force of the verb at the end. Comforting / Consolar, also referred to what lawyers and advocates did and, as he says: “has the connotation of interceding on behalf of those who need assistance.”

So the blessing that those who mourn receive in the kin-dom, in not just God’s wiping away their tears, or the call that God’s action makes to us to do the same. The blessing that they receive is also advocacy: God will defend them and give them the justice that they seek… and this is also part of God’s call to us. Individual comfort and communal advocacy mix together as important sides of God’s action and our building up God’s kin-dom. The individual sense of comfort is not enough… and neither is the advocacy without the personal accompaniment.

The church has always lived with the sense of the balance between justification and sanctification, between God’s action toward our individual life, and God’s impact on the whole of creation, acting to make God’s ongoing sanctification a reality. But… when the church acts in way that deny one for the other… then we move away from the values of the kin-dom as presented in the Beatitudes.

I remember that when I was growing up, the phrase “I believe in Jesus Christ as my personal savior” was what every Christian had to say. That was the secret code that you would say in school or church to let everyone know that you were part of the in crowd of the church. But… as I’ve been in the process of “ongoing sanctification… I’ve wondered about the world personal in there. I do believe in Jesus Christ as my savior… as our savior… as the savior of the world. But I believe Jesus’ action goes beyond my life. In fact, I believe Jesus’ action in my life impacts everything I do and say, not just in my personal life… but also in my life as part of a congregation, a family, a community, a city, a country and the world. Because I believe in Jesus as savior, I believe that his salvation works in me in ways that allow me to look at the other, not as unimportant in my Christian life… but as those that need comforting and advocacy… just like I’ve needed those things from God.

I want to leave you with a quote for you to think about in your ongoing sanctification. It is from Jane Goodall, an English primatologist and anthropologist that I admire very much. She says “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” God has designed this world for interdependence, for interconnection, for community, and for family. John Calvin used to say that “There is no other method of living piously and justly than that of depending upon God.” (No hay otro método para vivir piadosamente y con justicia que depender de Dios.) And I guess I would add something here… and then we will learn that we need to care and depend on each other… to live as God wants us to live.

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