UPDATE July 3, 2011: For those arriving at this post (and there’s a steady trickle), I recommend reading it in conjunction with the next post.
Hebrews 12.14 speaks of ‘the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’.
What do we do with this? The options — off the top of my head — can be plotted on two axes:
- All or nothing v gradual and
- Real v positional
The various possible combinations unpack this:
- The holiness, without which we cannot see the Lord, could be an all or nothing matter of real change. Thus, with a kind of sinless perfectionism/entire sanctification view we might maintain that unless you’re really changed into a holy person — through and through (ontologically) — e.g., by entering into the appropriate state at conversion or some point afterwards, then you won’t be ‘fit’ for the new creation.
- Alternatively, this holiness could be a gradualist matter of real change, much as the Eastern orthodox notion of theosis (divinisation) sounds like it is — I’m not sure I’m familiar enough with it yet to pronounce definitively one way or the other. So the person who is fit for the new creation is someone who is bit by bit transformed into a totally different person — head, heart and hands. (In an interesting way, Ryle’s take on regeneration, which Calvin would have called sanctification, probably fits in here).
- A more gradualist and positional version — I’m thinking of something like the scholastic via moderna against which Luther carved out his view of justification by faith alone — might run along the lines of ‘Do your best; God will do the rest’ (to be crude and reductionistic about it). So while you can never perfectly fulfil God’s standards if you work hard God agrees to accept your feeble efforts.
- Finally, the all-or-nothing positional change combination sounds very Reformed — our standing before God (in terms of how he views us) is radically changed by virtue of our appropriation by faith of the definitive achievement of Christ: we are not simply justified (forensically) but also sanctified — cleansed and set apart for God’s service.
No doubt these are all caricatures. I’m particularly fascinated by the way Reformed tradition resonates with both the second and the fourth views. The real v positional axis might have us barking up the wrong tree…
I’m just putting it out there, but if that’s the case then might the all-or-nothing v gradualist axis also be misleading?