It’s there tucked into the middle of John’s account of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the analogy for Jesus beloved by all (John 10: 1-18). In verse 10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). A more accurate translation is “that they may have life overflowing.”
Who was Jesus talking about? The sheep, of course. Jesus invited us to see ourselves as the sheep he protects and lays down his life for. There was no suggestion he is talking about what will happen in a future life. He addressed our daily life in this world.
What will be overflowing in this abundant life here and now? I believe the Good Life now will be overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I trust you recognize that this listing comes from Galatians 5:22, where Paul described the fruit of the Spirit. Understand that “fruit” means what we would call the product, that which a business makes and sends out the door. The Spirit produces the inner qualities of love, joy, peace and the other fruit.
The Good News re-discovered at the Reformation was all about the next life and how we will get eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. We get a few glimpses of what life later will be like “up there” in heaven. Whatever ideas we have about the new Jerusalem, the main point is that there we will have a very abundant, overflowing life among the saints encircling the throne and singing Worthy is the Lamb.
The Good News to be re-discovered now is how the Holy Spirit will change our lives and produce more love, joy, peace and patience within our hearts here and now in our daily living. I can’t think of anybody anywhere who would not want more of these qualities in their life. So come to Jesus and watch what happens when you open yourself to the Spirit’s work among those who place themselves in his workplace—believers gathered in fellowship around God’s Word. As earthly fathers know how to give good things to their children, “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11: 13).
Several centuries later this full Gospel was diminished as the institutionalized Christian church focused attention on the next life. In Medieval times, this life on earth was hard and often short. Just staying alive was a constant worry. People thought more and more about the next life. Surely life would better in heaven. And they certainly did not want to go to a worse life in hell. The Roman Catholic Church declared their institutional church held the key to the next life and set down rules that had to be followed. The Reformation established that we are justified by grace through faith and the gates of heaven are open to all believers. They re-discovered the Gospel of salvation by grace—the well-known Gospel.
But what about grace in this life? The 20th-century focus on the Spirit brought new interest in Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12. The key word for grace is charis, the gift given. Charisma is the gift received. Paul did not want his readers to be ignorant of spiritual gifts. First, he described giftings (charisma) for different kinds of ministries within the body of Christ: preaching, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leading” (Romans 12: 6-8). The root word for charis (gift given) and charisma (gift received) is char, meaning joy. The Holy Spirit brings joy into our lives.
Then comes a sleeper verse at the end of 1 Corinthians 12: “But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” In Chapter 13 these are love, faith and hope. Now comes a major assumption that opens up new perspectives on what the Holy Spirit does in us today. Love, faith and hope are just some of the fruit the Spirit produces within us. As Jesus taught, the Holy Spirit influences human spirit (John 3:6). I believe he does this supernaturally.
Here is the second Gospel, the forgotten Gospel. We are justified by grace so we can live better by grace. Living by grace means receiving more and more of the Spirit’s grace giftings that enable us to become more loving and joyful. Those are grace gifts (charisma) from the Spirit working patience and trust in our inner being.
We are justified by God’s grace so we can live better by God’s grace.
Mark Schulz says
David, thanks for speaking to this topic, for you are addressing what may well be the most significant theological issue facing the LCMS and likely Lutheranism more broadly. Beyond our endless squabbling about the practice of the Lord’s Supper, women in leadership, and how we should worship, more fundamental is our understanding of sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the nature of our participation in the process. I used to think that it was only a matter of a less developed Lutheran theology of sanctification (coming out of the Reformation and its nearly laser focus on justification). But more recently (including at a meeting a couple weeks ago), I’ve heard the designation of “theology of glory” used to refer to any teaching that we can become more like Jesus, produce more of the fruits of the Spirit, and experience more of the abundant life he has has promised. Which is to say that some evidently now believe and teach that any understanding of “progressive sanctification” is un-Lutheran and violates the Gospel. How this gets reconciled with all the teaching of the Scriptures regarding our growing in faithfulness and fruitfulness through the Spirit’s power I really don’t know.
When I was in seminary, “Gospel-reductionism” was reducing the truth of the Scriptures down to only the Gospel message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Today’s form is to reduce the Gospel down to only justification, leaving any meaningful sanctification to take place in heaven. For so many reasons including faithfulness to God’s Word and to his mission, we must push back against such reductionism and teach that the Good News is both what God has done outside us in justifying us with himself, and what he now does inside us through the transforming work of the Spirit.
David Luecke says
Mark, you are right on. “Sanctification” has always been a problem for Lutherans. Most of what I read has gone out of the way to assert that sanctification is not justification. True. But Luther himself says how the Spirit sanctifies me and the whole church. I think the key is to see that the issue is not “good works” but rather is the change in motivation brought by the Spirit, who changes hearts.
Any ideas about where this discussion can go in our church body?
Mark Schulz says
That’s a really good question … here are a few things that come immediately to mind:
We need more people writing about it … I’m trying to do my part this year in a book on New Testament athletic metaphor which speaks to both formation (training) and mission (running the race).
We need as you put it to emphasize that sanctification is the Spirit’s transforming work in which we participate as we train … sanctification is not primarily about trying hard and it is certainly not about earning.
I think also that mission becomes an important leverage point … because our witness will have little credibility if people aren’t seeing Jesus in us. Or to use athletic language, we train so that we can run the race set before us.
We can hitch on to the increasing societal interest in and research regarding habits (The Power of Habit, You are What You Love – The Spiritual Power of Habit, Atomic Habits) and teach spiritual practices that can become transformative habits.
As Circuit Visitor, I can bring it up at our gatherings.
Best Practices … where both of us were in the cold and rain last week.
We can talk about “developmental churches” that balance event and process, attraction and sanctification
Jonathan Mark Beyer says
You guys are talking my language. I’ve been seeing this for a long time and waiting for someone to step up and address the issue head on. We are afraid to talk sanctification because of the fear driving people back to condemnation rather than see the freedom the Spirit gives for this life. We are a Scripture alone based Church yet we fail to share all that the Scriptures have to say about life in the kingdom in this world. Keep the conversation going! I love this!!!
David Luecke says
Yes, you are right on. This is a major shift. I am curious to see the reaction.
jeanne menich says
i read your question on how we get the people to understand the concept of sanctification. the first thing i would recommend is having sermons that deal with this topic. i can count on one hand hearing in our sermons about the holy spirit and its blessings. actually, although i have heard the term sanctification, i have never once heard that term in a sermon. basically, dave you have to start with sermons telling the congregation about all of this. i realize, lutherans have a problem with the concept, however, maybe it is time to do a sermon series on it. the only place i have hear the spirit talked about much is your classes. the one don and i took with you was very helpful. although classes are one way to do this, i still feel sermons would reach more people. i think that is true through out all church congregations. i, personally, have found the holy spirit being a personal friend, which, for me, is the best way i can describe the relationship. now, how do you convince pastors to do this, well what you are doing is a good start.
Thanks for doing the blog; I have found it interesting and informative!
When I think about 1 Corinthians chapter 12, it seems to talk about the work of the Holy Spirit to give people faith to confess Jesus as Lord and give each believer a particular gift for the common good. The chapter also talks about various extraordinary spiritual gifts, some of which are still in use today and some of which seem to have been replaced by the New Testament Scriptures. Finally the chapter seems to focus on the one body of Christ, how all believers have been made members of that one body.
Then, in chapter 13, the focus is on the importance of expressing love within the body of Christ, to the various members of the body of Christ. Regarding faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest because it is for time and eternity, in comparison to faith and hope which are only for this life.
May God help all of us to have the fullness of the Holy Spirit, listen to him through the Word, and utilize our giftedness to glorify God and be a blessing to others!
David Luecke says
Bob, thanks for your comment. Yes, you have caught the significance of 1 Corinthians 12 and the transition to 13. It is sobering to recognize that 1 Cor 12 has been in the Bible for 2,000 years and its significance is only now emerging. I think that is because few thought about the “laity” beyond their support of the clergy. I look forward to future discussions.
Gary Farley says
Thanks for sharing with me. I am retired, but attend a small rural Southern Baptist congregation. Form 1984 to 1997 I direct rural church work for the SBC. Worked the next 20 years directing a rural judicatory. I find your work to be on target and insightful.
David Luecke says
Thanks for the affirmation. Blessings on your ministry.