What Kid Doesn't Like a Ghost Story The Holy Ghost as Sanctificator
You could say we title the 3rd Article Sanctification' because Luther uses the word sanctifies' twice, but why does he use this word in connection with the Holy Ghost? Because His work takes us all the way to life everlasting. And for that to happen we need a Sanctificator.
There isn't a ghost of chance we get into heaven without sanctification. Paul says as much in I Cor. 15. This flesh and blood as it is "cannot inherit the kingdom of God." If you think otherwise your deceiving yourself as Paul says in 1 Cor. 6. "Wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor effeminate by perversion, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." Nope the only way for that to happen is we must be radically different than we are. Heb. 12:14 says, "Pursuesanctification without which no one will see the Lord."
This is where the logic of Purgatory comes in and the lure of the holiness church bodies. Purgatory plays on what we all know to be true; we need to be utterly different than we now are to enter heaven. Hear what Catholicism officially teaches: "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect" (1030, 1031). The Holiness churches teach that rather than going to Purgatory to be made fit for heaven, you can do that in this life. These church bodies came into being right after the Civil War. They are divided into those who follow John Wesley and the Pentecostals (Mayer, Religious Bodies in America, 305ff).
Purgatory seems logical and the holiness bodies alluring because even a pagan wants a way to be sure he is free of guilt. Why else would a Roman governor make such a big deal about declaring, "I am innocent of this man's blood," and go through a public ritual of washing his hands? He's a powerful official of Rome known for running roughshod over people, and yet he can't stand the taint of innocent blood, of guilt on his hands. Purgatory says, "I can wipe that off." The Holiness churches say, "You can wipe that off." And a ghostly voice floats in the air saying, "Do it; do it; you need this."
There is not a ghost of chance anyone can go to heaven without being sanctified, but if you think that can be done after you die, you will find the flames of hell that don't purify but punish. And if you think you can do it before you die, you will only make matters worse. We watched Peter try to sanctify himself to confess Jesus as he knew he should and promised he would. After he had deserted Him in Gethsemane, he returns to deal with his sin in the high priest's courtyard. Three times he's determined to confess and 3 more times he denies. Here's what we confess in the Large Catechism. "Therefore, all who seek and wish to merit sanctification through their works rather than through the Gospel and forgiveness of sins have expelled and separated themselves from the Church" (II, 56).
You don't sanctify yourself by feeling really bad for your sins. You don't sanctify yourself when you promise never, ever, to do that again. You don't sanctify yourself by lowering the bar of holiness so that you meet it. Telling yourself that lust whether heterosexual or homosexual, greed or grudges aren't sins doesn't forgive them. You don't sanctify yourself when you come to Lenten services and feel bad for what they did to Jesus. That's trying to wash your hands with tears rather than water as Pilate did. "Save your tears for yourself," says Jesus, "You're going to need them." You don't sanctify yourself even a bit by telling yourself you're not really such a dry tree; there are other trees drier than you. The only green tree that ever existed is Jesus, and look what your sins did to Him, so what will they do to you if you don't get rid of them?
We don't have a ghost of a chance of entering heaven without sanctification. We confess in the Athanasian Creed: "they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire." And we confess this with our mouths because Jesus first speaks it into our ears. Jesus says, "an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment" (Jn. 5:25).
If all our righteous deeds are dirty rags as Isaiah 64 tells us, what does that make our unholy deeds? Very dry trees indeed. There is not a ghost of a chance of you going to heaven without dealing with them, and you can't but the Ghost who is holy can, and He won't fail to sanctify you completely. He won't fail to give you that sanctification Hebrews 12 says without which no one will see the Lord.
How can I promise that? Because even as Holy Ghost's call of the Gospel contains all the power to believe it, even as His gifts can't fail to enlighten, so He can't fail to sanctify. The Creed confesses as much when we say, "I believe in the Holy Christian Church" and "the Communion of saints." Doesn't that just blow your mind? Even if you don't know what I am, you do know what you are, and you're as far away from being holy or a saint as I am. But we don't say I see or feel the Holy Christian Church or the Communion of Saints. We say we believe they exist.
The Ghost who is holy haunts us with the holiness of Jesus. Jesus is led out to Calvary as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. He who is holy, sinless, carried your sins to where all hell breaks loose and all of God's wrath is poured out against Him and them. Paul says our sins were nailed to the Tree of the Cross. How so? When the Lamb of God carrying them was nailed, so were your sins. And there God spent all His wrath against you for your sins. Your big and small ones. The ones you know and the ones you pretend not to know. The sins you can easily forgive yourself for and forget they ever existed, and the ones you can't ever seem to forget and haunt you like a ghost.
The Holy Ghost takes the holiness Jesus won for sinful mankind on the cross and distributes it in the 3 holy's.' Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. He doesn't give you some of Jesus' holiness but all of it. And where does He do this? "In this Christian Church" which is found wherever the Gospel is purely preached and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ's institution, so it's not limited to a particular time, place, people, or denomination. The Ghost who is holy delivers all the holiness of Jesus to sanctify "the whole Christian church on earth," and He does this "daily and richly."
Here's how we put it in the Large Catechism: "we believe that in this Christian Church we have the forgiveness of sins, which is granted through the holy Sacraments and absolution as well as through all the comforting words of the entire Gospel. Therefore, everything in the Christian Church is so ordered that we daily obtain full forgiveness of sins through the Word and through the Sacraments appointed to comfort and revive our consciences as long as we live" (II, 54, 55).
When you're struggling under the load of your sins, you're struggling under a load that has been removed from you and carried away from you by Jesus. Only one sinful man ever bore Christ's cross for Him and that was Simon of Cyrene, and he gave it back to Him as soon as he got to Golgotha. When you're struggling with your sin or sinfulness, you think the point of contact is what you're doing or not doing. No, it's what you're believing or not believing.
Can you see the primacy of faith in this article about our sanctification? We start out stating what no other denomination does. I believe I can't believe. "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him." We believe we can't believe in the in the Redemption of the 2nd Article on our own. No, it takes a miracle for that to happen, and the Holy Ghost does it. He has called me by the Gospel, enlighten me with His gifts of regeneration, conversion, new life, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
We go on to confess that what the Ghost who is Holy has done for us He does for the whole Christian Church on earth to keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church, He works daily and richly to forgive the sins of me and the sins of all believers. You keep thinking sanctification is a matter of doing. Then line up with the Catholics heading to Purgatory where the flames do all the work or line up with Holiness churches where they do all the work. But if you want to line up with the Holy Christian Church see that being sanctified is not a matter of doing but of believing what the Holy Ghost has done, does, and will do for you.
But wait a minute. I still see my sins; I still feel my sins, and so can everyone else. Though I want to be rid of them, fight against them, I plainly see these ugly and vile sins. God can't and doesn't in Christ. Even so our Large Catechism address the problem of you seeing and feeling your sins. "Although we have sin; the Holy Ghost sees to it that it does not harm us because we are in the Christian Church where there is full forgiveness of sins" (II, 55).
Luther said that you are not to believe your conscience is greater than your Lord (Peters, Creed, 6). You are not to believe your eyes more than the Holy Ghost's Word. You are not to be conscious of having sanctification; you are to believe it. True worship, we say in our Confession is not happy clappy, feeling good about yourself, others, or God but the belief that you are fully forgiven and sanctified wrestling with the despair of the devil, others, and self saying you can't be (Treatise, 44). The Holy Ghost will not fail to keep you in the true faith that you are till faith gives way to sight in eternal life. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek Lenten Vespers (20170329); 3rd Article, Passion Reading 5