Monday, June 14, 2010

the sanctifier & the sanctified

For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers (Hebrews 2:11, ESV).

Out of all the "practical" questions that arise concerning the Christian life, one I hear repeatedly (and have often asked myself) is, "What is God's will for my life?" This typically gets cashed out in further questions such as: "Should I take job X or Y?", "Does God want me to go into missions?", "Is it God's will for me to get married?", and "What is God's will concerning children for our family?", along with a host of other inquiries. One thing that these questions, and ones like them, reveal is a desire to submit to the will of God and to acknowledge His sovereignty in our lives. Also, we might say that such requests exhibit the desire for God to be intimately involved in every aspect of our lives and decisions, which is quite an admirable quality to be sought by any and every Christian. Yet, if we are not careful, this apparent dependence on God and desire for His will can become a farce. One way in which this might take place is by narrowing so much on details of "life" (so-called) that we lose sight of the broad sense of God's will evidenced explicitly in the command "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:45; 19:2). In this command we find life. Of what import do any questions concerning our lives have when viewed in the light of eternity if we neglect this aspect of sanctification?
In Hebrews, however, the author is not yet concerned so much with "practical application" as the substance of He who sanctifies, including an aspect of Christ's nature that unifies Him with those whom He calls "brothers and sisters." Still, we should not take the mentioning of sanctification as a random utterance, for in it we see displayed the nature of Him who is the author of our salvation, made perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).
The verse presently treated has (at least) two sound interpretations that can, I believe, be supported biblically. The first is evidenced in the NASB, which reads, "For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father" (2:11). Although 'Father' does not appear in the Greek, this wording positions both the sanctifier and the sanctified in a direct relation to God the Father, with the latter (the sanctified) bearing such a status on the merit of the former (the sanctifier, that is, Jesus Christ). This also illustrates well the notion that we who are in Christ have become children of God, and are therefore esteemed as brothers and sisters of the only begotten Son, who Himself has a divine origin. Therefore, it can be said accurately that we "are all from one Father" by virtue of the filial relationship we possess in Christ and, in addition, this familial relationship is also expressed fraternally. The emphasis here would be on the fact that we have become Jesus' brethren.
On the other hand, there is a second reading that the majority of modern translations in English take, which puts the emphasis on the fact that Jesus has become our brother. The distinction may initially seem too slight to deserve any attention, but I will try to explain what I mean by that. In the ESV translation of Hebrews 2:11 that I quote above, the verse reads, "For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin" (2:11, ESV). This resonates well with the original Greek, which can be translated to say that the sanctifier and the sanctified are "all of one." As is evident, this reading is somewhat ambiguous, and the NASB has explicitly added one option aimed at resolving this uncertainty with regard to reference. The second, and also quite valid, option is that this verse speaks of the nature of the Incarnation by which Jesus unites Himself with our human condition. As a result, it can be properly predicated that we are "all of one," that is, we all derive, by virtue of our humanity, from Adam (and Eve). This, too, receives Scriptural support (see, for example, Romans 5) and, furthermore, concords well with the context of Hebrews 2 wherein the Incarnation of Christ is in focus both before and after this verse (see verses 5-9 as well as 14-18).
But, you might ask, "Why should I care about such a distinction?" (and, we should note, this distinction holds regardless of which interpretation is actually intended in Hebrews, since both options are taught elsewhere in Scripture). The reason, I believe, is found in much of what Hebrews 2 explains about Jesus, His nature and His work. At first it might seem tenable to overlook the second interpretation and favor the emphasis towards our becoming Jesus' brothers and sisters. In this sense, we are exalted by God and lifted up from our lowly state into a higher one. Indeed, this is the case, but, according to the Christian Gospel, it is not exclusively the case. For, if it were possible for God to unite us to and in Him exclusively and straightforwardly in this manner, we would effectually render the Incarnation, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ as arbitrary at best and disposable at worst (since all of these are inextricably bound to one another). We have in the previous post seen by Jesus' own declaration the necessity of His suffering (click here to read more). And, we also alluded to a forthcoming statement from Hebrews 2 wherein the author asserts that Jesus "had to be made like His brethren in all things" (2:17, NASB, emphasis added). Apart from being an arbitrary facet of how-God's-plan-just-happened-to-turn-out, Scripture teaches that the Incarnation was, in a sense, obligatory. Given that this statement is soon to follow, with the added argumentation that Jesus "gives help to the descendant of Abraham" and not angels, it would appear that the author rightly emphasizes the condescension of God Incarnate, who "became flesh, and dwelt among us" as being one of us in every way so that He could sanctify us and "bring us to God" (John 1:14; 1 Peter 3:18). Thus, Jesus Christ realized communion between that which is, has been, and always will be intrinsically holy, and we who are by nature needful of "the sanctification, by which no one shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). Sanctification, being made holy, is (in part) both the end of the Christian life as well as the manner in which God brings about the end.
Why? - because part of God's goal is to make us one with Himself (John 17), to enjoy intimate communion with Him, and it is this notion that is embedded into the plan of redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ. However, this union is impossible without sanctification, and sanctification is not truly possible outside of the Incarnation. God is wholly "Other" - this is why the two most basic ontological categories of "all that exists" are 1) that-which-is-God and 2) that-which-is-not-God. Although God created us for communion with Him, because of our sinfulness, there exists a relational separation between humanity and God. Still, we have a desperate need, if not burning desire, to draw near to Him (or, rather, for Him to draw near to us and to draw us near to Him). How do we "bridge the gap," so to speak? Perhaps we can attain some level of perfection that causes us to draw near to God? Yet, even the briefest consideration of this proposition reveals the foolishness and uselessness of such an endeavor; no matter how "close" we get to perfection and purity, we are still infinitely different from Him who is Other because absolute perfection is, in and by ourselves, entirely out of our grasp. This is why the Gospel is so marvelously beautiful, and why so many receive its message in humility and thanksgiving, breathing an immense sigh of relief as the weight of sin is replaced by the weight of glory (of which we, in and through Christ, may now partake). Jesus Christ, being Himself eternally divine, took upon Himself "the form of a bond-servant," becoming "in the likeness" of humanity in every way, so that He, the sanctifier, might sanctify us and raise us up to new life in Him (Philippians 2:7).
It is this aspect of Jesus' having "come down" that is in focus in Hebrews 2:11, so that He might "bring us up" with Him, in Him, and through Him. And, in His humility, He is "not ashamed to call us" brothers and sisters; He is not ashamed to be united with our humanity, for He has overcome our weaknesses and enabled us to become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). So, while we are so quick to move on to "the will of God for our lives," such as where to live, what to do, who to marry, what job to take, etc., etc., perhaps God would have us know that which He spoke through Paul to the Thessalonians: "this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Before we jump over the "basics" to the more "important" things of "life," we do well to ask ourselves: "Am I pure?" "Am I holy?" "Am I living in such a way that exhibits sanctification?" Know again that without it - without sanctification - "no one shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 2:14). And, crucially, know that apart from Jesus, the sanctifier, true sanctification and true life are impossibilities; any attempt at such outside of Him amounts to vain grasping after a substanceless and misguided wish. Perhaps, then, the greatest prayer we can ever utter, then, is "Father, make me holy, as You are holy." God grant us the humility to recognize our need for Him in order to be more like Him. As He transforms us, He will transform our desires as we submit completely to Him and His will of sanctification in our lives.

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