Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Renovation

My dear colleague, Fr. Mark Surburg, and I have been corresponding of late regarding certain aspects of sanctification, namely, what the dogmaticians term renovation. He has a thoughtful piece on it here. We are both somewhat mystified that there seems to be controversy on this point in today's Lutheranism. To Fr. Surburg's thoughtful piece I will simply add a summary and an invitation to read through the full context of these quotations from the Scripture, the Confessions, and the dogmaticians. I don't think this should be a terribly controverted article in Lutheran circles.


Thesis. Christians are called to grow in the renewed life, in faith, in love, and in all good works. This renovation is a struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil using the means God provides us for such struggles in His Word and Sacraments. The renewed Christian's will and mind are active in this struggle, though in great weakness, as the Christian cooperates with the Holy Spirit using the new powers granted by the same Spirit in Baptism.

1 Timothy 4:15 Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.

Ephesians 4:15 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ

2 Thessalonians 1:3 3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.

2 Peter 3:18 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:15 But our hope is that as your faith increases.

Colossians 1:9-10 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-12 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? 11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,

2 Peter 1:5-10 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

Philippians 1:25-26 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Large Catechism, 3rd Art. Of Creed.
Therefore it is given for a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so as not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger. 25] For the new life must be so regulated that it continually increase and progress; 26] but it must suffer much opposition. . . . Thus, until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He fetches us to Christ and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing it [this community] daily to grow and become strong in the faith and its fruits which He produces.

Chemnitz, Examen, vol 1, 538
The testimonies of Scripture are clear, that the renewal of the new man, as also the mortification of the old, is not perfect and complete in this life but that it grows and is increased day by day until it is perfected in the next life, when this corruptible will have put on incorruption.1

Chemnitz, Examen, vol 1, 539-40
For also the new obedience of the regenerate is honored in Scripture with the title “righteousness” (Rom. 6:13, 18; Eph. 4:24; 2 Cor. 9:9, 10; Heb. 11; I John 2:29). And there is no doubt that this newness can and should grow and increase in this life.2

Chemnitz: Examen, vol 1, 424
It is a far different thing to speak of the powers or faculties of the mind, will, and heart of man before conversion, before he has begun to be healed and renewed through the Holy Spirit, than when once he has begun to be healed and renewed. For then, through the gift and operation of the Holy Spirit, there are present and follow new movements in the mind, will, and heart. Also the healing and renewal itself is not such a change which is immediately accomplished and finished in a moment, but it has its beginnings and certain progress by which it grows in great weakness, is increased and preserved. But it does not grow as do the lilies of the field, which neither labor nor worry; but in the exercises of repentance, faith, and obedience, through seeking, asking, knocking, endeavoring, wrestling, etc., the beginnings of the spiritual gifts are retained, grow, and are increased, as in Luke 19:13 the Lord commands with respect to the talents delivered to the servants, that they be not buried in the ground, but He says: “Trade with these till I come.” And in this sense Paul uses the very beautiful word ἀναζωπυρεῖν (“rekindle”): “Rekindle the gift of God that is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6). And because we must begin with the Word and learn from the Word about the will of God and about the working of the Spirit, there is no doubt that, when the Word is read, heard, and pondered and a man conceives the purpose and the desire to apply it to himself, when he wrestles with carelessness, lack of faith, and stubbornness, etc., these are true workings and operations of the Holy Spirit, even though they may often be so hidden by reason of great infirmity that the presence and working of the Holy Spirit is not perceived with any ardent feeling. There certainly one must judge not from his feeling but from the Word.3

(Quotations from other Lutheran dogmaticians collected from Schmid's Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.)

QUEN. (III, 632) thus discriminates renovation from regeneration and justification: “Renovation differs (aAs to the efficient cause. Regeneration and justification are actions of God alone; renovation is indeed an action of God, but not of God alone, for the regenerate man also concurs, not in his own strength, but through divinely granted power. (bAs to the subject. Man altogether dead in sins is the subject of regeneration. The sinner, indeed, is the subject of justification, Rom. 4:5,17, yet one recognizing his sins and believing in Christ; but the subject of renovation is man already justified. (cAs to the object. Regeneration is occupied with the production of faith; justification with imputable righteousness; renovation with inherent righteousness. (dAs to the form. Regeneration consists in the bestowment of spiritual life, and a transfer from a state of wrath to a state off grace; justification in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness; but renovation in a reformation of the mind, will, and affections, and so of the whole man, or in a restoration of the divine image, commenced in this life and to be completed in the next. (eAs to the properties. Both regeneration and justification are instantaneous; renovation is progressive, from day to day.” GRH. (VII, 294): “Regeneration, properly so called, like carnal generation, does not admit of degrees. But renovation does, because the interior man is renewed from day to day.” “(fAs to the order. Regeneration precedes justification, and justification precedes renovation. Renovation is related to justification as an effect to a cause, and follows it, not in the order of time, but of nature. Therefore Paul does not use these words indiscriminately. Tit. 3:5.”

BR. (607), (representing renovation more as a state): “Renovation is a combination of spiritual acts which the regenerate man, God assisting graciously by His Word and Sacraments, puts forth by means of the spiritual strength afforded him as to his intellect, will, and sensual appetite, in order to destroy the remains of sin, and to acquire greater sanctity, in the way of salvation, to the glory of God.”

HOLL. (553): “The remains of sin are the starting-point of renovation, i.e., those remaining in justified men, after illumination, conversion, and regeneration, and which are to be abolished, by daily renovation, that they may be diminished and suppressed, although they cannot in this life be entirely eradicated; to wit, some defect of the spiritual powers on the part of the intellect in regard to knowledge, on the part of the will to the pursuit of spiritual good, on the part of the sensual appetite to obey the higher faculties, together with a proclivity of these faculties of the soul to evil. . . . The form of renovation consists in the expulsion of mental errors and the illumination of the mind, Col. 3:10Rom. 12:2; in the rectification of the will and the renewing of righteousness and true holiness, Eph. 4:24; in the restraining of the appetites inclined to evil; in the purity and chastity of the affections; in 490the employment of the members of the body in works of righteousness, Rom. 12:1; in the subduing of the dominion of sin, Rom. 6:1319.”

[5] HOLL. (955): “As the body of sin in process of time is more and more weakened by the regenerate man, so the regenerate man is transformed more and more into the image of God from glory to glory by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:184:16). The body of sin, Rom. 6:6, is called figuratively the old man, as it is a compound of many sins, as of parts and members. As formerly criminals were affixed to the cross, and their limbs bruised, mortified, buried, and corrupted, so successively the old man is crucified when the desires of his flesh are restrained and as if bound; he is bruised, 1 Cor. 9:27, so far as the flesh is kept under, the external pleasures of this world being removed; being bruised, he is mortified, Rom. 8:13, so far as the strength to emerge is taken from sin; mortified, he is buried, Rom. 6:4, inasmuch as the memory and the thought of illicit things are removed; buried, he corrupts, so that the entire body of sin is abolished, here inchoatively and continuously, in the life to come completely, Rom. 6:6.” Renovation is therefore to be considered a continually progressive action both on God’s and on man’s part.

 QUEN. (III, 636): “Renovation in this life is partial and imperfect, admitting degrees, and therefore it never attains the highest acme of perfection. For sin remains in the regenerate, affects their self-control, the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and therefore our renovation progresses from day to day, and is to be continued through life, 2 Cor. 4:16. The want of perfection in renovation does not arise from the impotency of God, who renews, but form the incapacity of man, who is the recipient of the divine action.” It can therefore have augmentations and diminutions. QUEN. (III, 636): “Renovation is increased by godly acts and frequent efforts. These being intermitted or diminished, a diminution follows, so there is at one time an increase, at another a decrease. The Holy Scriptures expressly affirm that the renovation of the regenerate in this life ought continually to increase and grow, Eph. 4:16.”



  1. Not a controverter, but I have a few questions of clarity.

    1 Timothy 4:15 ...
    --> "THESE THINGS" refers to setting an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. As well as devotion to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Sanctification "being made Holy" means how you act and reading Scripture, teaching and exhortation?

    Ephesians 4:15...
    --> This refers to the body working properly in order for it to grow. Is it our hope that we will "work properly"? Is that being made Holy?

    2 Thessalonians 1:3...
    --> This says their faith is growing. Is faith Sanctification? Is my Sanctification based on my level of faith?

    2 Peter 3:18 ...
    --> Are grace and knowledge synonyms of Sanctification? Can I be smart enough or can I "grace enough" to be sanctified?

    2 Corinthians 10:15...
    --> Again, Is faith Sanctification? Is my Sanctification based on my level of faith?

    Colossians 1:9-10 ...
    --> So, "KNOWLEDGE" equals "SANCTIFICATION". This is an enlightenment-era NIGHTMARE!

    1 Thessalonians 3:9-...
    --> Here (and I believe we might be on to something) we see that if "LOVE" is indeed "SANCTIFICATION", it is a petition that God would cause this to grow. God gets the verbs... closer to Christian thinking than the others.

    2 Peter 1:5-10 ...
    --> Here we have "SANCTIFICATION" being defined as "FAITH supplemented by VIRTUE, KNOWLEDGE, SELF-CONTROL, STEADFASTNESS, GODLINESS, BROTHERLY AFFECTION AND LOVE". Not only that, it says "If you practice these qualities, you will never οὐ μὴ πταίσητέ ποτε meaning STUMBLE, EVER". Once again, if we see a stumbler, we can say "Not Sanctified"?

    Philippians 1:25-26 ...
    --> So once again, "FAITH" is a synonym with "Sanctification". Can I give faith? Can I (by my own reason or strength) cause faith to grow?

    Moving into the "extra-Scriptural" realm we have a quote from our Confessions.
    Large Catechism, 3rd Art. Of Creed....

    -->I am seeing the author making an assumption of Sanctification where it is not explicitly stated. But there is the "NEW LIFE" reference. This is an interesting conclusion that you have drawn. Are you saying (or implying) that the "NEW MAN" is under our control (the Simul Justus et Peccator)? Is his growth somehow incomplete? Is his progress or "moving forward" controlled by us or by the Holy Spirit who gave him life?

    Things to ponder. I believe the previous articles should be made clear before even looking at other works/authors that we do not subscribe to on our ordination day.


    1. I recommend a reading of Schmid under "renovation." Part of our problem is that we come to the debate with pre-packaged meanings attached to key words like "sanctification." I can see this several places in your glosses on the Biblical texts. For example, growing in knowledge is certainly part of our renovation, our renewal. How could it not be? You are afraid to put it under the category of "sanctification" because of the abuse of other sects on this topic. I think a reading of the dogmaticians on our renewal would dispel many of your worries.

      Or to say it more shortly: these verses from the Bible mean what they say. We are to grow in knowledge, faith, good works, etc. Of course our growth comes from the Spirit, and we also work and strive with the new powers the Spirit gives us. I invite you to call this process whatever you like, so long as we uphold what the Bible describes.

  2. For anyone interested on more Luther on this, please see this recent post on my blog which features my pastor's talk from a recent theology conference:


    You'll find some very interesting diagrams there.


  3. And for good measure, here is a link to a summary of a new paper from Pastor Holger Sonntag on Luther and how he suggested we preach in the Antinomian Disputations:


  4. Ok, so according to your statement, "knowledge, faith and good works" = Sanctification?

    1. No, according to my statement growing in knowledge, growing in faith, growing in good works equals renovation.

      Really, I think the statements above from the Scriptures, the Confessions, and the dogmaticians speak for themselves, don't they? How would you summarize them? I tried my best for a summar at the beginning of the post. Let's see yours.


    2. The topic was a certain aspect of Sanctification known as renovation (being made new again-in english) by some dogmatitions.
      You are likening the two term in that "renovation" covers a certain aspect of Sanctification. (You stated that).
      So, as an aspect of Sanctification, you are saying that renovation (knowledge, growing in faith, growing in good works) is a part of sanctification.
      Am I correct?

    3. Every square is a rectangle but not every rectangle is a square.


  5. "The Holy Scriptures expressly affirm that the renovation of the regenerate in this life ought continually to increase and grow, Eph. 4:16."

    How does the Christian know that his renovation in this life is continually increasing and growing?

    1. I reckon by examining himself in comparison to the Law, repenting, returning to Christ for forgiveness, and seeking "to do better" (as Luther has it in his order for Confession). The dogmaticians talk about this at more length and it's worth reading.

      Another way to think about this is preaching the Law *for repentance.* Not the weak, general repentance that comes from a weak, general condemnation of sin in boiler plate sermon stock. "We're all sinners. We should repent. Jesus died for you." That's good; that's true. But it's hardly specific to me and my sins. It's easy to let such things wash over me without effect. All we preachers know this and it's why we admire preachers like Fr. Petersen who consistently preach the power of the Law directly and not as boilerplate.

      The preaching of the Law for repentance is more like: "Stop sleeping with someone who is not your wife. Repent." or "Stop looking at porn on the Internet. Repent." or "Quit telling lies to your boss about where you go for your lunch hour." As such, this preaching often takes place one on one. But there is a place for this direct call to repentance over specific sins in public preaching: "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,2 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."


    2. Oh, and I should say that Gerhard's discussion is particularly good. He would ask you, "Are you going to Church? To Confession? Are you reading the Scriptures? Are you struggling against your sins? Are you receiving the Sacrament?" That's how renovation takes place. He would direct you both to struggle and fight sin, and he would direct you to the external gifts Christ has given in his Church to assure you that your struggle is not in vain.


  6. I think you are touching on a case where we think too liberally (as it were) of ourselves in the Gospel, calling this excess "pure", without expecting works.

    I lead the pure Christian life by not caring that you expect me to go to church--this is my devotion to the Gospel. My friend, however, leads an even purer life by not even believing.

    The solution, of course, is not to compound too liberal preachment with a mighty and forceful demonstration of works, as if to augment that over-conceptualization of freedom, for this is how arrogant heathen people think they are saved.

    I think the authors you quote were careful to moderate their words and not either over or underrate human powers in this renovation--something likewise counseled by the apostle when he says things like be "sober".

    If Law-Gospel becomes too macroscopic (or, in a completely different sense, microscopic) it loses stamina for practical matters and turns into a lex that requires stoic recitation of an
    abstract concept in all circumstances. If it is too microscopic, on the other hand, it juggles between the two doctrines in a silly function, becoming absurd. It seems, therefore, that we should follow the simple and straightforward advice here, so long as we don't give way to unrealistic excesses. Hence "proper" distinction between Law and Gospel.


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