Costly Sanctification

Before moving on with my Post-Cartesian Theology series, a note about a conversation I had about universalism yesterday.

I'm a universalist. By that I mean that if you put a gun to my head and forced me to guess how I think it all (and I mean all) will wrap up in the end (and I mean end) I'd go with universalism.

But when I tell people this they quickly assume I've got some feel-good, wishy-washy, don't worry be happy, mojo working. I was reminded of this during a conversation with a friend the other day who basically made this same move on me by suggesting I was going light on sin. But I'm not light on sin. In fact, I'm harder on sin than he is. This is what I said to him:

"Wherever the wrath of God is burning against sin, there hell is."

Hell isn't a location. It's not a destination. Hell's about formation. Transformation.

Then it hit me. The problem is with the label "universalism." The label is confusing people. By focusing on the end product people are missing the process. And it's all about the process, baby! (You have to read that last sentence like Dick Vitale. March Madness, just around the corner!) If you miss the point about process you're missing my whole vibe.

So let me clarify. Everyone gets "saved" only because God will not tolerate sin. His goal, his very Being--both His love and justice--demand that sin and death be defeated. His love and justice compels Him to set His creation free. Otherwise, He is a fiend for creating us all in the first place. So yes, in the end, all will be reconciled. But to focus on that end state, that final step, misses the whole point of what God's up to.

So, I've decided I need a new label other than "universalist." I need a process-oriented label. Not an end-state label. So try this on for size:

I'm a costly sanctificationist.

The idea here comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship where he distinguishes between cheap grace and costly grace. Cheap grace is forgiveness with no discipleship, no cross. Costly grace is a grace that demands your life, a grace obtained by taking up the cross.

I'm switching terms on Bonhoeffer, going with sanctification over grace. I agree with Bonhoeffer that grace must be about the transformation of the sinner. It must be costly. But, for me, grace is not some curve God applies to your grade at death. No, for me, the grace isn't about "making up for what we cannot do for ourselves," morally speaking. Because, at root, Bonhoeffer's idea is incoherent. If God is going to make up any deficit of mine via his grace why not make up a little more. No, the only way to make the costly vs. cheap idea work is to go all the way. To make us truly, in the language of Jesus, "pay the last penny." Thus, I switch sanctification for grace.

Do I believe in grace? Yes! Grace is in God's doggedness. His refusal, ever, to give up on me or you. It is God's persistence in sanctification that is the manifestation of his grace. He must finish the job He started. He owes it to both Himself and His Creation. Anything less marks Him as a monster.

My friend, the orthodox one, is a cheap sanctificationist. He believes in the traditional hell, yet allows sin to remain in God's world for all eternity. He's the one soft on sin.

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4 thoughts on “Costly Sanctification”

  1. Love this post, Richard. In many ways it reminds of that text by Soelle that I talked about earlier, Christ the Representative, this idea that Christ will stand in our place as our representative until we're able to represent ourselves before God. Granted, your costly sanctificationist stance is helpful, but what is the role of Christ and the Holy Spirit in all this? Have you worked out any systematic understanding of universalism that incorporates God's supposedly trinitarian nature? I ask this because I am sincerely interested in figuring out how to develop a faithful reading of scripture along with a mature theological foundation to support a rather gut-level, intuitive sensibility of God's ways in the world. Keep up the great writing!

  2. I agree with much of what you write, but wonder about your proposed new term.

    Cheap grace is forgiveness with no discipleship, no cross. Costly grace is a grace that demands your life, a grace obtained by taking up the cross.

    It seems that those who think that fewer than all people will be saved can still consistently hold that grace or sanctification is very costly for those who do receive it. So the cheap/costly distinction seems to be one that cuts across the for all/for some division.

  3. About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

    Peace Be With You

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