Paul the Spirit, and the Sanctification Gap -- By: Alan E. Johnson

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 013:3 (Summer 2004)
Article: Paul the Spirit, and the Sanctification Gap
Author: Alan E. Johnson

Paul the Spirit, and the Sanctification Gap

Alan E. Johnson

Evangelical ethics combines the academic disciplines of New Testament studies and theology together with broader cultural concerns. Theological or Christian ethics is rooted heavily in the exegetical and theological interpretation of Scripture, but expands outward to include the church’s tradition and contemporary cultural application challenges.

I am particularly concerned for the fate of biblical ethics in a late modern-postmodern culture. In this particular essay I will consider briefly Paul’s theological foundations for his understanding and practice of a Christian ethic. In particular I am interested in how the apostle’s teaching may address what has come to be called among modern Christians, the “Sanctification Gap.” For example, divorce among believers has steadily approached the staggering rates found in the culture at large. Spousal and child abuse of a magnitude unheard of in earlier times has alarmingly increased even within Christian families.1 Lies and various forms of untruthfulness seem not only to be tolerated but even advocated by some Christians as a necessary means to higher goods. This is not even to speak of the temptation among evangelicals to politicize the Christian ethic and to identify it with various contemporary political and social ideologies, or of the slide toward greed, envy, and gossip within Christian circles.

This gap between belief and practice was brought home to me recently by a memo from the librarian at Wheaton College. The note explained some of the difficulties the library was having with some newly installed digital photocopy machines. One of the major problems was that certain students would start a photocopy job, but then immediately eject their personal copy card to avoid the debit on their card. As a result, the copier prints a single copy but then suspends the job, leaving the machine jammed. At one point outside technicians, surprised that this sort of problem would arise at Wheaton College, commented, “Isn’t this supposed to be a Christian school?”

Unfortunately every generation of Christians must deal with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer and, earlier Soren Kierkegaard, described as “cheap grace,” grace that saves the sinner, but makes no claim upon the forgiven sinner for obedience and holiness, grace that saves the sinner, but leaves him in his sin.

It seems therefore appropriate in this initial article to turn to one of the greatest chapters in Paul’s letters—perhaps in all of Scripture—and one rich in ethical substance. “Romans chapter 8 ...

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