Radcliff, A.S. 2016. The Claim of Humanity in Christ: Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance. (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 222), Eugene, OR: Pickwick. 208 pp.
In the second half of her book Radcliff begins to explore the “liberating implications” of soteriology in the Torrance tradition, particularly in regard to sanctification, where “humanity is not only set free from the burden of attempting to achieve salvation, but also from the burden of attempting to achieve sanctification.”
In evangelicalism, Christians often appear to live as though saved by grace but sanctified by works. In other words, Jesus has done his part (justification), now we must do ours (sanctification). “All this I did for thee; now what wilt thou do for Me?” For Radcliff, a burden is created when sanctification is separated from its ground in justification and made a subsequent step in the so-called “order of salvation” (ordo salutis) of Protestant and evangelical theology. In contrast, she notes that “[t]he Torrances affirm the liberating reality that sanctification is rooted definitively with justification in the vicarious humanity of Christ” (p. 124). In the Torrance tradition, sanctification is a joyful, liberating “participation” by the Spirit in all that Jesus has done for us. Radcliff contrasts this liberating view of sanctification with the burdensome view of an introspective legalism (self-examination for fruits of repentance) in conservative evangelicalism and a resurgent Puritanism.
In Reformed theology, according to Radcliff, where the atonement is strongly associated with justification, sanctification is detached from its ground in justification and made a “second work.” In the Westminster theology of the English Puritans, according to T.F. Torrance, the focus is on man’s actions, man’s obedience, man’s duty to God and neighbor and man’s religion. This bifurcation of justification and sanctification resulted in a form of preaching that directed believers’ attention away from Jesus toward their own efforts at achieving sanctification.
In some Pentecostal-holiness traditions, sanctification is detached from justification by a “second blessing,” where the truly blessed receive a state of “entire sanctification.” (Said the bun-topped old lady, “Why, I ain’t sinned in purt’ near thirty year!”). As Tom Smail argues, this bifurcation divides Christian life into salvation as a gift to the sinner and the fullness of the Spirit as a reward to the saint, while maligning the central gospel principle that salvation is from beginning to end “all of grace.”
In the Torrance tradition, sanctification, like justification, is fully realized in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, as lived out through the whole course of his obedient life. The Spirit’s descent upon Jesus at his baptism was for our sanctification, while Jesus life of perfect obedience to the Father was for our sanctification. As J.B. Torrance writes: “The Son of God takes our humanity, sanctifies it by his vicarious life in the Spirit (John 17:17-18), carries it to the grave to be crucified and buried in him, and in his resurrection and ascension carries it into the holy presence of God.” As Radcliff notes, this “once-for-all rooting of sanctification with justification in the vicarious humanity of Christ” is crucial; otherwise, we are thrown back upon ourselves to achieve sanctification.
For T.F. Torrance, when sanctification is rooted in justification, there is no need for believers to try to achieve it on their own steam. Radcliff offers a great quote from T.F. Torrance (Theology in Reconstruction, pp. 161-2):
Justification by grace alone remains the sole ground of the Christian life; we never advance beyond it, as if justification were only the beginning of a new self-righteousness, the beginning of a life of sanctification which is what we do in response to justification. Of course we are summoned to live out day by day what we already are in Christ through his self-consecration or sanctification, but sanctification is not what we do in addition to what God has done in justification.
The “outworking” of sanctification comes through participating by the Holy Spirit in Christ. The Spirit turns us out of ourselves to share in the sanctification realized for all in the incarnation. Apart from participation as koinonia, or “communion” with the Triune God of grace, we are turned back upon ourselves to apply to our lives the sanctification that is already accomplished for us in Jesus. Radcliff quotes J.I. Packer, who describes sanctification in terms of mortifying the flesh, self-humbling, self-examination and “avoiding situations that stoke sins boiler.” Packer believes that we can achieve all this by fixing our eyes on Jesus. As Radcliff rightly argues, however, this appears to make Jesus an example that we strive to emulate rather than the incarnate ground of our sanctification in which we participate by the Spirit. Perhaps we can succinctly describe the difference as “emulation” versus “participation.” According to Radcliff, Packer’s approach is typical of conservative evangelism.
As Radcliff notes,—and this is where more thinking is needed, because she is really on to something—sanctification is not an autonomous effort assisted by the Spirit. In her words, “Although we are called to live out our sanctification, the Holy Spirit does not aid us in the external, logico-causal application of Christ’s definitive sanctification.” This would be to detach sanctification from the vicarious humanity of Jesus, so that the reality of our sanctification is merely a potential that we must actualize through our own efforts. In the Torrance tradition, note Radcliff, [S]anctification is a reality in which we participate, rather than a potentiality to be actualized.” She quotes Deddo: “What is complete and actual in Christ is truly and really ours even if it does not yet appear to be so. Our lives are hidden in Christ (Col 3:3) … The Christian life is living out and manifesting the present reality of our union with Christ.”
Radcliff concludes the chapter by asserting:
The Holy Spirit does not enable the autonomous believer to work out his own sanctification; the Holy Spirit enables the believer to participate in Christ’s definitive sanctification. This liberates humanity from the burden of depending upon our own endeavors for the outworking of sanctification in our lives (p. 140).