Monday, August 15, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt. 7

The Pauline principle, “I, yet not I but Christ,” applies not only to justification by faith but also to sanctification. Like justification, sanctification is an objective reality already accomplished in Jesus Christ. Torrance (1960:231) writes:
By the sanctification of our human nature we refer to what was wrought by the Son, not only in his active and passive obedience, but through the union he established in his birth, life, death, and resurrection between our fallen human nature and his divine nature. (emphasis in original)
In the incarnation, Jesus not only assumed our fallen flesh from the Virgin Mary; he also “sanctified it in the very act of assumption and all through the holy Life he lived in it from the beginning to the end.” For Torrance, the incarnation itself is a “redeeming event,” beginning with Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and reaching out to its full telos in his death and resurrection. Thus, sanctification is an intrinsic aspect of the incarnation. Jesus’ incarnational assumption of our fallen flesh deals with our original sin by “sanctifying” our human nature as it is brought into union with his holy nature. As Torrance notes, “In his [Christ’s] holy assumption of our unholy humanity, his purity wipes away our impurity, his holiness covers our corruption, his nature heals our nature.” At the same, the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ deal with our actual sin and its penalty. As Calvin wrote in a famous section of his Institutes (2008:II.16.19; 338), this applies to the entire life of Jesus, from birth through death, resurrection and ascension, for throughout the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father, as Torrance argues, “he has sanctified our conception, birth, childhood, youth, manhood, and death, in himself” (Torrance, 1960:231, 232). This is “supremely important,” notes Torrance. He continues:
[F]or it is only through this union of the human nature with his divine nature that Jesus Christ gives us not only the negative righteousness of the remission of sins but makes us share in the positive righteousness of his obedient and saving life lived in perfect filial relation to the Father from the cradle to the grave.
If we neglect the sanctifying aspect of the union of divine and human natures in Jesus Christ, argues Torrance, we reduce atonement to a “merely forensic non-imputation of sin.” At the same time, we lose the redemptive significance of the humanity of Jesus Christ by failing to give his entire life its proper place in the doctrine of atonement. Thus, in regard to the atonement, full consideration must be given to the union of divine and human natures in Jesus Christ, for it is this “saving and sanctifying union” in which we are given to share that belongs to the very substance of our faith and life in Jesus (Torrance, 1960:232). In other words, as Torrance continues:
[W]hat we are concerned with is the filial relation which the Son of God lived out in our humanity in perfect holiness and love, achieving that in himself in assuming our human nature into oneness with himself, and on that ground giving us to share in it, providing us with a fullness in his own obedient Sonship from which we all may receive. (emphasis in original)

Thus, for Torrance, both justification and sanctification are objective realities vicariously appropriated for us through the union of God and humanity realised in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Original sin is healed and cleansed through the sanctifying union of divine and fallen Adamic nature, while our actual sin is redeemed through the whole course of Jesus’ obedient life, as he stood in our place, vicariously offering to the Father the perfect response of faith and obedience we are unable to offer.

Rejection of Ordo Salutis
Torrance’s understanding of saving faith as an essential aspect of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ has profound implications for the doctrines of justification and sanctification. Nevertheless, confusion may arise for those who are accustomed to thinking of justification and sanctification as two separate events in a “process” of salvation. In Torrance’s thought, justification and sanctification are objective realities “already” realised in the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in Jesus Christ and subjectively appropriated for us throughout the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father. Both justification and sanctification are integral aspects of the “Godward-humanward,” “humanward-Godward” movement of mediation in Jesus Christ. In his union of divine and human natures, Jesus Christ is, at once, the justifying God and man justified (Torrance, 1960:232, 233).
This objectively realised, “once and for all,” aspect of justification, however, was lost in the ordo salutis of Protestant Scholasticism, wherein justification and sanctification were assigned different, successive stages in an ongoing “process” of salvation (cf. Olson, 2002:276ff). In the Westminster Standards of later Scots theology, notes Torrance, justification was put first, with union with Christ and sanctification following upon the “judicial act” that takes place in justification. In the New Testament, however, argues Torrance, “sanctification” and “consecration” in Christ are spoken of in the perfect tense and express the same thing. “Christ has already consecrated or sanctified himself for our sakes, so that we are already consecrated or sanctified in him - therefore sanctification or consecration is imputed to us by his free grace just like justification.” These are not, however, two different processes or events. Rather, “sanctification” in the Johannine literature and “consecration” in Hebrews correspond closely to the Pauline concept of “justification” (Torrance, 1960:233, 234).
Torrance finds this teaching “deeply embedded” in Calvin’s theology, although it was obscured in subsequent “Calvinism.” In regard to the “subjective” aspects of justification, wherein God’s righteousness and holiness is translated and appropriated into human life, Calvin, in the Geneva Catechism, spoke of the consecrated and sanctified flesh or life of Jesus in which we are given to share, so that even his obedience is “imputed” to us. Through the union Christ wrought with us in the incarnation and throughout the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father, we are given to share in his holy and obedient life. Essentially the same point was made by Knox, who said that justification, regeneration, and sanctification flow out of our “adoption” in Jesus Christ (Torrance, 1960:234).
For Torrance, justification and sanctification are not sequential steps in a logical, orderly process of salvation. While the two terms can be conceptually distinguished, they are inseparable in Torrance’s thought, for both are objective and subjective realities fulfilled once-for-all in the incarnate constitution of Jesus Christ as lived throughout the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father, as our Representative and Substitute. Thus, justification is in no wise dependent upon the believer’s personal decision of faith; rather, it is an objective reality already subjectively realised on behalf of the believer by Jesus Christ (Torrance, 1960:235, 236).
Sola Gratia
In arguing that Jesus acts on our behalf in all aspects of man’s response to God, Torrance follows Barth, and the Reformed tradition in general, in asserting that salvation is “all of grace.”As Torrance notes, however, both liberal and evangelical theologians object to the assertion that Jesus Christ acts in our place in “all” aspects of our response to God. According to their argument, God may do everything else but he cannot act for us in regard to the personal decision of faith and repentance, which, it is argued, each person must choose for himself or herself. Thus, liberals and evangelicals eschew any doctrine of “total substitution,” arguing in a logical-causal manner that “all of grace” implies “nothing of man” and, thereby, threatens human freedom. Torrance argues, however, that both liberals and evangelicals juxtapose God and man, or grace and human freedom, in a “logical” way in which all of grace must necessarily mean nothing of man. This logical connection between divine grace and human freedom betrays the deep entrenchment of the Latin heresy (see post, 3/9/11) in Western theology, with its construal of the “gospel” in dualist and “abstractive” terms. Torrance notes further that it is an “unbaptised rationalism” of this kind that frequently characterises fundamentalist theology, particularly in its apologetics and polemics (Torrance, 1986b:480).
Justification by faith means that we reject all forms of self-justification. We look away from ourselves and exclusively toward Christ for the locus of justification. As Torrance (1960:238) argues:
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.
Sanctification is not something the believer “adds to” justification by a “new self-righteousness.” Rather, both justification and sanctification are realised in Christo; that is, both are intrinsic to Christ’s incarnate assumption of fallen Adamic life and the whole course of his filial obedience to the Father. Torrance argues, however, that there is a tendency in the Westminster Catechisms, evidenced by their emphasis on the Ten Commandments, to return to the old Roman notion of infused sanctification worked out through strict adherence to legal precepts. The insistence that something must be added to justification and sanctification appears in both liberal and evangelical Protestantism in the idea of “co-redemption” and its emphasis on an “existential decision” as the means whereby we “make real” for ourselves the kerygma of the New Testament. This effectively means, argues Torrance, that in the last resort, our salvation depends on our own personal decision. For Torrance, however, justification by faith calls into question everything we have done as believers. As a Reformed theologian, he rejects any idea of co-redemption and aligns himself with the theology of the old Scots Confession and its assertion that “we willingly spoil ourselves of all honour and glory of our own salvation and redemption, as we also do of our regeneration and sanctification.” As Torrance rightly asserts, justification by grace alone guards the Gospel from corruption, whether by Evangelicalism, liberalism, or Roman Catholicism (Torrance, 1960:238, 239).

Next post circa September 1, 2011 A.D.
Calvin, J. 2008. Institutes of the Christian Religion (translated by H. Beveridge). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 1,059 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1960. Justification: Its Radical Nature and Place in Reformed Doctrine and Life. Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 13, no 3. pp. 225-246. Also available in Torrance (1996b:150-168).
Torrance, T.F. 1976a. Theology in Reconciliation: Essays toward Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 302 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1986b. Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy. Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 39, pp. 461-482.
Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1994. Preaching Christ Today: The Gospel and Scientific Thinking. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 71 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1996b. (orig. ed. 1965). Theology in Reconstruction. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 288 pp.
Torrance, T.F. et al. 1999. A Passion for Christ: The Vision That Ignites Ministry (edited by G. Dawson & J. Stein). Edinburgh: Handel Press. 150 pp.


  1. Awesome post! Thank you for sharing. This really just blows my mind, at how He has done everything, even my believing.

    Torrance does talk about sacramental union, like for instance in baptism, where we recieve the gift of the Spirit. How would you understand that in light of the Objective Union we have in Christ?

    If He has done it all, even my believing. By believing I just participate in His believing, then how am I to understand this other kind of Spiritual Union that takes place with the Spirit? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  2. Let me clarify just a littel more.

    I don't think it's that we just realize what is already true about us and that is it. Though that is part of it, but something really happens in us where the truth becomes actualized in our lives, and we experience what Christ has accomplished as if it were just happening.

    I would just add this in saying, then how are we to view that Christ has done it all even my believing, and yet not fall into just some form of mental awareness, where we are just realizing what is already true, and that is it. Because there does seem to be something going on spiritually where we are being 'United' in a sense, even though we are 'Already' united? Hope that is atleast a little clear.

    Thank you

  3. Hi Cody,

    There is nothing salvific in the rite of baptism itself. The "one baptism" that matters is Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. Our own baptism adds nothing to what he has already done, yet it is a "participation" in and witness to Jesus' own baptism in the Jordan in our place and on our behalf.

    Here is an excerpt from an upcoming post:

    When we receive baptism within the Church, we are granted by the grace of God participation in the “one all-inclusive incarnational "baptisma" of Jesus Christ” and are made to become members of his Body and children of our heavenly Father. This takes effect through the Spirit bestowed upon us according to the promise of Jesus Christ, yet, its “taking effect” is not a different and subsequent event (Torrance, 1976a:89). Torrance explains:

    Our adoption, sanctification and redemption have already taken place in Christ, and are fully enclosed in his birth, holy life, death and resurrection undertaken for our sakes, and proceed from them more by way of realisation or actualisation in us of what has already happened to us in him than as new effect resulting from them: we have been adopted through his incarnational assumption of us into himself, sanctified through the obedient self-offering of Christ in his life and death, and we have been born again in his birth of the Spirit and in his resurrection from the dead.(end of excerpt)

    Note that adoption, redemtption, etc are the realisation and actualisation of what is ALREADY our in Jesus.

    In regard to sanctification, the traditional evangelical view is that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us (after conversion)and gradually transforms us into the imnage of Christ. If I understand Torrance correctly, however, we must say that the Holy Spirit is "already" poured out on all flesh and is active in the world. This happened when the Holy Spirit descended on the Son of man at the Jordan River. Thus, when we are baptised, we do not receive the Holy Spirit as if we did not already have the Spirit indwelling us. Nothing "addtional" to what Christ has already done takes place at baptism. When we are baptised, we attest to what Christ has already done for all humanity. In that sense, our baptism is a "witness" to the Gospel. In regard to sanctification, following Luther, we must "become what we already are." There is no question that we are commanded to repentance and obedience, but not as a condition for salvation but rather as the appropriate response to it!

    While I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in all flesh, it seems to me that submission to the Spirit's leading is needed if we are to grow spiritually. At this point, I am on the fuzzy frontier of my understanding.

    But I know this, we are already sanctified. We (all humanity) was sanctified when the eternal Logos assumed fallen Adamic flesh and healed and cleansed it from the inside out. Thus there is no "process" of sanctification that must take place in my life if I am to be saved. I am already justified, sanctified, and eternally reconciled in Jesus!

    I have an upcoming post on baptism which should help in this regard.

    Thank you Brother Cody for participating in this ongoing conversation.


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