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Increasing in Love: What Does This Mean and How is This Done?

October 24th, 2013
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87837-83775I was reading a blog post written by Pastor Mark Surburg, posted several months ago, and I thought he did a magnificent job carefully explaining how, when it comes to the life of good works into which we are placed, and called, as Christ’s Holy people, we in fact do cooperate with God. Here is what Pastor Surburg wrote:

“The Scriptures teach that the individual Christian is both new man and old man at the same time (Rom 7:13-23; Gal 5:16-17; Col 3:5-15). In Christ through the work of the Spirit the new man knows God’s will and lives according to it. Because they are individuals in whom the old man still exists, this new life does not occur perfectly and instead occurs in the midst of struggle and weakness. Naturally, the Lutheran Confessions also present this view of Christians as old man and new man at the same time (for example FC SD II.84-85; VI.6-8).

Regenerated by the Spirit the new man now is able to think in the ways of the Spirit, namely, the things that reflect God’s will. True, it is only through the continuing work of the Spirit that this is possible, because otherwise the old man, the mind of the flesh will gain complete control as he does in the non-Christian. Nevertheless, the existence of the individual as new man is not lost. Regenerated, sustained and led by the Spirit, the new man is able to begin to cooperate in the new obedience that faith produces.

This is the position of the Lutheran Confessions. The Formula of Concord states: “Indeed, if the faithful and elect children of God were perfectly renewed through the indwelling Spirit in this life, so that in their nature and all their powers they were completely free from sin, they would need no law and therefore no prodding. Instead, they would do in and of themselves, completely voluntarily, without any teaching, admonition, exhortation, or prodding of the law, what they are obligated to do according to God’s will, just as in and of themselves the sun, the moon and all the stars follow unimpeded the regular course God gave them once and for all, apart from any admonition, exhortation, impulse, coercion, or compulsion. The holy angels perform their obedience completely and of their own free will” (FC SD VI.6).

For this reason, when it comes to new obedience the Lutheran Confessions say that the new man in the individual cooperates with the Spirit in new obedience. Justification is a result of divine monergism. Sanctification is a result of divine monergism. But new obedience takes place through synergism of the new man working with the Spirit. It is rather astonishing that there could be any disagreement on this point since the Formula of Concord explicitly uses the word cooperation.

“I have called attention to texts in Paul that speak of both the wish that Christians will increase in new obedience and also the fact that Christians have indeed done this. This has drawn a reaction, both from those who hold the new position about new obedience/”sanctification” mentioned above, and also by those who believe and teach the Lutheran teaching as expressed in the Confessions and understood in the Lutheran dogmatic tradition. The place to begin when considering this is Scripture which contains verses that explicitly indicate that an increase in new obedience is a goal in Christian life and that this also does in fact occur. As I have described in an earlier post (“Mark’s thoughts: Paul and love – evidence for deepening and growth in sanctification”; http://surburg.blogspot.com/20… this is particularly evident in Paul’s discussion of love. For Paul is it axiomatic that love is the fulfillment of the law. He says this in both Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:13-14 (naturally this goes back to our Lord, Matthew 22:34-40). It is not surprising then that Paul focuses upon love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 where he writes words that any Lutheran recognizes to be Law – they are saying what we must do. We find that Paul understands “love” to be not merely an emotion but instead an activity – activity directed primarily toward others. Yet because of what Paul believes about what it means to be “in Christ” and to have the Holy Spirit at work in the individual, he explicitly expresses the expectation and wish that Christians will increase in love. Based on what Paul says about love in Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:13-14, this will therefore also be an increase in the fulfillment of the Law.

Paul writes in Philippians 1:9-10: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more (ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ), with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11 ESV).

Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians will increase in love and this is linked to the desire that they be filled with “the fruit of righteousness” (meaning either “righteous fruit” or “the fruit which is righteousness”; cf. Galatians 5:22-23 and the fruit of the Spirit). We note also that this is described as occurring “through Jesus Christ” which grounds this increase in Jesus Christ and his saving work. We have clear evidence in this text that Paul’s hope is that Christians will increase in love, and so naturally this should be ours as well.

In a similar manner, Paul writes in Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12: “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another (Περὶ δὲ τῆς φιλαδελφίας οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε γράφειν ὑμῖν, αὐτοὶ γὰρ ὑμεῖς θεοδίδακτοί ἐστε εἰς τὸ ἀγαπᾶν ἀλλήλους), for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia (καὶ γὰρ ποιεῖτε αὐτὸ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς [τοὺς] ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ). But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more (περισσεύειν μᾶλλον), and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV)

In this text Paul affirms that the Thessalonians are loving one another and the Christians in Macedonia, and he then expresses the desire that they do so more and more – that there be an increase in this manner of life. Here again we have clear evidence in this text that Paul’s hope is that Christians will increase in love, and so naturally this should be ours as well.

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13: “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you (ὑμᾶς δὲ ὁ κύριος πλεονάσαι καὶ περισσεύσαι τῇ ἀγάπῃ εἰς ἀλλήλους καὶ εἰς πάντας, καθάπερ καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς ὑμᾶς), so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 ESV).

Again, this is explicit textual evidence for Paul’s hope that Christians increase in love (Paul’s desire for them expressed with an optative of wish). More importantly for our discussion, not only does Paul express the wish that this increase will happen for the Thessalonians, but he also states that it is true for him, Silvanus and Timothy. It is not a hypothetical possibility or wishful thinking, but something that is true for Paul and his companions.

Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4: “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 (ὅτι ὑπεραυξάνει ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν καὶ πλεονάζει ἡ ἀγάπη ἑνὸς ἑκάστου πάντων ὑμῶν εἰς ἀλλήλους). Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 ESV).

In this text Paul not only speaks about increasing love, he also asserts that this is true of the Thessalonians. This is occurring among them and it is something that Paul can even boast about in the Churches of God. Here again is explicit biblical evidence that an increase of love (new obedience) does occur among Christians.

However, “love” is not the only way this is expressed. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus (ἐρωτῶμεν ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ), that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing (καθὼς καὶ περιπατεῖτε), that you do so more and more (ἵνα περισσεύητε μᾶλλον). For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification (τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, ὁ ἁγιασμὸς ὑμῶν): that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ESV)

This is an important text for several reasons. First, Paul expresses that the Thessalonians are walking in the way they should and that this is pleasing to God. Naturally this does not mean they are perfect but it shows that those in Christ are able to live in ways that Scripture is willing to describe as the very thing they should be doing. Second, we must note that Paul exhorts them to do this more and more. This shows that it is entirely Scriptural to tell Christians that they should strive to live in God pleasing ways. Finally, we must observe that the life that is going to increase is described as sanctification, where the content of this word is explained by means of behaviors that they are and are not to do.

Finally, 2 Peter 1:5-8 says: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement (ἐπιχορηγήσατε) your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing (ταῦτα γὰρ ὑμῖν ὑπάρχοντα καὶ πλεονάζοντα), they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV)

In this text, Peter commands Christians to be growing in the qualities of new obedience in light of what God has done for them (1:3-4, 9). There is the explicit expectation that Christians will not only have these qualities such as love, but also that they will be increasing in them.

Because the Scriptures explicitly speak of increase in new obedience, the Confessions do as well. An obvious example to begin with is Apology IV.136 which states, “We openly confess, therefore, that the keeping of the law must begin in us and then increase more and more (quod necesse sit inchoari in nobis et subinde magis magisque fieri legem). And we include both simultaneously, namely the inner spiritual impulse and the outward good works.”


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Categories: Christian Life
  1. Pastor Dave Likeness
    October 24th, 2013 at 09:58 | #1

    Another key Biblical text is Romans 5:5: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (ESV)

    The Holy Spirit implants God’s love in our hearts. God’s love points us to the cross of Christ who demonstrated His love toward us. The essence of love is giving, and Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit to share God’s love with others.

  2. October 24th, 2013 at 11:53 | #2

    I think that, in many cases (but not all), the disagreements on these issues come down to sloppy and lazy language… or trying to shoe-horn unrelated topics into a context where they don’t belong.

    It seems that whenever we talk about our participation in sanctification, someone comes along and tries to drag the conversation over to justification and then use the monergistic truths of justification to oppose what was said about the work of the Holy Spirit in the new man. The reverse is also true when someone talks about justification and someone takes third use of the law and tries to cram good works into that conversation and thus upset the Gospel. A lot of this confusion would be helped if issues were clearly discussed in their proper context and the complete picture of what the Holy Spirit reveals is displayed consistently.

    While some people want to only see the Christian life in terms of justification and some people can only talk about sanctification, the truth of the scriptures (which are properly explained and expounded upon in the Lutheran Confessions) speaks of both things and places both aspects of the Christian life in their proper perspectives and contexts.

    This is a good post. Too often we hear what individuals think of these issues based on their personal impressions and experience. Instead we should listen to what God clearly says about them through His word.

  3. October 25th, 2013 at 15:21 | #3

    Excellent article Pastor Surburg. As you proved through scripture, Jesus commanded that we love one another. And as the Book of James clearly says, “Show me your faith without deeds (love) and I will show you my faith by what I do”. and, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds (love) is dead”. Anyone who reads all of the Gospels and Epistles can come to no other conclusion. The Bible does not deny or contradict itself.

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