Being Christian

In part of our never-ending discussion about the temporal side-effects of being Christian, Zrim said what he says in a new way:

Kazoo, … your contention seems to be that we are ontologically better for having faith. … But I don’t believe we are ontologically better for our faith. Grace doesn’t overwhelm nature. … I still live subject to death, just like everyone else, including unbelievers. I live in the already-not yet tension.

Echo responded with some interesting thoughts on ontology, which I think are worth discussing. Simplifying a bit, Echo outlined 6 possible ontological classes (“states of being”), which are:

  • God (ultimate being)
  • Glorified man
  • Natural man
  • Animals
  • Plants
  • Rocks

Disclaiming a Platonic “ladder of being” (Plato’s concept of varying degrees of “realness” is Gnostic), as Christians we understand that God and his Creation are completely real. Nonetheless, there is a clear ontological “moreness” between each of those classes — with the largest gap being the Creator-creature distinction at the top.

Echo then “shoots from the hip” (so don’t quote him on this…)

If you count being made alive spiritually, after having been dead spiritually, then perhaps it is correct to say that some ontological change has begun to take place.

I suspect Zrim is saying that you are implying an ontological change, when we really haven’t changed at all, we’re just forgiven. We have moved to a different legal state, not a different ontological state. I would tend to agree with that, but I wouldn’t want to be quite so absolute about it.

To be sure, we have changed to a different legal status, but some different ontological status might be appropriate here. If not a different status ontologically, then the change to a different ontological status (from corruptible to incorruptible) has at least begun to take place.

However, while there might be some room here, I’ve never thought about it before, and I’m really just shooting from the hip here.

So the question becomes, is a Christian in this world in an Ontological state between Natural and Glorified man? My initial reaction is yes; scripture has so much emphatic terminology: a new creation, regeneration, made alive, buried and resurrected with Christ.

And yet, scripture also makes clear the tension of the already and not yet. None of those terms can be properly understood as complete; a good work has been started in us which will not be finished until glorification. Our carnal man is still at war with our spiritual man. And of course, as good students of the Reformation, we understand the very clear distinction that Justification does not make us good (infuse intrinsic goodness into us or our works), but declares us good (imputes an alien righteousness to us).

And yet again, this is all a question of Sanctification; part of the mystery of the Gospel is that it simultaneously rejects and upholds Law. Sanctification is when the declaration that we possess Christ’s alien righteousness, makes us more like Christ.

And yet yet again again, even our Sanctified good works are imperfect and defiled.

So is a Christian at a distinct ontological state between Natural and Glorified man, or is he a hybrid of the two?

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13 Responses to Being Christian

  1. RubeRad says:

    And am I in a higher ontological state by virtue of how often I say “ontological”?

  2. Zrim says:

    I can concede that I overstated it (“But I don’t believe we are ontologically better for our faith”), but, in my own defense, it was only to make a Calvinistic point. So before the charges of Lutheranism (there are much worse things, BTW) start flying, I should say that “I do believe in sanctification.” And like I just said on another thread, it is not so much whether sanctification is a reality of our new birth so much as it seems to be a question of just what its nature is. And my Calvinism runs much too deep to over-realize its nature.

    The counter-point I am trying to make is agin the apparent point that we somehow “transcend our humanity” by virtue of our faith is that, while at once sinner and saint, we are always more the former than the latter, that’s all. Yes, we are “in an Ontological state between Natural and Glorified man,” but we must understand that with a pair of Calvinistic sunglasses over against worldly rose-colored ones. It seems to me that when we start entertaining notions that we have something over the unbeliever that implies we can “transform the world,” or that our very presence makes the world a better place, we have opted for a sunnier pair of specs to read our ontological reality, such as it is.

  3. RubeRad says:

    I’m happily surprised, Z.

  4. I wasn’t reading this blog yet when the referenced article was posted, so I haven’t been following the comment thread.

    However, having gone to a Nazarene university (just for the music department, honest!) I have to say that this “separate ontological state” thing is a very Holiness-Movement kind of concept. I was glad that I wasn’t required to subscribe to Wesleyan theology as a student there; the doctrine of Justification and Sanctification being separate states/phases really got me to raise my eyebrows. (In fact, before then I hadn’t been into doctrine much at all; it wasn’t until I started seeing these positions I disagreed with that I began to search in earnest for a specific doctrine to stand behind.)

    In any case, I would say that the already/not-yet balance can only be seen from God’s extra-temporal perspective. As far as we time-constrained humans can perceive, it’s truly “not yet, but with an irrevocable promise.” Paul, in Romans 7:18, seems to propose this as well:

    For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

    As long as we have a sinful nature, we’re no different than the rest of un-Glorified humanity. The difference is that we have taken hold of God’s saving grace and are promised future Glorification.

  5. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    When you’re happy, I am happy.

  6. Echo_ohcE says:

    Augmented,

    Yup, our present state must be clearly distinguished between our future glorified state. But our present state must also be distinguished from our previous unregenerate state. I’m not sure ontological is the right category to throw at this, but it could be.

    E

  7. Echo:

    However, if grace is Irresistible, what is really the difference between our “unregenerate” and “justified” states? If a gift has been given, are we not the recipients until the box has been opened? As evidenced by the Romans quote I included above, we still have the same natural struggles and desires on both sides of our experience of conversion.

    However, as a lifelong Christian, I may not fully understand the conversion experience since I don’t have memories of a life before my relationship with Christ.

  8. kazooless says:

    Augmented 4th,

    I find that this blog so far has brought me in more agreement with Echo than I ever thought possible. I don’t know either if ‘ontological’ is the right category either, but I think scripture is clear that there are present realities for the Christian that are “better” than when he was walking in darkness. Look for my comment to Zrim near the end of the postmillenial post and you’ll see a few of the scriptures I referenced to make this point.

    But for you, I’d like to point out that Romans doesn’t end with chapter 7. That said to remind everybody that chapter 8 is explaining the answer to Paul’s question posed at the end of 7:

    Romans 7:24-8:4 (New King James Version)

    24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
    So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

    Romans 8

    Free from Indwelling Sin

    1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,[a] who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

    What’s one of the simplest and first rules of exegesis we learn? In laymen’s terms: “Whenever you see a ‘therefore,’ always look to see what it is there for. Cheesy, I know, but it has always helped me in my reading of scripture. The Christian life is one where the Spirit dwells within us! God has written His law on our hearts. What the law couldn’t do being external, Christ has done for us. Now, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, we walk according to the Spirit, fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law! This isn’t just a passive forensic declaration of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in us. We know this because of the verb used to describe our actions: “walk.” This won’t fully take place until glorification, of course, I’m no holiness adherent either, but I do, like Zrim, believe in a progressive sanctification (The Westminster Standards describe this as well).

    So what is the “therefore” there for? To show us that Christ’s delivering us results in our non-condemnation. Our walking in the Spirit. Our fulfilling the demands of the law. (See Romans 3:31

    Okay, I’m done. I didn’t expect to go on so long, but God’s Word is SO rich! Halelujah!

    Kazoo

  9. Echo_ohcE says:

    Augmented,

    The unregenerate is unable to submit to the law of God, because he is unable to want to.

    The regenerate, by contrast, long to submit to the law, if only in part.

    The glorified cannot fail to submit to the law.

    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

    E

  10. Echo:

    Yes, I’ve been thinking about that a lot today, and came to a similar conclusion. Using my own argument from before about the “already/not-yet” dichotomy, as time-constrained humans we can’t claim the benefits of grace until we have accepted them.

    However, I still contend that regenerate/unregenerate is hardly an ontological distinction (which, I suppose, is what I was driving at before). I never meant to say that there’s nothing different between the two states, only that being human = being human, on either side of our acceptance of grace.

  11. Echo_ohcE says:

    It SEEMS to me that there is an ontological distinction to be made between the glorified and the unglorified.

    1Cor. 15:50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

    So now what say you?

  12. I never said glorified/unglorified wasn’t an ontological distinction, just that unregenerate/regenerate wasn’t.

    Basically, I’m agreeing with your “6 states” Rube quoted in the original post, just saying that unregenerate man and regenerate man are two differing subclassifications of Natural Man.

  13. Echo_ohcE says:

    The 6 states was just a suggestion to get intuitions going, not necessarily my confession of faith.

    Regeneration is the beginning of glorification. We were dead in sin, now we are alive in Christ. Glorification is the consummation of our being alive in Christ. We will be FULLY alive, no longer subject to death.

    Unregenerate is further from glorified than regenerate.

    But anyway, I don’t know if any of this has any explanatory value or usefulness. I tend to doubt it.

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