Our answer to that question is incredibly important not only for retaining the gracious character of the Gospel, but our language of salvation and Christian obedience says a great deal as well about our theology of the Christian life.
Toward sparking some discusson about the relationships we form between our theology of salvation and the Christian life, let’s consider the controversial (to some) reinterpretation of Martin Luther by the Finnish scholar Tuomo Mannermaa. As I have read, and reread, Mannermaa’s interpretation of Luther, I can’t figure out how Mannermaa’s theology of union with Christ doesn’t completely obscure the role of the Spirit in the Christian life. Consider the following from Christ Present in Faith: Luther’s View of Justification:
The logic of [Luther’s] thinking is as follows: In faith, human beings are really united with Christ. Christ, in turn, is both the forgiveness of sins and the effective producer of everything that is good in them. Therefore “sanctification” – is, in fact, only another name for the same phenomenon of which Luther speaks when discussing the communication of attributes, the happy exchange, and the union between the person of Christ and that of the believer. Christ is the true subject and agent of good works in the believer, as illustrated for example, by the following passage:
“‘There is a double life: my own, which is natural or animate; and an alien life, that of Christ in me. So far as my animate life is concerned, I am ded and am now living an alien life. I am not living as Paul now, for Paul is dead.’ ‘Who then is living?’ ‘The Christian.’ Paul, living in himself, is utterly dead through the Law but living in Christ, or rather with Christ living in him, he lives an alien life. Christ is speaking, acting, and performing all actions in him” (Lectures on Galatians (1535), Luther’s Works 26:170) (p. 49-50).
Related to Christian obedience, then, Mannermaa concludes:
Christ, is, thus, the true agent of good works in the Christian…Because of the Christians’ union with Christ, his or her works are works of Christ himself…In this argumentation Luther’s view of Christian’s as ‘Christ’s to their neighbors’ finds its ontological realization. Luther argues that Christ who is present in faith becomes, as it were, incarnate in Christian’s works (p. 50)
Mannermaa’s larger argument, in brief, is that the strict distinction between justification and sanctification that has come to characterize later Lutheran theology is not at all a central or constitutive distinction in the theology of Luther himself. On Mannermaa’s reading, following the Formual of Concord the mainstream Lutheran tradition has incorrectly separated the remission of sins (justification) on the one hand and the inhabitation of God in the believer (sanctification) on the other. Mannermaa contends, instead, that Luther’s view of justification actually has deification right at the center of it. On this reading, justification is a godly act of divinization that changes a person’s relationship with God ontologically (one’s essence) and thereby shifts talk about one’s ‘declared’ righteousness and forgiveness to talk about one being ‘made righteous’ and holy. So, contends Mannermaa, ‘the doctrine of justification and the idea of sanctification constitute one whole in Luther’s theology’ (p. 46).
So back to your original issue: How we frame salvation impacts how we speak of the Christian life. This is definitely true for Mannermaa because when I read Christ Present in Faith, his Orthodox/Lutheran view of union with Christ is doing all the work and the Spirit is conspicuously absent. How Mannermaa’s theology of union (whether or not this is Luther’s as well I will leave an open question), leaves any room for the work of the Spirit in the Christian life is a question that seems to be an open one concerning his proposals.
Thoughts? Reactions? If I have read Mannermaa wrong, I’m happy to be enlightened.