A Jagged Contention: Condemned to Success

“The course of this world and that of their own lives are so concealed even from those who are justified by faith that they cannot conceive or experience the divine and human concern for the world as a harmonious relationship. This ambiguity extends even to the works of the justified done in the new obedience. But this does not mean that they are arbitrary. The fact that we cannot penetrate the web of motives behind our actions, and fail to foresee, let alone to predetermine, their results, should not prevent the concern and the basic needs of our neighbors and all our fellow creatures from showing us plainly enough what we ought to do. ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might!’ Those whom God justifies ‘will always be content to do what lies at hand today.’ They must not seek to ‘master and control what things and relations will be in the future.’

“The justified advance no claim on the totality in what they do. On the contrary, they can be extremely skeptical about such claims because their justification does not rest upon success. They are not condemned to success.”

– Oswald Bayer, Living By Faith: Justification and Sanctification, pg. 38.


Oswald Bayer suggests that our existence isn’t justified by virtue of how successful we are when we die, rather, our lives, and thus our actions, are justified (and sanctified!) by Christ alone. The Christian, then, doesn’t live for the future, but for today, as the future has already been promised. How does such a perspective change the way we talk about the Christian life? If sanctification is promised along with justification, how can Bayer contend that our works are not arbitrary? Also, how does every other “worldview” condemn humanity to success?

Share your thoughts in the comments below


4 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: Condemned to Success

  1. My take aways are: (1) we in a mirror dimly (but that’s okay, don’t give up or do nothing, (2) do what’s in front of you in your respective vocations, which is where God has called us to do and be, and (3) trust that Christ reigns.

    Pretty solid, practical, Christian living advice, if I’ve gotten the gist of what Bayer is saying.

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  2. It could be said, with some Biblical authority, that even though we may be in process toward sanctification, we may not perceive it in whole or in part in any particular moment. I’m with Jean.


  3. As Oswald Bayer suggests, “we cannot penetrate the web of motives behind our actions.” Therefore, we can never feel certain that our desire to serve and obey God are fully pure of a selfish motives. The conflicts of our mind, it’s existential influences, internalized subconscious, and our fertile imaginations are continually at work. Justification and election make the child of God realize how much we depend on God’s grace, because our own motivations and thoughts cannot be trusted without the work of the Holy Spirit.


  4. For the Christian, Bayer’s message is wonderful news. We stand justified before God and sanctified before mankind. These works are the inevitable fruits of faith, they are not factors in God’s judgement as we have already been justified, pardoned. God’s ends, not our own, lie behind our sanctified lives. His motivations and desires for our works are played out in our sanctified lives. Here we stand as saints.

    As sinners, our motives will always be tainted by original sin such that we want to know the essential goodness of our acts. We fall back on reason and personal judgment rather than the instinct of faith. Seeking to purify our motives is like trying to self-baptize, personally cleanse ourselves. It will never work.

    Most other “worldviews”, including that of many Christians, places a judicial status on the works, themselves. And why not? Our sense of justice says that we’re getting off scot free unless we earn something. We please each other with good works and want God to be pleased, as well. To most religious views, earning God’s favor is critical. Being a good person is what earns salvation. It can also lead to someone thinking they are beyond redemption if their lives were so impure. Disheartening, hopelessness, is as Satanic as any inflated sense of worth or ability to earn salvation.

    It is good that we desire to merit the gift we received in baptism, adoption as God’s children in whom He is well pleased. Such desire is part of turning to God in daily contrition and repentance. But it is only through faith in Christ that we receive the faith to apprehend this and rise anew each day. Only the person who is justified, is already saved, can lead a sanctified life. It is freedom from judgment that liberates us and cleanses our works from personal interest so that we can act in each moment without worrying about how it will turn out as long as we’ve done the best we can do.


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