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?

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