Ascending or Beginning?

This is a post from the old site but it’s a thought I keep coming back to.

How do you view the Christian life?

The medievals viewed the life of faith as semper ascendere or “always ascending.” The life of faith was one long ascent from virtue to virtue until you reach glory. Sure, there might be little setbacks in which you sin and fall out of the state of grace but those are quickly remedied and the ascent continues.

I know someone who attended traffic school where each session began with the class reciting, “In every way and every day we get a little better, hey!” That wasn’t a medieval saying but it could have been. For the medievals, the life of faith was one of constant progress in holiness.

Martin Luther came along and said there was a semper or “always” to the life of faith. But it was semper incipere or “always beginning.” The Christian life is always coming back to the starting point and beginning again. Luther described the church and the soul as a “rising dawn” because it always assumes the posture of rising again at daybreak. One writer describes Luther’s view this way:

For the true [faithful] to live in faith is for them to live as if they are ever at the beginning of their Christian existence, constantly appropriating this faith and fighting the evil within them through this faith… It is as if one is always entering the church anew, entering anew upon the life of faith.

This is a very different posture than the medievals had. It is a consequence of the fact that, for Luther, the believer is always both a justified person and a sinner (simul justus et peccator). Therefore, what characterizes the faithful is not that they are always getting better but that they are always repenting. They turn from sin and ask again, not simply for an increase of grace, but for the gospel itself through which faith comes and is nourished.

So here is some good news if you don’t feel like you are always ascending. Whether you have been a believer for 40 years or 40 minutes, you can begin again.