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Differentiation of Self and Sanctification


I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Amen.

What does this mean? I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth. . . (Timothy Wengert’s translation of the Third Article’s Explanation)- Martin Luther.

In yesterday’s post I promised that I would take up the subject of sanctification (the process of becoming more Christ-like, more holy) and the Bowen Family Systems Theory concept of Differentiation of Self.  Briefly, differentiation of self is a theoretical scale that Murray Bowen proposed and is the key to the entirety of BFST. A person is born into a family and generally never moves much higher or lower on this scale of differentiation from the family unit.  In general, differentiation (which is an embryological term) is how a person can be a separate, thinking self in the system of one’s own nuclear family (but also in church, work and society).  It is to be able to draw clear boundaries by stating core values and principles all the while being able to be, at least somewhat, comfortable with the opinions/values of others that one is in relationship with without trying to manipulate or change them to reflect one’s own value system.  It is to be present with another, to respect another’s viewpoint, and to maintain contact even when anxiety rises in the relationship system.  Bowen used the term “emotional maturity” to describe this, but he did not mean it to be used pejoratively to criticize where one might fall on this theoretical scale.

In my post yesterday about the scene from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” I looked at the concept of how offending a person is a greater fear for many than moving oneself out of harm’s way and how sometimes we are more concerned with not risking offense than speaking the truth in love.  Now I want to apply the concept of differentiation of self to the theological and religious process of sanctification- becoming more holy in Christ.  First and foremost, our holiness- if we have any at all, comes solely from Jesus’ own holiness!  It is not something we can earn or achieve on our own, but as Luther taught in the third article, it is the Holy Spirit that calls us to faith, gathers us in community, gives us spiritual gifts for service and sanctifies us- or makes us holy.

As we go along this journey of faith we discover at each step of our pilgrimage that Christ is calling us deeper into the heart of God.  We pray for the Spirit to guide us and to take over our lives, replacing anything within us that is not of God with that which is of the divine.  As we become more committed (also the power of the Spirit in our lives) and answer the call put upon us in our baptism, we become more obedient to Christ’s will for us. We become more of who God created us to be, we become more of our authentic self in Christ as we continue to “put on Christ.”  This is a parallel process (or as I am suggesting, it is the same process with a different name) as differentiation of self.

Ephesians 4:11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

As we become more mature, emotionally and spiritually, we are doing the hard work (with the help of the Spirit of course) of becoming more of our true selves, able to be fully present with one another amidst conflict, pain, trials and disagreements, even while maintaining our own clear boundaries and keeping our guiding principles intact.  This is not an easy process. . . it is however a LIFE LONG process!  The best news of all is that just one disciple working intentionally on themselves can change the culture of their family, their workplace, the church and the entire community.  Imagine if all disciples were consciously and diligently processing this “putting on” of Christ!  But, isn’t that a part of what discipleship is all about?  Imagine what the Church might look like and how much love and grace might be spread around!

I pray for peace on your journey!


5 Comments leave one →
  1. 18January2012 09:31

    Amy – sounds like a great preview to your dmin project/dissertation. Looks awesome. I’d praise your keen insight and holiness – but since its a gift of the Spirit I’ll just thank God for you! Great work. Keep the connections flowing. Peace, G

  2. 18January2012 09:54

    Thanks for two very thoughtful posts. I have appreciated both. What caught my eye today was the Wengert translation of Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed. The terms “sanctified and sanctifies” are absent and replaced by “made me holy” and “makes holy.” I think this is a postmodern tendency to weaken the language rather than strengthen it. I just read a parody on postmodernism that highlighted how in language postmodernists talk more gibberish as they replace simple terms with obfuscations to be politically correct, gender neutral, and comply with every other cultural trend in the vogue at the present time. A simple sentence of ten words becomes a protracted sentence twice as long that almost makes no sense to the reader. The richness of the term sanctification is dumbed down. “Holy” is a good word but in the context of the Small Catechism something is lost. Sanctified and sanctifies point to work of the Holy Spirit in my life. “Made me holy” and “makes holy” seem to refer more to what I am that what God does.

    • 18January2012 10:07

      I like “sanctified” as well Ronald! It has such depth that “holy” doesn’t seem to in our present day culture. So I try to use it as often as I can. . . Dr. Wengert is one that I have been working with at LTSP on my Dmin so I have a tendency to use the newest version of the B of C because of that. 🙂

  3. 18January2012 10:00

    opps… the last sentence of my reply should be: “Made me holy” and “makes holy” seem to refer more to what I am than what God does

    • 18January2012 10:09

      And I think we always have to look back toward Christ who donates his holiness to us through justification by grace through faith. Holiness is never something we can achieve on our own, we simply don’t know how! (Original sin hanging around our skinny necks!) Thanks for the conversation! I really appreciate your insights.

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