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The Apostle Paul and Love for One’s Race

 

[sermon text]

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For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” – Rom. 9:3

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I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we in the church – and the Western world at large – really have little idea about what to do with the Apostle Paul’s words here….

First of all, the world hears Paul say this and says:

“Why are you so confident that the only way your race can be saved is through Jesus Christ? How arrogant!”

Then, much of the modern church hears Paul and cynically says:

“Is that misogynist Paul, who often tells us to ‘imitate him,’ perhaps trying too hard here to convince us how important his own race is to him? Insisting that he’d rather go to hell himself than have the whole lot of them go to hell? Should our love be so strong for our own race such that we should actually be glad to be damned eternally?”

And…now… what about this whole “race” thing? A few weeks ago we mentioned the topic of racism and how the definition has changed from it being a belief in the intrinsic superiority or greater value of one group over another to now, where it is something that is quite hidden and quite systemic and not necessarily about individuals and their attitudes.… Well, we can clearly see that issues of race are a big deal today, and so….

The world and much of the modern church hears Paul and says:

“Paul, are you perhaps you are putting a bit too much stock in your genetics, in your blood relationships or ‘kin’? Being a Christian, after all, is about faith, Paul…  It is more an idea and has nothing to do with some kind of sacred blood…

So such concern with your own race, is, to say the least, problematic, given your privileges! True, in your day Jews were not at the top of the heap, but today, they are quite privileged… And you wouldn’t want to give encouragement to some of these German and Scandinavian-descent-folks here, for example, to show some racial pride! To push back against the righteous cause to eliminate the existing system of white supremacy by feeling free to utter a terrible expression like ‘It’s OK to be white’”… [i]

[yes, that is sarcasm… appropriate layer upon layer of it actually]

Well, yes, what are we to do with the Apostle Paul’s seemingly unhealthy passions here?

And, truly, what could be more volatile today than this issue of race?

But, you see, Paul does go there, and so somehow, if we are to really understand this text, we must also go there…

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So Paul talks about “his race” What does he mean? We’ll get there in a second.

First, however, what do we mean? As I reflect on even my own education, after all, which largely took place in the 1980s, I very much remember hearing about how it was not long ago where it was still common to talk about the English, Chinese, or French race, for example….

Is this, perhaps, closer to what Paul means? I will say this: the Washington Post, who tweeted out the following last week, is definitely far away from what Paul means:

The @washingtonpost will also capitalize the “W” in White, citing that “White is a distinct cultural identity in the United States…” and is a “collective group that has had its own cultural and historical impact on the nation.”

Now, the Post was just responding to another phenomenon that has been occurring over the past several weeks among journalists – that is the capitalizing the “B” in Black to go along with the capital “L” in Latino and capital “N” and “A” in Native American, for example, but still, you might wonder: “How true to real life is all of this?”

In what sense after all, are all of these groups “collective groups”? I suppose years of Census taking and like things where we have checked off “white” or “Caucasian” may very well have made seem normal. Made this kind of thinking and language seem less simplistic and offensive than it is.

I know for me it always felt a bit weird: a lame denial of my real past and present (hey, I’m half Finnish and half German and, by the way, I want to just be an American!)….

In any case, I can fully understand the irritation shown by another commentator in Louisiana (Rod Dreher), who, reading this tweet, was prompted to reply:

“I would bet that I have at least as much in common culturally with a black person from Baton Rouge who went to LSU (like me) as I do with a white person from Boston who went to Harvard. But that commonality is erased by these ridiculous racial obsessives.”

Indeed, increasingly in our society today, it is as if “race” has become the “one ring to rule them all”. Sure, there is some ambiguity and fluidity about whether one is male or female – of course! – but we must have none of that when it comes to race: One is White, Black, American Indian, Latino, Asian, period – and now in capital letters mind you…

Pick you category, and, it increasingly seems, pick your side….

We have gotten very far away from the truth of what the words that Paul uses were originally meant to convey. The objectivity and utterly unbendable nature of one’s own family ties – one’s concrete mother, father, and relatives —  is indeed sure and an important ground for life, but what of these categories?

They, in truth, are abstract and comfortless things that man has invented for his own purposes, and – truth be told – purposes that will certainly fail….

One can point out how it was indeed largely those of European and British descent who, in the process of doing their business in America and the Americas, made the bland categories “black” and “white” into a highly important thing… and things “progressed” further when the scientists got involved, what with “scientific” notions of race and racism and the like….

And now, it seems, the consequences have come home to roost, as aggressive and aggrieved identity increasingly takes center stage, becoming, for some, more or less all-encompassing…

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So, that, I humbly suggest, is our context. What does all of this mean in Paul’s context?

For race, Paul uses the Greek word συγγενής here, from sun, which means “together with” and genos, from where we get “generate” and now also “genes” (not your blue jeans).

So Paul is talking about his relatives by blood, his cousins, kinsfolk, broader tribe, and by extension, his fellow “countrymen…” Not “race” in the more abstract and again, comfortless, way people use it today.

And this then ties together with the idea of ethnicity. Biblically, earthly nations are inseparable from the biblical concept of “ethnos,” from which we get our word “ethnic,” and hence, talk about “ethnic groups” today.

In like fashion the word “genos” by itself – again, from where we get the word “genes” – can be  translated as offspring, family, race, nation, kind, or even sex. We see that these terms involve notions of blood and parentage, even if “ethnos” is more closely connected than “genos” with our own modern notions of “culture” (we won’t get the meaning of culture today!!)

This all is important in the Bible because, ultimately, the Church is a new Nation, a new Ethnos, that re-unites, by faith in Christ, persons not just from this or that race, tribe, or nation, but from the entire human family – making one Nation, or, more accurately, Kingdom, to whom all the earthly nations will stream in the life to come, “Kingdom come”.

And hence, Christians are first and foremost citizens of heaven, not earth.

In, but not of the world, their “dual ethnicity” means that they belong first to the kingdom of heaven, and are members of “God’s chosen nation (or ethnos)” (I Peter 2:9). Though all are one “in Adam,” God has, post-fall and post-Tower of Babel, also ordained a diversity of nations (see Acts 17:26), from whom He will obtain worship (Rev. 7:9)…

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So this, really, is what Paul is on about… and so, where is he going with this in Romans 9?

Well, first of all, it is abundantly clear that the election of Abraham’s natural descendants must be taken seriously…

Second, though: what Paul wants to communicate is this: While any Jew may rightly say “We are Abraham’s offspring” – descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob specifically – on the other hand, finally, it is faith which proves more critical than matters of blood.

So throughout Romans 9-11, we see that Paul is making a critical distinction: there is an Israel according to physical descent and an Israel according to faith in the promise…

These things are meant to go together, but at the same time, “not all receive the promise”, he says….

And saying “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated” by the way doesn’t mean that he was deciding to create an Israel who would be heaven-bound while also setting up Esau and all his descendants to go to hell…

It just means that the Promise given to Abraham – which eventually culminated in the “Seed” of the Messiah Himself, Jesus Christ, coming from His line! – went down through Abraham, to Isaac, and then to Jacob, and not Esau…

And faith simply recognizes and accepts this truth for its forgiveness, life, and salvation!

Jacob was chosen for these special purposes of God in a way that Esau was not – and not because of anything that he had done…. (in fact, the whole thing ran counter to Sarah’s efforts to do things on her own!)

And all of this was done in order that, in the fullness of time, the Gentiles, that is the “nations”…. the other members of humanity… would began to pour into God’s Holy Nation as well! And not only this, but in Romans 11 Paul goes on to say the following (it is long, but bear with me – the details are very important):

17 …if some of the branches [of the natural olive tree\ were broken off, and you, [a Gentile,] although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root[c] of the olive tree [that is Abraham’s line], 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Paul essentially goes on to say that God is saying this to the Gentiles:

“I am choosing for my purposes, I am having mercy on you and preferring you now….  in order to make Israel jealous, that they might hear and believe…”

Why? He explains more at the end of chapter 11:

“As regards the gospel, [the Jews are] enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Now perhaps we can understand better Paul’s “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”….

Do you see what matters here? The Promise is all about those who believe this message, and yet – and yet – physical lineage matters because family connections matter…

Romans 9-11 is teaching us that despite Israel’s unbelief and disobedience, God’s promises to her are still valid….

Through the work of Jesus Christ who its leaders killed, they – even though they have fallen away and fallen away hard! – can still be grafted into God’s purposes now, and become God’s “Israel” again for now and eternity!

And there is no reason for God’s true Israel – made up of believing Jews and Gentiles! – to not grow together as one in Jesus Christ!

So… “hated” ones like Esau and all other Gentiles – let the full measure of God’s people come in! And pray that the Jews would share the joy!

By the way, we have a similar thing that can happen today…. Despite the unbelief and disobedience we see in many quarters of the church, God’s promises to her are still valid….

The one who is baptized and fallen away, for example – even fallen away quite dramatically – may have lost the practice of faith, but that does not mean that their baptism is not valid…

They too, can return to the Lord Jesus Christ, and be grafted in again….

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Well, now let’s get really controversial…

In the passage from Romans 11 we read above, it said this:

18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you….”

How should we better understand this? Well, in another day – a saner day – we might have done it by drawing the analogy with having “citizenship” in a certain nation here on earth…

People who come to this or any other nation are grafted into it….

In the past, most all would have said they were being integrated, assimilated, naturalized… they would learn the culture… become a part of the nation…

Now, why would that be so important? Well, I recently read the talk of a controversial U.S. Senator who was speaking about the issue of immigration, and he gives us a clue as to why these kinds of things are so important…

“Prior to those stirring passages about “unalienable Rights” and “Nature’s God,” in the Declaration’s very first sentence in fact, the Founders say it has become “necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands” that tie them to another—one people, not all people, not citizens of the world, but actual people who make up actual colonies. The Founders frequently use the words we and us throughout the Declaration to describe that people…

“Perhaps most notably, the Founders explain towards the end of the Declaration that they had appealed not only to King George for redress, but also to their fellow British citizens, yet those fellow citizens had been “deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.” Consanguinity!—blood ties! That’s pretty much the opposite of being a citizen of the world….”

But… to talk like this. We feel we dare not go there… especially in our current context. How could this ever help?

Many in the West in general, and in America in particular, are haunted by images and/or stories of what their ancestors – or at least their countrymen – perpetrated vs. Indians. And vs. African men and women kidnapped from their homes and sold into bondage. And so, they have actually fallen off the other side of the horse…

Now… as if to make it up… virtually no one will any longer defend a national identity, heritage, inheritance…  Even defending a notion of one in public may seem perilous… at least in this or that locale…

“How could I have pride in such things? Even if I didn’t have to be reminded of the evils of the past, isn’t pride in such a thing necessarily hatred for others? Xenophobia? Idolatry?

I mean, it is OK when the Marvel Super-Hero the Black Panther has pride regarding His people of Wakanda, but look at them… they were a much better and noble people than we….”

And yet, how many of us would quickly disown our family members – or even neighbors we have come to deeply know and love — if someone began dredging up horrible past sins they had committed and started calling them and us terrible names? (before you answer this, please read this).

I doubt it any of us would do this, because love makes a difference….

Perhaps some of us might do this… even as we would also feel great shame and guilt about that later as well!

Again we wouldn’t do this because love matters. Love – expressed in shared language, culture, and custom – matters.

“…do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you….”

Do not be arrogant toward the branches because, in a sense, life is all about the love that we first learn about in family trees and this can’t be avoided When in Rome do as the Romans do because it is good for the Romans to honor their ancestors and uphold their way of life….

We should learn from God’s people, the Jewish nation. The concept of nation cannot – and therefore should not – be separated from realities of heritage, ethnicity, and blood.

Even pagan authors like Cicero and Epictetus could see that “Nature produces a special love of offspring,” and “Natural affection is a thing right according to Nature,” respectively (Lewis, 96, 99).

Again, there is a very, very good reason the Apostle Paul speaks so strongly about his “kinsmen according to the flesh, (see Rom. 9:1-5)…. 

So, how do all of us balance and think about all these things? When the Apostle Paul says “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” and “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” what should this mean for us as his people today?

What we see today is confusion, even among those who seem to understand the complexity of these issues the best…

And many see no way to get a “win-win” here. They see no exit.

[Explained following cartoon…]

 

And our struggles here…. our imperfect and flawed ways of trying to get our bearings and figuring out what to do …should only drive us closer, nor futher, to Him…..

“O God, I want to love my nation…and yet I know you show no favoritism…”

“O God, I think I should want to be colorblind…”

“O God, they now tell me being colorblind is racist…Help me see the truth…”

“O God, I don’t want to deny the value and importance of any persons’ heritage…”

“O God, I don’t care if people mistakenly call me racist, but just let me be able to keep a job where I can provide for my family and more!”

It should all only drive us closer to Him…..

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I hope you do feel a bit desperate when you think about these things. Because that, of course, drives us to God.

The God who, in the course Romans 9-11, deals with the answers that we need.

Nations will rise and nations will fall (and we pray ours doesn’t fall and fight that it doesn’t)… And yet the doctrine of predestination, like justification…. is the teaching that He is the One who will pull His people out of the messes that we create…. Not by our works like Sarah and Esau, but by His grace….

On the one hand, perhaps much like a nation’s immigration system, we shouldn’t ask question of God when He shows particular favor to some and not others, perhaps accusing Him of unfairness or favoritism….. In Romans 9-11, Paul is saying just that: “You have no business doing that, you clay pot… You are the clay and He is the Potter…”

At the same time, even as He speaks to us the way He does in those chapters, we should not assume this means that this is about Him desiring or intending to eternally exclude or condemn anyone! Unlike what the Calvinists have said His blood is indeed shed for all people and He means it!

Even Pharaoh – who Scripture famously says was hardened in order to accomplish God’s purposes for Israel who was His glory and to give glory to Him? I need to presume so…  and note that this is not the only place God insists on talking like this…

The point is that God has noble purposes and common purposes, and both need to get done…

And what are we told, at the end of chapter 11, are his highest purposes?:

 “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”

That sounds quite curious, but strangely applicable….

And during such crazy times as these, it is nice to know that God has sent us men who not only have our back, but are willing to give up far more than the shirts on their backs….

Hence Paul in our text today, crying out for his people.

Hence Moses in Exodus 32:32, when he says to God about his own people: “But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

And hence Jesus. Of whom we might say this:

God so loved the world, that He becomes one of us, physically, first as regards the Jew, and then as regards the Gentile….

And then… for the joy set before Him, endured the cross for our sakes, to unite all peoples in Him.

So that in the end of the trials we have in this vale of tears, we will indeed have a home where such troubles are known no more….

Thank you dear Heavenly Father, for sending us the authors of Scripture, who not only are right but who are the only voices we can listen to for true hope….

Amen.

 FIN

 

[i] https://reason.com/2019/11/04/its-ok-to-be-white-flyers-lead-to-promise-of-severest-disciplinary-action-by-western-conn-state-u/  One might think it would be OK for a white supremacist nation like ours to say that without it causing an incident every time someone utters it, right?

 

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

The Outlaw God Podcast’s Adaptation of Martin Luther’s Theology

What does this mean?

 

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This post goes hand-in-hand with my four part series, “The Popularity of Steven Paulson’s Adaptation of Luther’s Theology.”

Recently, I have been listening to the 2011 Legacy Project’s “Outlaw God” podcasts with Dr. Steve Paulson, a popular teacher in LC-MS circles, including professors.

Dr. Paulson “is an outstanding theologian with a deep grasp on insights from Martin Luther for contemporary Christians.” — LC-MS professor John Pless

 

In the episodes, “The Move to Absolution” and “The Hidden God in Other Traditions,” Pauslon makes claims about what he says is some rather surprising content in Luther’s Genesis lectures/commentaries.

He mentions in the “Move to Absolution” podcast that Luther identifies a “frightening pattern” in his Genesis lectures (where he also uses the Psalms to show this), and that this pattern first occurs between God’s promise to Abraham from Genesis 12 to 15.

This, he says, is the clear pattern we can see happening where God gives the promise, then attacks the promise, and then finally “republishes” the promise. Easy as 1-2-3. Paulson says that Luther calls this the pattern of the Christian life… The question that occurs to all of us of course is why God attacks his own promise… “Why?!”…. Paulson says that Luther, however, just moves from there right to the “Where?” question: Where can I find God, gracious to me, even though I do not understand…

I am not saying that what Paulson is saying here is entirely wrong. When reading his comments on Genesis 15:1, for example, Luther does make it clear that God desires to comfort His people in their suffering, and to give them reassurance of His love and forgiveness. Indeed, few things are more foundational than that kind of thing!

The problem, however, is that Paulson wants to go further, and he does this in two ways.

First, he uses the word “attack” when he talks about the tests that God permits or even sends to His people. As best I can tell, this is not the language of Scripture or Luther, and, as the latter said, “When you change the language, you change the theology.”

Second, Paulson incorrectly asserts that it is the Calvinists who seek to understand why God “attacks His promise” — “How should we think about what is happening?!” — while Lutherans supposedly do no such thing, but rather simply seek a re-posting of the promise. Calvin, we are told, is the one “developing a rationale” for why God is treating Abraham, David, or Israel as He does in these texts. This is wrong, Paulson says.

Does only John Calvin expect an answer to the “Why?” questions?

 

In the next podcast (“The Hidden God in Other Traditions”) he goes so far as to say the following:

“[All of this is] not understandable by our normal knowledge, that is the way that we put things together legally, under the law, to make sense of them rationally. That’s what we mean by reason actually. So that whatever God is doing can somehow be put back into a reasonable structure, that is, the structure of the law, and He can be exonerated for it. What He did was right according to the law. But Luther knows that that can’t actually be done in these cases….”

The problem with all of this though is that, contrary to Paulson’s assertions, Luther does speak to the “Why?” question as well, offering reasons for why God permits these tests to come. Yes, he is sometimes careful to say “perhaps” at times (speculating a bit, also a big no-no with Paulson!) while at other times he does not hedge nearly as much. Reading through Luther’s comments on Genesis 15:1, for example – the very text that Paulson deals with in his “Move to Absolution” podcast! – we see that all of this happens to keep Abraham humble and not filled with vainglory… (think of the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” here too, which Luther also mentions…).

Paulson says other odd things too, for example, “In order to sell God to a modern public you need to make Him ethical.” This is particularly puzzling given that the first couple chapters of the book of Romans say that we suppress the knowledge of God we have not only because of His power but His righteousness as well… (see Romans 1:30-32). He also, in spite of recent clear scholarship from Brian T. German, insists that it is only Calvin who says that the law is the mind of God Himself. Finally, one is left wondering why faith only seeks the “mouth of a preacher giving it a gracious God” and not understanding as well…. Why are these two things necessarily contradictory?

 

Paulson said his old Calvinist professor called him an “incorrigible Lutheran.” How can someone to be that when one ignores and distorts — even if unintentionally — what Luther says! Paulson says “God attacks us for the sake of re-posting the promise (where we cannot understand why)”, while Luther says “God tests us for our own benefit, and re-posts the promise for our sake (even when we do not understand specifically why).”

Where did I get that conclusion? Why, from a man who recently took the time to read all of Luther’s Genesis lectures/commentaries! (that is a lot of work folks!) What follows below in fact are a sample of quotes from Luther he put together that speak to the meaning behind God’s tests. First of all, this man’s introduction:

“I see where [Paulson] is coming from, but his language is not Luther’s and his conclusions are troubling. … Luther writes that these accounts where written to be an example for us, so that we learn to not lose Faith in the face of adversity. And that they tested, or built up, the Faith of the patriarchs and of us today.

Furthermore, this is a very common mistake that I believe most theologians commit today. That if we only can ascertain what the meaning of the text was for the original audience, then we can understand the meaning of the text. But what this type of exegeses misses, is that books are never written for the sake of the people that were present, but for the people that were not present (all Scripture is God breathed and useful for instruction.).

If we commit this common folly then we can agree with Paulson that we can never really know why bad things happened to the people in the Old Testament, which seemed to run counter to the promise that God had given them. But if we instead, with our dear Doctor Luther, ask why these things were recorded in the Scriptures: than we can answer like Luther did.”

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On Chapter 12:10. “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.”

“In this manner Abraham is tested, not to his disadvantage but for his own great good, as the following events will show. For the Lord is putting his faith to a test by this very trial, which surely was not a small one.” (289)

On Chapter 15:1 “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Fear not, Abram, I am your Shield; your reward shall be very great.”  

“Perhaps Abraham was troubled about his offspring, as his words indicate. God had promised him the land of Canaan and an eternal blessing; but since Sarah was barren, and the hope of children was almost entirely denied, he thought: “Why is it that God, who is so merciful toward you, does not give you a son? Perhaps you have offended Him, and He has changed His mind.” (9) [note that Luther uses the word perhaps here.]

On Chapter 18:12-13. “The Lord said to Abraham: Why did Sarah laugh, and say: Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son.” 

“The Holy Spirit brings up these matters in order to strengthen the faith of this saintly and chaste matron; for inasmuch as she is hampered by the thoughts of her flesh, she does not yet believe, nor is she able to hope that she will have a son from her aged husband. She is satisfied to be the mother of an adopted son, but she is altogether dead so far as the hope of conceiving and bearing a child is concerned.” (211)

On Chapter 18:19. “No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has promised him.” 

“The godly who are burdened with a cross and in various ways are hard pressed and sigh have need of promises in order to be buoyed up by them. On the other hand, those who are callous, obdurate, and smug should be frightened by the example of wrath, to the end that, as is stated in this passage, they may learn to fear God.” (221)

On Chapter 20:1. “From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.”

“Hence let us, too, learn to use this life as an inn or a lodging place for the night. If you understand Abraham’s wandering in this manner, you will not say that it was something ordinary; for it is a work of faith, and of a very fervent and strong faith at that.” (318)

On Chapter 23:22-23. “At that time Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, said to Abraham: God is with you in all that you do; Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” 

“This is a new trial. I have repeatedly stated that God leads His saints in this life in a manner so wonderful that one trial immediately follows another. But just as misfortunes impel to prayer and faith, so, when the saints are delivered, they are impelled to give thanks and to praise God’s mercy.” (73)

On Chapter 22:11. “But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said: Abraham, Abraham! And he said: Here am I.”

“By this deed, as though by some show, God wanted to point out that in His sight death is nothing but a sport and empty little bugaboo of the human race, yes, an annoyance and a trial, for example, if a father sports with his son, takes an apple away from him, and meanwhile is thinking of leaving him the entire inheritance. But this is difficult to believe; and for this reason the heathen, who have no knowledge of this will of God, which He reveals in His Word, are altogether without hope (1 Thess. 4:13).” (116)

On Chapter 26:1. “Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech, king of the Philistines.”  

“[Why do famines and other misfortunes happen?] My answer is that God sends famine, wars, pestilence, and similar disasters in the first place to try and to test the godly, in order that they may learn to maintain with assurance that they are forced to experience various difficulties and, in addition, to look for unknown and uncertain dwelling places. In the second place, He does so in order to offend and punish the ungodly.” (10)

On Chapter 26:2-5. “And the Lord appeared to him and said: Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give to your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”  

“We see that here nearly all the promises which God had given to Abraham in various places are repeated and brought together. All those promises are summed up here. For God spoke with Abraham rather often. But with Isaac He spoke barely two or three times. And this is also enough, for here, in a kind of summary, He confirms all His promises, lest the very saintly patriarch begin to have doubts about God’s will when the devil tempts him. For the devil does not cease to harass even the saintliest and most perfect men with his fiery and poisonous darts (cf. Eph. 6:16). (18)”

On Chapter 26:12-14. “And Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, and the man became rich and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household.”

“The exercises of faith are necessary for the godly; for without them their faith would grow weak and lukewarm, yes, would eventually be extinguished. But from this source they assuredly learn what faith is; and when they have been tried, they grow in the knowledge of the Son of God and become so strong and firm that they can rejoice and glory in misfortunes no less than in days of prosperity and can regard any trail at all as nothing more than a little cloud or a fog which vanishes forthwith.” (56)

On Chapter 13:2. “Now Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” 

“If there were perpetual struggles and perplexities when trials come, and no intervals of comfort, faith would be shaken. For this reason God sometimes allows us a breathing spell and assuages cares and misery with some comfort, just as we use a potion or spices to revive those who are exhausted by trouble or grief and to keep them from dying.” (325)

Who really is an “incorrigible Lutheran”?

 

+++

My Luther-Genesis-commentary-reading-friend — who as best I can tell is an incorrigible Lutheran if I ever met one (Amen!) — rightly concludes:

“From the above quotations it is beyond any doubt that Luther did give a reason for the trials and repeated promises in Scripture. And that Luther certainly followed the interpretation of Scripture which asks why these things were written down for the present audience.”

…[B]eyond Luther, Scripture certainly gives a few good reasons for why Saints are chastised. Not the least of such is original sin which causes others to inflict damage upon God’s elect and God’s elect to self-inflict themselves…

As far as the Genesis commentaries are concerned, I do not find that absolution is a key theme. The cycle of suffering and comfort is a key theme, but not [this theme Paulson suggests]. The reason why the commentaries are so long is in no way on account of absolution, but because Luther stops to do battle with the Catholics, as he does in every other writing…”

FIN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Anselm and Bozo Discuss Generational Guilt, Corporate Repentance, Restitution, and Reparations

In your town’s future? Maybe just some other kind of restitution? What to think?

 

[still not writing current posts for the blog… this one was done a good while back, and seemed good to put up sooner rather than later]

+++

Background to discussion:

In Pastor Reed Depace’s article, “A Burden Removed: A Biblical Path for Removing the Racism of Our Forefathers,” published by Thabiti Anyabwile on the Gospel Coalition website, he quotes Leviticus 26:40-42:

“But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them . . . then I will remember my covenant.”

…and asks “Is this something a congregation should consider? Should a congregation repent of the sins of their forefathers?”

Article from November of last year.

 

Depace says that when he took over a PCA congregation in Montgomery, Alabama, he and the elders felt that God was “walking contrary” to them and not blessing the congregation. This prompted a deeper look at the congregation’s history, and here he discovered the past racism of the church. For example:

“As late as 1974 our elders and deacons were still affirming their intention to not allow backs to join or attend any services at our church. Numerous other racist attitudes and decisions littered Historic First Church through the civil-rights era. In fact, these attitudes and actions only began to disappear from our records in the late-1970s…”

Could things like these be repented of? Depace goes on to make a distinction between generational guilt (there is none, per Ezekiel 18:20!) and generational corruption. Of the latter he says:

“…there are numerous warnings that God ‘visits the iniquities’ of forefathers on their descendants (Exod. 20:5; 24:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9; Lev. 26:39-41; Isa. 14:21; Isa. 65:6-7; Jer. 14:20; 32:8, and so on). The notable examples of Daniel (Dan. 9:8, ff.), Ezra (Ezra 9:6-7, ff.), and Nehemiah (Neh. 9:16, ff.), each confessing their forefathers’ iniquities, gives strong evidence that God both fulfills the warnings and the promises attached to ‘visiting the iniquities.’”

While a congregation should not be expected to repent in order to remove guilt for the sins of its forefathers, he says, for them it was important to repent in order to deal with the ongoing corruption of the community brought forth by those particular sins:

“Was repenting of these:

  • Acknowledging the wickedness of those sins,
  • Acknowledging God’s righteousness in visiting the corruption of those sins on us,
  • Trusting that in Jesus there is cleansing from the corruption of these, and
  • So confessing the sins of our forefathers,

The gospel-rooted resolution before us?”

He shares some of the ways the congregation has been blest in recent years because of the repentance of the community. For example, he mentions the following:

“Over the last few years we have been contacted by numerous former members of our church, and even some of the descendants of former members, who had all taken a stand against Historic First Church’s racism and had been driven out of the congregation for doing so. The experience of asking them to forgive the sins of our forefathers brought healing and, in some cases, a believable gospel witness from a church with a previous reputation of hypocrisy.”

Before reading the conversation between Bozo and Anselm below jumping off this article, consider reading the whole piece below.

Or, alternatively, just explore more Depace’s distinction between generational guilt and corruption in the endnote following this sentence.[i]

The full article.

P.S: In addition, note that I also touched on some of the downfalls of some kinds of corporate repentance, with some help from C.S. Lewis, in a recent sermon I did: “Woke to the World’s or the Word’s Whispers?”

+++

900 years later, they’re back!

 

Bozo:

What do you think of the article, “A Burden Removed: A Biblical Path for Removing the Racism of Our Forefathers,” that I shared with you the other day?:

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/burden-removed-biblical-path-removing-racism-forefathers/

I must say, for the most part, it strikes me as sound…. That said, do you see any problems?

Anselm:

I am reminded of the line from Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks…”

Bozo:

Anything in particular that you find really objectionable? Do you find the distinction he makes between no guilt for generational sin but the presence of generational corruption to be fallacious?

Anselm:

If an approach to the proclamation of the gospel is based upon dealing with the sins of the past, where is the line to be drawn? The sins of five years ago? Ten? Fifty? Three hundred?

While well-intentioned, I don’t see how it can ultimately be played out, for when is “full atonement” finally accomplished? When will they know they have done enough? And when will those offended concede that enough has been done and some sort of rapprochement occur…

And does it really do anything at all, except make the ones working on it feel better about themselves? So the quote from Hamlet…

The building itself, a “construct” (both architectural and theological) is a product of the past–and a stark reminder of it. Here I am reminded of feelings toward colonial architecture in Africa…

How about simply dealing with the reality of the now, and refusing to define what is the social structure at this very moment with definitions and concepts of the past?

Bozo:

Perhaps they would answer because you are being utterly and willfully naive if you deny that the past has shaped the future for better or worse. What do we believe Jesus is speaking about in Matthew 23:32 if not this kind of thing? I mean, we don’t think He is importing and imputing guilt from the past onto them: he is talking about cultural practices that are systemic and passed on, creating more sin and evil. I did not get the impression that this article was about thinking anyone’s justification should be questioned, but more about the hard realization of sanctification and the utterly new life that Jesus calls us to.

Anselm:

I don’t disagree. My concern was simply about how actually to address past sins in the “now”. For the past always shapes the now. Always! There has never been a time when it has not.

So, for example, should the ranchers in Wyoming, admitting some sort of guilt for dubious land appropriation by their grandparents from the Indians, return the land to a Sioux tribe? Or should the Sioux now, simply admit that they really are not entitled to the land? For what would the Sioux Indian say when approached with the gospel: “I am not going to enter that church until our land is returned to us?” And if the land actually were returned, would they?

And if the rancher must admit, that in order for the sins of the past to be expiated, he must give away (not sell) the land inherited from his parents, and move into town, when he had nothing to do with that appropriation, would he say: “I am never going to enter that church again!”?

The complexities here are staggering. If we approach the situation in this way…

What does this mean?!

 

Bozo:

I recently saw someone say: “In the church, let biblical social justice flow from love! In the political realm though, I’m not a SJC[hristian]. There I want to see law & order – & that driven by a compassionate protector-spirit. Justice for past wrongs? As is politically feasible. It’s a fallen world.”

I appreciate this. That said, I also want to agree with you. I think, for me, given that there must be a statute of limitations on these things when it comes to doing actual righting of wrongs with material goods and wealth (otherwise, you are right: absolute chaos), the most justice that we can often hope for in a fallen world is for the ancestors of those who have gone before us to forthrightly admit, and acknowledge those wrongs… and to make it clear that we do not want to be a part of them going forward…

But also that “no… that doesn’t mean I am going to give you back the land that was unfairly taken from you 150 years ago…That would not be fair to my children or to yours. I think you are going to have to depend on God to be the justice-maker in the end, and to give you what He thinks you deserve in the life to come based on how well you have handled these thorny matters here….”

Anselm:

I do wonder how much we can leave up to the vengeance of God. In other words, so much of what we are talking about really should be left up to God.

A common theme in Chinese theater is vengeance–lifelong, and often supra-generational vengeance. Indeed, it is a driving theme in many, many movies. Why? Vengeance means justice. But what it also means is hatred and death so often to the one seeking it. And also there is this: Once such vengeance has been achieved, and justice served, an emptiness sets in, for vengeance does not accomplish what it is hoped it actually will accomplish.

So when one generation insists on justice for a past generation’s wrongs, what they are seeking, ultimately, is not justice, but vengeance. Thus the question: If we were to take this route, would there ever be enough that could be done?

So as Christians, we could, theologically, insist on dealing with the now. Of addressing the situation as it now stands. For the fact of the matter is, if we focus on addressing the past, we can conveniently avoid dealing the present. In other words, we can ignore the situation of the person in front of us, if we rectify what happened to that person’s ancestors.

But that is, I would suggest, ultimately the realm of God.

Bozo:

I agree with what you say. It seems justice and vengeance kind of goes hand in hand. In a fallen world, part and parcel of one another.

That said, the Chinese, for all of their obsession with order and, to a large degree, natural law, are not really a Christ-informed and shaped people. They just aren’t. There are aspects of cruelty in these elite Asian cultures that would seem pretty unthinkable to us.

And what about this?: God is our Avenger as well, and I don’t think by that the Lord means to make us into Psalm 137-hungry people…

And… justice, after all, might also have a very practical dimension, as we see with the everyday things that happen in the now. Truth be told, we are often squeamish about addressing these things in the now as well: “Why not let yourself be cheated?” (I Cor. 6) Principle, or weakness?

OK Paul, but it would be nice if my brothers, my neighbors, would then fight on my behalf so that I am not cheated… driven into the ground more than I already am…

Hope this makes some sense.

So, that article again. Does it fail theologically? Or just in practice? A bit of both? Is the whole distinction about repenting of guilt vs. corruption flat-out wrong?

Anselm:

True repentance is both a sorrow for sin and the desire not to sin in such a way again. True repentance therefore eliminates corruption, i.e. culturally sanctioned sin.

But the concept of corruption is simply too politically powerful. Let’s say, for example, that I would repent of racism and try every day then not to be a racist. “That is not enough” would be the cry of the politically savvy who ultimately, somehow, want the things that I have, the position that I have, my place in society, my “power and authority” etc. So they continue:

“You are, ultimately, corrupt. That is, the culture of which you are a part and from which you cannot extricate yourself culturally sanctions sin. Therefore, even though you as an individual have repented, you are not even, ultimately, aware of the depth of your corruption, and so cannot comprehend, really, what it means to repent! Why? You do not know how to NOT be a racist! Therefore, all that you can do is to turn over your institution, your wealth, your position, to ‘us’, and you…simply…go…away.”

To a certain extent it reminds me of what happened during the communist revolution in Russia. Yes, there was rampant corruption. But it seems to have been governmental corruption obviously understood and exposed. Its existence, however, was used as an excuse to rob the wealthy of everything they owned–even those who were not corrupt.

Granted: We can talk about culturally sanctioned sin. But again, once it is recognized and exposed, then what?

Bozo:

“True repentance therefore eliminates corruption, i.e. culturally sanctioned sin.”

Agreed. At the same time, we also know that there is always more.

Of course people come to faith in Christ without repenting of all the sin they actually have. They confess the sins they know — which are more than enough to damn! — even while much more work, more need for renovation, remains. In each one of us. Luther more than most church fathers got to the heart of the matter…and by pointing out, brilliantly, how things like marriage and children shows us our sin more and more….

Is the fact that some might politically take advantage of this kind of knowledge that we increasingly come to attain — in this or that context — an excuse to not promote and nurture such repentance — such deeper awareness of sin?

Furthermore, let’s just talk about individuals here for a moment: would it be wrong for an individual to take the opportunity of another individual’s increasing awareness to make them aware of something they have done which was never really appropriately addressed, dealt with (perhaps something where a kind of restitution would be appropriate)? Must that always be seen as a bad thing people do?: “take advantage…”

I also do not want to be taken advantage of in bad and nefarious ways, and I think it is Christ-like to not want to be taken advantage of for the sake of the ones one is charged to care for and protect.

That said, I think my question above remains…. Is the fact that some might politically take advantage of this kind of knowledge that we increasingly come to attain — in this or that context — an excuse to not promote and nurture such repentance — such deeper awareness of sin?

I am not saying of the past, by the way, that I think that any people who lived in a sinful culture and did not directly confront it, either individually or corporately, are any more guilty than many of us today who lack courage and vigor as regards this or that. I think it does us well to realize that many persons may nevertheless have given more or less brave confessions of the truth, thinking, speaking, and acting in subtle ways to undermine the current situation, try to make improvements as one sees one’s self as able to do so, etc….

And I also get not wanting to promote a victimization mentality. At the same time Scripture itself seems to say that sometimes it is not altogether wrong to see yourself as a victim…:

But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

Anselm:

The chief problem with this line of thought would seem to be somehow signaling out racism as an unconscious cultural sin. For every Christian who has ever lived has confessed the sins that they know, and confessed the sins that they have learned to know, while at the same time, remained ignorant of sins that they themselves did not realize to be sins.

Indeed, if we ever became truly cognizant of the extent of the sin within us how could we continue to live? But that is another issue…

So the matter at hand is what is to be done with the sin of which we are not aware, sin specifically which was viewed to be civilly righteous at one point [i.e. not sin], but has now been exposed to be civilly unrighteous and identified actually to be sin.

Well, for the individual, he or she repents, and if possible, compensates. Here we think of Zacchaeus. Wonderful.

Corporately, we can think of the social changes within the Roman Empire which occur because of the ascendancy of Christianity. Good.

But what if someone should use the exposure of a culturally-entrenched sin for a sinful purpose, chiefly, theft? In other words, what if Jesus is preached expressly for the purpose of acquiring Zacchaeus’ wealth?

Another way of putting it: What if a Christian’s piety is used against them politically for nefarious purposes? (I think this is what happened with a seminary President I am aware of: It was assumed that since fighting his illegal firing would be viewed by him to be “unchristian” he would not fight legally, but simply go away…He fought legally, and had to demonstrate that a Christian could indeed do such a thing…)

Here lessons could be learned from Luther’s comments on the Peasants Revolt. Yes, what they did was wrong. But was their initial treatment right? Their subsequent rebellion? Their wholesale slaughter? Their imprisonment and confiscation of wealth? Were not the princes and knights using the whole matter to grab more land and authority and power?

Bozo:

Yes, all true.

One more thing regarding this question I ask though (Is the fact that some might politically take advantage of this kind of knowledge that we increasingly come to attain — in this or that context — an excuse to not promote and nurture such repentance — such deeper awareness of sin?)

What is so interesting to me is how this kind of thing could only happen in a Christian-ized culture…. No one else would stand for it for a minute…

No mercy elsewhere….

Anselm:

A subtle point but I would think it would be true. Here we need only to think of the reaction by the churches in Germany to the rise of National Socialism: Some rejected out of hand and were imprisoned and murdered. Others sought to continue with the awareness of its evil but without its renunciation. Others cooperated with it and others promoted it.

And who profited politically after the war from whatever position they had taken over against it?

Bozo:

“The chief problem with this line of thought would seem to be somehow signalling out racism as an unconscious cultural sin. For every Christian who has ever lived has confessed the sins that they know, and confessed the sins that they have learned to know, while at the same time, remained ignorant of sins that they themselves did not realize to be sins.

Indeed, if we ever became truly cognizant of the extent of the sin within us how could we continue to live? But that is another issue…”

Those last two sentences are true enough! I could not agree with them more.

And I agree with the things you said earlier about the way people will wrongly seize on the guilt and corruption of others….  At the same time, I don’t think my core question goes away….

I don’t really see what is the problem here: “The chief problem with this line of thought would seem to be somehow signalling out racism as an unconscious cultural sin…”

I get that many remained ignorant of their sins. When I said:

I am not saying of the past, by the way, that I think that any people who lived in a sinful culture and did not directly confront it, either individually or corporately, are any more guilty than many of us today who lack courage and vigor as regards this or that. I think it does us well to realize that many persons may nevertheless have given more or less brave confessions of the truth, thinking, speaking, and acting in subtle ways to undermine the current situation, try to make improvements as one sees one’s self as able to do so, etc….

I was saying that of persons who *do realize, at some level,* the unique evils of the culture of which they are a part. Certainly, many persons in the past who were genuinely Christians have not had a palpable awareness of the evils that their culture takes part in (since our suppression of our knowledge of the truth is multifaceted and can go very deep). They may have even thought, for example, that very bad things that they were doing were OK (for example, I do not think that Scripture outright condemns slavery in any case, and I am quite sure that people who were real Christians, driven largely by their economic and/or social interests, may very well have thought that it was also OK to think that certain individuals — even whole distinct groups of people! — were born to be slaves!).

At the same time, this discussion is not about those Christians who were exceptional in realizing the sins of their own unique cultures. It is about we today, who, having a different perspective, are able to see the evils of the past and to not want to have a part in the residual contamination that is still with us (in the form of false ideas about what is right and good and true and beautiful).

You seem to be saying that we cannot do this because there is a danger in being taken advantage of in a bad way. I agree there is that danger, but am really trying to find a way for us to promote awareness of all sin and sinful ideas nonetheless…

Are we at an impasse then? I hope that you do not feel like this is an uncharitable take on my part.

Let me repeat what you said above, as I think the wider context of the quote I was responding to is important:

“The chief problem with this line of thought would seem to be somehow signalling out racism as an unconscious cultural sin. For every Christian who has ever lived has confessed the sins that they know, and confessed the sins that they have learned to know, while at the same time, remained ignorant of sins that they themselves did not realize to be sins.

Indeed, if we ever became truly cognizant of the extent of the sin within us how could we continue to live? But that is another issue…

So the matter at hand is what is to be done with the sin of which we are not aware, sin specifically which was viewed to be civilly righteous at one point [i.e. not sin], but has now been exposed to be civilly unrighteous and identified actually to be sin.

Well, for the individual, he or she repents, and if possible, compensates. Here we think of Zacchaeus. Wonderful.

Corporately, we can think of the social changes within the Roman Empire which occur because of the ascendancy of Christianity. Good….

But….

The thing is, I get why the “But” is important and much needs to be spoken about here. The wider question, though, remains, and there is always that nagging thought from Paul: “Why not let yourself be taken advantage of….” I’ll tell you Paul: “….because I need to provide and protect for my kids, especially when none of them — or none of my ancestors even — were really involved in race-based chattel slavery!” That said, as regards the nation as a whole admitting this, saying it was wrong, making restitution, etc…, that is a different kind of matter (and yes, one can arguably say much restitution has already occurred…).

Thinking now though of that church — the original article… that very concrete and not-so-abstract experience. It still seems very sound to me. And I don’t think anyone is taking advantage of them either….

Anselm:

There is no impasse. For I am not saying we cannot do such a thing. I am just suggesting that the methods forwarded so far to do it fall short for various reasons. Certainly where some gesture is possible that does not cause more harm than good I am all for it. But I think such situations would be few and far between.

An example from a book I recently read. David Scaer in his memoir “Surviving the Storms” suggests that members of a class who did not receive their calls 30 years ago and had to stay in Ft. Wayne for an extra couple of months after they graduated, instead of moving, should now be compensated monetarily. Is that going to happen? It would be a political challenge of great proportion. For if it did happen, that situation would have to be revisited and guilt placed appropriately on offending parties. But at the end of the day, would it accomplish anything? Would those students feel vindicated?

No. There really is nothing that can be done except to forgive. And forget.

And not do the same thing in the future.

Bozo:

That appeals to me.

But I hesitate again… and not because I feel that this is a salvation/justification issue…. (also: just because I don’t see it as this does not mean that others, even devout Christians, might not have doubts about their salvation/justification because of things just like this!)

Back to the brass tacks. You said of the article:

“While well-intentioned, I don’t see how it can ultimately be played out, for when is “full atonement” finally accomplished? When will they know they have done enough? And when will those offended concede that enough has been done and some sort of rapprochement occur…

And does it really do anything at all, except make the ones working on it feel better about themselves? So the quote from Hamlet…”

I said:

“I did not get the impression that this article was about thinking anyone’s justification should be questioned, but more about the hard realization of sanctification and the utterly new life that Jesus calls us to.”

And you said you didn’t disagree… it really is about practical matters (very terse summary). I agree — we must at some point have a “statute of limitations” — even in the church! Otherwise, I think that we will only perpetuate a cycle of resentment, anger, and “justice” which really is more like vengeance. And which never ends! At some point, we must trust the perfect justice-maker, the one who reconciled both justice and mercy at the cross!

So… the article. I think it’s good. The time is not so long ago…. it makes sense to do this. I think what the church did is good. I also don’t think it should be taken as a one-size fits-all thing, and I think that churches and others should be wary of the ways that articles could be taken advantage of by people for less than just reasons…

Anselm:

It is good the attempt was made. Time will tell if was simply an empty gesture of no long-term significance.

After all, the church often gets caught up with gestures, actions, movements, etc., that while significant for the moment, usually die out over time. Think here about the WWJD bracelets, the Purpose Driven church, the Prayer of Jabez, etc.

And then a second problem is this: If such a movement does take hold, and becomes the central focus of a congregation, does the congregation as church, over time, disappear, being replaced with a group that promotes one idea, one ideology, one endeavor, and that’s it?

FIN

…and if you enjoyed this article, you may also want to check out T.R. Halvorson’s recent articles at Steadfast Lutherans: “Systemic Adultery and Matriphobia: Our Guilty Silence”.

This piece by him, on cultural Marxism and critical theory, is also excellent…

 

Note:

[i] “The way out of the apparent contradiction here is found in the details associated with the words visit and iniquity. Rather than overwhelm you with the breadth and depth of these details, let me summarize them. One of three words used for sin in the OT, the Hebrew word translated iniquity, is used to express sin with its results. We are most familiar with the result of culpability. Sin makes us culpable before God, accountable to him for our rebellion against his law.

Yet there is another result of sin, one that is as common as culpability, but not often focused on. In addition to culpability, sin also results in corruption. This is the spiritual pollution, the contamination factor attached to sin. It spiritually infects others. A significant part of the Mosaic ceremonial law dealt with picturing the corruption result of sin:

And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. (Lev. 16:21-22)

One of the reasons for church discipline is to protect the other members of a congregation from the corruption of the offending member’s sin:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (1 Cor. 5:6-7)

The corruption result of sin is so pervasive that there is nothing we can do to avoid it:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isa. 64:6)

The Hebrew word visiting explains how the sins of forefathers corrupt their descendants. The visiting in view is not some sort of social call, as if God were promising to drop in for milk and brownies. Instead, the word refers to a covenantal visiting: God visits on people, he gives them the experience of, the blessings or curses of his covenants to those in covenant with him, and their descendants. The fourth commandment (Exod. 20:5-6) illustrates the pattern of covenantal visiting succinctly:

“You shall not bow down to them or serve [other gods], for I the LORD your God am a jealous God:
[covenant curse] visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
[covenant blessing] but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

It is quite simple: God gives to the descendants of those in covenant with him the corruption results of their forefathers’ sins. If the culpability result of sin is personal (it only attaches to the sinning individual), then the corruption result of sin is corporate (it also attaches to those in covenant relationship with the sinning individual).

Admittedly there are many more details that show this corruption result is basic to the nature of sin. But this is nothing more than the historic understanding of the church: God curses the descendants to follow in the sinful footsteps of their forefathers, sinning in related ways.

This explains why Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah were resolute in confessing their forefathers’ sins. They knew that God had promised to forgive those sins, not their culpability, but their corruption. So, they confessed and led their congregations to confess with them. Likewise, in the letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation, Jesus advises certain congregations to repent of sins committed only by some of their members (e.g., Pergamum, Rev. 2:13-17; Thyatira, Rev. 2:18-29; Sardis, Rev. 3:1-6). While not personally culpable for the sins of the few, all the members of these congregations were corrupted by these sins. Corporate repentance, confessing the sins of others to whom they were covenantally related, was Jesus’s gospel-rooted solution.”

 

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

God’s Predestinating Purposes: He Will Accomplish What He Desires, For and In You.

“[The] word that goes out from my mouth…will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace

the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands….”
– Isaiah 55:11-12

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[sermon text]

This world, it has been said, is not our home.

True!

For this world, ultimately, is a world of death.

And with this world passing away – with the grass withering and the flower fading – how shall we then, in this time, in this place, live?

How should we help one another? Guide one another?

Love, God’s love, asks just this.

Wherever we are in life – no matter who we are! – we all have much to learn from one another….

And, going along with this, we can always understand God and His ways, His desires, better…

How eager are you, like Mary, to sit as Jesus’ feet?

To be His learner, His disciple? How appealing – how exhilarating – does that sound to you?

If not very, ask yourself “Why?!”[i]

+++

If you have been a Lutheran for a while, these verses from Isaiah are probably quite familiar to you.

Let us, however, cut right to the chase….

What is the most important aspect of this passage?

Is it that God’s word has amazing power? Or is it more that God’s goal, God’s purpose, God’s target… will be reached?

Not to take anything away from the power of God’s word – or the lovely pictures He often paints, like here in Isaiah, trees “clapping their hands” and such – but what, really, could be more important than this knowledge and wisdom the text alludes to…. understanding God’s goals and purposes?

Will that not tell us a lot about our God?

His heart?

Some might say of a movie: “I watch for tone, color, character, cinematography, themes. I couldn’t care less about the plot.”

Some treat the book God has given us in the same way….

But should not the words of Jeremiah 9 not both convict us – and raise our sights?:

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

+++

What can we learn from the Bible about the purposes of this God of Israel who speaks to us this morning through the prophet Isaiah?

Why, we learn that this God not only made the world but entered into it in human flesh.

The Son of God, the third person of the Godhead, or Trinity, “took on” human flesh…

He “tabernacled” or “tented” among us, as the majestic book of John says.

And really, the Gospels in the New Testament in general are not shy about sharing with us what the Son of God says were His reasons for coming.

He came to preach, to fulfill the law, to do His Father’s will, in His Father’s name…

Sounds about right… Makes some sense…

And yet, sometimes other things he says shock even us, His followers…

He came to divide, bring the sword separating even families… He came to blind the world… to bring fire!

At the same time, He also came for sinners…

He came to bring to bring favor, healing, and release. Love, light, and life to the full…

He came to seek and save the lost….

He came to earth to go to Jerusalem, the cross! To serve… and give His life as a ransom for many.[ii]

+++

And when we look elsewhere in the New Testament, what are some passages that stand out about God’s purposes specifically for us… His people?

Well, the Apostle Paul is really quite helpful. Many of you no doubt remember Ephesians 2:8-10 from your confirmation class. It certainly speaks to this issue:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

There is another passage, earlier in Ephesians, that is not as well known, but speaks also of these predestinating purposes of God. Right after saying we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” he says this:

With all wisdom and understanding, he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

Again, God’s purpose in Christ is to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ “when the times reach their fulfillment”. I note many people seem to want this kind of thing apart from Christ.

He then goes on, also in Ephesians:

11 In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

Now, keeping this picture in mind, the Apostle Paul also tells us throughout his writings…

  • that it is God’s will that we should be sanctified, or made holy, and that this has largely to do with avoiding sexual immorality ;
  • that we should not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind and learn to bear with one another in love… and to love one another ever more deeply, as Christ has loved us ;
  • Also that we should not grumble or complain with the result that we will “shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life”…

Now, these kinds of things – and not the spirit of the age which chases after this or that version of justice or “social justice”– that is what God’s Holy Spirit is on about.

When you think about all of this… the scope of it all… it really is quite immense and exhilarating isn’t it?[iii]

I think here also of our Epistle passage for today. All of this kind of stuff is surely in the background of the Apostle Paul’s mind when he says:

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.”

We who share in His glory….

+++

So why – why?! – do these things sometimes… perhaps often… fail to move us, fail to be compelling?

The simple and true and too easy answer is, yes, because we are sinners.

But let us dig deeper here:

We are redeemed sinners – which means we are also God’s saints by the blood of Christ Jesus!

Nevertheless, perhaps unlike Martin Luther, it is hard for us to assert, for example, that “misfortunes impels” the believer to “prayer and [greater] faith”…

For example, some might say “God could not have willed…even allowed…Covid-19! Only the devil could have done that!”

Our faith often does not seem so strong, and, we often feel quite stuck in our sinful habits, thought-patterns, and attitudes…

What can we do? How can my trust and love for God increase? How can I stop hurting those I love?

Well, I’ll address that question momentarily, but still, we should dig a bit more into our passages for this morning a bit more and see what they have to say about God’s purposes for His creation…

First, the book of Isaiah… Again, in chapter 55, we read:

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth

It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

When God is talking about His purpose here, what is He talking about?

Well here, drawing a parallel with how he cares for the earth, He is putting the focus on what He does for His people to sustain them in body and soul.

Has the sun come up another day? It is God.

Does the rain fall again on the good and wicked alike? That’s God.

Are you living, moving, and having your being in Him? Yes, you do, and will – even after you die. It’s God.

And specifically here, the wider context for this passage in Isaiah speaks of God’s everlasting kindness for His people, how though He abandoned them to their sin and enemies, He is going to redeem them again. [iv]

It also comes in the context of prophecies about John the Baptist and the Messiah, Jesus Christ.[v]

Through them God will accomplish His purposes of people from all nations inhabiting the new heavens and the earth in unity, worshipping Him!

And what of the parable of the sower, which we also read this morning?

Note that at its end, the goal is clear:

the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Has the soil of your heart been tilled and made ready so that you are convicted by God’s law?

….given faith through the glorious message of Jesus Christ?

….and baptized into His Name, that you might shout forth His praises forevermore?!

Is this the faith that you intend to remain in until the day you die?

The cause of these things, in order of their occurrence is: God, God, God, God, and God.

In each case.

+++

How can my trust and love for God increase?

We must know God more…the depths of His goodness.

We must know that for the Christian, first of all, before anything else, everything that comes to us is from God.

In this sense, we are totally passive… we’re receivers….

As the Apostle Paul says “What do we have that we have not received?”

We suffer the work of His glorious predestinating purposes!

Like Jesus said, if you want to enter the Kingdom of God you must become like a little child…

Yes, faith is something that you exercise personally – its an action that happens within us – but it is first and foremost a mysterious gift of God’s Holy Spirit to us, where the good things that God gives us in Christ are freely received….

In Ephesians 2:8-10, which we read earlier for example, which we talked about earlier, even a Christian’s response is presented in entirely passive terms, as “God both initiates and completes the entire process of salvation according to the Word of God” (Nordling, Philemon, 134)!

This is what God does! He has prepared it all and He means to do it all!

Really? Yes. Many of you know that our family recently had a baby. Therefore, I was really interested this past week to read this from a pastor I follow on the internet:

“…it’s still a bit of a shock to witness the utter helplessness and tiny frailty of a newborn. Even the largest of babies are completely unable to do anything for themselves. Someone has to do absolutely everything for an infant — feeding, clothing, cleaning, holding, rocking, soothing — every day, 24/7. Otherwise, the fact of the matter is brutally simple, the child will die.

And infants do have a sense of that. Call it “instinct,” or better yet, the gracious design of God, the Creator. But a newborn infant will automatically search for his or her mother’s milk. And a newborn infant will quickly respond with recognition to the voices and presence of Mom and Dad. A newborn infant rightly clings for dear life to the parents whom God the Lord has provided.

That is where you also stand in relation to the Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth. That is the case for every man, woman, and child, whether they acknowledge Him or not…”

When it comes to our being made right before Him, when it to being able to stand before Hi, God creates cooperation in us like children.

His will is done.

+++

And, again, things like this don’t stop there!

As with a baby, everything continues, at bottom, to be about the passive reception of God’s gifts.

At the same time though, as we grow in faith, as we still talk about how we receive everything from God, we also certainly become more knowledgeable of just Who He is, of our identity as His child, and hence also more convicted of the truth in our conscience and more conscious and deliberate in our actions…

The Apostle Peter hints at this when he exhorts: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

And here, a passage like Psalm 42:1 is especially helpful: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.”

One popular Bible teacher put it:

“The psalmist is not referring to the way some people read the Bible as a curiosity or as ancient literature. He’s not talking about perusing the Bible for intellectual stimulation or gathering ammunition to win an argument. This is studying Scripture eagerly and earnestly, hungry to extract all of the nourishment we so desperately need out of the Word.”[vi]

Exactly! How deep is our need!

Please note – none of this increasing activity on our part, this action on our part, even this effort on our part, takes anything away from the foundation of faith and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness, life and salvation!

Everything goes hand in hand!

What, after all, is prayer? You may have heard some Christians talk about “prayer warriors,” emphasizing a certain person’s qualities, but is that kind of a focus really helpful at all?

Prayer, after all, isn’t really something that glorifies or draws attention to the person praying (or at least it shouldn’t be) Instead it, magnifying God, is about thankfulness and praise.

And it is surely about dependence, even a sign of our ongoing helplessness…

And prayer is that which both exercises and increases trust.

And then loyalty. Love

…a love growing stronger all the time.

Love which is fueled by an increasing faith… an increasing knowledge of God and His ways, through the Word of God, the Scriptures….[vii]

Hence, the Apostle Paul, at the end of his letter to the Thessalonians, can’t help but excitedly state:

16 Rejoice evermore.

17 Pray without ceasing [like breath!]

18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

And, just a few verses later, Paul reminds us that God is indeed the One working in us:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”

And so we cry “Abba,[b] Father.”

+++

So again, this is what things should look like for us, here, in this place, when it comes to the parable of the sower.

The promise of good fruit!:

“…the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

All that said, when hearing this parable of the sower perhaps some are tempted to wonder:

“Well… the other seeds don’t fare so well. Does this mean that those in the parable of the sower who don’t believe… maybe me… are forever doomed to eternal damnation?

And if they end up in unbelief and condemnation – just as so many seeds failed in the parable of the sower! – if God’s word always accomplishes its purpose, shouldn’t we assume that God means for this to happen? That such destruction is His purpose?

After all….

-Proverbs 16:4 says: The Lord works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster.

-Jeremiah 10:23 says: Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own;it is not for them to direct their steps.

-I Kings 12:15 says: “So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the Lord, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.”

May it never be!

We shouldn’t read the text, these texts, in such a way…

These texts are meant to assure the Christian that God is in control even as they also will terrify the unbeliever that God is not under his control….

Udo Middelmann can help us here as we think more carefully about God’s will:

“God rejoices over good choices made on earth. He gives conditional promises to people and grieves or rejoices over the outcome (2 Samuel 7:1ff. and 2 Chronicles 7:17ff.). He makes the promise of the land, yet the journey took an extra forty years because of the unbelief by the exodus generation (Numbers 14:20-33). God knows what will happen to David if he remains in the city of Keilah and can tell him that. But God also knows that David will choose to flee when he hears what God tells him will happen (I Samuel 23:7ff.). God can announce to Jonah that Nineveh will be destroyed because of its sin. When the inhabitants of that great city repent, which Jonah in a sense had feared they might do when they would hear of the impending judgment, the destruction never falls. One might also wonder what would have happened to Sodom if Abraham had pled for the five righteous people in the city and not stopped after interceding for ten.[viii]

Pray that God’s seed would fall on good ground!

Pray that the Lord would not let Satan to snatch seed away!

Pray that His watchmen would watch and warn as they should!

No one should even think to say: “I guess God hasn’t predestined me….”

Or especially accuse Him of the same!

Just because men – sometimes even His most devoted servants! – turn aside from God’s desires… does not mean He doesn’t earnestly desire to save all men by Christ’s blood!

Again, God desires all persons to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Even if hearts rebel against such love…

+++

In like fashion, there is another massive temptation Christians face as well…

Sometimes we think of God’s will in too wooden a fashion.

For example, regarding God’s desire to be gracious a pastor I know on Facebook recently said:

“You can never out-sin God’s grace.”

But that sure doesn’t stop a lot of people from trying.”

Hah.

Yes, it is God’s will to be gracious!

Yes, it is God’s will for pastors to always preach grace, and to always absolve those who make a good confession!

Still, such a blanket statement — with no context at all! — isn’t helpful….

Tell that to Judas, after all….  Who was left without absolution and God’s peace in this world…

And we can also be too wooden regarding God’s will when it comes to thinking about His law. 

I recently read a post from a popular blogger, a recent Christian convert, who was writing about marriage. He said of a future potential spouse:

“If God wills it, and she is someone who I believe will deepen my faith instead of obstruct it, I would marry her, in spite of the countless material obstacles and detriments of doing so, because even if that marriage doesn’t work, and I lose my children and all of my money in a divorce, I know that that too is part of God’s will.

What is he saying?

He thinks that if the marriage “doesn’t work” this will all just somehow be God’s will, in a very uncomplicated fashion.

This, however, is completely confused.

God certainly can use evil for good – and something like the crucifixion was of course in the cards from before the beginning of creation — but does God ever desire Christians to divorce?

No – that is never something that He wants. “Plan B” shouldn’t exist. Even if, yes, He allows for it in some circumstances on the one hand, and can use evil for good on the other…[ix]

So what this blogger is doing in effect is completely denying the personal responsibility and agency of Christians.

Whatever happens is meant to happen…

Or like a man named Alexander Pope said“whatever is, is right.”

No…

There is a real lack of maturity here….

He’s an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and so perhaps what I once heard another E. Orthodox preacher say might speak to him: “God, do not let my neighbor perish because of me, a sinner…”

Or, maybe Paul gets more helpfully to the brutal point by what he says to God’s chosen people in the book of Romans: “[T]he Word of God is blasphemed among the nations because of you….”

And:

“Don’t be a stumbling block…”

We can even do good and right things for the worst of reasons.

We can speak the truth, but not in love…

All of this is sad but true, and points to our need to better know our God…

+++

Now, please don’t misunderstand me this morning.

If we believe in Jesus Christ, there is a sense in which God’s will has been fully done.

We call sin “sin” and call grace “grace” and are justified before God in Jesus Christ!

In Him we already have everything we need! And we have peace with God even though the world and perhaps our own brothers and sisters might rage against us… this peace can’t be taken away!

Get behind us Satan!

We are baptized.

We are His.

At the same time, insofar as we are sinners, our faith will always be challenged by our old man, and hence, there will always be a sense in which God’s will is *not* done.

Oh, God can use even our not doing His will in His will….but we have nevertheless missed the target, or at the very least have not hit it as well as we might have….

It is true that God has good works set up for us to do, as Ephesians 2:10 assures us.

All that said, we should not think for a moment that God has also not allowed there to be room for us, by the grace given to us in His Holy Spirit, to exercise personal responsibility, agency, effort….

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to need – to put it mildly, to ask for a lot of God’s help so as not to grumble and complain…

Still, should we think that we don’t have any choice? Maybe that’s just been ordained and there is no choice at all….

Well, I’ll say this too. In I Cor. Chapter 7, the Apostle Paul says this:

It is good to marry, but for those who have the gift of celibacy – very few – that it is good for them to exercise that gift: “he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better….”

+++

So, let’s tie things up…

In whatever we do… in our individual callings where we “do everything for the glory of God” or simply in our efforts to imitate Christ, who walked in the Law of God by the Spirit…

Our life is “organized around the forgiveness of sins” as one man said….

Whenever we go to God whom we will continue to know better — even if not directly for forgiveness — this is what we come to experience again and again and again…

What we are reminded of, this side of heaven, is forgiveness of sins is the heartbeat of it all…

God longs to forgive us and all of our neighbors.

Luther talked about us being “little Christs”…

Like little children, they imitate their Lord!

And because Jesus Christ is the Christian’s Savior from sin, death, and the devil, he or she also desires Him as their example….

It is a simple matter, really. The young child imitates the parents who have given her identity, security, belonging.

Love.

We love because He first loved us.

Think about chicks and imprinting…. And also this hymn:

“On my heart imprint your image

Blessed Jesus King of Grace

That life’s riches, cares and pleasure

Never may your work erase.

Let the clear inscription be

Jesus crucified for me

Is my Life, my hope’s Foundation

And my Glory and Salvation….

And so we depend on Him in prayer…

And we forgive as Christ forgives…

And the hills will sing!

…And the trees will clap their hands in joy![x]

+++

So rejoice: God has chosen to use you as His “little Christ” to your neighbor.

You are His adopted child, His representative, You are His ambassador!

Don’t every say “what is, is right” but rather… “As God gives me strength, I will make things right…”

Choose good over evil, and increasingly – as God gives you the will and the strength – choose the better over the good…

After all it is not that Martha – remember Mary and Martha? – was sinning in what she had done, but Mary chose the better thing….

And let me just make sure this is clear too:

This is not about getting closer to God – there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more than He does, really…

Rather, it is about knowing Him and His purposes even better… to the utter core of our being!

+++

Now I’ve found in my life Lutherans sometimes don’t talk this way, so I just want to say a few more things… (I know this has been long)

But if you are feeling gung-ho right now about all the things you want to do, just know this: we are not going to make Jesus come back sooner….

There is no way that we are going to make the wedding feast and consummation we long for is going to come by our getting busy…

Nevertheless again, it is a good thing to know Him and His ways better!

It is good to want to be used by Him at all times!

It is good to realize that whatever your experiences – good or evil – suffering or elation – that “all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose”!

It is good to want a deep “love for the lost”, as the Evangelicals say – all of whom Christ desires to save!

It is good to believe that there is nothing too small to pray for, and that God is intimately involved in every detail of your life.

It is good to want to run the way of His commandments, “stand in the gap”, see Him working in all things, and desiring to “be His man” – or His woman!

It is good to want to be “all there” with Him at all places and all times! (again, fixated on showing love towards the neighbor!)

It is good to dream about being a soldier of God like Moses, Elijah, Mary, Peter, or Martin Luther – and to be open to God’s using you in this or that way if He so desires (and, also importantly, to be able to be content if He does not)!

It is good to say, as a Christian rock group when I was young, sung years ago: “I am available”!

There is nothing wrong with any of that![xi]

At any age!

It is the pagan gods, not the Christian God, who refuse to be lovingly involved in our lives, much less every step of the way.

So never, ever – in the interest of promoting “sanctified common sense” (which we should) – think that it is pious to assert that “God has no plan for your life!” (“Just follow the 10 commandments”)

Don’t take statements like that seriously. Rather….

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

And, even as we can say all of this about the importance of knowing His purposes and goals – to be sure!…

We simultaneously take nothing away from the power of God’s word here either: that it is living and active and “penetrat[ing] even to divid[e] soul and spirit, joints and marrow… judg[ing] the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” as Hebrews says.

And one more word on that from the Apostle Paul, from the book of I Thessalonians, chapter 2:

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”

Sit at Jesus’ feet. Again and again.

He loves you… He loves you that much (point to the crucifix).

Amen

 

 

[i] As the book of Isaiah reminds us, after all, it is we, not God, who need this help:

“Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:14)

[ii] Purposes!:

Fulfill law! 2 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come…
Bring favor, healing, release! The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
Preach! Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.
Bring love! For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life…
For sick sinners! It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In Father’s name! I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.
Father’s will! For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
Blind the world! For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.
To Jerusalem! As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem
Bring [full] life! The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Bring fire! I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Divide! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.
Bring sword! Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–…
Seek and save lost! The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Serve! Be ransom for many! the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many…
To the cross! Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour….
Bring light! I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world…
Bring truth! “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

 

[iii] As God has loved us in Jesus Christ, may this memory always be solidified… may this story never grow old… may this narrative never be displaced or replaced in our hearts and minds!

[iv] See, e.g. Isaiah 40:3, 57:14, Isaiah 54:

“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.

[v] See, e.g., Isaiah 40:3, 57:4 (John the Baptist) ; also 53 and 61.

[vi] More context from Jon MacArthur:

How strong should that affection be? Peter put it this way: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Spiritual growth comes when we know the Word, when it shapes our convictions, and when we learn to long for the sustenance it alone can provide.

Psalm 42:1 says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” The psalmist is not referring to the way some people read the Bible as a curiosity or as ancient literature. He’s not talking about perusing the Bible for intellectual stimulation or gathering ammunition to win an argument. This is studying Scripture eagerly and earnestly, hungry to extract all of the nourishment we so desperately need out of the Word.

The Word of God is our spiritual sustenance. May we have the same solitary longing for it that a baby has for milk—because by it, we are conformed to the image of Christ, who sanctified Himself for us. The Word reveals Christ to us, and the Word transforms us into His likeness. We are reminded of what our Savior repeated three times in the upper room—that He would send us the Holy Spirit. We know that sanctification is a divine work through the Word by the Spirit of truth. So, we must plead with the Spirit that He would mold and shape us into the image of Christ, through the truth, from one level of glory to the next. As the Apostle Paul explains, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

[viii] Udo W. Middelmann, The Innocence of God (Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2007), 115-116.

[ix] It is very interesting how Isaiah 53 talks about some who consider the prophesied Messiah as being one who is punished by God, which the passage goes on to confirm in a way, but not in the way perceived by the unbelieving:

“….yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”

[x] For who are we again? This is also from the Psalm for the day:

When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave[c] our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.”

They give the forgiveness that He has won…

And they bring hope and life and peace to the world!

Joy!!!

who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

[xi] And God’s plan does include key persons – including some very key persons – who are prominent in working out His will (where he indeed had some kind of a “blueprint” for them from the beginning)

 

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Endorsement of My Article Dealing with Racial Issues from a Student

 

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[rare summer post]

I really do think that the topic of race relations is generally not helped by the way most people concerned about the matter approach it.

As fallen human beings, we often like to think ourselves quite self-sufficient. Confident we are able to overcome the problems we have, we charge into them headlong, full of righteous conviction, and in doing so easily exacerbate the divides that we feel exist, and in some cases really do exist… between us.

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Yes, I have this problem too.

That said, I did my best to write a paper that I thought really could bridge divides, and create more light than heat. I talked about the paper, published in the journal Lutheran Mission Matters in this blog post, and you can read it here.

 

 

I recently shared this paper with a student of a mixed-racial background who read it, and here is what she said to me (this and other correspondence below shared with permission):  

Thank you so much for sharing the paper with me, I truly did enjoy it and must say that it was indeed a helpful paper. Sometimes it can be difficult to get things across to certain family members of mine as they cannot picture themselves in my shoes. They live in a small town where everyone looks like everyone so I can see why they may have such a negative mindset on certain topics but I want to change that. I would love to share this paper with them in hopes to help them understand the importance of reaching out and loving minority communities. They are very religious and me not being as religious as I used to be, they sometimes try to use the word of God against me and I struggle thinking of things to say back. This paper speaks their language and spoke to me in a way I could understand. I am so thankful for this class as it is bringing me closer to God and will hopefully bring me closer to my family and make difficult conversations with them easier.

Update: Later on, she shared this: “Thank you so much for listening to my words and voicing them. I have shared this article with a few family members and the outcome was positive. I am so thankful that this article has given me a starting point to further discuss these topics with my family.”

Now, this student lives in the area of Minneapolis that was affected by the recent George Floyd situation. Here is what this student had said to me before I shared this paper:

“I think the topic of suffering we are discussing has really described my life lately. I’d say I am mentally suffering from the many conversations I find myself having with both family members, co workers and even some friends describing the events and protests that have been happening these past weeks. Being half white and black, I have had to confront many white family members. It sucks honestly, constantly seeing them post that they do not understand the protests and the “black lives matter” movement. I have seen so many posts about people being upset about George Floyd being able to have a funeral, him being held a hero and the changes being made to the MPLS police department. To top it off, a family member today posted that real Christians would not hop onto the BLM “bandwagon”. Bandwagon? Are you kidding?

I’m hurt. I’m confused. I do not really have any place to vent. Because I am biracial, my whiteness often causes my experiences to be invalid to some people. I really hate seeing family members post things like this because I love them so much but having a son of my own now who is biracial as well, I will cut ties. I do not want him to grow up hating a part of him like I did.”

Here is how I responded:

“yyy,

It is a hard time for a lot of people right now. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know what to say, but I feel I need to be honest too. It looks to me like George Floyd was killed unjustly and I saw all the people on the right and even “far right” (according to the media) condemn the killing as unjust. So why could people not be brought *together* through this? Instead, it seems like many used the situation for political gain (I am not talking about the peaceful protestors). I think the issue is that a lot of people who are white (my ancestors, by the way, came to America after the civil war and were German and Finnish, so immigrants) are confused about why they are being told they are white supremacists. Also, when they hear “Black lives matter,” they think “Don’t you believe I think that is true? Of course I believe that.” When they also find out that the BLM website says this:

-We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.

-We dismantle the patriarchal practice…

-We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.

– We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual.

…or at least did (I don’t know if it has been taken down now, but that *is* at least what it said)…

They are confused about why someone needs to support BLM in order to be pro-black. Or how Christians can be expected to support such an organization.

I have studied the issue quite a bit, and I wrote a paper addressing racial issues. I wonder, yyy, if you might do me the honor of reading it and sharing your honest opinion with me. I tried to write it to be helpful, to offer a constructive way forward: https://lsfm.global/uploads/files/LMM%2011-19__Rinne.pdf

yyy, if you don’t have time to read it, or time to read it and talk with me more, I get it. I don’t want to exhaust you too, and I’m sorry to hear you have had a bad couple weeks. *Thank you* for being honest and reaching out to me, even if you regret it now (I certainly hope not). Know in your heart that I look so forward to this!:

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands….

–Revelation 7″

UPDATE:

I have been watching the presentations at the 2018 MLK 50 conference from the Gospel Coalition. Most of the talks I have not found to be terribly helpful, but this short 10-minute one really stands out, I think. It certainly spoke to me.

Would that we might hear more messages like this when it comes to this fraught and terribly difficult topic:

Click on the picture

 

UPDATE 2: This is also an excellent new article dealing with related issues.

FIN

 

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Woke to the World’s or the Word’s Whispers?

 

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When I said I wouldn’t be posting here again this summer I wasn’t planning on preaching again for a while… This is a sermon text, preached today.

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“What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. – Matthew 10:27

 

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It’s good to be back with you today for what might possibly be my last time with you.

I jest – I think – but there are difficult things happening in the world we know right now, and I am going to address many of those questions…

I can’t think of another day where it has been more challenging to compose a sermon…

After all, today you are back together for the first time in a long time! In many ways, this is cause for celebration – is it not?

And yet, we also know that we come together as the world is experiencing great difficulty and pain.

We don’t want to be those who bury our heads in the sand for relief, but those who look everything in the eye, acknowledge the difficulties and challenges we face, and don’t say “peace, peace” where there is no peace…

…And nevertheless…

Come out of all of this stronger.

For when we are weak then the Lord’s strength shines forth – and we have the joy and peace that passes all understanding…

So, I am going to speak very freely about many a difficult and controversial topic today….

Just like our Scripture readings for today do! Did you hear those readings?

Man.

Let us always remember, as Jesus tells us, we live from every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

And false teaching kills souls. And not only this, but as a note in the Lutheran Study Bible puts it: “False doctrine about the relationship between God and His people inevitably undermines social stability” (1222).

Mere possession of God’s word cannot save a people. Especially when so many teachers misrepresent it. We must know this Word well!…

I know some of you will likely very much appreciate what I have to say today, others not as much. Either way, I hope that it might open up doors to speak, to learn, and to grow as God desires us to grow….

+++

Paul says: “…you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance….

What claims your allegiance? What is allegiance?

A definition I found: “loyalty or commitment of a subordinate to a superior or of an individual to a group or cause.”

When I was young, I said: “I pledge allegiance, to the flag of the United States of America…”  Many people now, many Christians are saying this is bad…. Idolatry.

It’s not…

It’s disheartening for me to see the confusion from so many Christians about questions of God’s judgment, authority, and matters of nation… who we are as Americans.

No, we can’t have complete answers to the questions people have. At the same time, we should be able to speak to them with some level of conviction….

We listen and we have something to say.

And the Bible really does help us think through all the difficult questions…

The Bible is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ, and so, when we know it well… when its content increasingly occupies our hearts and minds – not only for an hour on Sunday or even a few hours during the week – we come to be the kind of people who know what God expects of them, and whose heart becomes in line with His….

We become more like Jesus.

And, I think, it is when times are hardest, when times are darkest, that not only we – but others – are more ready for the message and transformation that God has in store for us….

When Rome was collapsing around him, the 6th century church Father Gregory the Great had some wise words:

“If someone’s house were shaken and threatened with ruin, whoever lived in it would flee. The one who loved it when it was standing would hasten to leave it as soon as possible when it was falling. Therefore, if the world is falling, and we embrace it by loving it, we are choosing rather to be overwhelmed than to live in it.[i]

The Scriptures say “God so loved the world” and yet also “Love not the world…” or, “Don’t love the world…”

What does this mean? For us today?

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First, Covid-19

What to make of this? Why must we face the threat of disease? Or why must we face any disaster or evil of men?

Throughout the Bible, the explanations of such things vary. Sometimes the disaster comes specifically because of the evil of human beings as punishment in this world.

But Job actually faced suffering not because of any sin, but because God wanted to test his faith.

The man born blind in John 9 was said to have suffered not because of his own sin or his parent’s sin, but specifically so God could be glorified through Jesus’ healing him, doing good to him.

We are told, after all, that our Lord even uses evil for good. Adam and Eve, and we following in their train, may ruin the world, but he will use even the evil we create for His glory.

In any case, whenever suffering and disaster comes, it does us well to remember how Jesus used a “current event” in his preaching in Luke 13:

“…those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

As one pastor, puts it, this means,

“You’re all sinners. You’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. And whenever some kind of pandemic sweeps through the world, you should each see this as a reminder that we live in a world of sin and corruption, that you are a part of that sin and corruption, and that you need the forgiveness of Jesus that was poured out for the world on the cross.” (Hans Fienne

And because we continue to receive the forgiveness of sins that gives us eternal life in Him, our Psalm for today will be fulfilled

“You will not fear… the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.”

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Now, speaking of using current events in one’s proclamation… Let’s talk about politics.

We are to support and be loyal to our leaders. To our mayors, our governors, our President.

It doesn’t matter who’s in office, and it doesn’t matter if you think that he or she is not a person who represents what “we” stand for.

If you think that, then you are to go about expressing your disagreement in the most respectful — even if uncompromising — way possible, without intending to weaken the authority and legitimacy of our elected leaders.

If you disagree, read Romans chapter 13. If you don’t like the Mayor, the Governor, the President – fair enough — aim to beat the best version of that person at the ballot box.

We used to call it being the “loyal opposition.”

You also should remember to be respectful of governing authorities when you try to do something like reform the process of law and order in our country, for example.

And it might help to keep in mind Martin Luther’s good words:

“…I do not mean to say that we should despise, reject, or do away with soldiers, fighting men…They too, when they are obedient, help with their fist to maintain peace and protect things. Every occupation has its own honor before God…”

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Another question you might be struggling with right now is this:

“Who is my neighbor?”

I mean, “yes”, it is the whole world. And Jesus, whose got the whole world in His hands, says I am even to love my enemies, right?

Right.

On the other hand, you must dig deep into the Scriptural text and learn to become more familiar with the particularities addressed there. Yes, to be more “nuanced”. Look, after all, at what the Apostle Paul says…

“… as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers….”

The Christian is to love all, but we nevertheless must also ask: how to prioritize my love, i.e. to be concrete when it comes to “doing good to all…”?

“Who are my people?” is indeed the key question.

Answer: 1. God alone 2. The future heavenly Nation, the Church 3. My family/tribe 4. My immediate neighbors in my proximity 5. My town/city 6. My country 7. The world – including anyone God throws in my path personally.

Ideally, all of these things work together. In reality, we will always have to be wrestling with this: what does “as we have opportunity” mean in this or that circumstance?

Certainly, for example, the Good Samaritan is justly commended for his compassion – as unexpected as his actions may have been….

Should we however, encourage the father and mother who take a 20-year-old migrant male into their home with their 3 teenage daughters?

So, difficult decisions – including some we may possibly come to regret – need to be made. And we should not be too quick to think we have all the answers.

When I hear that even conservative biblical commentators are saying that even our Lord Jesus Christ learned from the Canaanite woman to stop being racist towards his neighbors after calling her a dog…

I might want to think twice about what is driving a lot of Scriptural interpretation today…

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So, what about the racial conflicts in America? How does this fit in with the neighbor question?

When we say “African-Americans” how much does this hyphenation really help us? After all, aspects of the cultures they brought with them — and formed while they were slaves — have undoubtedly been woven into the fabric of this nation for its good — in a myriad of ways. Think only of many of the hymns we sing…

And yet, please note that in order to be supportive of your black Christian brothers and sisters in particular and American blacks in general, you do not need to say the following:

-We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.

-We dismantle the patriarchal practice…

-We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.

– We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual.

In other words, you do not need to support – you should not support — the organization known as “Black Lives Matter.”[ii]

And, going along with this, I hope it goes without saying that you should not support “drag queen story hour” in public libraries or “sex ed” in public schools which leaves the impression that those who are opposed to homosexual activity or believe there are only two genders are bigots. Bigots driven by, as the Supreme Court of the United States of America puts it, “an irrational animus…”

Frankly, we would all be fools to not ever wonder whether or not God is going to judge and destroy the United States of America for its sins, even as we also should love our country

Even as we should also remember our ultimate citizenship is in heaven…

That is what should ultimately drive us here…

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Next, and the most difficult, part:

And is “systemic racism” one of those sins God might be judging us for? What are we supposed to make of the claims we hear now of systemic racism or a system of white supremacy?

These words might be new to many of us. An article I recently read helped explain these concepts a bit:

“Structural, systemic, systematically — we’re hearing these words a lot at the moment. Racism isn’t individual. It is structural or systemic. So are poverty or injustice. People aren’t just oppressed or tortured; they are systematically oppressed or tortured.

This… language… comes from Marxist academia and the Black Power activism of the 1960s, and it evokes the radicalism of that time, which is generally now regarded as having been on ‘the right side’ of history. These words are also helpfully vague — nobody knows precisely what they mean — which means you can stress them without being contradicted. You can also feel righteous without quite knowing why. It’s lazy speech, in other words, which makes it stupid. Or perhaps it’s the other way round. Language, Orwell told us, becomes ‘ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.’”

While this man is right, I would also just point out that people like Karl Marx would have never had the appeal they did had they not had lots of rich material to work with, pun intended.

Even as we must indeed say “thought shalt not steal,” and “though shalt not covet,” we also should always say, simultaneously, “God hates false scales” and “the worker deserves his [fair] wages”. The author goes on to say:

“Still, if we don’t know precisely why social wrongs are ‘systemic’, we get the gist. It means there is a system, a machine, built by the powerful, which perpetuates injustice. A system that benefits the powerful and crushes the powerless. On race, therefore, we are led to believe that every aspect of society — politics, education, capitalism, even our language — is designed to enhance white supremacy….”

Now, I don’t think that the idea of something being systemic is necessarily wrong by itself: it can and does point to real things. For example, I think that in many inner-city communities, violence is systemic. I think that the idea that is OK for a single mother to take the life of her unborn infant is systemic, and consciously promoted. I think the idea that it’s not a bad thing for a couple to live together, being involved in sexual activity before marriage, is systemic. And the idea that black people were intrinsically inferior — and hence of less worth — was systemic in the civil war south and even in many areas during the Jim Crowe era.

So what systemic means is that it is the water that we swim in.

And the idea here, of course, is that many are not even aware of this: a fish is not even really aware of the water it swims in just like we take for granted the air we breathe.

We as Christians should be particularly aware that this is the case.

As Christians come to realize they are going or are to go “against the flow” they can certainly say — without moping and whining though often not without receiving that accusation! : ) — that an anti-Christian sentiment in the United States at large is increasingly systemic.

And yet, is hatred or disdain for the other on the basis of race systemic? Is the belief that some groups are intrinsically inferior and hence not worthy or “our” communities systemic? At least in this or that place?

Certainly, if this were clearly is the case, it would make sense to repent of our role in it individually and even as a community.[iii]

Now, with that said, consider also what the author I quoted above goes on to say:

“[A]ll this ‘systemic’ talk isn’t just wrong; it is dishonest. Because western society isn’t systemically racist. If anything, it is systemically woke. Our political institutions, our schools and colleges, our corporations are all geared towards destroying racism. Students in schools and universities aren’t brainwashed into thinking that racism isn’t a problem. On the contrary, almost everybody who has been educated since the 1970s has been relentlessly taught to abhor racial prejudice. Our workplaces are run along politically correct lines. Our language is policed, in case it might incite racial hatred. The machine, or what those Sixties radicals would have called ‘the Man’, is anti-racist.”

And some of course, are saying it is not anti-racist enough…

It is a lot to take in.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, be as wise as a serpent even as you are as innocent as doves.

Does it not seem, after all, that we are quite far from the idea of judging each individual by the “content of their character” here? If that thought was incomplete, just what completes it?

So, what to think – what to believe – here? Who to trust? Whose experiences to trust? Whose experiences to take as the norm for all?

What errors do we have and how should we turn from them?

Do we, perhaps feeling the world’s spirit, really need to get “woke” as they say? Maybe just “more woke”?

Or do we ultimately need to become less woke to the world and more woke to the Word?

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The Lord certainly does call us as His people to perpetually repent. It’s the first of Luther’s 95 theses, and as his friend Philip Melanchthon put it, “faith lives only in repentance”.

Notions like corporate repentance – in the church or in the nation – even make sense from a Biblical perspective.

But does it make sense to repent of things that I am not sure I am guilty of? Or sure that we are guilty of?

Perhaps when I feel pressured to do so socially or perhaps am moved by emotional stories and appeals? (perhaps without other perspectives even being allowed to be heard?)

Some sincere questions I am sure I’ll be asking in the future:

When is it wise to let past evils lie, rather than drudging them up again?

Besides turning away from God in general, what specific sins do we need to repent of?

And are we ready for the difficulties entailed in corporate repentance, especially if some want to insist on a “multi-cultural” society?

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C.S. Lewis has some real wisdom to share here. Recently a pastor by the name of Will Weedon explained why he was getting off social media on the internet

“I remember reading Lewis describing why he didn’t bother with newspapers and such: it only made him feel guilty or helpless over situations he could do absolutely nothing about, and invited him to neglect the neighbor who was right at hand.”

Indeed.

That not bothering with newspapers though did not stop C.S. Lewis from writing a letter to the editor of the British paper the Guardian about the angst that was being stirred up in England during World War 2 over the nation’s past sins and guilt — and her need for national repentance.

Here are some of the things he said which might help us think through our present circumstances[iv]:

“The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbour; for a Foreign Secretary or a Cabinet Minister is certainly a neighbour. And repentance presupposes condemnation. The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing but, first, of denouncing the conduct of others…

“A group of… young penitents will say, ‘Let us repent our national sins’; what they mean is, ‘Let us attribute to our neighbour (even our Christian neighbour) in the Cabinet, [the Foreign Secretary or a Cabinet Minister], whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.’[v]

Words to ponder. Lewis also adds:

“In art, in literature, in politics, [an educated man who is now in his twenties] has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry and restless minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen. All Christians know that they must forgive their enemies. But ‘my enemy’ primarily means the man whom I am really tempted to hate and traduce. If you listen to young Christian intellectuals talking, you will soon find out who their real enemy is. He seems to have two names—Colonel Blimp* and the business-man’. I suspect that the latter usually means the speaker’s father, but that is speculation. What is certain is that in asking such people to forgive the Germans and Russians and to open their eyes to the sins of England, you are asking them, not to mortify, but to indulge, their ruling passion.

… For an older patriot to repent of England’s sin, there is a price to pay because the patriot truly loves England. It is painful for him to repent; it requires mortification of the flesh to do so. But young, urban intellectuals at the height of social conversation in WWII have different cultural feelings.”

This world, for all its problems, is not wholly ignorant of its many problems….

People get that things are “not the way they are supposed to be”. People get that apologies and restitution are sometimes necessary.

And yet…

The world and its spirit will, apart from Christ, get repentance wrong….

It is a good thing we are Christians first, and Americans second…

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And… it is a good thing that God has given us His Word though to help us through it all.

For, admittedly, these things are not easy to understand. They demand so much of us![vi]

Again, the Apostle Paul says in one of our readings for today: “you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance….”

What has claimed your allegiance?

Your Lord.

Do not doubt His love. “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Do we even begin to understand the love and patience of our God?

Do we realize that even Christians – those who trust in Jesus Christ alone and would never consider giving honor and glory to another god – have sins – damnable sins! – that they are unaware of?

Sins that while equally warranting condemnation are more or less dangerous when it comes to killing men’s souls…

On the one hand, things like suspicions leading to sophisticated accusations of “systemic” kinds of evil (passed off quickly and made with little reflection… based, in the end, on no real knowledge).

…or, on the other hand, things like base passions combined with clique-ish-ness intentional and unintentional – leading to snobbery, ignorant prejudices, or worse.[vii]

His blood covers us from all our sin, and yet, the rot of our Old Adam goes deep.

O God have mercy on us again! — for our love is so often the world’s kind of love, and not Yours…

But God will reveal this to you in such a way that He will not utterly destroy you while doing it [viii], for He longs to show you mercy, be with you, treasure you…

He longs to never have to weep as He cuts His people off

Not one.

Return always! Be humbled always! Be sure always! Be saved always!

Jesus’ words “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” should terrify some, but not us!

For He is a God of patience, forgiveness, and the One Who has the power to transform!

And so… we are a people of patience.

People who listen as well as speak. People who keep loving and therefore talking. People never eager to cut anyone off…

People who are driven by love and forbearance… patient with those mired in error – perhaps what some have called “invincible ignorance”! – even as they still seem to be desperate for Jesus… to cling to Jesus!

For who are you?

Again, you are those who “have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance….”, are you not?

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Master, Commander, and King.

Amen.

 

Notes:

[i] I was sent this quote from the great Christian preacher Gregory the Great the other day by someone. Gregory lived in the sixth century while the remains of the Roman empire continued to collapse all around him.

The people appreciated him so much they begged him to take power. In fact, many historians and theologians have claimed during the years it’s how the papacy first got the power it did going into the Middle Ages, the medieval period.

Here is more of what Gregory said in his day:

….let us hear what the preachers were commanded [by Jesus] when they were sent out: “Go and preach,” saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Even if the gospel were to be silent, dearly beloved, the world now proclaims this message. Its ruins are its words. Struck by so many blows, it has fallen from its glory. It is as if the world itself reveals to us that another kingdom is near, which will succeed it.  It is abhorred by the very people who loved it.  Its own ruins preach that it should not be loved. If someone’s house were shaken and threatened with ruin, whoever lived in it would flee. The one who loved it when it was standing would hasten to leave it as soon as possible when it was falling. Therefore, if the world is falling, and we embrace it by loving it, we are choosing rather to be overwhelmed than to live in it. Nothing separates us from its ruin insofar as our love binds us by our attachment to it. It is easy now, when we see everything heading for destruction, to disengage our minds from love of the world. But then it was very difficult, because the disciples were sent to preach the unseen kingdom of heaven at the very time when everyone far and wide could see the kingdoms of earth flourishing. (Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies 4.2 on Matthew 10:7).

[ii] Who says that on their website, or at the very least said it, and has never publicly taken any of it back.

[iii] Whatever you end up ultimately determining about this article, I don’t see how it cannot stir one’s heart and mind: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/burden-removed-biblical-path-removing-racism-forefathers/ I currently think this is the best and most persuasive example of what a healthy corporate repentance might look like.

[iv] “Young Christians especially last-year undergraduates and first-year curates are turning to it in large numbers. They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?

If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happening) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society. When we speak of England’s actions we mean the actions of the British Government. The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbour; for a Foreign Secretary or a Cabinet Minister is certainly a neighbour. And repentance presupposes condemnation. The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing but, first, of denouncing the conduct of others. If it were clear to the young that this is what he is doing, no doubt he would remember the law of charity. Unfortunately the very terms in which national repentance is recommended to him conceal its true nature. By a dangerous figure of speech, he calls the Government not ‘they’ but ‘we’. And since, as penitents, we are not encouraged to be charitable to our own sins, nor to give ourselves the benefit of any doubt, a Government which is called ‘we’ is ipso facto placed beyond the sphere of charity or even of justice. You can say anything you please about it. You can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practising contrition. A group of such young penitents will say, ‘Let us repent our national sins’; what they mean is, ‘Let us attribute to our neighbour (even our Christian neighbour) in the Cabinet. whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.’[iv]

Words to ponder. Lewis also adds:

“In art, in literature, in politics, [an educated man who is now in his twenties] has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry and restless minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen. All Christians know that they must forgive their enemies. But ‘my enemy’ primarily means the man whom I am really tempted to hate and traduce. If you listen to young Christian intellectuals talking, you will soon find out who their real enemy is. He seems to have two names—Colonel Blimp* and the business-man’. I suspect that the latter usually means the speaker’s father, but that is speculation. What is certain is that in asking such people to forgive the Germans and Russians and to open their eyes to the sins of England, you are asking them, not to mortify, but to indulge, their ruling passion.

… For an older patriot to repent of England’s sin, there is a price to pay because the patriot truly loves England. It is painful for him to repent; it requires mortification of the flesh to do so. But young, urban intellectuals at the height of social conversation in WWII have different cultural feelings.”

[v] C.S. “Jack” Lewis, “Dangers of National Repentance,” The Guardian, 15 March 1940!
Cited from God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 189.

[vi] When I was in college, I knew some evangelical Christian friends who would wear a T-shirt from the company “Living Epistles” that said “Go against the flow…” (describe the image)

That appealed to me…

As a young Christian blessed to have godly men and women in my life, I knew that Jesus had called us not to conform but to be transformed… to be something more…

The world will go one way… and the follower of Jesus Christ goes in another…

Fifteen centuries ago, a pagan named Augustine heard a child’s voice saying “Tolle lege”, that is, “pick up and read,” and took it as a sign to read the Scriptures whose presence had haunted him… and He was transformed.

The Lord desires that your passion and love for Him and His Word increase….

[vii] How deep does the mercy go? How far, how pastoral, should pastors be as they consider that all believers have the “felicitous inconsistencies” in their understanding which nevertheless do not, in the end, overwhelm the truth of the Gospel they cling to by faith? For example, should one who prays the following as a Christian pastor be warned? Could we even still dare to hope that if we wait to warn him, he might nevertheless be saved?:

“O God, we thank you for the fact that you have inspired men and women in all nations and in all cultures. We call you different names: some call you Allah; some call you Elohim; some call you Jehovah; some call you Brahma; some call you the Unmoved Mover. But we know that these are all names for one and the same God. Grant that we will follow you and become so committed to your way and your kingdom that we will be able to establish in our lives and in this world a brother and sisterhood, that we will be able to establish here a kingdom of understanding, where men and women will live together as brothers and sisters and respect the dignity and worth of every human being. In the name and spirit of Jesus. Amen.”

[viii] You are indeed, contrary to the teachings of some “conservative” Lutheran teachers today, “a continuously existing subject”.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

One More: Dedicating This Blog Post to Matthew Cochran

Read this:

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Join the conversation on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/nathan.rinne.5/posts/1574463566058793

FIN

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Summer Social Media Break

Repeating what I said in 2018 around this time:

I think I mentioned this on Twitter, but I am not planning on blogging much this summer. I have some projects, home-related and academic, I’m working on and any posts that I do write I’m guessing I’ll wait to publish later on.

I might publish some things that others hand on to me, so it might be worth checking here once in a while if you do that….

Besides the projects I mention above, there are other good reasons to get off, and some of the stuff I talked about here a couple years ago still holds true.

 

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

“What Is the Third Use of the Law?” and Related Questions

Sadly, CPH “so-called 3rd use of the law” book, you are no help at all…

 

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First, a little background for any not in the know who might be reading this post: During the 16th century Reformation, church reformers such as Martin Luther identified, from the Scriptures, three uses of God’s law. Simply put, God’s law is that which He commands, and is often accompanied by the threat of punishment and the promise of reward. The first use of the law serves as a curb (as in the curb on a road) which prevents gross outbreaks of human sin, the second use of the law serves as a mirror to reveal the depths of our sin to us, and the third use helps to guide the Christian believer.

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Now, back to the specific topic of this post…. “What Is the Third Use of the Law?” (and related questions).

For Lutherans, this seems like a basic question that the articles on the Third Use of the Law in the 1580 Formula of Concord should be able to answer!

I asked this question to folks on Twitter and Facebook:

One of the more interesting responses that I got was “Why do you ask?”

Some might say…: Good Lord… So many words and attention to words below! Theology that concerns itself with propositions or what things are in their essence is a theology about the cross, a theology of glory, and not a theology of the cross… Eck…

 

I suppose that’s not really a bad question to ask someone who recently labeled himself on Twitter as a “Mean and Evilly Evil Lutheran Heresy-Hunter Extraordinaire.” So, here is how I responded:

Because I really want to know where people go, look, think. Why? Because I have picked up on things over the years. Because experience teaches me this is a very important issue and related to the problems which face us. Because, back in 2008 my pastor and Holger Sonntag translated the Antinomian Disputations because of their own questions and experiences. Because, back in 2011, because of things I’d picked up on, I wrote a blog series titled “We are all antinomians now” (which I still think holds up). Because, I have my own fairly developed ideas about this but want to test them against others who I know have knowledge, wisdom, and love for Christ. Finally, because of a sense of mission as regards this particular issue, feeling that, more than ever, we can’t shrink back but must engage.

Another good question for the “why do you ask” question is this: Do you think *you* should be asking and answering this question? Why or why not?

So, the question remains: while there are articles about the Third Use of the Law in the Formula of Concord, is the topic really defined there?

It is an important question. One, for example, said it was defined and put it this way: “The 3rd use guides a regenerate in sanctified living. Through that sanctification I’m protected from boastful self-righteousness by following man-made law. But not perfectly, cuz I’m bound to sin. Then I repent & ask for forgiveness.

You can see my response to this gentleman in the tweet below, which I also shared in my response to Pastor Todd Wilken:

The Third Use of the Law is certainly distinct from the other uses of the Law, particularly the Second Use (the revealing of sin), but how can we best determine just where the differences lie in this doctrinal matter?

The Second Use, discussed in Article V, is not concerned with instructing, per se, but with revealing sin. Think of Paul in Romans 1-3, particularly 3:19-21: “…so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God… no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law...through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

 

Another man told me that he always found conversations about the Third Use of the Law to be unhelpful. I strive to overcome that impasse!

Let’s dig in.

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For this post–which I am doing as much for myself as anyone else–I am simply walking through both parts of the Formula of Concord, the Epitome and Solid Declaration (the versions available for free on the internet — clicking the numbers that head each paragraph will take you to the site I got them from), and look for answers to the above question and other critical questions that are related to that first question….

So, we will look at all of the following:

1. What is the Third Use of the Law?

2. Whose Use?: Who is the one “using” the Law in this third way?

3. Why?: What is the goal of the Third Use of the Law?

4. To Whom?: Is the Old Man or New Man of the Christian Being Addressed?

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The goal!: “…this faith [in Christ] is bound to bring forth good fruits… it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but… we should not rely on those works to merit justification.”

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I will bold and highlight parts of the text that address these questions according to how I have colored those questions above (stuff related to definitions in red, stuff that relates to agents in blue, stuff related to goals in green, and stuff related to who is being addressed in purple). Please note that in some cases I struggled to choose which color to highlight in as multiple questions appear to be addressed in each statement!

Also, I am also italicizing any other text that stands out to me as being significant, or to further emphasize what I have already highlighted!

Finally, at the end, we will produce a summary of the results of our inquiry, which will also answer the question about what makes the Third Use of the Law distinct from its other two uses, or “offices” (as Melanththon put it in his 1535 Loci, which first formally discussed the topic).

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Epitome of the Formula of Concord

Comprehensive Summary, Rule and Norm According to which all dogmas should be judged, and the erroneous teachings [controversies] that have occurred should be decided and explained in a Christian way.

VI. The Third Use of the Law

STATUS CONTROVERSIAE.
The Principal Question In This Controversy.

1] Since the Law was given to men for three reasons: first, that thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]; secondly, that men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins; thirdly, that after they are regenerate and [much of] the flesh notwithstanding cleaves to them, they might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life, a dissension has occurred between some few theologians concerning the third use of the Law, namely, whether it is to be urged or not upon regenerate Christians. The one side has said, Yea; the other, Nay.

For your reference — and should defining the third use leave out the user?….

 

[Nathan’s comment: Yes, the purple and green above could conceivably be red as well. Still, should not any definition about the Third Use of the law be, in part, that it actually has something to do with “using or deploying the law in this third way”? And note: the statement in red could also be blue as well, correct? So, critically, ask this question too: Is this controversy really over whether or not the Holy Spirit is to use the law in this way?]

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #1

 

Affirmative Theses.
The True Christian Doctrine concerning This Controversy.

2] 1. We believe, teach, and confess that, although men truly believing [in Christ] and truly converted to God have been freed and exempted from the curse and coercion of the Law, they nevertheless are not on this account without Law, but have been redeemed by the Son of God in order that they should exercise themselves in it day and night [that they should meditate upon God’s Law day and night, and constantly exercise themselves in its observance, Ps. 1:2 ], Ps. 119. For even our first parents before the Fall did not live without Law, who had the Law of God written also into their hearts, because they were created in the image of God, Gen. 1:26f.; 2:16ff; 3:3.

“For even our first parents before the Fall did not live without Law…” No, law and paradise are not opposed….

 

3] 2. We believe, teach, and confess that the preaching of the Law is to be urged with diligence, not only upon the unbelieving and impenitent, but also upon true believers, who are truly converted, regenerate, and justified by faith.

4] 3. For although they are regenerate and renewed in the spirit of their mind, yet in the present life this regeneration and renewal is not complete, but only begun, and believers are, by the spirit of their mind, in a constant struggle against the flesh, that is, against the corrupt nature and disposition which cleaves to us unto death. On account of this old Adam, which still inheres in the understanding, the will, and all the powers of man, it is needful that the Law of the Lord always shine before them, in order that they may not from human devotion institute wanton and self-elected cults [that they may frame nothing in a matter of religion from the desire of private devotion, and may not choose divine services not instituted by God’s Word]; likewise, that the old Adam also may not employ his own will, but may be subdued against his will, not only by the admonition and threatening of the Law, but also by punishments and blows, so that he may follow and surrender himself captive to the Spirit, 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 6:12, Gal. 6:14; Ps. 119:1ff ; Heb. 13:21 (Heb. 12:1).

[Nathan’s comment: I think concern about instituting “self-elected cults” is a problem precisely because it gets in the way of the goal of actual obedience to God’s will. Will address the other stuff in italics below, in the “solid declaration” article]

5] 4. Now, as regards the distinction between the works of the Law and the fruits of the Spirit, we believe, teach, and confess that the works which are done according to the Law are and are called works of the Law as long as they are only extorted from man by urging the punishment and threatening of God’s wrath.

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #2

 

6] 5. Fruits of the Spirit, however, are the works which the Spirit of God who dwells in believers works through the regenerate, and which are done by believers so far as they are regenerate [spontaneously and freely], as though they knew of no command, threat, or reward; for in this manner the children of God live in the Law and walk according to the Law of God, which [mode of living] St. Paul in his epistles calls the Law of Christ and the Law of the mind, Rom. 7:25; 8:7; Rom. 8:2; Gal. 6:2.

“…’spontaneously’ does not mean ‘without effort’ for a creature whose God-given nature is to work. Naturally does not mean ‘without instruction’ for a creature whose God-given nature is to learn….” — Matt Cochran

 

7] 6. Thus the Law is and remains both to the penitent and impenitent, both to regenerate and unregenerate men, one [and the same] Law, namely, the immutable will of God; and the difference, so far as concerns obedience, is alone in man, inasmuch as one who is not yet regenerate does for the Law out of constraint and unwillingly what it requires of him (as also the regenerate do according to the flesh); but the believer, so far as he is regenerate, does without constraint and with a willing spirit that which no threatenings [however severe] of the Law could ever extort from him.

Glory!: Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory… will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? — 2 Cor. 3 (see Christopher Jackson for more).

 

Negative Theses.
False Contrary Doctrine.

8] Accordingly, we reject as a dogma and error injurious to, and conflicting with, Christian discipline and true godliness the teaching that the Law in the above-mentioned way and degree is not to be urged upon Christians and true believers, but only upon unbelievers, non-Christians, and the impenitent.

[Nathan’s comment: Since the law is given for three reasons, the third being to provide the “fixed rule according to which [men] are to regulate and direct their whole life” — i.e. to walk in, obey — it is to be used in this way and urged upon the regenerate. Again, ask yourself: is the controversy rally over whether or not the Holy Spirit should do this?]

“…the Law must be preached to the regenerate to teach them certain works in which God wills that we practice obedience… because it pertains to obedience, the Law remains…” — Phillip Melanchthon, last Latin edition of Loci Communes, 1559

 

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The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

VI. The Third Use of the Law

1] Since the Law of God is useful, 1. not only to the end that external discipline and decency are maintained by it against wild, disobedient men; 2. likewise, that through it men are brought to a knowledge of their sins; 3. but also that, when they have been born anew by the Spirit of God, converted to the Lord, and thus the veil of Moses has been lifted from them, they live and walk in the law, a dissension has occurred between some few theologians concerning this third and last use of the Law. 2] For the one side taught and maintained that the regenerate do not learn the new obedience, or in what good works they ought to walk, from the Law, and that this teaching [concerning good works] is not to be urged thence [from the law], because they have been made free by the Son of God, have become the temples of His Spirit, and therefore do freely of themselves what God requires of them, by the prompting and impulse of the Holy Ghost, just as the sun of itself, without any [foreign] impulse, completes its ordinary course. 3] Over against this the other side taught: Although the truly believing are verily moved by God’s Spirit, and thus, according to the inner man, do God’s will from a free spirit, yet it is just the Holy Ghost who uses the written law for instruction with them, by which the truly believing also learn to serve God, not according to their own thoughts, but according to His written Law and Word, which is a sure rule and standard of a godly life and walk, how to order it in accordance with the eternal and immutable will of God.

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #3

 

4] For the explanation and final settlement of this dissent we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that although the truly believing and truly converted to God and justified Christians are liberated and made free from the curse of the Law, yet they should daily exercise themselves in the Law of the Lord, as it is written, Ps. 1:2;119:1: Blessed is the man whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law doth he meditate day and night. For the Law is a mirror in which the will of God, and what pleases Him, are exactly portrayed, and which should [therefore] be constantly held up to the believers and be diligently urged upon them without ceasing.

Seriously, John? What about Steve Paulson?: “….and his commands are not burdensome…” — the Apostle John

 

[Nathan’s comment: Again, in this definition of the what the third use of the law is, naturally, it’s actual use has something to do with it! And is it the Holy Spirit who need to be reminded to “constantly hold up” God’s law to believers so they will really obey it, i.e. “daily exercise themselves in [it]”? Is it really the Holy Spirit who needs to be told to “diligently urge [it] upon [believers] without ceasing?]

Ready to receive it, so let me have it preacher!: “Let the righteous man strike me; let his rebuke be an act of loving devotion. It is oil for my head; let me not refuse it…” – David

 

5] For although the Law is not made for a righteous man, as the apostle testifies 1 Tim. 1:9, but for the unrighteous, yet this is not to be understood in the bare meaning, that the justified are to live without law. For the Law of God has been written in their heart, and also to the first man immediately after his creation a law was given according to which he was to conduct himself. But the meaning of St. Paul is that the Law cannot burden with its curse those who have been reconciled to God through Christ; nor must it vex the regenerate with its coercion, because they have pleasure in God’s Law after the inner man.

“Before justification the law ruled and terrified all whom it touched. But the law is not to be taught in such a way among the pious, so as to ac­cuse and condemn, but so as to admonish to good.”Luther on preaching to the converted.

 

6] And, indeed, if the believing and elect children of God were completely renewed in this life by the indwelling Spirit, so that in their nature and all its powers they were entirely free from sin, they would need no law, and hence no one to drive them either, but they would do of themselves, and altogether voluntarily, without any instruction, admonition, urging or driving of the Law, what they are in duty bound to do according to God’s will; just as the sun, the moon, and all the constellations of heaven have their regular course of themselves, unobstructed, without admonition, urging, driving, force, or compulsion, according to the order of God which God once appointed for them, yea, just as the holy angels render an entirely voluntary obedience.

[Nathan’s comment: And yet note again that God did give law to Adam and Eve who were entirely free from sin… (see above)]

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #4

 

7] However, believers are not renewed in this life perfectly or completely, completive vel consummative [as the ancients say]; for although their sin is covered by the perfect obedience of Christ, so that it is not imputed to believers for condemnation, and also the mortification of the old Adam and the renewal in the spirit of their mind is begun through the Holy Ghost, nevertheless the old Adam clings to them still in their nature and all its internal and external powers. 8] Of this the apostle has written Rom. 7:18ff.: I know that in me [that is, in my flesh] dwelleth no good thing. And again: For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do; Likewise: I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin. Likewise, Gal. 5:17: The flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

“the Old Adam… still clings to them.” It is *other* than them, in the Third Use. They are on the side of the Law here, opposed to the Old Adam.” — Pastor Eric Phillips

 

9] Therefore, because of these lusts of the flesh the truly believing, elect, and regenerate children of God need in this life not only the daily instruction and admonition, warning, and threatening of the Law, but also frequently punishments, that they may be roused [the old man is driven out of them] and follow the Spirit of God, as it is written Ps. 119:71: It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes. And again, 1 Cor. 9:27: I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that, by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. And again, Heb. 12:8: But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons; as Dr. Luther has fully explained this at greater length in the Summer Part of the Church Postil, on the Epistle for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity.

[Nathan’s comment: The key point here, bolstered by Luther’s sermon mentioned in the Formula, is that the Christian ultimately recognizes God disciplines those He loves and is himself eager to discipline His old Adam (who frustrates and wages war against his true desires so much! — see previous paragraph) — with blows even! This is why the third use of the law can be readily and eagerly received with thankfulness… (in addition to the first and second uses as well).]

From the sermon quoted in the text above: “…an admonition for Christians to follow up their faith by good works and a new life… unless Christians offer resistance, they will lose their faith and the remission of sins and will in the end be worse than they were at first… even those who gladly hear the Word of God, who highly prize it and aim to follow it, have daily need of admonition and encouragement, so strong and tough is that old hide of our sinful flesh…”

 

10] But we must also explain distinctively what the Gospel does, produces, and works towards the new obedience of believers, and what is the office of the Law in this matter, as regards the good works of believers.

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #5

 

11] For the Law says indeed that it is God’s will and command that we should walk in a new life, but it does not give the power and ability to begin and do it; but the Holy Ghost, who is given and received, not through the Law, but through the preaching of the Gospel, Gal. 3:14, renews the heart. 12] Thereafter the Holy Ghost employs the Law so as to teach the regenerate from it, and to point out and show them in the Ten Commandments what is the [good and] acceptable will of God, Rom. 12:2, in what good works God hath before ordained that they should walk, Eph. 2:10. He exhorts them thereto, and when they are idle, negligent, and rebellious in this matter because of the flesh, He reproves them on that account through the Law, so that He carries on both offices together: He slays and makes alive; He leads into hell and brings up again. For His office is not only to comfort, but also to reprove, as it is written: When the Holy Ghost is come, He will reprove the world (which includes also the old Adam) of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. 13] But sin is everything that is contrary to God’s Law. 14] And St. Paul says: All Scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, etc., and to reprove is the peculiar office of the Law. Therefore, as often as believers stumble, they are reproved by the Holy Spirit from the Law, and by the same Spirit are raised up and comforted again with the preaching of the Holy Gospel.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship….” — The Apostle Paul, Romans 12 ff.

 

15] But in order that, as far as possible, all misunderstanding may be prevented, and the distinction between the works of the Law and those of the Spirit be properly taught and preserved it is to be noted with especial diligence that when we speak of good works which are in accordance with God’s Law (for otherwise they are not good works), then the word Law has only one sense, namely, the immutable will of God, according to which men are to conduct themselves in their lives.

16] The difference, however, is in the works, because of the difference in the men who strive to live according to this Law and will of God. For as long as man is not regenerate, and [therefore] conducts himself according to the Law and does the works because they are commanded thus, from fear of punishment or desire for reward, he is still under the Law, and his works are called by St. Paul properly works of the Law, for they are extorted by the Law, as those of slaves; and these are saints after the order of Cain [that is, hypocrites].

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “To not preach the third use of the law is break the bruised reed and snuff out the smoldering wick.”

 

17] But when man is born anew by the Spirit of God, and liberated from the Law, that is, freed from this driver, and is led by the Spirit of Christ, he lives according to the immutable will of God comprised in the Law, and so far as he is born anew, does everything from a free, cheerful spirit; and these are called not properly works of the Law, but works and fruits of the Spirit, or as St. Paul names it, the law of the mind and the Law of Christ. For such men are no more under the Law, but under grace, as St. Paul says, Rom. 8:2 [Rom. 7:23; 1 Cor. 9:21 ].

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #6

 

18] But since believers are not completely renewed in this world, but the old Adam clings to them even to the grave, there also remains in them the struggle between the spirit and the flesh. Therefore they delight indeed in God’s Law according to the inner man, but the law in their members struggles against the law in their mind; hence they are never without the Law, and nevertheless are not under, but in the Law, and live and walk in the Law of the Lord, and yet do nothing from constraint of the Law.

Luther: “The reason why seemingly contradictory statements are often made in the Bible about Christians is due to the Christians two-fold nature. The simple fact is that within each Christian two natures constantly oppose each other...” And yet, progress too…

 

19] But as far as the old Adam is concerned, which still clings to them, he must be driven not only with the Law, but also with punishments; nevertheless he does everything against his will and under coercion, no less than the godless are driven and held in obedience by the threats of the Law, 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 7:18. 19.

Family devotions with Dr. Luther? “From virtue to grace”?: “The inexperienced and perverse youth need to be restrained and trained by the iron bars of ceremonies lest their unchecked ardor rush headlong into vice after vice… they are rather to be taught that they have been so imprisoned in ceremonies, not that they should be made righteous or gain great merit by them, but that they might thus be kept from doing evil and might more easily be instructed to the righteousness of faith.“

 

20] So, too, this doctrine of the Law is needful for believers, in order that they may not hit upon a holiness and devotion of their own, and under the pretext of the Spirit of God set up a self-chosen worship, without God’s Word and command, as it is written Deut. 12:8,28,32: Ye shall not do … every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes, etc., but observe and hear all these words which I command thee. Thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish therefrom.

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #7

 

[Nathan’s comment: Again, “a holiness and devotion of their own” describes a way of life —  an ordering of life and its affairs — not in accordance with God’s desires. In other words, this is countering obedience to a false God.]

21] So, too, the doctrine of the Law, in and with [the exercise of] the good works of believers, is necessary for the reason that otherwise man can easily imagine that his work and life are entirely pure and perfect. But the Law of God prescribes to believers good works in this way, that it shows and indicates at the same time, as in a mirror, that in this life they are still imperfect and impure in us, so that we must say with the beloved Paul, 1 Cor. 4:4: I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified. Thus Paul, when exhorting the regenerate to good works, presents to them expressly the Ten Commandments, Rom. 13:9; and that his good works are imperfect and impure he recognizes from the Law, Rom. 7:7ff ; and David declares Ps. 119:32: Viam mandatorum tuorum cucurri, I will run the way of Thy commandments; but enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified, Ps. 143:2.

“I do not say this to condemn you… Imitate me…” — The Apostle Paul, various locations.

 

[Nathan’s comment: Although this involves the revealing of sin in the heart of man, the revealing of sin is ancillary to the key point which is evaluating the content of mans’ actual work and life. In other words, they key point is that God’s Law requires that in our lives we actively obey God from a perfect fear, love, and trust in Him. It shows us in great detail the perfection required of us, the goal that God will eventually fulfill in all believers.]

No. “…It is said improperly, that is, not rightly and not fittingly, that we are obliged to do what is impossible by the law….” — Luther

 

22] But how and why the good works of believers, although in this life they are imperfect and impure because of sin in the flesh, are nevertheless acceptable and well-pleasing to God, is not taught by the Law, which requires an altogether perfect, pure obedience if it is to please God. But the Gospel teaches that our spiritual offerings are acceptable to God through faith for Christ’s sake, 1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 11:4ff. 23] In this way Christians are not under the Law, but under grace, because by faith in Christ the persons are freed from the curse and condemnation of the Law; and because their good works, although they are still imperfect and impure, are acceptable to God through Christ; moreover, because so far as they have been born anew according to the inner man, they do what is pleasing to God, not by coercion of the Law, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, voluntarily and spontaneously from their hearts; however, they maintain nevertheless a constant struggle against the old Adam.

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #8

 

24] For the old Adam, as an intractable, refractory ass, is still a part of them, which must be coerced to the obedience of Christ, not only by the teaching, admonition, force and threatening of the Law, but also oftentimes by the club of punishments and troubles, until the body of sin is entirely put off, and man is perfectly renewed in the resurrection, when he will need neither the preaching of the Law nor its threatenings and punishments, as also the Gospel any longer; for these belong to this [mortal and] imperfect life. 25] But as they will behold God face to face, so they will, through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God, do the will of God [the heavenly Father] with unmingled joy, voluntarily, unconstrained, without any hindrance, with entire purity and perfection, and will rejoice in it eternally.

The preaching, threatenings, and punishments of the Law will pass away, but the Decalogue is eternal (see pp. 75-76 here).

 

26] Accordingly, we reject and condemn as an error pernicious and detrimental to Christian discipline, as also to true godliness, the teaching that the Law, in the above-mentioned way and degree, should not be urged upon Christians and the true believers, but only upon the unbelieving, unchristians, and impenitent.

[Nathan’s comment: To repeat what was said above (see the Epitome above and comment), since the law is given for three reasons, the third being to provide the “fixed rule according to which [men] are to regulate and direct their whole life” — i.e. to walk in, obeyit is to be used in this way and urged upon the regenerate. And again, ask yourself: is the controversy really over whether or not the Holy Spirit should do this?]

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My Final Summary of How the Text Addresses All of the Questions Above.

While the Holy Spirit will ultimately do as he pleases, Christians are to urge the law in this third way upon one another which means not primarily with the goal of revealing sin (this is the second use, article V, which is modeled in Romans 1-3) but for the goal of actual obedience to God (see Romans 12ff, for instance).

The third use of the law can be quickly and effectively defined as “encouraging, exhorting, and admonishing Christians to [actually!] do God’s Law”. Going along with this, only the Gospel can empower a Christian to fulfill God’s law, but one should never imagine that the fulfillment of the law, God’s purposes, cannot encourage the Christian who has the Gospel ringing in his ears.

 

The third use of the law then, while intimately related to the Christians’ new obedience, is not this in its essence. Rather, again, it is about Christians following the Holy Ghost’s lead (and Apostles’ in their writings) in exhorting, admonishing, and even reproving their brethren with God’s law, all with the end that the “old Adam” would surrender himself “captive to the Spirit.” After all, the Christian, according to their pre-fall-Adam-like new man, will not be “vexed by the coercion of the law,” but will “from a free, cheerful spirit” do the “God’s immutable will” — hearing and better learning it, walking in it, and growing in obedience to it.

No: “‘use’ means reception. Its function revolves around how it is received, not how it is preached or ‘used.’” — Pastor Scott Murray

 

These, empowered by the Gospel, will even be pleased to administer not only admonishments and threats to themselves, but punishments and blows to their own body (see all the verses quoted at the end of Epitome VI:4)!

Again, we emphasize that the regenerate are to be continually taught God’s law and that “even our first parents before the Fall did not live without Law.” “[A]lso to the first man immediately after his creation a law was given according to which he was to conduct himself.” Going along with this, we read that one side in the controversy argued that “the truly believing also learn to serve God, not according to their own thoughts, but according to His written Law and Word,” and this teaching is never condemned in the article (even as we also hear about the hypothetical that if we were completely renewed in this life — something God’s word does not tell us will happen — we would be like the angels and need no law [I also note that even if they need no law, Luther spoke about how they would nevertheless eagerly and gladly receive and do commands from God]). In fact, we hear this instead: “the Holy Spirit employs the law to teach the regenerate from it, and to point out and show them in the Ten Commandments what is the [good and] acceptable will of God, Rom. 12:2, in what good works God hath before ordained that they should walk, Eph. 2:10. He exhorts them thereto…” To insist, for instance, that the teaching and learning here in FC VI only are the “old man learning how to die,” or something like this, is certainly an unwarranted interpretation.

Again, from Luther’s sermon above: “Having put away the old man, the apostle exhorts us further to put on the new man, that day by day we may grow as new creatures….”

 

Finally, in places like the end of the Epitome, we also read about the growth of the Christian, albeit indirectly: “the believer, so far as he is regenerate, does without constraint and with a willing spirit that which no threatenings [however severe] of the Law could ever extort from him.” Therefore, the continual renovation or conversion of the Christian is also spoken of here as it is with other parts of the Formula of Concord. Also, the believer not only pleases God for Christ’s sake, because His blood covers our imperfect works, but also “because so far as they have been born anew according to the inner man, they do what is pleasing to God, not by coercion of the Law, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, voluntarily and spontaneously from their hearts”!

How could Jesus grow like this? Check it out….

 

And, hopefully, now that I have carefully unpacked these articles, this Twitter thread I did a while back might make more sense:

And a final clarification: I agree sometimes we can’t distinguish particular uses of the law being attempted. Nor do we need to or should we! That said, sometimes we can. My kids, who are believing but immature Christians, are going to participate in church and family devotions whether their new man is getting the better of them or not at that moment (Third Use, and perhaps even a situation where “he does everything against his will and under coercion, no less than the godless are driven and held in obedience by the threats of the Law”!)! If I were to insist that their non-Christian friend staying over on Saturday night attend worship with us the next day that would be the First Use of the Law.

Dr. Kilcrease, it is not only “civil righteousness” that has to do with habits, right? Cochran’s the man.

 

This, really, gets to the heart of the issue: do you contend that what Paul is doing in Romans 1-3 is actually the same thing as in Rom. 12ff — or that if he isn’t doing the same thing he is nevertheless completely unaware that this is the case?

Why?!

As you can see from this post, I have some pretty firm convictions about this, and have for a good long while now (see this post from 2014, and the detailed conversation that follows, as well — my concerns here though go back long before even this).

Steve Paulson, who teaches that Christ commits sin, also has some real convictions about this topic (and I think his reasons for teaching Christ committed sin and teaching as he does on this topic both relate to his denial that the law of God is eternal — that is that it belongs to who God is)

 

I agree with Paulson that using words like “Gospel Imperatives” is a terrible idea.

That said, when it comes to these Third Use of the Law issues, why, really, does he echo Luther on the one hand and sound so much unlike him on the other?

Why do we? Yes, even me… to this day?

If you feel like it?: “Make duty a pleasure” — Luther

 

FIN

 

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

When it Came to Good Works, Did Luther Want to “Have His Cake and Eat it Too”?

What? How?: “Make duty a pleasure.” — Martin Luther

 

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What is really necessary to produce or empower good works in the Christian?

In his introduction to the book of Romans for the translation of the Bible he did, Luther said the following:

Thus faith is a divine work in us, that changes us and regenerates us of God, and puts to death the old Adam, makes us entirely different men in heart, spirit, mind, and all powers, and brings with it [confers] the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do good without ceasing. Nor does it ask whether good works are to be done; but before the question is asked, it has wrought them, and is always engaged in doing them. But he who does not do such works is void of faith, and gropes and looks about after faith and good works, and knows neither what faith nor what good works are, yet babbles and prates with many words concerning faith and good works. [Justifying] faith is a living, bold [firm] trust in God’s grace, so certain that a man would die a thousand times for it [rather than suffer this trust to be wrested from him]. And this trust and knowledge of divine grace renders joyful, fearless, and cheerful towards God and all creatures, which [joy and cheerfulness] the Holy Ghost works through faith; and on account of this, man becomes ready and cheerful, without coercion, to do good to every one, to serve every one, and to suffer everything for love and praise to God, who has conferred this grace on him, so that it is impossible to separate works from faith, yea, just as impossible as it is for heat and light to be separated from fire.

The Formula of Concord, written in 1580 and comprising the teaching of the Lutheran church (It is the “Comprehensive Summary, Rule and Norm According to which all dogmas should be judged, and the erroneous teachings [controversies] that have occurred should be decided and explained in a Christian way.”) quotes just this in its article on good works!

It introduces the quote by saying:

“…of works that are truly good and well-pleasing to God, which God will reward in this world and in the world to come, faith must be the mother and source; and on this account they are called by St. Paul true fruits of faith, as also of the Spirit. 10] For, as Dr. Luther writes in the Preface to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:….”

After the quote, it goes on to immediately say, interestingly, the following….

13] But since there is no controversy on these points among our theologians, we will not treat them here at length, but only explain ourselves, part against part, in a simple and plain manner regarding the controverted points.”

In other words, there is one thing that all serious Lutherans definitely agree on: Good works flow from faith like heat and light come from fire, they are spontaneous!

“…it is impossible to separate works from faith, yea, just as impossible as it is for heat and light to be separated from fire.” — Luther

 

In addition, when the Formula of Concord explains the Third Use of the Law, it also careful to talk about this spontaneity….

On the other hand, that is not all it says. It also recommends that we pay attention to Martin Luther’s Sermon on the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, preached on Ephesians 4:22-28, in order to help us understand how the Christian deals with passages like Ps. 119:71, 1 Cor. 9:27, and Heb. 12:8.* Here is how that sermon begins:

  1. Here again is an admonition for Christians to follow up their faith by good works and a new life, for though they have forgiveness of sins through baptism, the old Adam still adheres to their flesh and makes himself felt in tendencies and desires to vices physical and mental. The result is that unless Christians offer resistance, they will lose their faith and the remission of sins and will in the end be worse than they were at first; for they will begin to despise and persecute the Word of God when corrected by it. Yea, even those who gladly hear the Word of God, who highly prize it and aim to follow it, have daily need of admonition and encouragement, so strong and tough is that old hide of our sinful flesh. And so powerful and wily is our old evil foe that wherever he can gain enough of an opening to insert one of his claws, he thrusts in his whole self and will not desist until he has again sunk man into his former condemnable unbelief and his old way of despising and disobeying God.
  2. Therefore, the Gospel ministry is necessary in the Church, not only for instruction of the ignorant — such as the simple, unlettered people and the children — but also for the purpose of awakening those who know very well what they are to believe and how they are to live, and admonishing them to be on their guard daily and not to become indolent, disheartened or tired in the war they must wage on this earth with the devil, with their own flesh and with all manner of evil.
  3. For this reason Paul is so persistent in his admonitions that he actually seems to be overdoing it. He proceeds as if the Christians were either too dull to comprehend or so inattentive and forgetful that they must be reminded and driven. The apostle well knows that though they have made a beginning in faith and are in that state which should show the fruits of faith, such result is not so easily forthcoming. It will not do to think and say: Well, it is sufficient to have the doctrine, and if we have the Spirit and faith, then fruits and good works will follow of their own accord. For although the Spirit truly is present and, as Christ says, willing and effective in those that believe, on the other hand the flesh is weak and sluggish. Besides, the devil is not idle, but seeks to seduce our weak nature by temptations and allurements.
  4. So we must not permit the people to go on in their way, neglecting to urge and admonish them, through God’s Word, to lead a godly life. Indeed, you dare not be negligent and backward in this duty; for, as it is, our flesh is all too sluggish to heed the Spirit and all too able to resist it. Paul says (Gal 5, 17): “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh … that ye may not do the things that ye would.” Therefore, God is constrained to do as a good and diligent householder or ruler, who, having a slothful man-servant or maid-servant, or careless officers, who otherwise are neither wicked nor faithless, will not consider it sufficient once or twice to direct, but will constantly be supervising and directing.
  5. Nor have we as yet arrived at the point where our flesh and blood will joyfully and gladly abound in good works and obedience to God as the spirit is inclined and faith directs. Even with the utmost efforts the Spirit scarce can compel our old man. What would be the result if we were no more urged and admonished but could go our way thinking, as many self-satisfied persons do: I am well acquainted with my duties, having learned them many years ago and having heard frequent explanations of them; yea, I have taught others? It might be that one year’s intermission of preaching and admonition would place us below the level of the heathen.
  6. Now, this exhortation in itself is simple and easy of comprehension. The apostle is but repeating his exhortations of other places — on the fruits of faith, or a godly walk — merely in different terms. Here he speaks of putting away the old man and putting on the new man, of being “renewed in the spirit of your mind.”

So, do you see a contradiction here? Is Luther wanting to “have his cake and eat it too?” Why or why not?

In the end of the article on the Third Use of the Law, it explains more carefully about the spontaneous works wrought in the Christian. The believer not only pleases God for Christ’s sake, because His blood covers our imperfect works, but also

“because so far as they have been born anew according to the inner man, they do what is pleasing to God, not by coercion of the Law, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, voluntarily and spontaneously from their hearts”

I recommend reading that several times over, and focusing on the “so far”.

And now, this question: Ultimately, what makes the difference here as to why some good works, some fruits of faith, are more spontaneous in one Christian compared with another?  

Or: Is that even an appropriate question for serious Lutherans to ask? Why or why not?

UPDATE: Here, I think, is the beginning of a solid answer:

FIN

 

9] Therefore, because of these lusts of the flesh the truly believing, elect, and regenerate children of God need in this life not only the daily instruction and admonition, warning, and threatening of the Law, but also frequently punishments, that they may be roused [the old man is driven out of them] and follow the Spirit of God, as it is written Ps. 119:71: It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes. And again, 1 Cor. 9:27: I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that, by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. And again, Heb. 12:8: But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons; as Dr. Luther has fully explained this at greater length in the Summer Part of the Church Postil, on the Epistle for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2020 in Uncategorized