Monthly Archives: August 2012

Sin. What does this mean? (part II)

Realized no internet access Monday, so here it is today instead….

In Friday’s post, I asked “What makes sin “sin” for God”?  In sum, I stated that the answer was not because sin “destroys relationships”, but because sin was unbelief and unholiness (where holiness = the imitation, born of love and filial fear, of God’s designs, desires, thoughts, words and deeds)

One of the problems with the first answer by itself is that a relationship’s existence is not the indicator of the absence of sin.  Relationships can and do exist and abound where sin abounds. Although God’s love makes all things in creation possible, from a human perspective all relationships – even harmonious ones – are not necessarily based on love.  For example, we all know of relationships that are harmonious – perhaps in working towards a common goal – but are still “strictly professional” (think of an orchestra).  Further, on a smaller scale, some harmony can be attained even though simple notions like the one expressed in this picture (assuming some forgiveness!).

Still – what about those relationships that are based on love?  What about the two non-Christians who fall in love?  Or even the worldly caddy who really does care about the golfer he makes big money from?

Do we not all live and move and have our being in God?  Does Paul not say God fills the hearts of even pagans with joy (Acts 14)?  So, if this is the case, what could be wrong, or incomplete, about such love?  If we changed a) above to “it destroys loving personal relationships”, might that make it an answer worthy to be chosen?

I think we must say “no” here as well, because we are in part talking about a “first article” kind of love – i.e. love that is a residue or continual fallout from creation itself, by the Creator who is love.  This kind of love for neighbor, although something you certainly would like to have in a neighbor (as opposed to the alternatives!), is severely deficient because a) it is not bolstered and informed by an underlying love for the Triune God, and hence its ultimate hope and expression is not the salvation of the whole world – i.e. people’s rescue and growth in eternal life, that is, knowing God through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 17:3), and b) a lack of purity or holiness in fulfilling this love – which of course is supposed to flow through us unhindered from God and for our neighbor.

The believer in Christ, on the other hand, lacks the love they should have in the sense of b) above (not a)  But they know God as He reveals Himself to us in Christ, that is, as the friend of sinners who do not love as they ought.

But what if we changed a) above to “it destroys the believer’s relationship with God – and may drive the unbeliever further from Him”.  Perhaps this is the simple definition to serve us?

Maybe.  But what unforeseen dangers might lie within such a definition?  For example, what should we say to a man who feels his relationships are healthy and strong and who is sure he trusts in Jesus Christ, but does not seem to call “sin” what Scripture calls sin?  What if he is content “killing” his old Adam – keeping his flesh down – only by engaging in the good deeds he is convinced are helpful to his neighbor (perhaps to him, the ethics of Aristotle or Kant, for example, is more or less synonymous with “God’s Law”)?  What do we do if such a person insists that they, being baptized, are in Christ and have no need of warning or correction?

Problem, right?  Do not Paul’s words of warning about “another Jesus” (see II Cor. 11) see particularly appropriate here?

Therefore, why not say, in sum, “our relationship with God is based upon the essential righteousness of Christ, sacrificed for us. Within that relationship, God would make us, by His Holy Spirit, also essentially righteous [where we reflect the love of Christ (God)].  This work He begins in our baptisms and brings to a completion in the resurrection.” (a quote from my pastor, who I have “parroted” a bit in this post!)

When we view things this way, we reinforce the need to discuss more specifically what sin looks like.  And I think this means that it will be more difficult to avoid reflecting on and discussing our understandings of the objective nature of God’s revealed Word to us.

Yes, modern philosophers may reject formal “substance ontologies” (i.e. the “nature” or “essence” of things).  But is modern man incapable of understanding such ideas?  I seriously doubt that.


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Posted by on August 26, 2012 in Uncategorized


Sin. What does this mean? (part I)

What makes sin sin?

Because God says so.

Well, what makes sin sin for God?  Or, as my two year old says of everything, “Why daddy, why?” (thankfully, not just when he is told not to do something : ))

Is the answer:

a) it destroys personal relationships

b) it is essentially destructive of matter (as personal relationships exist without matter).

c) a and b

d) none of the above

e) hell is made for persons who ask questions like this

First, I argue that the Law of God describes that objective form of life wherein (not whereby) our relationships with God and neighbor are nourished and are brought to fulfillment.  Therefore, I am tempted to answer a) alone (in this post I said: “I, like Satan, am a masterful destroyer of relationships”… and “unlike us, God is not a destroyer of relationships”), but I’ve been persuaded the answer is d.  In its essence*, sin is unbelief and unholiness** (holiness = the imitation, born of love and filial fear, of God’s designs, desires, thoughts, words and deeds, for we are created in His image***)

Therefore, this is the reason sin destroys relationships.

Still, what is wrong about defining sin as that which destroys relationships?

Part II on Monday

*Neither the term “essence” nor “unessential attribute” really captures what sin is for man in totality. Sin, which is a power and thing (see Romans 7) is a terrible mystery, and here Aristotle, with his either/or, fails us.

**Regarding the first sin which caused original sin, it is tempting to state that either Adam and Eve’s unbelief or unholiness must be the causative factor.  It seems to me this is a “chicken and the egg” question we cannot answer.

***It is true that in fallen man this image is lost… but he still has some residue of his origin within him.   Therefore, in Luke 3, Adam is called “the son of God” and in Psalm 82:6 Jesus says “You are gods, all of you, sons of the Most High.”  Man’s “relation” to God was that he was specifically created to be something different than the rest of creation (also note that Luther said people were created in God’s image before the beginning of time [see Luther’s works 1:75].  So while we cannot say of each person born that they are *in* the Image of God [since original sin is present, and causes the absence of this image], we can still say that each person is created by God in His image.  The power of sin is not something that God creates)

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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Uncategorized


“Never has the need for fools been more pronounced than it is today.”

A good message for those involved in Christian education.

Some clips:

“The “illiterate” apostle, fisherman John, needed to step down to the level of the philosophers and scientists to communicate Truth to people who could not discover it without his guidance….

[In Ephesians 5:10] Paul’s whole point is that we need to be evaluating constantly, but not by the false standards of “the world”, which might be better translated “the age”…

The Ephesians 6[:6] passage is the Christian response to the entire Nietzschean, post-modern critique of Christianity that argues that the gospel offers a slave morality and enforces it with a rhetoric of violence. It addresses the slave and says, “Slaves, obey your masters after the flesh with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your hearts, like Christ; not to serve the eyes like man pleasers, but, like slaves of Christ, accomplish the will of God from your soul.”

If Christ was not resurrected, this is a cruel, violent, manipulative thing to say. If He is, then what could matter more than to please Him? What is the span of a short lifetime against the chance to hear Him say “Well done”?

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” and that liberty begins with the soul free to obey its oppressor with joy even while under oppression. Here is a true radicalism. But it offers nothing to the man or woman who does not believe in Christ….

All of us have had the privilege of being born into a slaveless country, but we have forgotten, I fear, that we are, by analogy, slaves of Christ. As such, we do not have the right to make ourselves voluntary slaves of men.

That is what we do when we “conform to this age” and when we judge what is well-pleasing not by what pleases our own Husband/Master/Redeemer/Beloved/Creator but by what will please those around us.

This is an issue of wisdom and sound judgment.

If you do not believe in a resurrected Christ who ascended into heaven and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, then you will be unable to think straight. If you accept this as doctrine, but do not see how it sets you free from the silly standards of an enslaved and frightened age, please look more closely.”

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Posted by on August 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


What’s happening here today

Martin Luther statue at Concordia University Saint Paul being moved


updated: This is me warming up Dr. Luther’s new spot

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Posted by on August 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


Holiness. What does this mean? (The Christian’s sanctification as measured by God) – part II

Continued from part I yesterday.

Of course, all of this sanctification talk makes some persons nervous – especially today.   Some may feel this shows a lack of humility.  Now I am not saying that we should go around saying that one person may be 99.9% saint while another is only 63% % or even 6.3%.  That way of speaking is a bit ridiculous, akin to taking the pros and cons list and blowing it up to all-encompassing proportions.  Quantitative evaluations, those evaluations that measure specific things numerically, are not the best thing here (still, note Luther in the Large Catechism’s explanation of the third part of the Apostle’s Creed: “for now, we are only half pure and holy”), in spite of all that follows.  Let me be clear: before God, in column A (i.e. that which pertains to justification), we are always 100% saints and 100% sinners.

Having said this now, even if we were to speak in a quantitative way in regards to our sanctification as a whole, would this necessarily be wrong?  After all, we can’t deny that we will all be “measured” in some way, though as I have argued, more of a qualitative measurement is in mind (see II Cor. 5:10).  Think about this: none of us will make it to 100% saint before we die.   If we are at .1% sinner we will still need the blood and righteousness of Christ just as much as the next person, for whoever breaks one part of the Law breaks the whole Law.  Walther said that the Christian is the one who fears to commit even a single sin (“didn’t he also say something about not attributing beliefs and attitudes to the average Christian he does not have?”, we say today without much reflection…)  Yes, even one particular sin is serious – even as we also acknowledge that our good designs, thoughts, words, and deeds are tainted by the sinful infection that affects and clings to the godly desires the Spirit gives.  Of course, God’s promise to provide a way out of temptation is only for sinner-saints, and stronger believers will recognize temptation to sin more, not less.

Further, these hypothetical 99.9% persons will always see their sin!  They would not be the proud ones, but humble ones.  And that .1% will seem all-encompassing to them, and given that God means for us to be perfectly loving like Him, it is right for that sin to bother them.  They will, in all honesty, feel like they are, really and truly, the chief of sinners before God – and they will constantly be looking to Christ for forgiveness that they may be renewed.  In addition, these persons are well aware that they could take a terrible fall, a la Chutes and Ladders, or even lose their faith altogether (i.e. justification) through faith-destroying and doubt-inducing sin.  Finally, if a person is at 99.9%, you can rest assured they did not get to that point primarily because of fear of punishment and hope of reward, but because of the love of God from God that they allowed to shape them and flow through them.  They certainly knew the passage about laying up treasure in heaven and not on earth – but the Treasure they were longing for more than anything was to know the love of God more – to simply dwell in His house and (not their own mansions).  For He was always was their sanctification (I Cor. 1:30), by whom their faith and love grew (for without faith in Him, there is no beginning of sanctification, much less continued progress in the same). “Keeping track” of any good they did was never on their mind, although pleasing Him (not to be saved) certainly was.  Maybe you would contend these persons don’t exist, but I’d say Scripture – not to say, some of our experiences – says otherwise.

Again, Jesus did come for sinners – and that means all of us all the time.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  Since John says so we all clearly qualify here.  If we need more evidence, we should ask why all believers in Christ physically die, when in the Garden death is only ever said to be a consequence for sin.

All of this is not meant to promote worry in us, but awareness – of all we have been given in Christ amidst our enemies of the flesh, the world, and the devil.

I don’t know about you, but I think I have a long way to go.  But spurred on by the fact that my salvation is secure in my Lord Jesus by grace through faith, how can I not be eager to “catch up to myself in Christ”?


Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized


Holiness. What does this mean? (The Christian’s sanctification as measured by God) – part I

A = justification ; B = sanctification

Note: Due to the lack of explicit “Gospel-in-the-narrow-sense” content – which I acknowledge should pervade our conversation (post is already quite long) – some [Lutheran] theologians reading this may want to supplement this post with a reading of Luther’s Large Catechism (the third part of the Apostle’s Creed)

We think some people are better than others.  Every kid knows it.

We all do it.  Can’t say we don’t.  And there is nothing wrong with this, even as we also assert that all persons, without exception, are loved by God who desires the salvation of all.  And, as many a parent of multiple children knows (and hopefully many a child), to say this is not to say that one is loved more than another.  So our statement stands: we certainly do think some people are better than others.  For example, women might prefer the company of the “bad boy” for a brief season, but the wiser of them, sensibly, end up thinking that when it comes to a long-term prospect, other qualities need to be sought in a man (these are the better women).  Likewise, we will seek out certain persons for particular jobs – when we are having automotive difficulties, we look for a mechanic who knows what he is doing – we trust them regarding that area (perhaps we also think they would overcharge us on their own, but we trust their supervisor!).  On the other hand, when it comes to choosing a roommate, for example, we generally will seek someone who we think is a better person overall according to our standards, which may be more or less in accordance with God’s.  This is not done according to quantitative criteria – although a “pros” and “cons” list may be produced to aid in the decision – but qualitative criteria – we “measure” the whole person.  Can’t say we don’t – and if we do, that is false humility.

Not only this, but God also measures the whole person.

What?  Yes.  Not as it has to do with our justification of course.  That must, as respected Lutheran teacher Dr. Rod Rosenbladt has said, remain in “column A. ” We cannot bring our love born of strong faith, our good works, our holiness, or our conformity to Christ’s image into that column.  We cannot even bring our godly suffering and our “deep” repentance into that column.   All of that belongs in column B, which pertains to our sanctification.  When it comes to our standing before God – when  it comes to the either/or question of truly being His child or not – there are only these things we must look at: Christ, grace, and faith (which also is a gift He provides).  And column A is to remain column A until we breathe our last.

But sanctification?  Different story.

Now it is true that Jesus Himself dwells in our hearts by faith, and He is perfectly righteous before His Father in Heaven.  And it is also true that those with faith are completely new creatures in Christ – with “new desires, attitudes, and dispositions to align [our lives] with God’s design”* – albeit ones that are immature.  Still, when it comes to justification, even these things are all column B stuff (see Hebrews 10:14), for God justifies the wicked when they look to him in desperate, groping, and loveless trust – via the alien, or external righteousness of Jesus Christ given in His Word!  Regarding our being new creatures, it is therefore true that we have a new nature – even if we don’t feel it – who is not Jesus.  In other words, it is we who are new men, not Jesus, and it is we who cooperate with Him – or not – in our sanctification.  As such, God does judge some of us to be more in line with his designs, desires, thoughts, words, and deeds than others (even as each are conformed in distinctive ways) and rewards them as such.  Of course they won’t care about the fact that they will certainly be in charge of many mansions in heaven (note: not on earth!) – but they will be nonetheless.  And of course, those of us with only one mansion or so (I guess) will be nothing but happy for them by that point (I’m guessing there will be some great “commons” areas : ) ).

*Kolb and Arand, “The Genius of Luther’s Theology”, 126 – note that their view seems a bit different than the one expounded on here.

(please note, post has been slightly revised for clarity)

Part II coming tomorrow

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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


[Respectable and sophisticated] fools for Christ

Name the theological school that is the focus of this quotation:

“#1), the theologian in academia has two challenges: 1) To teach that which he should; 2) To be taken as intellectually viable. Since the enlightenment, the latter has trumped the former. The[re is a specific school that] is appealing, for while rejecting divine inspiration, it accepts Scripture as a type of God’s Word; while rejecting the knowability of history, it accepts the events described within Scripture as a witness of the church to normative events; while rejecting a quia subscription to the confessions, it accepts the confessional nature of the church; while rejecting a standard hermeneutic of biblical interpretation, it accepts the idea that the church should be the one to interpret Scripture…In short, what [the] theologians [of this particular school] attempt to do is to maintain some sort of Lutheran theology, based on what the modern intellectual community takes to be fact, or reality.” (quote from a man I greatly respect)

The beginning of the answer…? :

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Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Uncategorized