On Issues ETC last week, Pastor David Petersen was interviewed on the topic of “Responding to Reasons for Not Going to Church”. It was a very good program, and certainly worth listening to. In it, he did address the question above and talked about how that statement really is gospel.
True. First and foremost, this is can be objectively labeled as a statement of pure gospel – for thought we are asked to come, we are meant to understand that “all has been prepared” – and we know we are coming, as Jesus says, not to endure toil, labor, and burdens, but to rest. As we know, God gives both repentance and faith in Christ as a gift through the hearing of the word.
That said, this statement certainly can be both law and gospel though – depending on the attitude of the person hearing the words, and the Spirit’s corresponding guidance of the one proclaiming God’s word. For example, if a non-Christian already thinks they have the rest they need, they won’t be too pleased to hear that need to “come to Jesus” and Him alone. But law proclamation may entail pointing out that their rest is not a God-pleasing rest.
Not only this, but the Christian’s old Adam may interpret the statement in this way:
“It’s a bait and switch you know. Sure Jesus talks about peace with God, forgiveness of sins, streams of living water and the like – but that’s not all He has to say to you… He also wants something from you. Don’t trust Him. Drop that nice roasted turkey that He just put in your arms. There is a catch.”
(alternatively, maybe one’s old Adam is a little less sophisticated: “feeding my face on the couch while watching the game sounds pretty restful to”… or perhaps more piously: “wouldn’t Jesus want me to take some ‘me time’ with this nice Christian life book instead….”*)
There is no “catch” of course, but old Adam is right to a point. However, the point is that the new man knows Christ, knows the context, and knows that overall, even though He has much that He has prepared for us to do – that He works with us, gives us all the power we need to do the work, and does in fact give us rest in the midst of the “vineyard work” to be done.
For He is not a hard man.
Back to the question of the title for this post. Again, I suspect that a lot of our difficulties as modern confessional Lutherans would dissipate if we started to think about the Christian more like Luther did, that is, analogously to Christ and Christology. At the end of chapter 1 of his book, “On Christian freedom”, Luther says this:
“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. “The flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit wars against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17).
Modern confessional Lutherans are loathe to take his advice, for Luther says we should not only know Christ, but ourselves. He points us, to some degree, to the Christian, as well as the Christ.
But if this is true, we say, “How can I decrease that He may increase”? I think Luther does not understand the question.
*-It is also possible that old Adam may tell us to attend worship services in order to justify himself, particularly if the Gospel in the narrow sense is not preached there. In general, old Adam “fears, loves and trusts in God” for his own purposes and benefits: “I want something from God so I will do what He says.
That said, perhaps these days it is more common for old Adam to convince us to avoid church in order to demonstrate – to ourselves and to others – that we are not justified by works, but faith alone! “God knows I love Him” we arrogantly say.