Monthly Archives: December 2014

Does God Have a Concrete Plan for Your Life?: Goals of the Gospel (part II of II)

Picture of four spiritual laws: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” Yes, in Christ.

Cru’s 4 spiritual laws:  “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” Yes, in Christ.

Again, this piece is dedicated to those wonderful persons I met in Campus Crusade for Christ, many of whom, while not teaching Christ’s imputational grace and denying the presence of His deified flesh and blood in the bread and wine, nevertheless seemed to me to be compelled by His love. You woke me up to so many things I had missed.

Part I.

Today we get much more personal: to what extent am I, as an individual, on God’s radar? And am I selfish for even asking that question?*  One thing that American evangelicalism tends to emphasize is that an individual can have a personal relationship with God.  Here in part II, we are also getting quite a bit more personal (this also gets more controversial, and deals with matters I brought up in the past here and here)

Again, some American Evangelical preachers highlight this very well: God really cares deeply for you personally. He actually wants to spend time with you!  It’s not just Jesus – going to lonely places to pray – that the Father wants to hear from. Church should be like a date with God – it is something that can strengthen this love relationship you have with him.   “OK…” many of us straight-laced Confessional Lutherans – ever concerned about proper reverence for God – say…

I heartily agree about reverence. But if this is your initial reaction, work with me here.

I just had a student who, talking about the interview she did for class with a practicing Christian, wrote this to me…. (names and places changed)

[My interviewee’s response] was about the most significant faith-based event in her life when her close friend John passed away in Iraq. She was very involved in her church at this time and taught Sunday school to 4 and 5 year olds. After [John] passed away in October she got upset and angry with God’s decision to take him away. In the spring time her mom came to her, asked to talk with her and they attended a church out in the country. (She is from Charleston.) Her mom pointed out that at the church a lady was wearing a pin with John’s face on it. Her mom began to speak with the lady and she turned out [to be] John’s aunt. The aunt said that she and her family just “felt the need to attend church that day.” So they got in the car and drove until they felt, “they needed to stop.” At this moment she knew that something was meant to bring all of them out in the country to this specific church on the out skirts of town. She knows that this situation was meant to bring them all together. She believes that John’s death helped them grow closer in friendship, family and in faith. After this they as a family continued to attend church together.

What should I have said in reply? (see ** for my reply below). Commented that maybe it was maybe not God who had arranged that but that it was perhaps just a coincidence?

Definitely not.  There is every reason to think that God is even actively involved in far less significant events in our lives, all with the intent to draw us close to Him, the lover of our souls.

I remember when I was engaged and I got a letter from my lovely wife-to-be. I opened the letter from overseas with great, great eagerness. I so longed for that connection, to be engaged with her in that way – to hear from her and what she was doing… and yes, even to know that she had taken the time to write it to me! ***

MacGyver Christians: Everything we need, we already have.

MacGyver Christians: Everything we need, we already have.

Well, is it not similar with us and the Lord?  With the Holy Church that God has won with His own blood? In one sense, we are already claimed – already His!  And there is of course a deeper sense this is true that is still coming – that creates a longing like the one I mentioned above – we still await the wedding feast and the final consummation!  Our status is very much like the way engagements were in biblical times – to be engaged was to have all the certainty of marriage already, even as the best was yet to come. There was no way, no how, the engagement could be broken off! You had been chosen! He had just broken into your life, made all the arrangements, and swept you away!  And the result is this, as my dear pastor says, is that we are “Macgyver” Christians – everything we need we already have. ****

And here therefore, we can – we should! – long to be lost in the love of God.  To be useful to Him, yes, but also to simply be with Him.  Ecstasy.

“Whoa on that!   Wait wait wait”…. we serious defenders of the biblical historical Christian faith say!  But what of the cross?  What of the Bible as the Word of God?  Must not the cross and the written Scriptures get lost in such a message as one slips into mysticism?  Is not the fact that God died for sins of the whole world – even you and your utterly wicked and abhorrent sins! – enough to give the person the sense that they are loved by God and valued by God?  Why are you reaching for more?  Why are you going where you ought not to go?  Is not the fact that God has given us His written word enough for you?

My question is this: why are all these things necessarily opposed to one another?

After all, in Ephesians 1 and 3, it seems that the Apostle Paul speaks of a good mysticism:

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe… I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” (Eph. 1:17-19a, 3:16-20, NIV)

This is a great mystery... but I am talking about Christ and the Church.... (Paul in Eph. 5)

This is a great mystery… but I am talking about Christ and the Church…. (Paul in Eph. 5)

Amazing here Paul’s prayer for us!  But Bible passages saying such things aside, the concern here is that personal experience – our feelings – will take over and starts to run the show.  That is an extremely valid concern.   People must stay grounded in the received Holy Scriptures first and foremost – and the cross born for their sins as God’s ultimate expression of love for them. You want to talk about experience?  Our primary experience is in hearing – experiencing – the simple and humble Word of God spoken to God’s holy people – of which we are a valued one – about just these things.

Christ. Cross. Resurrection. Forgiveness. Life. Salvation. From. Sin. Death. Devil.

And Marriage (I mean Christ hooked up with the Church).

Remind me how this is boring?!

The impulse that many Confessional Lutherans have is to say that what we really need is to more deeply realize our depths of our sin and to more deeply realize the depths of God’s love in the Gospel. *****  I get this, and I think this is indeed the main key.  But saying this, we are still left with questions like these:

  • If I want to be better than what I am – to hurt those around me less and actually love them more and more – is that only my old man craving love and acceptance – and trying to earn my salvation before God?
  • If I desire strongly for my “kids to turn out OK” does that mean I should necessarily conclude that I am only focused on myself (my own need for validation) rather than their good (as well as their neighbors whom they will affect?)
  • Is it really always the old man and only the old man who wants to strive for holiness (yes, we know the Pharisees “strove for holiness” to, but is there any distinction to be made here at all?) attempting to “bring God down to earth”, to our level, ultimately insisting He submit to us and our self-righteousness? (i.e. we do not necessarily believe in justification by works theologically, but we, seemingly without any new man to speak of, must do so functionally)
  • Again, is it only our old man, always seeking to justify himself, who wants to be urged on to do good works? ******

(If any of these questions seem a bit strange to even conceive of, stick with me here – it might help to know that in the 16th century some Lutheran Reformers, because of the battles they had been fighting, were actually tempted to say that good works were harmful to salvation).

And I think, intimately related to all of these questions, is it wrong for me – that old Adam again? – to somehow “want more of God”? (not from Him, of Him)  Not necessarily to “get closer” to Him (i.e. feel like I am closer to Him) but to increase in knowledge of Him?  To know Him more?  To boast not in human wisdom or strength but that I know and understand Him?

Not at all.

Yes there is no way that we are going to make the wedding feast and consummation we long for come sooner.  Nevertheless, wanting all of these things is good – very good!  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 one 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” – 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 our lives (finding even our lost ax heads [Elisha]) – and desires to be more so daily!  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”! (and we know he is there for “the world” – your “neighbors”!)  It is good to want to be “all there” with Him at all places and all times! (again, in 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, importantly, to be able to be content if He does not)!  It is good to say, as the Christian rock group Petra sung years ago: “I am available”!  There is nothing wrong with any of that!  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) ******* and we should 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!” ********

I know.  Many of you are likely bothered by all those exclamation points.  I don’t usually use them.  But I do so here to make my point as strongly as I can.

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.

God also uses the fruits of evil – suffering and death – in our sanctification. As Lutheran pastor John Kleinig says, God makes you holy by taking things away from you. This culminate with our final breath.

God also uses the fruits of evil – suffering and death – in our sanctification. As Lutheran pastor John Kleinig says, God makes you holy by taking things away from you! This culminate with our final breath.

Yes, this can be taken too far.  Yes, abuses are rampant.  Yes, there are those Christians who think that as one matures in the faith, they will suffer less not more. Yes, there is a niche market for pastors who are “vision-casting” leaders and will run over anybody and everybody who will not get with their (God’s!) program. Yes, many persons unthinkingly associate the feelings they get in a contemporary worship service with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. And yes, there are persons out there who are convinced that God told them to paint their kitchen table yellow or that whenever they feel good about some serendipitous thing that happened it is God but not if they don’t feel good about what happened.  Rock-star Confessional Lutheran pastors like Jonathan Fisk and Brian Wolfmueller are quick to point out some of the more and less obvious abuses here and here, respectively (if you think the verse “I know the plans I have for you” from Jeremiah was written with your circumstances specifically in mind, give Pastor Wolfmueller’s great talk – the second link – a listen… there is a much bigger picture you do not want to miss).

Still, the abuses do not mean that God is not working in your life and that you should not have a robust confidence that he has, for example, arranged a special meeting with the aunt of your friend who was killed in Iraq at a church neither of you normally attend… or provided your family that new minivan you had been praying for, or helped you find the lost toy for your child…. or provided a potential spouse whom would be a good match for you…. or perhaps even miraculously prevented your cat from hanging himself.  (yes, and this also means that God’s hand is in all things – even evil things that occur – but to know how “God really feels”, we do not try to interpret these events, but look to the cross).

The point here, of course, is that you just do not base your entire Christian life on these beliefs. You don’t, like many persons in the Church are perhaps wont to do, form doctrines and dogmas based on them. You don’t make a practice of laying out “fleeces” before the Lord or agonize about unanswered prayers. You don’t pitch God if that voice you listened to ends up misleading badly (“oh, I guess that was against what the Scriptures say”). No. Beliefs like those mentioned in the preceding paragraph, robust convictions though they may be, are nevertheless held relatively lightly. Instead, the things that matter most – and that never can be doubted – are rather kept before our eyes: salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  This is the core message of the Scriptures.

So none of this is opposed to the cross and the written Word, even if yes, other experiences are always vying – and being used by the evil one – to override the humble and simple Word – and the humble and simple Sacraments (our real problem is not realizing just how immense and intimate – albeit quiet, simple and humble – something like the Lord’s Supper really is).

This we must unfailingly guard against. But we do not want to do so by dampering the right enthusiasm that Christians – actually compelled by His love (II Cor. 4:15) – have about living a life of communion with Christ and being found more deeply in Him and His will…. looking for growth to occur wherever God has placed them at that very moment (hopefully always being well grounded in the Scriptures).  That would be another kind of enthusiasm that we should warn against.

In sum, my prayer is that all us might long for this upcoming consummation more and more:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (II Cor. 3:18)

(for more of this kind of thing, see this post)

Feel condemned by all of this?  Like you have been missing out on the fullness of God’s plan and desires for you?  If so, let me say this, which is also the last thing I said in that blog conversation referenced in the footnotes below:

However many of God’s commandments we may have broken, however much we may have chosen paths that were not those He would have preferred, however many regrets we might have… those are to be left behind, as we go forward in both His pardon and power, which always avails for us in the blood. And let’s especially lift up the true body and blood of Jesus for us here, since that is what many, strangely, since the beginning of the Reformation have been keen to deny.  But I submit a greater realization of such gifts is in fact our highest need.

And so we end as we began:

Tullian T. basically says that people say he doesn’t believe in the third use of the law, but he does – he just doesn’t want to have to qualify everything (from sermon on “Discipline, Demagogery, and Jesus”, by his fellow Coral Ridge pastor Steve Brown).

Again, Luther-loving pastor Tullian T. basically says that he does believe in “the third use of the law” – he just doesn’t want to have to qualify things all the time (from sermon on “Discipline, Demagogery, and Jesus”, by his fellow Coral Ridge pastor Steve Brown).

(or alternatively, watch this excellent 10 minute clip with Pastor Tchivijian – all of us need to be reminded of God’s love for us like this sometimes)




* When I first wrote the following, I thought about naming it ‘Embracing Goals of the Gospel: Why Enthusiastic Christians Should Not Believe Enthusiasts who Insist God Has No Plan for Our Lives” (but that is some real inside baseball in my Christian Church, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod)

** “Thanks for sharing this kind of story.  My take on things like this is that God uses all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  We do not put our hope in experiences like this – His simple and humble word should be enough! – or build our understandings of Him based on our experiences… but we see these things happening in the wider context of a biblical understanding of who God is and His providential care for His children….”

*** As love grow, such feelings certainly cool and change, but I still greatly look forward to seeing her after work each day.

**** Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian: “The only way out of the slavery that accompanies a life of needing to take and get is for our hearts to be overwhelmed by what we already have. That’s the only way.” (Sermon, Dec. 7: “How to Be Perfect, Part 11”, available on iTunes)

***** Think you are really are not that bad?  Listen to Tullian Tchividjian, mentioned in the previous footnote, reveal sin in his “practical” sermon series “How to be perfect”.  Among other things, he says “The problem in the Church is not cheap grace. It is cheap law… if you really understood [your need] you would never say ‘Yes grace, but….’” (“How to Be Perfect, Part 7”, available on iTunes)

****** Others: “Is the Christian life more than feeling guilty about not feeling guilty enough so that one can really appreciate the Gospel and be transformed as one ought to be? In other words, if I cannot seem to feel guilty the way that I should, does that mean that I am cursed to never really begin to know the Gospel that compels true love?” and “As I mature in Christ, does this mean that my realization of my self and individual identity is in some sense completely lost?”

******* One traditional Lutheran pastor recently said to me: “I… think that the examples of Scripture where God provides specific direction to specific individuals are specific cases serving the specific purpose of the grand plan of our salvation in Christ. I do not think they form a general pattern of general applicability to be applied to everyone in general.”

This is worth thinking about more deeply. So what do the Scriptures say about how God guided some of the main figures in the Bible? They say, for example, that the Lord knew Jeremiah before He was born and had specific plan for him to be the Lord’s man, so to speak (Jer. 1:5). Earlier on, we read the same of Samuel, as we are told specifically what would be his purpose after Hannah prays for a child and has her prayer answered in spades! These persons, no doubt, were set apart at some point for a special purpose – even before their births.

Is it wrong to believe that someone like Luther was set apart for a special purpose – perhaps with an “ideal will” God meant for him to fulfill (we can think hard, for example, whether someone like Samson really fulfilled his mission in the way that God wanted him to – or if here, especially, God used evil for good)? Why should we assume that in the past, as God was leading His church, he had certain designs for certain persons, but that after we have the Holy Scriptures in their final form this no longer holds true? This does not necessarily mean that God ideally has such a purpose for each and every individual that lives on planet earth (though I am thinking hard about the man born blind now…), but I see no reason to think that God does not raise up specific men when the time is right.

These are all things the recent conversation I had at the BJS blog forced me to think about (most of this footnote was originally posted there).  I realized I had always believed that God raised up Martin Luther in particular to do what he did – and gave him a supporting cast for “such a time as this”.  Providence.  God is guiding history and in control…  If I recall, as regards the prophecy made by John Hus about the Swan that would arise (Luther!), many Lutherans believed it while Luther was still alive, and Luther himself no doubt knew about it.  If they had the kind of attitude towards these things that many Confessional Lutherans, for example, seem to have towards more supernatural guidance given to personal individual and for personal individuals, it seems to me that they would not have even considered the prophecy and rather denounced it.

******** One traditional Lutheran pastor said to me: “If there is a blue print for our lives, and there isn’t because the Bible does not talk that way, it would be in God’s sovereign will and would thus be out of bounds for us anyway.”

I replied as follows:

In short, I don’t think we can know what you assert here.  I do realize here that I might believe in something like a “blue print” for certain lives – an “ideal will” for persons God sets apart, so to speak. That said, for others, I think we could say that I at least believe in an “evolving blueprint” (which I’ll explain in a second). In any case, we agree on the meaning of “plan” in one sense: “keeping with his moral will/plan for me and to keep me in his salvific plan for me”.  We disagree in another sense, where there can indeed be a more supernatural hand in individuals and even group’s lives.  I believe, for instance, there that *at any point in time* there may be multiple plans, all morally good or acceptable: plan A, plan B, plan C, etc, with plan A being the best, for example (for a parallel with the Scriptures, we again point out how both marriage and celibacy are good, but celibacy, according to the Lord’s Apostle, is better). Further, plan A may only be able to be undertaken with prayer and fasting for example, and may require the belief that God has answered specific prayers in specific ways (again, I do think we can, but do not *need to*, pray about specific needs for ourselves or others, and have confidence that God has answered our prayers in specific ways – there are basic needs that kids have that they naturally ask their parents about – that seems to be what Jesus is talking about, when he talks about asking our Father for good gifts).

Again, just because these kinds of beliefs are abused does not mean that they are false.  None of this has anything to do with receiving new revelations that are going to form and reveal and develop doctrine (enthusiasts, Rome leading the pack).  Further, this [kind of activity] is not our main focus.  The fact that I’ve had such a hard time figuring out how to put this makes that clear to me at least.  I am more focused on talking about Jesus and the sweet peace and certainty that He brings us in His Gospel: forgiveness, life and salvation. In my classes, for example, this is what we are always talking about in a myriad of ways.  [Rome’s and the teachings of others] are condemned by us because they add works, thereby rejecting these things and the certainty they bring the Christian.”


Image credits: Wikipedia ; Jesus and Church: “Like an apple tree… is my lover”, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1851-1860, accessed at, Fall 2012 ; John Kleinig:

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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Uncategorized


Does God Have a Concrete Plan for Your Life?: Goals of the Gospel (part I)

This piece is dedicated to those wonderful persons I met in Campus Crusade for Christ, many of whom, while not teaching Christ’s imputational grace and denying the presence of His deified flesh and blood in the bread and wine, nevertheless seemed to me to be compelled by His love. You woke me up to so many things I had missed.

The Christ-driven life: Sometimes, in particular circumstances at particular times, this kind of message MUST be the goal…for failing Christians to… period. Such is God’s plan.

The Christ-driven life: Sometimes, in particular circumstances at particular times, this kind of message MUST be the goal… the Gospel is for failing Christians to… period. Such is God’s plan – that this message would be heard by all more and more.


“You showed Your mercy before I could perceive it. You came to me with Your Kindness before I could long for it. Your generosity encompassed me before I could offer thanks for it. You not only marvelously formed me in my mother’s womb, but also drew me out from the womb. You have been my hope since I was at my mother’s breast. I was cast on you from birth. From my mother’s womb you have been my God.” — Johann Gerhard, “Thanksgiving for Life and Birth,” Meditations on Divine Mercy


Does God have a concrete plan for your life?  Yes He does, from cradle (thank you Johann, for that tender picture) to the grave, and Lutherans, in particular, should be talking about it more. That plan, primarily, is that you would believe in the wonderful and infinitely precious Gospel of Jesus Christ and run in the way of His commandments, always growing in love toward God and neighbor.

I try to blog about things that other people are not talking about – or about things where I think I have something important to say. The following topic is one of these areas. I think many Christians will answer “yes” to this question, but do so with a more deterministic view of God and His will. I, on the other hand, think that it is always important for Christians to emphasize the very real human freedom that we have in Christ – the free will of our “new man”.  Especially more so these days.

Here is a quote from a colleague in the library world who has his ear to the ground. He predicts increasing concern regarding the area of free will in political life:

“There was a great talk by a German journalist ( and in one part he said that the question of free will is becoming a political question. On the web, with all of the algorithms and various types of surveillance etc. etc., can it be said that we have free will? Although we may think we do, there are myriads of things going on behind the scenes. I compare it to playing poker with somebody like John Scarne, the great card expert, e.g. (this is from the movie “The Sting”). We could play poker with John Scarne and think we were doing what we wanted, but as this short video shows, he was completely in control, getting everybody to do what *he* wanted, and could take every penny from us. While we think we are exercising our free will, he is handling us like puppets.

Increasingly so these days, with all of us living click to click on the internet, we are all being manipulated in more and more subtle ways. People exercise control over us in ways that we are oblivious to, trying to get us to do what they want us to do, for their purposes.  But their power is ultimately only temporal.  God uses us for His purposes to, but His purposes are ultimately rooted in a genuine love for all of His children and His desire for their salvation.

So let’s dive into His plan, speaking more broadly in part I and more personally in part II.

First, what is the Gospel? It is the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ given for us (see I Cor. 15) – for our forgiveness, life and salvation from sin, death and the devil. And it is OK to put a period here. Sometimes, we need to just rest in this message, which brings and gives us peace with God by grace though faith. God does desire us to be useful to Him, but of course He also delights simply to be present for and with His people, like a mother singing over the infant in her arms (see Zephaniah 3:17) or a husband with his wife (see Ezekiel 16). On the other hand, this Gospel in the narrow sense propels us to forward as well, into the “What next?” We do not say something like, “now that there is not anything that you have to do, what will you do”? (see this post), but rather say: “now that you are wholly His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, how shall we than live?” And, living solely from this “narrow” sense of the Gospel, we look, “by the mercies of God”, also to His whole counsel.*

Of course, the Ten Commandments are especially important here, which is why Martin Luther, for example, spent so much time on them in his Large Catechism. The Ten Commandments are one of God’s very concrete ways of showing us what love is and what His plan is, and so we should strive to properly understood them in their whole breadth (positive and negative), especially using the Scriptures, which should always set the parameters. As Lutheran Pastor Holger Sonntag reminds us, these commandments have numerous applications – which will play out in the variety of callings, or vocations that we have (for more on this very needed message of “vocation” see here) – even though they do not have thousands of meanings. Rather, to begin with, they have singular and clear meanings.

(if you have never looked at what Luther said about these Ten Commandments in the Small and Large Catechisms, please stop reading this post and check out one or the other or both now – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! It is also helpful to read his “Table of duties” in this context – here is the part on the commandments from the LC).

“I am not Pentecostal. But there are Pentecostal moments in my life. As there should be for all of us.” -- Tullian Tchividjian

“I am not Pentecostal. But there are Pentecostal moments in my life. As there should be for all of us.” — Presbyterian pastor Tullian Tchividjian, here

We rightly speak of the perspicuity, or clarity, of the Scriptures. All sound doctrine by which we live is found in the Scriptures, and so these are therefore our source and our focus. So when we talk about God’s plan for our lives, we do not, like some, chase visions, miracles, prophecies, etc. I am a Confessional Lutheran, and I am well aware that sometimes people ask “Are conservative Lutherans anti-Spirit led?”.  I think I understand why they sometimes feel compelled to ask this question. The main point here should be that visions, miracles, prophecies, etc. are not what Christianity is about – these are never to be the main focus or what should consume our lives.  If they become our focus, we are in danger at the heart of our Christian life, for we trust all things come from his hand (either actively or by what He permits) – particularly things like the Holy Scriptures – regardless of how we feel or what we experience. All, this said, conservative Lutherans certainly need not give off a “dead orthodox” vibe: we will delve more into how God is personally involved in our individual circumstances in part II, going into some detail, but for now it is simply important to state the above unequivocally.**

Again, individual circumstances aside though, there are things that God wants for each and every one of God’s children, as He looks for them, found in Christ, to grow in holiness – being “set apart” for Him in this world. Using the Ten Commandments, the truths of the Apostle’s creed, and prayer (particularly the Lord’s prayer), is a large part of how God works in our hearts to conform us to His image (the benefits the Creed speaks to us are concretely given in the other three parts of the catechism: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution).

Therefore, the foremost things needed for Christian life and growth for all of us is the content of the Creeds, the Commandments, and Christian prayer.  But is this not just a bit too programmatic, some – even Confessional Lutherans – might say?  We aren’t Methodists after all!  Shouldn’t we just live our lives in light of the Gospel and go forth more spontaneously (just loving God and loving neighbor, which is mostly intuitive, we think) – content to know that God will cover our sins as we, perhaps frequently, feel a need to “sin boldly”?

No. It is a very good thing to be structured, deliberate, and reflective when it comes to nurturing our spiritual lives and the environments that we inhabit – that we and others might as useful as we possibly can towards our King’s purposes.

No doubt, we should be confident that God can use all of our “screw-ups” to his glory, as one pastor put it. Still,that does not mean that we should be striving to be set apart with our Lord – becoming ever more mature in holiness.  As Paul says in Romans 12:

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. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Again, as noted above, for every Christian, a large part of this means learning more and more to understand and follow the Ten Commandments.  Again, see Martin Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms.  That said, I think there is a very important thing to add here – often lost today – and that is not that the perfect is the enemy of the good, but that the good is the enemy of the perfect.  The God who uses our “screw-ups” to His glory would even have us realize that the good decisions we have made without sin may nevertheless not have been as intelligent or as wise as they potentially could have been. We may rightly have regrets even over choosing a course that was not necessarily sinful in any way whatsoever – chalking it up to immaturity on our part. All this does not mean that more prayer would have necessarily been what we needed, but perhaps more sanctified common sense, formed by the Scriptures. Really, how do I know that God was not giving me a few options (like what Paul talks about in I Cor. 7!) and – at least from time to time – it would be better for me to choose one rather than the other?  If this was even the case with our Lord – who learned to avoid the appearance of disobedience, for example – why would it not be true for us?  Why should I not assume that it may in fact be the case that there is a better course, seek wisdom from others – and pray – accordingly?

This said, of course it does us no good to lose sleep over decisions that were not the most wise – rather it should drive us back to Christ and the Scriptures so that going forward we might be ready – formed more closely to Christ’s mind – to choose more wisely. And it should go without saying – sad that it often cannot in our increasingly “Best Life Now” environment – that all this is said complete with the realization that the path of the Christian is one of the cross – and not one of earthly glory or success.

And so, what about the role of prayer here?  Well, even before talking about God guiding us towards this or that path through prayer or otherwise, I do think it is important to talk about the importance of “sanctified common sense” and what it can potentially mean. Again, all of this is to be understood as going hand in hand with – and not against – the concreta guidance that God provides for all of us in the Ten Commandments.

The renovation God effects in us makes a difference in the world as well. See the paper with this diagram here.

The renovation God effects in us makes a difference in the world as well.

Cheesy Michael Jackson songs aside, Christians believe – among other things – that they can, by the grace of God, make the world a better place (at least here or there, as God gives them opportunities). In fact, Christian lives lived in obedience to God’s law and in step with God’s Spirit not only sustain and renew the world, but even create new and positive cultural and societal expectations.  This is true even if many of our humble and simple attempts to make things better never seem to “take”, and other seemingly stable gains seem to be lost in most no time at all. Speaking of the most foundational components in these efforts to share God’s word and be a force for what is good, true and lovely in the world (see Paul’s admonition in Philippians to pursue these things wherever they are found) we should seek to be not only a virtuous but a well-educated human being.  This means first and foremost attaining wisdom from the Scriptures and the Church, but second, also taking what is “good, true and lovely” from those who are not in the church, but nonetheless recognized for being people of both intelligence and wisdom.

…Let me try to illustrate what I am saying with a practical example (a made up story) – tying together what has been said above in a way that even a very secular person could grasp:

A family moves to the United States from South America. They have somehow been given this opportunity to move from their small farming village to an urban area. The family has young children. As they move in, the neighbors are, “fortuitiously”, friendly, eager to offer their help. But tragedy strikes. In the first week, one of the new family’s children – a four year old – chases a ball out into the street and is killed by an oncoming vehicle. Who is to blame, one might ask? The child? No one told him about these things. The parents? No one told them either that such a thing might occur. The neighbors? They were eager to help, but none thought to talk about this.

Should “what ifs” arise? Or should we simply conclude that this was God’s will and move on? It seems to me, considering such a hypothetical example from a Christian perspective, that we should not conclude thusly. Further, we should not try to assign blame to any one person but acknowledge that situations like these will inevitably happen in a fallen world. That said, this still does not mean that we cannot say that education could not have helped… that more intelligence and wisdom could not have made a difference. Of course they could have. The well-meaning neighbor – with more knowledge of the world God made – could very well have seen the potential for these events to unfold, and suggested not allowing the kids to play in a certain area, adult supervision, fences, talking to the children, etc… Or perhaps the family itself could have learned more themselves… somehow.

Surely, here we are all able to see that simple maturity – and wisdom – could have made the difference. We should not run away from this fact – this is precisely why we seek out persons older and more experienced than us – like the historic Christian church, for example – for guidance. But note: this is all able to be seen from a secular perspective alone!  And for the pure secularist – excluding notions of God altogether, education will – must – be that which saves the world.  But such secularists inevitably become technocrats – and most but not all of them become blind to the wisdom about matters like the natural family, trust and love, for example.

"Our neighbors did not understand her compassionate impulse because three thousand years of Hinduism, twenty-six hundred years of Buddhism, a thousand years of Islam, and a century of secularism had collectively failed to give them a convincing basis for recognizing and affirming the unique value of a human being.” (pp. 70-72, The Book that Made Your World.

“Our [Indian] neighbors did not understand [my wife’s] compassionate impulse because three thousand years of Hinduism, twenty-six hundred years of Buddhism, a thousand years of Islam, and a century of secularism had collectively failed to give them a convincing basis for recognizing and affirming the unique value of a human being.” (pp. 70-72, The Book that Made Your World.

This is where the Christian’ view of the world has much to offer. The Christian has the ancient wisdom not only in the Ten Commandments but the whole of the Scriptures to facilitate seeing – and experiencing – these things that others miss… Vishal Mangalwadi, a Christian from India who effected much change in villages there, has this to say about the difference that Christians living by their convictions can make:

“People with strong convictions lead reform movements.   Skeptics are, by definition, unsure in their beliefs.  A lack of conviction does not inspire people to die for their beliefs and values.  Fundamental reforms require the faith of ardent believers, so certain of their convictions that they would take up their crosses and go to the stake for them.  Fanaticism can, of course, lead to bigotry – unless one is following a God who sacrifices himself to serve others and commands you to love your neighbor as yourself.  Conviction that God is on your side makes you a powerful person.” (p. 345)

I think all Christians – and confessional Lutherans in particular – should especially take Mangalwadi’s words to heart – as we insist on a keeping the jars of clay in the forefront, holding up Christ crucified and the forgiveness, salvation, and life-changing power that message brings whenever we can.

Understandably, one may ask “should the words ‘Christian’ and ‘powerful person’ go together? I think yes, so long as we remember our strength is indeed found in weakness… and in humble and simple things…. Can we really say words like Vishal’s and yet also keep taking the focus off ourselves and looking to our Lord?  I think: how can we afford not to?  And as we do live such words, we will see that some things can get better, to this or that degree…. It is possible, with wisdom, to create new cultural institutions and patterns of thought. All of these steps are taken humbly of course, and the steps are often short and halting…. again, on earth, all gains and progress may seemingly be lost in the blink of an eye…. But we continue to press on, looking towards the final renovation in the New Heavens and Earth, particularly as God renovates us… (see more reflection on these issues in my series How Jesus Becomes King in Man: What Role Does the Church Have in Building Good Nations)

"....we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." -- II Cor. 4:7

“….we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” — II Cor. 4:7

So again – the point here is that when it comes to the matter of how we should live, Christians should deliberately try to inculcate – through structured or disciplined means – in humble and simple ways – in ways based on both passive and active learning – sanctified common sense.  Based primarily on the Holy Scriptures, but also not excluding words of insight and wisdom from those outside of the Christian faith. We are simply addressing matters of how we view God’s will at work in the world and our ability as persons to affect the world differently based on what is taught to us by very ordinary means.

All this said: “What of prayer’s role here?”  More will be said about this in the next post, but for now, let us begin by recognizing what I consider to be a very interesting fact: the Lord of the Rings was created by a great Christian mind – and yet we notice with passing interest that though Aragorn, for example, possesses much intelligence and even wisdom (and yes, prowess and skill) he does not pray. None of the characters do – for Providence in those books is mysterious, distant, even uncertain.

But not to us! Not in the Scriptures!  For He has come near in the flesh!  To say that we walk in the Holy Spirit also means that we carry the death of Christ in our own bodies!  And it is through this, that He makes all things new – yes, through His creatures. He works with us in the world.

Practical application? When an evangelical Christian of the American variety – filled with activist fervor – says, for example, “it’s a God thing”, do we need to insist this is necessarily them putting the focus on themselves – or are we willing to consider that it is possible that it could simply be a general child-like confidence in God’s providence and that He answers prayers? (of course, this idea is abused by many. And I suppose it is rejected, or at least fought, by those who have had experiences in their lives which they cannot understand…)

After all, Jesus said: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7), and there is no reason to say that Jesus is only talking about the Holy Spirit here, as some have asserted (he is saying this as well – see this discussion dealing with the parallel passage in Luke).

Tomorrow, in addition to speaking more on prayer, I will talk in more specific detail about the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus and that He has in giving us the kind of guidance that He does (as seen in the Scriptures) – containing, but not limited to the Ten Commandments. And does God have a “blueprint” for your life? We will also touch on that matter as well.

In the meantime, as we discuss all the ways Christians make a difference in the world, I think it does us well to remember these words from David Zahl, which sync nicely with the picture used at the beginning of this post to lead things off: “our hope is not found in the passing of tests but the forgiveness of failure.”

More on this tomorrow as well….




*Obedience is certainly a goal of the Gospel, as Luther says at the end of the LC. It helps if all of this is thought about in terms of the relationship of parent and child. I do not love my kids because they obey, even as I certainly want them to obey. God did not create us simply to be useful to His purposes and designs, though He certainly desires this of us. He really does desire simply to *be* with us as well. It is that simple really and we don’t need to complicate matters unnecessarily.

**Would I say, as some Confessional Lutherans do, that in the Smalcald Articles, Martin Luther said that God only deals with us through Word and Sacrament – and that if you think otherwise you are an “enthusiast” or the Devil is involved?

I would not say this and I find this to be a very interesting take on Luther. Why do we assume Luther in the Smalcald Articles is saying more than simply “we don’t make church doctrines out of things that are outside God’s word”? Luther is writing against people in his day who were saying that God created spiritual life and revealed doctrine to them – not via His “external word” – but via direct impressions in their heart, purportedly given to them by the “Holy Spirit (i.e. the papacy and the enthusiasts receiving new revelations so new doctrines could be made – even really smart and sophisticated enthusiasts like Schwenckfeld were saying this – see here).

So, is a person an enthusiast who believes that God will providentially engineer meetings between certain individuals, answer specific prayers, give us multiple options where we would not sin in any but be wiser in choosing one over the other, etc…?  Again, I don’t build my theology around my personal experiences – and I do not put a lot of stock in these things or teach others on the basis of them (like: this is something that God taught me personally that you need to know…)

I resist charismaticism – where experience overrides doctrine… but I would also resist those who would say that these things I describe above are definitely not to be a part of the Christian life, or are simply weaknesses or eccentricities that some less mature Christians may be subject to.


Picture credits: Wikipedia, and others: Clay jars (, Vishal (

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Posted by on December 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


God Became Man to Grow in Righteousness, That We Might Grow in Righteousness

“[He] grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”.

“[He] grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”.

“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.” — Isaiah 62:2

I know for many Lutherans in particular, that might seem to be a radical proposition. Maybe we are comfortable with Pastor William Weedon’s equating Athanasius’ “God became man that man might become God” with “God became a son of man that we might become a son of God”, but what to make of this?

First of all note this: it is only a child of God – by faith – that can grow in true righteousness. This statement assumes justification before God by faith.

It is my contention that this kind of theological reflection should help Lutherans in the ongoing discussions surrounding matters like the third use of the law. Most of this post, in fact, first appeared on a thread discussing the same.

Therefore, I started by talking about not the righteousness that was in Christ, but in the Christian: what is the character of that part in the Christian who has begun to have a new will that delights in God’s law?  What are the qualities of this incipient or inchoate righteousness (as the Formula of Concord calls it) in the Christian?

Does the Christian, insofar as he is a new man, learn and grow in this new will? Can this new man in the Christian grow more mature and stronger? Might this explain the seeming divide we see here with FC VI (the article on the third use of the law)? As trust in God increases, should we say that this is what happens – that righteousness somehow increases in strength and power? (never understood to happen independently of the Triune God, but in proper dependence on Him).

What if we quickly look at our Lord, who did not even have an old Adam?

We see that He learned. Perhaps the law – which we know is summed up in love – was intuitive for him. And yet we know that “the child [Jesus] grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him” and “[he] grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”. What could this mean – perhaps even for young Jesus that the law was intuitive in that He recognized wisdom when it was explicitly taught to Him or shown Him and not otherwise?

How could Jesus, who was already without sin, grow in this way? Clearly, we are talking about growth occurring according to his human nature. For example, He undoubtedly learned what others thought obedience should look like in the community of believers, becoming more careful concerning the issue of how obedience might sometimes appear to be disobedience (as the 12 year old temple incident shows).

And of course in the book of Hebrews we are told that

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”

Now’s a good time to point out that the one of the main ways we are sanctified is by suffering. No doubt about that. As the Lutheran pastor John Kleinig says, God keeps taking away things from us that we might cling to Him more. But look at what is said here… Jesus learned obedience, and once made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation….

A pastor friend pointed out as well that…
important here is also the fact that his voluntary submission to the law is part of humiliation (Gal. 4). As God, he is above the law. As man personally united to God, he is also above the law from the moment of his conception in Mary’s womb (genus majestaticum), but he did not use this freedom while on earth, but, instead, humbled himself and became obedient, obedient to death on the cross (Phil. 2). And this is not only how he won our eternal salvation (gospel). This is also how he left us an example, which the redeemed should emulate in active (doing) and passive (suffering) obedience (law, see 1 Peter).”

So here we see the importance of the passive and active obedience of Christ for us. But we also see that someone who is sinless – who does not have an old Adam – nevertheless becomes perfect.  How can this be? Did Jesus, according to His human nature, become stronger as a result of his obedience in the midst of the temptation, for example? How to explain this?

ontheincarnationI think this also syncs with the divisions of man we are told about in the Formula of Concord in the Lutheran Confessions, things like a) able not to sin ; b) not able not to sin ; and c) not able to sin. To say that the devil convinced Adam and Eve that what God called good (namely them) was not quite “good enough” certainly rings true (they were right where God wanted them to be!), but at the same time, I think Lutherans have historically believed that they were to ultimately become better, meaning more mature (i.e., being not able to sin was and is the goal), albeit only through God’s *giving* even this to them, which they would receive and cooperate with in the synergy of sanctification…

This would mean that “very good” and “perfect” should not be seen as synonymous here either. Rather, there is an “immature very good” and a “mature very good”.

This would explain why even the person who is fully without sin, Jesus Christ, can learn both from the law of God what is pleasing to Him and, from experience, suffering, and temptation, learn obedience which leads to maturity (perfection).

And He surely always delighted in the law according to His inner man – even when He was not yet fully mature…

And the same may also be true for us, all glory be to Christ our Lord! As II Corinthians 3:18 says:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.



Image credit: Christ in the temple from Wikipedia.

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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


Make Way for the King of Hearts

king-of-hearts-mdMy pastor’s sermon from this past Sunday.  The title above is what I have assigned to it.  The bold is mine.

“And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” Luke 1:32

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Crown Prince William and his wife Kate were in New York City last week. William will become King of England, once his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth dies, or abdicates, and his father, Prince Charles dies or abdicates. That is probably not going to happen any time soon.

Still, the media was all over the visit of the Royals. Here was a future King, visiting the United States. There is a show, on television called Game of Thrones. It is based on a series of fantasy novels entitled “A Song of ice and Fire,” and is all about fictional Kingdoms and thrones, and intrigues and the like. I have never seen it. It is not recommended viewing. And yet, millions of people are fascinated, apparently, by it.

I do not know who coined the phrase, but when John F. Kennedy became President, somehow, the fictional kingdom of Camelot became equated with his administration Apparently it was his wife Jackie, in an interview with Life magazine, after his assassination, that equated the two.

So obviously, even though we live in a democracy, a democratic republic it is said nowadays, we continue to have a fascination with Kingdoms, even with Kings.

Why? I don’t know. The thought of being born into power? The challenge of holding onto that power through intrigue? Is is living in castles that is so appealing? Whatever. It is probably safe to say, that whatever the reason, for a modern fascination with Kingdoms and Kings, such a fascination comes to a screeching halt, is abandoned, is set aside, when the fact is mentioned that Jesus Christ is a King. He is the King of Kings.

That Jesus Christ sits on the throne of His father David. That all who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior from sin and death are citizens, or, even better, subjects, of the Kingdom of Christ.

So our text for this morning: the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Mary, that Jesus the Son of God, to be born to her, would “sit on the throne of His father David”, and would reign, not just for a few decades, but would rule forever.

How did we become citizens / subjects of this Kingdom?

Luther put it nicely in the meaning to the Second Article of the Apostle’s Creed in the Small Catechism: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord (is my King, my Sovereign, my Liege), who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I might be his own…

(listen up here!) and live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness”.

So in short, through His death on the cross, Christ Jesus our Lord, redeemed us from sin, death and the devil so that we could be citizens / subjects of His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. That does sound wonderful, doesn’t it?

To be a subject in the Kingdom of Jesus. To have Jesus as our King.   Again: to be a subject in the Kingdom of Jesus. To have Jesus as our King.

I mean, the arrival of William and Kate in New York, gives one the thought of living in such a Kingdom, of living in England, perhaps. But then comes to mind, the reason the United States exists today, and that is a rebellion against a King. A revolution against being citizens, being subjects, of a Kingdom.

And yes, even though comparisons were made in the aftermath of the horrific assassination of our 35th president between the Kennedy administration and the ideal Kingdom of Camelot, time has allowed for the acceptance of more sober assessments of that period of Presidential history.

And television shows like Game of Thrones? Well, it can be exciting to imagine being a King, or Queen, ruling over a Kingdom of some sort, but let’s be honest: most of the characters of such shows, as in the actual kingdoms of history, end up being killed in battle, poisoned, imprisoned, banished, assassinated, or even worse. Rarely did the Kings of old, or so it seems, die of old age.

In short, earthly kingdoms, Kingdoms of Men, fictional or not, are lacking and lacking greatly.

That being so, why don’t we simply embrace the truly wondrous Kingdom, the truly glorious Kingdom, the truly eternal Kingdom of which we already are subjects? Why do we not simply rejoice that the baby, to be born of Mary, as proclaimed by the angel Gabriel, has rescued us from sin, death and the devil and through our baptisms into Him, through the work of the Holy Spirit on His behalf, already made us citizens, subjects, of a kingdom in which there are no intrigues, but only Righteousness, Innocence, and Blessedness?

But perhaps that is the problem. Like the disciples of Jesus, before the bestowal of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the appeal of an earthly Kingdom, in which we are King or Queen is that we are reigning. We are ruling, we are having our will fulfilled daily, for good or ill. Like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, it is easy to think, or even to sing (to ourselves) “If I were the King of the Forest” and then complete that thought with our brilliant idea of making everyone around us, do exactly what we want them to do.

But even real kings have discovered that being and earthly King is not all of what it is cracked up to be. And anyone who has been given and wielded real authority and power on this earth knows that the responsibility that comes with such authority can simply be overwhelming.

So we repent, don’t we? Repent of our desires to rule over those around us; our desires to somehow impose our will on others for our own good, of grasping after, power for power’s sake, and rejoice, that the Kingdom of which we are a part, The Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, is a Kingdom or righteousness, and innocence and blessedness:

The Righteousness, Innocence and Blessedness of our King, bestowed upon us, through faith in Him. In this Kingdom, it is really not a matter of lording it over others, but serving others. Not of arrogance but of humility, not of sinfulness but of sinlessness.

What does the Kingdom look like? Does it have a castle? Does it have walls? Does it have an impressive coat of arms? Where do we find this Kingdom? Well of course, the Kingdom of our King Jesus is a Kingdom of hearts, a Kingdom in which he reigns by the power of the Holy Spirit within us.  

But that being so, it is not as if the Kingdom of our King Jesus cannot be found. Where called ministers of Christ are found, prayer, praise and thanksgiving are heard. Where there is the Holy Word of God, confession and absolution, the Lord’s Supper and Holy Baptism; where prayer is offered and the Holy Cross is lived-out daily, there you know you have found that Kingdom of hearts, the Kingdom of our King Jesus here on earth.

Sure, on the Last Day, everything will change, everything will be visible. We will see our King! And all of us, who are citizens, subjects, in His Kingdom will identify each other as such; on the Last Day, we will see our Heavenly Kingdom and the places where we will live.

At that time, everything will be visible and known. Until that time everything is hidden and therefore only somewhat perceptible. And so what can be said about the Kingdom of our King Jesus? I mean, that is a great part of Kingdoms in this world. What can be said about them, and what in fact is said about them.

People in the world still citizens of such kingdoms usually are proud that they are. What can be said then about being a citizen / a subject in the Kingdom of our King Jesus? What can we say about it? What can we tell our friends and neighbors?

I posted the following comments from Luther, on the church Facebook page this last week, newly translated remarks on Revelation 3:21… Remarks that give us an idea of what we can think about our citizenship in the Kingdom of our King Jesus:

We should marvel at the gospel to such an extent that it should make us proud and glad. It should make us boast: I am a Christian. I am baptized. Therefore I do not at all doubt that, by the Lord Jesus, I will be and remain a lord over sin and death; that heaven and all creation are to serve me for good. Even if I had the crown of the Turkish emperor, it is nothing compared to the fact that I have a share in Christ’s inheritance and that I am to live with him in eternity. Yet where do you find those who truly believe this and take it to heart? To be sure, we know the right words and can repeat them, but we are quickly convicted of the fact that we do not believe it. For we do not marvel, otherwise we would be not only glad, but then also boastful. For a Christian is a boastful, blessed person who cares about neither the devil nor any misfortune. For he knows that, by Christ, he is a lord over all this.”

You see, at the end of the day, this is the wonder of being a citizen, a subject, within the Kingdom of King Jesus. Through our King, who now reigns over heaven and earth, we too have been granted authority over sin, death, and the devil.

No, we don’t live in a castle surrounded by a wall and moat, keeping away from us all that would harm us, in this world. But we do live in a Spiritual Kingdom, and that is, the Spiritual Kingdom of our King Jesus, in which our King Lives and Reigns, and as His citizens, we will always receive what we need.

This is better than any Earthly Kingdom which exists now or ever has. This is better even than any fictional kingdom like Camelot or fantasy kingdom like that of the Game of Thrones. And what is best about it, is that even now, we are living within it, and will continue to do so for all eternity.


Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting, Amen.

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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


Christmas Apologetics with Flair

Another fine video from Pastor Jonathan Fisk:

Also: a good answer to the Washington Post op-ed from the other day casting doubt on the historicity of Christmas.

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Posted by on December 22, 2014 in Uncategorized


“Marriage, Sex, and Gender” 2015 Congress on the Lutheran Confessions

Below, you will find an announcement for….

“….the 2015 Congress on the Lutheran Confessions, to be held in Minneapolis at the Ramada Hall of America on April 15-17, 2015.  The general topic is “Marriage, Sex, and Gender.”  This topic could not be more timely in light of the present legal challenges to gay marriage in the USA and the recent struggles within the Vatican over the same issues to be discussed at our Congress.

The hosts  for the conference are The Luther Academy and The Association of Confessional Lutherans.  Both organizations were founded by, or with the assistance of, the Rev. Dr. Robert Preus.  This is the twenty-sixth year for the ACL National Free Conference, and the 22nd year that the Luther Academy has been involved as a co-host and sponsor.’ — Martin Noland

Here is a link where you can download the announcement which follows as a PDF document.

The Association of Confessional Lutherans and The Luther Academy are in the process of planning the next ACL National Free Conference 26, Luther Academy Lecture Series 22.

April 15 – 17, 2015

Ramada Mall of America

Bloomington (a suburb of Minneapolis), Minnesota

The overall theme for this congress is:






1. Same-sex Marriage: The Challenges

of its U.S. Legalization for Pastors

and Congregations

2. Homosexuals in the Congregation:

Pastoral Ministry and Church

Discipline from a Confessional

Lutheran Perspective

3. Cohabiting Couples in the

Congregation: Pastoral Ministry and

Church Discipline from a

Confessional Lutheran Perspective

4. Women’s Ordination and

Congregational Roles Revisited:

Can the Confessional Lutheran

Synods Hold the Line?

5. Have Lutherans Had a Unique View

of Romance and/or Married Life,

when Compared to Other Christian


6. Do the “Orders of Creation” Pertain

Only to the Vocation of Marriage, or

Also to Other Vocations?

7. Canaan or Israel? The Old

Testament’s Doctrine of Marriage in

the Pentateuch and the Prophets

8. Luther: What is Marriage Really?

9. Divorce and Remarriage in the

Parish and the Parsonage

Questions, Information:

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Posted by on December 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


Seeing the Clear Difference Between Paul’s Law Preaching in Roman 1-3 and 12 ff

Is Luther really a Baptist in disguise? See this post for more.

Is Luther really a Baptist in disguise – or does he just distinguish between the second and third use? See this post for more.

In a recent post about “the third use of the law”, I made this claim:

It’s all about Christian’s Spirit-led and default inclination being to coerce and drag old Adam – some other Christian’s or our own – into the presence of God’s means of grace and beyond… i.e. into the straight paths that make life safe and good for straying sheep.

And this is what those who preach the law in it’s third use take into account.  Well… some remain quite unconvinced of this.  Therefore, this is part IV of my ongoing posts about “the third use of the law” (part I, part II. and part III The post that ties them all together however, identifying what I believe are the underlying issues, is this one: Can Confessional Lutherans Live in an “Imputation-Only World”? 

What many modern confessional Lutherans want to say is this:

[The article on the third use of the law in the Lutheran Confessions] indicates that “the preaching of the law is to be urged with diligence, not only among those who have no faith in Christ … but also among those who truly believe in Christ.”  Period.

Note the “Period”.  The desire is that the conversation ends here.  That is all there is to say.


The sixth article of the Lutheran Formula of Concord is indeed about how the law should be urged on Christians. But in what way? What does it mean to urge the law on the Christian here?

I submit that this can be seen by looking closely at the fifth and sixth articles of the Formula of Concord, about “The Law and the Gospel”, which parallels Paul’s use of the law in Romans 1-3, and the “Third Use of God’s Law”, which parallels Paul’s use of the law in Romans 12 ff, respectively.

FC V is about how the law is revealed and taught to people (here we note it is mentioned that the law is unchangeable as well – V:17) so that they (believers to!: see V:2: “unbelief of the converted… is pardoned and forgiven”) may be led to the knowledge of their sins by the Law.  It is all about the Holy Spirit and the Church using the law in its second, or spiritual use: accusing, condemning, convicting, reproving, rebuking, etc. en route to repentance. FC V is about the preaching of repentance using the law of God, not the Gospel (the message of the cross can also convict). In other words, it is related to justification and continual justification. Note again, the second use of the law – its primary use – is to be continually applied to believers (as well as being needed to convert unbelievers), who here are understood to, as they stand before God, always remain totally sinners and totally saints (100% each).

This would be like what Paul is doing in Romans 1-3.

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: to not preach the third use of the law is break the bruised reed and snuff out the smoldering wick (see here)

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: to not preach the third use of the law is break the bruised reed and snuff out the smoldering wick (see here)

FC VI is, as the sainted Kurt Marquart says, about the laws “practical application to daily life” (think of Luther’s “Table of Duties” and the “Large Catechism”): how the law is used with people born anew by God’s spirit that they might live and walk in it. It is about the preaching not of repentance per se, but of obedience, addressing the old and new natures in the Christian. With the Gospel serving as the ground (“by the mercies of God”)*, the third use of the law encourages the Christian, according to his new man, to walk in the good works that God has appointed for him to do (“good works …encouraged from the law” – VI:2). The new man in the Christian, motivated [update: not a good word…let’s try….] having his anticipation aroused by (as in: “The law, after all, cannot motivate or inspire the obedience it demands – but the Gospel can inspire us to say “Amen!” when we hear the beauty that is God’s law/will!” ; also see the note from Dr. Philips below) this instruction and admonishment / exhortation (VI:6 ; 12: “He encourages them to this”), is eager to live according to God’s law, in which he delights, so much so that sometimes he will wield the law himself, accusing, threatening and even physically punishing the flesh, the old man, within him (I Cor. 9:27). Therefore, the law need not “confuse the regenerate with its coercion” (VI:5).

This would be akin to what Paul is doing in Romans 12ff “by the mercies of God” (based on all the sweet Gospel that comes before it, and including the discussion of the two natures in the Christian, chapters 7 and 8) and Ephesians 4-6.

Of course in discussing the Christian’s new obedience, the second use of the law – the law’s primary use! – cannot be irrelevant to this (neither is it the focus of article VI – as it is not dealt with in the Epitome of the article) but has some significance (see VI: 12 -14, 21-22). The written law continues to reveal to the believer how his good works always fall short, and how the Gospel, in the blood of Christ, covers even the sin that infects our good works. What is important to note here is that the strong believer, ever aware of this Gospel truth, will eagerly join in the rebuking and condemning of the old Adam in him. In sum, while the presence of the second use of the law in the article does address old Adam’s Pharisaical tendencies – showing him how his works are imperfect and impure and cannot stand before God – it also points out to the new man in the Christian how the fruit of obedience can and should become more pure (see VI:17, 18, 24), as sin is driven out and old Adam is “forced to obey Christ” (VI: 24). In other words, all of this serves the primary purpose of the article – the new obedience of the Christian – by addressing and countering old Adam’s Epicurean tendencies. In other words, it is related not just to our passive sanctification, but our active sanctification as well (see the end of Romans 6 in particular here).

"Progressive sanctification? The horror!" -- Kurt Marquart, sarcastically. What is holiness? See more here.

“Progressive sanctification? The horror!” — Kurt Marquart, sarcastically. What is holiness? See more here.

To add more detail: the law in its second use threatens persons with God’s wrath and temporal and eternal punishments (“God’s wrath, death, all temporal calamities, and the punishment of hellfire”- V:20). Here, we note that the law is used specifically to reveal sin and, with the Gospel, to produce repentance unto life.  In the case of the third use of the law, the law is used specifically to address the Christian as partially saint and partially sinner (Romans 6-8 unveils this reality in detail), urging the new man in the Christian on to obedience, as old Adam is driven out more and more. The threats, rewards, and punishments discussed here are more akin to the first use (VI: 19), with its focus on temporal, often immediate, carrots and sticks. As Luther says, the Holy Spirit makes the law enjoyable and gentle to the justified, and therefore, the preacher should not make the law overly harsh among the justified but should change into the gentler tone of exhortation.** Again, we note that here we have Christians taking steps themselves to tame, even through “blows”, the wild and disobedient old Adam within.

This is what the Holy Spirit encourages, and this is what proclaimers of the Word should encourage, imitating Paul, as he seeks to keep in step with the Spirit.

UPDATE: if you just can’t shake a sense of condemnation, I can identify with youI offer you this from Dr. Eric Phillips, over at the Just and Sinner site.



*A great quote from Dr. Eric Phillips, which helps us think more about this:

“The third use of the Law isn’t just an exhortation to the forgiven. It’s a promise. This is what you will be: like Christ. This is what you have already begun to be: like Christ. “Let the dead man bury its dead, and come follow Me. I have ordained good works for you to do, now and forever.”

The third use isn’t Law-Gospel-LAW. David Scaer is good on this. It’s the Christological use of the Law. It’s the Law we get to do, as fellow-laborers together with Him, haltingly but with increasing power, until we are made His perfect image in the Resurrection. It’s the Law promised in Jeremiah 31: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (v. 33). It is, whether you want to adopt his language or not, the promise St. Peter alludes to in 2 Pet. 1:4, that we have been freed from corruption and made to be like God.

2 Peter 1:5-8: For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Of course the 3rd use will convict us also by implication, just as the 2nd use also exhorts and instructs us, but its purpose is to rouse anticipation, not fear–to enlist the New Man happily to mortify the Old and taste “the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the Age to Come” (Heb. 6:5). The Law always accuses, but when we know we are forgiven, it can also comfort and encourage us.”

**Luther also says that too much condemning law can lead into despair and kill completely – the law “should be reduced through the impossible supposition to a salutary use”

 Note: some changes have been made in the original post for the sake of clarity.


Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Uncategorized


A Brief Lesson in Modern Philosophy

Pastor Jonathan Fisk is one of the more gifted popularizers of Lutheran theology and philosophy today.  I thought one of his most recent videos (from yesterday) was worth highlighting:

Good stuff to get younger people thinking about the pedigree of the ideas that they are hearing in the world today.


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Posted by on December 14, 2014 in Uncategorized


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

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)

Note II: In light of some recent posting in the Lutheran blogosphere (here, for example*), I am re-printing this article from a couple years ago. 

Before I jump into my post however, some excellent words of wisdom from tweeting pastor Christopher Jackson.  As he shows, this really this isn’t about pointing at one’s own holiness – it is more about acknowledging and appreciating God’s work in one’s neighbor – in addition to the simple fact of recognizing what the Scriptures say.   

  1. Denying progressive sanctification is a double edged sword. It keeps one from pride in one’s holiness.
  2. But it also keeps one from acknowledging the holiness in others.
  3. It prevents one from exalting oneself, but it also causes one to bring others to ones own level.
  4. Personally, I can’t help but admire and have profound gratitude at the holiness of a persecuted African Christian who remains faithful.
  5. I refuse to say that she is no more sanctified than me, fat, comfortable, western Christian that I am.
  6. Another double edged sword has to do with identity.
  7. Denial of progressive sanctification differentiates one from Methodists and Roman Catholics.
  8. But, denial of progressive sanctification also differentiates one from such as Walther, Gerhard, Chemnitz, Krauth.

cjacksontweetsNow, onto my reprinted article….

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 : ) ).

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”?


*My pastor comments: “…a number of non-sequiturs. Just because we are justified by faith through Christ does not mean we do not grow in sanctification. Just because we grow in sanctification does not mean we become less and less dependent upon Christ, nor not justified completely through Him. Just because our sanctification can both increase and decrease does not mean we do not wish it to increase, nor strive for it to increase.

And questions: What ultimately is an increase of faith if not a growth in sanctification? How can the “breaking out” of the new man not be considered a growth in sanctification? How can the Christian be a “completely new creature” and yet die?”

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


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Posted by on December 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


Worldly Progress (“It Works”) vs. Progress in the Word (“He Works”)

"It works" ("techne" is God) vs. "He works" (God is love)

“It works” (“techne” is God) vs. “He works” (God is love)


The prolific Eastern Orthodox priest and blogger again has posted some thought-provoking material, this time decrying the notion of any progress in the Christian life (see “You;re Not Doing Better” and the follow-up post, “Why Sin is Not a Moral Problem” to read his pieces and the interesting conversations that follow).

It seems that there is almost a notion of original – and not just “ancestral” – sin in what Father Freeman talks about.  Also, what about this common view that the Eastern Orthodox believe that certain saints do, in fact, attain perfection in this life?

But I digress.  Let me get to the things that I want to talk about.

Among other things, Father Freeman said:

“My reward is not my “not doing x.” My reward is Christ.”

Here is the question I asked:

“Father – on the one hand I like the way you put this. Mary over Martha! That said, with Christ as our reward is it not our joy to not only hurt our neighbors less, but to genuinely love* them more – is this not the kind of love that Paul urges us to strive for? Is that not true morality and progress?”

That truly spiritual notion of progress (“How am I doing?” you ask?  Maybe you can identify with the transformation failure I often feel**) can be contrasted with a more worldly notion of progress.

With the worldly notion of progress, it is all about discovering “what works” in the world and putting it into practice.  And as the Lutheran layperson Beverly Yanke put it, life is all about “what I do for myself by myself to enrich myself”.  Not just so that we can pleasure and serve myself of course (though some persons ultimately do end up doing this), but so that I can work towards a “common good” that I imagine and construct with other like-minded “souls”, as opposed to the good being something we somehow discover is real.  This, it seems to me, is more the notion of progress that Father Freeman is attacking – and of course some promoting this notion have tried desperately to leave the divine out of the picture (even as this is inevitably impossible)

For more thoughts about this highly secularized form of worldliness (where secular means leaving a personal God out of the picture, not just “pertaining to the world”), you can see my post, The “upside” of being a gadget, or, we are all acting like atheists now.



*There is a “first article” (of the Apostle’s Creed, which can be broken up into three articles) kind of love in all human beings – 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.

**Yes, there are times in my life when I do feel – against my better judgment – that what one Lutheran Pastor recently tweeted is the only thing that can be said about God’s law: “When the Law is held up to us like a mirror, it doesn’t compel us to do more better. It simply says, ‘Shut up. You’ve done enough damage.'”


Picture of Robot hand and human hand created taken from the cover of this book:

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Posted by on December 10, 2014 in Uncategorized