First of all, I’m developing a Twitter habit (you can follow me here, but please understand if I don’t follow you). I resolved to pay less attention to blogs this year (nothing wrong with blogs, just need to be doing other things), but now I’ve been sucked into reading Twitter posts (again, nothing wrong with Twitter….). Here’s what’s on my mind this morning….
Lutheran convert Daniel Emery Price just yesterday sent out a tweet that has become quite popular:
“Show me a man who won’t admit he’s a habitual sinner and I’ll show you a man who has a low view of God’s law.”
I can see why it has quickly gained in popularity. That is some real jarring truth. Right after that, he sent out this gem from Luther:
“Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be seen as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners.”
As Lutherans are apt to say, this is most certainly true. Even as Luther told us to perpetually drive out the sin that remains within us (as the Israelites were to drive out the Jebusites), we are also to have a realistic view of our condition: to realize that we are all – Christians as well – slated to pay the wages of sin, and to die the “first death” (not the “second death” though – eternal damnation). The root of our evil – original sin – will not be removed until the last day.
It is worth stating this again: evil desire will remain – even as, apart from Christ, this desire itself wins us death and hell.
Should such evil desire not bother us? No, it should bother us indeed – we need to realize our culpability and the wages that follow even for this. It is for this sin that Christ went to the cross….
It is because of this that such sin must never lead us to despair, but always to Christ, the friend of sinners. As I also read this morning in one of the [freshly translated] Luther devotions from Lutheran Press:
When you are to pray, you may feel offended by your own unworthiness and think: Alas, I have too many sins and am worried that I may not be Christ’s brother. Lash out and defend yourself as much as you can, lest you give room to these thoughts. For you are in grave danger of sinning against the Holy Spirit. Only say confidently and stubbornly against all this suggesting by the devil: I know full well what I am, and you do not need to tell or teach me this. For it is not up to you to judge me. Therefore, be gone, you miserable lying spirit! I shall not listen to you. Yet here is my Lord Christ, God’s own Son, who died and rose from the dead for me. He tells me that all my sins are forgotten and that he now wants to be my brother and that, in turn, I am to be his brother. He wants me to believe this wholeheartedly without any wavering.
And we are free! But, we may often think, “What about the evil desire that remains – and that creates the thoughts, words, and deeds by which we hurt our neighbors and offend God?” Is there any hope at all for improvement here? Even if the evil root – “old Adam” – will remain?
There certainly is, otherwise the Apostle Paul would never say to the Ephesians, for example, that “sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints.” (Eph. 5:3). We should believe in spiritual progress not because we detect some of this in our own life, but because the Scriptures assert that Christians are those who are increasingly transformed into His image (see 2 Cor. 3:18).
But how does this genuine progress take place? A couple key points.
First and foremost, there is the medicine of the word of God and the sacraments. As Luther says in his explanation to the third commandment: “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” Here is where we receive our bread – the words that are Spirit and life. (particularly in the words of Christ crucified for sinners).
Second, we can pray not only using simple words like “thank you” or “help” (sometimes very desperately) but in ways that remind us always of God’s eagerness to show us and others pardon and power. In my own life, I have found it helpful to pray the following prayer when dealing with one of my habitual sins, impatience and anger, with my five boys:
“Love is patient, love is kind…. Christ is for me – forgiven. Christ is in me – forgive them.”
Holy Spirit, make us thine in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.