Monthly Archives: February 2016

“I feel like most religions are based on the same basic principles.” Yes?


A student writes (shared with permission):

Our chat was nice and when someone asked the questions about different religions.  This is always confusing to me because I do not understand how people look down at other’s beliefs. I also find it difficult to understand how you can get along with and close friends with someone if you are so different in beliefs or if one person believes that the other isn’t going to heaven if they are not Christian. So people say I love and respect this person yet they are not going to heaven?  I feel like most religions are based on the same basic principles. Even Yancey explained that all religions want us to be pure and kind to ourselves and others, so why then is it so bad to disagree? My way is not the right way for everyone and this is not just applicable to religion.

My response:


Thanks for your honest comments. Yes, there are persons who are friends and yet believe that there friend is not on the right side of God’s judgment. I understand that might be hard to grasp, but a Christian, who is commanded to love his/her enemies, can certainly keep that in tension.

Are there similarities between Christianity and other religions? Sure, there are some. Many religions generally teach some form of the law, for example, what we see in the “second table” of the Ten commandments. In other words, honor your father and mother, do not murder, to not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness…. I am not sure about not coveting! Other religions also generally have the negative form of the Golden Rule, i.e. “do not do to other people what you do not want them to do to you”. Many times, even atheists think these rules make a good deal of sense, and of course, anyone, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, believes in a right and a wrong (even if they deny it). Here much common ground can be found, even if the other religions do not acknowledge the God of Israel and His Son Jesus Christ. On the other hand, in some religious systems the gods or spirits do not even care about people enough to give them guidance via laws. These gods exist to be feared and appeased. Law and order is provided by those on earth who have power – and have historically often claimed to be gods themselves.

As I said in class, “thank God Jesus is God”. And He is different! Other religious leaders, for example, did not have clear prophecies uttered about them hundreds of years before they were born (see Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 for some of the most striking). Other leaders did not perform miracles like Christ that confirmed Messianic prophecies (see what Jesus tells a doubting John the Baptist in Luke 7). Other leaders did not claim to be God (see the great “I am” statement in John 8, where Jesus claims the same thing for Himself that Yahweh does in the Old Testament). And of course other leaders did not claim to be the only way to come to the Father (“I am the way, the truth and the life – no one comes to the Father except through me”). Nor were they raised by the Father in order to have their claims vindicated and to give life to the world (new life to a fallen world that is). So yes – other leaders did not endure a shameful death on the cross for the sin of the world before seeing the vindication of a resurrection from the dead. For me, it all comes down to this: I want to follow the One who is risen from the dead.

But some might ask this:

“How do we know that Muslims aren’t worshipping the same God without realizing it? How do we know that Muslims just don’t believe in the Trinity, and that God (our God) is who they call Allah?”

I’ll address this issue in general first. Biblically, there is only one God. People do see God in different ways, but the Bible would assert that those who understand God, His view, and His actions differently than those ascribed to Him in the Bible are “misinterpreting” Him to say the least. The Bible calls it idolatry. Again, there is the true Jesus and false Jesus’ as well Paul tells us. Biblically speaking, these false views of God are not harmless, but as I said in the first chat, connected with the demonic. Here one thinks of Elijah’s confrontation with the false God Baal, who incidently, like most old pagan gods and goddesses, encouraged some pretty corrupt practices, like temple prostitution, child sacrifice, etc.

One might say from a Christian perspective, the Jewish and Muslim versions of God are not quite as bad, as they more closely resemble the Christian God in some respects. That said, what they are missing is quite key though: Jesus. They specifically deny that Jesus is who He said He was, which is God incarnate (see John 8) come to save the world from sin. Without Him there is no sacrifice for sins left, and whoever denies Him denies the Father.

I understand if people do not believe any of that – and I will defend person’s right not to believe it, as I expect them to defend my right. I think it is important for persons to have a good sense of what they are rejecting though. I think persons often don’t.

Regarding the idea that we all worship the same God for me it is like this. Let’s say you and I are talking and we realize we both know the same person. How cool! Let’s say we go on thinking this is the case for a while.. that is, until we start talking about the person in more detail. It is only then – after we have more information – that we realize that we actually were not talking about the same person at all.

Getting into a lot of depth about the actual teachings of other world religions can be a real eye-opener. Take a look at this first page of this document. I put that chart together mostly from memory (my study of other faiths) – and am certainly open to being corrected about any of it.

As I said on the dbs…Here in wintry Minnesota, I went sledding with my boys the other day. The three year old could not walk up the steep hill. One son said he wouldn’t help him. Another said he couldn’t help him. Only father was both good and strong enough to help. Likewise, only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – who refuses to be thought of apart from His Son – is strong enough to help us, to save us, from our desperate condition of bondage to sin, death, and the devil.

I know this was a lot. I hope it helps somewhat.


For more thoughts on this issue, see this more recent post:

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Posted by on February 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


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For Scalia, R.I.P. – Why Nature Must Be Stopped

I say “You shall not pass!” My friend Arya says “By the Spirit we shall."

I say “You shall not pass!” My friend Arya says “By the Spirit we shall.”

I dedicate this post to now deceased SCOTUS justice Antonin Scalia. May he rest in peace.

“Not to resent offenses is the mark of a base and slavish man.” — Aristotle

“I attack ideas, I don’t attack people – and some very good people have some very bad ideas.” — Antonin Scalia


In a recent internet conversation, a woman named Arya Blynde took exception to a comment I had made about the ancient Latin poet Ovid, who said “I approve the better course, and yet I choose the worse”. Regarding this I had commented, “In a world increasingly devoid of Christian truth, even relatively good heathen like the Latin poet Ovid, all too aware of their inner darkness and failures, will be harder and harder to find.” Arya opposed me on this with great zeal.

That said, Ms. Bynde is delightfully civil, frank, and easy to talk to – the kind of opponent a good debater like to have. She also has unflagging conviction one can respect and appreciate. When I said “Long live the soft patriarchy. Long live complementarity. Long live the defenders to the weakest and most helpless among us – I feel like Gandalf saying to you ‘you shall not pass’”, she wrote me a longer response saying, “thank you – but we shall pass”.

Since I think it is a good thing for Christians to be aware of articulate and rhetorically powerful arguments from those who disagree with us, I asked Arya if I could publish her response on this blog. I appreciate her willingness to let me do this, and hope you enjoy her penetrating comments. Like many editors, I have made some small changes and have chosen the title for this article, admittedly making it a bit more sexy and provocative than the article itself. Enjoy her piece:

Why Nature Must Be Stopped

by Arya Blynde [note: yes, this is a satirical piece written by me, [Infanttheology], in case anyone is confused]

Rachel - I am perplexed at the hostility shown to you for simply being true to your inner self - Arya

Rachel – I am perplexed at the hostility shown to you for simply being true to your inner self. – Arya B.

Nature has this annoying habit of stacking the deck against those of us who long for progress and liberation. It, for example, predisposes us to label things and put them in categories that are actually only as real as we imagine them to be. Christian-Muslim, white-black (hang in there Rachel Dolezal…your truth — and critical thinking — will overcome!), male-female – we know that all of these labels are simply social constructs that have no reality beyond what we imagine. What really matters, of course, is the freedom of our human spirit — and love. But nature, sadly, is persistent

What do I mean? Well, nature, among its many problems, has issues pertaining to privilege. Take, for example, the rights of [cis] women

(note: this, in shorthand, means women who are born in women’s bodies — if you are not up with this vocabulary yet, please read this — it’s critical you get peoples’ preferred pronouns right: he, she, ze…).

It’s just not fair that…

  • their bodies should attract so much unwanted attention from cis males (that is, for my knuckle-dragging friends, men who are born in men’s bodies)[i]
  • their proclivity to bear[ii] and nurture children makes it more difficult for them to keep kids’ demands in perspective and get on with real work
  • women should have to take extra special care to make sure fetuses are not harmed due to alcohol consumption in utero, or be prone to feel shame over not trying to exclusively give children breastmilk, the best available nourishment (see here[iii])
  • a woman might grant the fetus she carries her recognition of “being child” only to miscarry – and then feel overwhelmingly great sadness that, in general, only more backwards, “pro-life” folks will sympathize with (see here[iv])
  • some women might be inclined to feel sorrow, concern, and even guilt – directly after someone around them felt compelled to pay some attention to a fetus’ actions during routine women’s reproductive health services like abortions (see here[v])
  • some especially have a penchant for being bothered by the respectful and reverent sacrificing of otherwise unwanted fetuses that others may be blessed – and thank God for their human organs and tissues. Finally…
  • publications like the National Review evidently think that, in 2016, they can get away with nonsensical – and grossly insensitive headlines – like “only a Barbaric Nation Drafts Its Mothers and Daughters into Combat” (see here[vi])
  • so much more could be said!
Rey don’t mansplain: of course the strongest woman can take the strongest man – Arya B.

Rey don’t mansplain: of course the strongest woman can take the strongest man – Arya B.

If people think that “nature” can be referenced to justify any of these situations, using forceful phrases like “natural law” for example, it only reinforces the point that I am making.

The systematic bias that nature exhibits is obvious. For example, it provides cover for unjust privileges by predisposing us to use oppressive labels like “male” or “female” – so that many see nothing wrong with saying unnerving things like “it’s a boy!” or “it’s a girl!”.

This kind of bias – starting right from our first breaths even! — is clearly insane. Nature simply needs to be exposed, stripped of its power, and dragged through the streets in shame.

Indeed, those who insist that we can’t overcome any of these things I listed above show time and again that they do not know what they are talking about.

First of all, what right do people have to insist that I am something – like a man or woman for example – that I do not see myself to be?[vii] The abject hurtfulness of this — in addition to the absence of critical thinking here — is glaring. Everyone should be able to see that, to say the very least, it is alarming and disturbing that some people actually feel they can operate like this from their space of entitlement. If you think nature itself makes you prone to do this, that leads me to the following.

Second, the undeniable success of holistic medicine, for example, rediscovering what is possible from nature itself, should be a clear marker for all of us here. We must open our minds to the way that some redeemable parts of nature can actually work with us to overcome its less favorable parts. Not in some crass way of course, where we harness brute scientific methods and technology to basically rape it, as was implied by that 16th century man Francis Bacon. No – I am talking about working with it, in harmony, to overcome the pains, negative feelings, and hurtful comments from others that so often invade our true selves.

Let’s consider how this might apply to the National Review article referenced above. “How”, you may ask, can certain parts of nature help the “nation” (code: white privileged males) give up the “natural” idea that they should protect “their” women? It seems clear to me that people who regularly expand their minds with the blessing that is marijuana – good job, nature! – are going to have a much different perspective on these issues. I suggest that they will more readily be able to grasp that when you open up combat positions to women it is only reasonable to draft them into those positions as well. Already four years ago the New York Times was publishing pieces about how parenting goes better when marijuana is utilized. With help from it and other natural substances, we women might even be able to get our husbands to give up patronizing behavior like always being first to check that loud noise downstairs. Here, nature can actually assist in promoting equality and freedom for all.

Hippocrates: with his foolish pro-life oath, just another sad ancient patriarch/oppressor. – Arya B.

Hippocrates: with his foolish “pro-life” oath, just another sad ancient patriarch/oppressor. – Arya B.

The Latin poet Ovid said “I approve the better course, and yet I choose the worse”. Such a lack of self-confidence in one’s abilities – as if nature should necessarily teach anybody such things! – is typical of ancient Romans like him.

We have come a long way. It was certainly a step for progress when more enlightened persons put the bug in Christians’ brains that the words “creation” and “nature” could be used more or less interchangeably. But the time for that equivalence has now ended. Even talking about “nature” is saying too much really. It implies limits. Persons like Ray Kurzweil who attempt to defeat death with technology are right to want to deny the limits imposed on us by nature. They are simply wrong in that they aren’t focusing on the right limits to deny. Overcoming death and time is certainly one thing that we as a species are aiming for, but we must have our priorities straight: equality first. Right now, we all die, so we should work on things where nature makes us not equal.

Kurzweil isn’t the only one who is a bit short-sighted. Years ago, the atheist philosopher Richard Dawkins talked about defying nature by telling our genes to “go jump in the lake”. The problem with his view, however, is that it is devoid of the spirit. It is the spirit of life – even the Great Spirit – that tells nature to jump in the lake! It is this Force, this Spirit, that sets us free from the elementary principles of this evil world, from the physical, the material… the “flesh”.

Christians have forgotten this knowledge – don’t they remember that the “natural philosophers” they love to tout like Aristotle believed and taught as knowledge that slavery — as well as the inferiority of women and children — were “natural”? There is your “permanent” or “enduring” nature Christians! But the Holy Spirit, that great Force, overcame all of this! Christians should realize that the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. It’s true: “Nature” itself holds an unwarranted position of privilege. Doesn’t the message of Jesus Christ free us from just this?

I’ll admit that, with the death of SCOTUS justice Antonin Scalia, I am discouraged by what of my friends are quick to publish online — we should always take care to have respect for the dead. I won’t speak ill of the man, but will simply note that we are talking about someone who had some very peculiar ideas of what Christianity was all about. In one of his public talks, he actually said “God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and He has not been disappointed….If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

"Mystery, magic, and divinity"... Are not such words used to keep us in submission? – Arya B.

“Mystery, magic, and divinity”… Are not such words used to keep us in submission? – Arya B.

On the contrary, doesn’t that message of love and freedom that Jesus beings fit perfectly with others around the world who are in tune with the Spirit? By all means, worship your Jesus – just realize though, that you might indeed become more “Christian” by leaving those old ideas of what Christianity is behind. That form of Christianity is located in the past, not the future. Buddha refused to wrangle about questions of origins, i.e. where we came from. That way is “a jungle, a wilderness, a puppet-show, a writhing, and a fetter, and coupled with misery, ruin, despair and agony.”

It’s time to truly change this world and truly make it in the image of the Spirit in whom all of us live and move and have our being. That Spirit, always fluid and not constraining, can fill us with authentic feeling and the critical thinking that everyone needs — so that they to can free themselves from the bias that besets them and realize that no views (well, no reasonable views) are superior than any others.

In short, there is no reason why that list of grievances above needs to get any one of us down — there is indeed hope.

I think that you know I have a point – and you also know that you are tempted here for good reason – very good reason. I don’t think we should doubt for a minute that we, in step with this great Force, have the power to do this! Men like John Locke, for all their faults, were instrumental in getting us here, and now we can finish it… “Nature” itself is our blank slate. We — join the Cause! — are that Force of nature that we need. And I sincerely hope that you to will join me in this great Cause and Endeavor.


All images save the You Tube video shot from Wikipedia


[i] Things are particularly difficult for our trans woman sisters like Caitlyn Jenner. In the case of trans women seeking attention from certain cis males, there might be from these men a tendency towards queasiness and disgust instead of attraction – even in spite of the trans woman looking similar to a cis female externally.

[ii] Again, things really are unfair for trans women like Bruce Jenner. Only trans-men and not trans-women are endowed with the necessary biological capacities in order to carry a baby.

[iii] The op-ed article begins: “The American medical establishment instructs pregnant women to not drink alcohol, and those who ignore this advice — like those who do not breast-feed their children — are subject to social shaming. Is the circle of shame about to get a lot bigger?”

[iv] A clip from the article: “The more I considered it, the more I became convinced that the silence around miscarriage was connected to feminism’s work around abortion. How could I grieve a thing that didn’t exist? If a fetus is not meaningfully alive, if it is just a collection of cells – the cornerstone claim of the pro-choice movement – what does it mean to miscarry one? Admitting my grief meant seeing myself as a bereft mother, and my fetus as a dead child – which meant adopting exactly the language that the anti-choice movement uses to claim abortion is murder.”

[v] This “feminist” writes, for example referring to the observations of a male doctor: “After injecting the hormone into the patient’s womb, the doctor left the syringe standing upright on her belly. Then, Selzer wrote, ‘I see something other than what I expected here. . . . It is the hub of the needle that is in the woman’s belly that has jerked. First to one side. Then to the other side. Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish.’ He realized he was seeing the fetus’s desperate fight for life. And as he watched, he saw the movement of the syringe slow down and then stop. The child was dead. Whatever else an unborn child does not have, he has one thing: a will to live. He will fight to defend his life. The last words in Selzer’s essay are, ‘Whatever else is said in abortion’s defense, the vision of that other defense [i.e., of the child defending its life] will not vanish from my eyes. And it has happened that you cannot reason with me now. For what can language do against the truth of what I saw?'”….

[vi] In a pernicious display of chauvinism and male entitlement, the mostly male editors of this article write, among other things: “Men should protect women. They should not shelter behind mothers and daughters. Indeed, we see this reality every time there is a mass shooting. Boyfriends throw themselves over girlfriends, and even strangers and acquaintances often give themselves up to save the woman closest to them. Who can forget the story of 45-year-old Shannon Johnson wrapping his arms around 27-year-old Denise Peraza and declaring “I got you” before falling to the San Bernardino shooters’ bullets?…. [War] is not a video game. It is not a movie, where young Hollywood starlets karate-kick their way through masses of inept thugs and goons. When we order women into ground combat, we are ordering them into situations where men larger and stronger than they will show no mercy — crushing the life out of them like Meyer crushed that Taliban.”

[vii] “Journalist Amanda Taub believes the political correctness backlash misses the point and glosses over real issues. In an article published in, she argues that so-called political correctness is really about protecting and promoting marginalized voices.” See the program here for more:

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Posted by on February 15, 2016 in Uncategorized


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The First Table of the Commandments’ Relationship to the Third Use of the Law (Part II of II)

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. Amen! Period. So why do some still have problems?

Billy Graham’s grandson Tullian Tchividjian says that he believes in “the third use of the law” – he just doesn’t want to have to “qualify things all the time”. And all the Lutherans shout “Amen!” So what’s the real issue with the “third use”?

I really don’t want anyone to feel like they should read this post. Truth. I would simply prefer that they read part I, say “Amen”, and “rejoice evermore” (I Thes. 5:16) with me. I think the words I shared there cover the topic of this article well and are reliable and life-giving words – they basically should not need to be supplemented.

But that, sadly, has not been my experience. Hence this part II, which gets into some very painful and even annoying detail in order to counter the objections that come up to the content of part I (again, if you gave a hearty “amen” to part I, I am totally serious: I really don’t think it is necessary for you to the rest of the article). For there is much confusion about God’s law today, and my “Steadfast Lutheran” tribe is no exception when it comes to this. Many of the problems though, I think, can be cleared up for persuadable folks by Pastor Todd Wilken’s compelling new article, “Is the Law Bad?” – see here. I get the impression that his article has been generally well-received and I promise you that it is far more interesting than this one.

So, what am I insisting needs to be said about the law – at least for some? Here are my core points:

  • Indeed, the law never completely ceases to accuse even the most mature Christian in this life (Romans 8 follows Romans 7, but Romans 7 is Romans 7, period – and thank God). That said, the problem with much theology today is what it does not say, either intentionally or more innocently: the law is God’s eternal will.
  • The Christian, according to his new nature, does indeed do the law motivated by the gospel and not by the law. That said…
  • We should also add here that the law is being done by the individual agent who is the Christian, not by Christ or the Holy Spirit bypassing the Christian’s will. Further…
  • Assent to the law is an act of the Christian’s will, empowered by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, and the same holds true for saying no to sin and fighting temptation. Also…
  • If we don’t want to say man had a ‘free will” before the fall – because of concerns about misunderstandings – we need to at least say something like “unenslaved will”.*
  • For His part, God desires not to coerce according to truth, but to woo according to truth. Satan, now enslaved in himself to the bitter end, desires to coerce, but under God’s coercion is only permitted to seduce by lies. These distintions should affect how we see the Christian life. Finally….
  • We can even say that from the perspective of the law, faith in God’s merciful promises – whether we are talking about passively receiving them or actively pursuing them (by pursuing Him and His words to us) – is an act of one’s will commanded in the First Commandment!
  • Hence what Luther says about the conclusion of the Ten Commandments in his Small Catechism** is not primarily meant to “break us” with the law, but is, in fact, describing things as they are.
Norman Nagel: Romans says we are justified by faith and that we are justified by the blood. If you ask faith, it has nothing to talk about... it points to the blood....

Norman Nagel: The book of Romans says we are justified by faith and that we are justified by the blood. If you ask faith, it has nothing to talk about… it points to the blood….

“Radical Lutheran” brethren… you who truly believe the Scriptures are the word of God (and you who don’t also : ) ), stay with me here. Let me first re-assert: The law cannot motivate or empower! But with the Gospel ringing in our ears, it does remind us of who we want to be – and who we have already begun to be in Christ, correct? Hence we all shout “Amen!” when the Apostle seeks to exhort us and guide our consciences in, for example, I Thes. 5:16-18. Second, when it comes to fighting for the faith, I also would prefer to have to defend God and His will to justify (I think all Christians should be tempted by Radical Lutheranism) and not issues pertaining to man’s will, for “Thy will be done” (i.e. focusing on His will!) indeed. Nevertheless, I not-so-humbly (because yes, I am, in my old Adam, a jerk and contribute my own sin to this process) suggest the integrity of your confessional subscription – and with that the good Christian confession – depends on your willingness to agree with those points above.***

So hear me now – this indeed follows!: all this said, we should not, in general, focus on our Spirit-inspired ability to [weakly] cooperate when it comes to our being progressively sanctified. We should simply recognize it, affirm it, and look continue looking to Christ for all good things! The reasons for this are that Radical Lutherans are right to emphasize these things: a) our real and constant need for the forgiveness we get when we are with Jesus and b) even though the Christian is motivated primarily by the Gospel, we are sinner-saints, and as such our “old man” is still motivated by the law (which, by the way, can be very good for my neighbor to, but not all the time). We constantly fall into the trap of living in terms of carrots and sticks, even of wanting to justify ourselves and our worth before God by our own actions! – this is the “opinio legis” within us.

Hence, again, we look to Christ for all good things – and like Mary, run to His feet! – realizing that He is the primary actor here who is constantly at work purging the evil that remains within us. This means that we have perpetual pardon, power, and progress – because the Scriptures say so – in Him . The habitual sins that beset us cannot change God’s work to transform us!

“[The Apostle’s Creed] is intended to help us do that which according to the Ten Commandments we ought to do... increase in us faith and the fulfilment of the Ten Commandments, and that He would remove everything that is in our way and opposes us therein” -- Luther

“[The Apostle’s Creed] is intended to help us do that which according to the Ten Commandments we ought to do… increase in us faith and the fulfilment of the Ten Commandments, and that He would remove everything that is in our way and opposes us therein” — Luther

How to explain all this a bit more, theologically? We can say that the righteousness of Christ that the Christian receives from the outside, and by which a person is justified by faith (we are put “in Christ”!), is the same righteousness that the Christian seeks to have in himself (because of Christ in him!), and by which he is progressively sanctified (see Luther’s Works, v. 1, p. 64, for example). As the great Epiphany hymn “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise” puts it:

“Grace to imitate thee now

And be pure, as pure art thou

That we might become like thee

At thy great epiphany…”

In other words, there is not only a “positional” sanctification (us in Christ – this goes with justification) but again, what we may call a “deepening” and progressive sanctification (Christ in us!).

More specifically though, how does this happen? Here, we must look at God’s larger purposes, which can be realized through a careful study of Scripture.

A goal of the Gospel is for us simply to be loved by God in Christ, and to grow in that understanding – even in the midst of great suffering… To sit at Christ’s feet and simply be blessed to learn as His pupil and even friend (and bride, brother, and child)!

Another goal of the Gospel, which really flows from this first goal, is for us to love our neighbor in Christ and to grow in fruitful service (often very simple and unspectacular acts). In fact, secure in God’s love, all our actions and sufferings are ultimately to be neighbor-directed – in fact, not only our sanctification but also our justification is for the neighbor (and yet, of course, where Christ is there is forgiveness, comfort, etc. for us to!). After all, the Apostle Paul, writing under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, would even give that up.

And perhaps here, another question arises: how can we train ourselves to focus on and serve our neighbor, as we should? I argue that this difficult question is particularly appropriate today for Christians in the West. And more so now because we live in a society that is “always on” and fills our life with things to distract us from the things that matter most – the “one thing needful” as the hymn writer put it. For example, in their book, One Moment Please: It’s Time to Pay Attention, Susan Pearse and Martina Sheehan cite a study seemingly showing that persons would rather even have a mild electric shock than be alone without any electronic devices for 15 minutes!

We fear having to simply be… to be silent… to reflect…

So let us Christians in particular not only remember who we are in Christ, but reflect personally about our lives in Him. This has the potential to be a very selfish process to be sure, but our neighbors need us to do this in Christ and for Christ – for He is for them as He is for us! Here, we can say that the Christian, according to the new man, is often aware or  the good works that He does in Christ (unconsciously or more consciously). And yet, none of this work is an opportunity to take pleasure in himself, boasting in what he has done – but rather to see and pay attention to the P/person(s) for whom the work is done.


As Luther said, echoing St. Augustine, sin means that we are naturally turned in on ourselves – “incurvatus in se” in the Latin. And again, we continue to have the opinio legis (the opinion of the law) – by which we would, in our pride, justify ourselves before God!**** – raging within us! This, to say the least, means that according to our old man, or Adam, who remains, the Christian is aware of the work but is pridefully seeking his own glory and crowns rather than the “crown” for whom the work is good – that is the neighbor loved by God (see I Thes. 2:19 and Philippians 4:1).

And here proper self-reflection, i.e. the examination of conscience – empowered and guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ – is also desirable: we should not only seek to counter our evil desires and thoughts, but also, knowing we sin in all of our good works, increasingly be willing to examine these for wrong motivations***** (and yes, you will find them and throughout your life have plenty to repent for) – even if these won’t be fully purged until the life to come.

We who are justified by faith are His precious children! And so, He looks not only to clean us again and again, through His Word and Sacraments, but also to simply love us with the result that we increase in faith and love! Thus we continually look to Christ, whom we are in! For us, He – even without sin! –  “became perfect” on earth, according to His human nature. In short, God became a son of man – and learned obedience, grew in favor with God, and became perfect (complete) – that we might become a son of God.

And we who have heard and believe are indeed this. Do you doubt your sanctification? Go forgiven… go in peace…. and look again to the only One who can lift you up – again and again and again, unto the world without end:












Images: Tullian T. (Wikipedia), Norman N. (


*Thinking about the possible meanings of words, and how misunderstandings can often occur, it’s understandable some might react against the statement “man, prior to the fall was ‘free to sin'”. That might make it sound like God was indifferent to what they did. We, of course, want to say that man was able to sin, that is “capable of sinning”, but even here it might seem to make more sense to focus on the positive: “man was able not to sin”. On the other hand, saying we were “able to sin” might also help because it, unlike “man was able not to sin”, suggests there should have been nothing likely at all about this possibility, which is certainly the impression given by the text: man caused the greatest of tragedies through his unimaginably stupid and ungrateful deed.

**”God threatens to punish all who transgress these command­ments. Therefore we should fear His wrath and do nothing against these commandments. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. There­fore we should also love and trust in Him and willingly do ac­cording to His commandments.”

What, this side of heaven, is the most consequential and important command we will hear? That we believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Note I John 3: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (love is there to be sure, but the order is not unimportant here).

***Or do you think the way I am framing things here is somehow less than fully Christian? If that is your evaluation, what do you think about the following?:

“Preachers should be diligent not to preach in generalities, but always to arrange the material according to these parts: sin; God’s wrath and punishment of sin; contrition, remorse, anxiety of the conscience, etc.; the resolve to abandon and avoid sin; the person of Christ; His office and merit; God’s grace; the forgiveness of sin; faith; the good fruits of faith, such as the good resolve to do better, good works, patience in suffering, etc. This is done so that in the sermons, the teaching may always have its application or accommodation to use, as the doctrine should be used in the best way.”

That is from two of the main contributors to the Lutheran “Book of Concord,” Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae, giving a clear explanation of what sermons should be all about “in our Lutheran congregations”.

****Even as he also looks to get away with whatever “sin for a season” he thinks he can get away with.

*****We should always be aware that the non-Christian’s love for others 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 does not mirror God’s: the salvation of the whole world through the gifts of His word and sacraments – i.e. people’s rescue and growth in eternal life, that is, knowing God through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 17:3), and

b) of a lack of purity or holiness in fulfilling their love – which of course is supposed to flow through them unhindered from God and be for their neighbor.

Insofar as Christians remain sinners b) is true of our love because a) is true of our love.

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Posted by on February 9, 2016 in Uncategorized


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The First Table of the Commandments’ Relationship to the Third Use of the Law (Part I of II)

Imitate me and do this!... the best and most important good work!

Imitate those who exalt Christ… the best and most important good work!









During the 16th century Reformation, church reformers such as Martin Luther identified, from the Scriptures, three uses of God’s law. Simply put, God’s law is that which He commands, and is often accompanied by the threat of punishment and the promise of reward. The first use of the law serves as a curb (as in the curb on a road) which prevents gross outbreaks of human sin, the second use of the law serves as a mirror to reveal the depths of our sin to us, and the third use helps to guide the Christian believer.

This law of God, which is exemplified by but not limited to the ten commandments, gives us a picture of what God desires for His people – those He means to “set apart” in the world that they might shine for Him and lead others to their King. While the first use of the law completely has unbelievers in mind, the second and third use of the law are to play an important role in the life of believers as they grow in holiness, or sanctification. That said, as one Pastor Chris Rosebrough has put it, there is not a “fourth use” of the law, an “empowering use”, where one is given the power to keep the law by the law!

A = justification ; B = sanctification - because we must properly distinguish law and gospel. No mixing the columns! (ht: Rod Rosenbladt)

A = justification ; B = sanctification – because we must properly distinguish law and gospel. No mixing the columns! (ht: Rod Rosenbladt)

Despite the title of this post, the main idea I would like to get to here in this first part (there will be a part II next week) is not that we need more of God’s law – that is, a list of things commanded – but more of the gospel: the forgiveness, life, and salvation promised in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, if the Western church is indeed weak in holiness and sanctification – our faith being weak and our love cold  – I heartily contend that this is because it is looking to Jesus Christ and His promises less, not more; and for less, not for more.

In other words, what we ultimately need is to be justified in Christ – to know the sheer Loving Majesty of the King who has died for our sins and given us a new identity in Him! And when it comes to this teaching of justification, particularly but not limited to when we think of infants, the Spirit causes us to consent in a way that is primarily passive (hence we simply receive – here I think about a mother nursing her child). “Now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God“, Paul says… We can especially see this justifying work of the Lord’s in holy baptism.

That said, our understanding of these things should involve a proper degree of nuance – particularly when it comes to the role of the law and gospel in our Christian life. The gospel is to predominate, and yet, in order for the church to grow to be what it should, both law and gospel need to be “in the mix”  – all throughout the Christian’s life! Following from the beginnings of our Christian life, the Holy Spirit continues to “refine us”, and as we grow in awareness and maturity, there is also a consent that is both more conscious and more active…. that even runs, pursues, seeks, chases after, longs for Christ as well (even as He is always the initiator even in this)!

So, what might the law of God — particularly in its third use — have to do with this, if anything? Is Justin Holcomb’s statement here right all the time and in every way?

Yes? No? Both?

Yes? No? Depends?

For the moment, let’s be skeptics about what Holcomb is here saying. Let us assume that the third use of the law plays some kind of a role in the Christian’s growth in holiness or sanctification. Further, assuming that this is the case, that there is a role for it, where should we be focusing? I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that when it comes to either the second or third use of the law that the first table of the ten commandments should be our main focus. (the “first table” of the ten commandments all deal with the believer’s relationship with God, and the “second table” deals particularly with the believer’s relationship with other human beings) This means, for example…

  • the command to fear, love and trust God and no other
  • to gather for worship frequently with His people
  • to pray, praise, proclaim and sing his Name and deeds
  • …and to gladly hear his word and keep it!

And here, as one Lutheran blogger has recently emphasized, we might also think of the story of Mary and Martha – Mary was commended for simply resting and sitting at the feet of the Lord Jesus! “She has chosen the better thing”, Christ said – for the sake of us all.

Rest!: “...until the Last Day, the Holy Spirit remains with the holy community of Christendom, through which he heals us and which he uses to proclaim and propagate his Word, whereby he initiates and increases sanctification so that we grow daily and become strong in faith and in its fruits, which he creates” -- Martin Luther

Rest!: “…until the Last Day, the Holy Spirit remains with the holy community of Christendom, through which he heals us and which he uses to proclaim and propagate his Word, whereby he initiates and increases sanctification so that we grow daily and become strong in faith and in its fruits, which he creates.” — Martin Luther

And is this not exhilarating? God commands us to “stay put” and “abide in Him”? In a word, yes. With that said though, persons like the Apostle Paul do tend to go on with more “first table exhorting”. Even as it condemns me as often as I hear it, I absolutely love his command in I Thes. 5:16-18: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Amen! And here I am keen to add this: this stirring exhortation could not be all it is meant to be unless it followed from the sweet Gospel words of grace and peace spoken earlier in that epistle. For which of us does these things – even as, we admit, such a close and vital connection with the Loving One we know sounds so good? No, we need those Gospel words that set us up to hear such commands, and among these I include these very beautiful and encouraging words in 2:13:

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

In other words, God’s word is never just “information” that we act on, but is living and lovingly active in its work for and in us! No wonder Jesus praised Mary so highly!

And here, I suggest, is the real key to any “sanctification debates” (and “third use of the law” debates) we might have. Since it is the nature of faith in God to grow into strong love for God, we as Christians should seek to grow in knowledge of God and His love in Jesus Christ – that we may boast only in this!

Here, the Christian, already knowing God’s peace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, seeks and pursues not more justification per se (free forgiveness for Christ’s sake – “just as if I’d never sinned!”, etc.), but more of Christ (and he does this where He has promised to be found! – in God’s word and sacraments)! And here, wouldn’t you know it, there is nevertheless “perpetual justification” for the believer. Regarding this “perpetual justification” then, this means, in general, that it is both passively received throughout the Christian life, and it is also actively taken, even at times indirectly, as one pursues Christ (and indeed, sometimes this pursuit will be driven by a need to confess one’s sin, guilt and unworthiness – even as one is aware they have a merciful Savior).

And of course, if one has perpetual justification – forgiveness, life and salvation in Christ – one also has deepening and progressive sanctification – growth in holiness (uneven though this growth may be). And this, of course, means that the Christian who is perpetually justified increasingly lives within, and not by, the law of God (even if they doubt this). Again, “in” and not “by”. 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!

And that, I think, is saying enough for now. And let me be totally clear here: I think that for some of us, that is all that we will ever need.

That said, I deeply regret my evaluation that some in the church, among its leadership, need more than this. This is because of the things I said above that they seem to deny. I’ll continue with this article next week, and hope that some of you – if you have questions here – will join me then.

Until that time, it is my hope and prayer that you will think about what I have written – and perhaps Pastor Cooper’s latest podcast on free will before the fall and after conversion as well – and let me know if you have any questions or think there may be problems with what I have said above.




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Posted by on February 5, 2016 in Uncategorized