Monthly Archives: July 2020

The Outlaw God Podcast’s Adaptation of Martin Luther’s Theology

What does this mean?


This post goes hand-in-hand with my four part series, “The Popularity of Steven Paulson’s Adaptation of Luther’s Theology.”

Recently, I have been listening to the 2011 Legacy Project’s “Outlaw God” podcasts with Dr. Steve Paulson, a popular teacher in LC-MS circles, including professors.

Dr. Paulson “is an outstanding theologian with a deep grasp on insights from Martin Luther for contemporary Christians.” — LC-MS professor John Pless

In the episodes, “The Move to Absolution” and “The Hidden God in Other Traditions,” Pauslon makes claims about what he says is some rather surprising content in Luther’s Genesis lectures/commentaries.

He mentions in the “Move to Absolution” podcast that Luther identifies a “frightening pattern” in his Genesis lectures (where he also uses the Psalms to show this), and that this pattern first occurs between God’s promise to Abraham from Genesis 12 to 15.

This, he says, is the clear pattern we can see happening where God gives the promise, then attacks the promise, and then finally “republishes” the promise. Easy as 1-2-3. Paulson says that Luther calls this the pattern of the Christian life… The question that occurs to all of us of course is why God attacks his own promise… “Why?!”…. Paulson says that Luther, however, just moves from there right to the “Where?” question: Where can I find God, gracious to me, even though I do not understand…

I am not saying that what Paulson is saying here is entirely wrong. When reading his comments on Genesis 15:1, for example, Luther does make it clear that God desires to comfort His people in their suffering, and to give them reassurance of His love and forgiveness. Indeed, few things are more foundational than that kind of thing!

The problem, however, is that Paulson wants to go further, and he does this in two ways.

First, he uses the word “attack” when he talks about the tests that God permits or even sends to His people. As best I can tell, this is not the language of Scripture or Luther, and, as the latter said, “When you change the language, you change the theology.”

Second, Paulson incorrectly asserts that it is the Calvinists who seek to understand why God “attacks His promise” — “How should we think about what is happening?!” — while Lutherans supposedly do no such thing, but rather simply seek a re-posting of the promise. Calvin, we are told, is the one “developing a rationale” for why God is treating Abraham, David, or Israel as He does in these texts. This is wrong, Paulson says.

Does only John Calvin expect an answer to the “Why?” questions?

In the next podcast (“The Hidden God in Other Traditions”) he goes so far as to say the following:

“[All of this is] not understandable by our normal knowledge, that is the way that we put things together legally, under the law, to make sense of them rationally. That’s what we mean by reason actually. So that whatever God is doing can somehow be put back into a reasonable structure, that is, the structure of the law, and He can be exonerated for it. What He did was right according to the law. But Luther knows that that can’t actually be done in these cases….”

The problem with all of this though is that, contrary to Paulson’s assertions, Luther does speak to the “Why?” question as well, offering reasons for why God permits these tests to come. Yes, he is sometimes careful to say “perhaps” at times (speculating a bit, also a big no-no with Paulson!) while at other times he does not hedge nearly as much. Reading through Luther’s comments on Genesis 15:1, for example – the very text that Paulson deals with in his “Move to Absolution” podcast! – we see that all of this happens to keep Abraham humble and not filled with vainglory… (think of the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” here too, which Luther also mentions…).

Paulson says other odd things too, for example, “In order to sell God to a modern public you need to make Him ethical.” This is particularly puzzling given that the first couple chapters of the book of Romans say that we suppress the knowledge of God we have not only because of His power but His righteousness as well… (see Romans 1:30-32). He also, in spite of recent clear scholarship from Brian T. German, insists that it is only Calvin who says that the law is the mind of God Himself. Finally, one is left wondering why faith only seeks the “mouth of a preacher giving it a gracious God” and not understanding as well…. Why are these two things necessarily contradictory.

Paulson said his old Calvinist professor called him an “incorrigible Lutheran.” How can someone to be that when one ignores and distorts — even if unintentionally — what Luther says! Paulson says “God attacks us for the sake of re-posting the promise (where we cannot understand why)”, while Luther says “God tests us for our own benefit, and re-posts the promise for our sake (even when we do not understand specifically why).”

Where did I get that conclusion? Why, from a man who recently took the time to read all of Luther’s Genesis lectures/commentaries! (that is a lot of work folks!) What follows below in fact are a sample of quotes from Luther he put together that speak to the meaning behind God’s tests. First of all, this man’s introduction:

“I see where [Paulson] is coming from, but his language is not Luther’s and his conclusions are troubling. … Luther writes that these accounts where written to be an example for us, so that we learn to not lose Faith in the face of adversity. And that they tested, or built up, the Faith of the patriarchs and of us today.

Furthermore, this is a very common mistake that I believe most theologians commit today. That if we only can ascertain what the meaning of the text was for the original audience, then we can understand the meaning of the text. But what this type of exegeses misses, is that books are never written for the sake of the people that were present, but for the people that were not present (all Scripture is God breathed and useful for instruction.).

If we commit this common folly then we can agree with Paulson that we can never really know why bad things happened to the people in the Old Testament, which seemed to run counter to the promise that God had given them. But if we instead, with our dear Doctor Luther, ask why these things were recorded in the Scriptures: than we can answer like Luther did.”


On Chapter 12:10. “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.”

“In this manner Abraham is tested, not to his disadvantage but for his own great good, as the following events will show. For the Lord is putting his faith to a test by this very trial, which surely was not a small one.” (289)

On Chapter 15:1 “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Fear not, Abram, I am your Shield; your reward shall be very great.”  

“Perhaps Abraham was troubled about his offspring, as his words indicate. God had promised him the land of Canaan and an eternal blessing; but since Sarah was barren, and the hope of children was almost entirely denied, he thought: “Why is it that God, who is so merciful toward you, does not give you a son? Perhaps you have offended Him, and He has changed His mind.” (9) [note that Luther uses the word perhaps here.]

On Chapter 18:12-13. “The Lord said to Abraham: Why did Sarah laugh, and say: Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son.” 

“The Holy Spirit brings up these matters in order to strengthen the faith of this saintly and chaste matron; for inasmuch as she is hampered by the thoughts of her flesh, she does not yet believe, nor is she able to hope that she will have a son from her aged husband. She is satisfied to be the mother of an adopted son, but she is altogether dead so far as the hope of conceiving and bearing a child is concerned.” (211)

On Chapter 18:19. “No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has promised him.” 

“The godly who are burdened with a cross and in various ways are hard pressed and sigh have need of promises in order to be buoyed up by them. On the other hand, those who are callous, obdurate, and smug should be frightened by the example of wrath, to the end that, as is stated in this passage, they may learn to fear God.” (221)

On Chapter 20:1. “From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.”

“Hence let us, too, learn to use this life as an inn or a lodging place for the night. If you understand Abraham’s wandering in this manner, you will not say that it was something ordinary; for it is a work of faith, and of a very fervent and strong faith at that.” (318)

On Chapter 23:22-23. “At that time Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, said to Abraham: God is with you in all that you do; Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” 

“This is a new trial. I have repeatedly stated that God leads His saints in this life in a manner so wonderful that one trial immediately follows another. But just as misfortunes impel to prayer and faith, so, when the saints are delivered, they are impelled to give thanks and to praise God’s mercy.” (73)

On Chapter 22:11. “But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said: Abraham, Abraham! And he said: Here am I.”

“By this deed, as though by some show, God wanted to point out that in His sight death is nothing but a sport and empty little bugaboo of the human race, yes, an annoyance and a trial, for example, if a father sports with his son, takes an apple away from him, and meanwhile is thinking of leaving him the entire inheritance. But this is difficult to believe; and for this reason the heathen, who have no knowledge of this will of God, which He reveals in His Word, are altogether without hope (1 Thess. 4:13).” (116)

On Chapter 26:1. “Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech, king of the Philistines.”  

“[Why do famines and other misfortunes happen?] My answer is that God sends famine, wars, pestilence, and similar disasters in the first place to try and to test the godly, in order that they may learn to maintain with assurance that they are forced to experience various difficulties and, in addition, to look for unknown and uncertain dwelling places. In the second place, He does so in order to offend and punish the ungodly.” (10)

On Chapter 26:2-5. “And the Lord appeared to him and said: Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give to your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”  

“We see that here nearly all the promises which God had given to Abraham in various places are repeated and brought together. All those promises are summed up here. For God spoke with Abraham rather often. But with Isaac He spoke barely two or three times. And this is also enough, for here, in a kind of summary, He confirms all His promises, lest the very saintly patriarch begin to have doubts about God’s will when the devil tempts him. For the devil does not cease to harass even the saintliest and most perfect men with his fiery and poisonous darts (cf. Eph. 6:16). (18)”

On Chapter 26:12-14. “And Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, and the man became rich and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household.”

“The exercises of faith are necessary for the godly; for without them their faith would grow weak and lukewarm, yes, would eventually be extinguished. But from this source they assuredly learn what faith is; and when they have been tried, they grow in the knowledge of the Son of God and become so strong and firm that they can rejoice and glory in misfortunes no less than in days of prosperity and can regard any trail at all as nothing more than a little cloud or a fog which vanishes forthwith.” (56)

On Chapter 13:2. “Now Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” 

“If there were perpetual struggles and perplexities when trials come, and no intervals of comfort, faith would be shaken. For this reason God sometimes allows us a breathing spell and assuages cares and misery with some comfort, just as we use a potion or spices to revive those who are exhausted by trouble or grief and to keep them from dying.” (325)

Who really is an “incorrigible Lutheran”?


My Luther-Genesis-commentary-reading-friend — who as best I can tell is an incorrigible Lutheran if I ever met one (Amen!) — rightly concludes:

“From the above quotations it is beyond any doubt that Luther did give a reason for the trials and repeated promises in Scripture. And that Luther certainly followed the interpretation of Scripture which asks why these things were written down for the present audience.”

…[B]eyond Luther, Scripture certainly gives a few good reasons for why Saints are chastised. Not the least of such is original sin which causes others to inflict damage upon God’s elect and God’s elect to self-inflict themselves…

As far as the Genesis commentaries are concerned, I do not find that absolution is a key theme. The cycle of suffering and comfort is a key theme, but not [this theme Paulson suggests]. The reason why the commentaries are so long is in no way on account of absolution, but because Luther stops to do battle with the Catholics, as he does in every other writing…”


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Posted by on July 30, 2020 in Uncategorized


Anselm and Bozo Discuss Generational Guilt, Corporate Repentance, Restitution, and Reparations

In your town’s future? Maybe just some other kind of restitution? What to think?


[still not writing current posts for the blog… this one was done a good while back, and seemed good to put up sooner rather than later]


Background to discussion:

In Pastor Reed Depace’s article, “A Burden Removed: A Biblical Path for Removing the Racism of Our Forefathers,” published by Thabiti Anyabwile on the Gospel Coalition website, he quotes Leviticus 26:40-42:

“But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them . . . then I will remember my covenant.”

…and asks “Is this something a congregation should consider? Should a congregation repent of the sins of their forefathers?”

Article from November of last year.


Depace says that when he took over a PCA congregation in Montgomery, Alabama, he and the elders felt that God was “walking contrary” to them and not blessing the congregation. This prompted a deeper look at the congregation’s history, and here he discovered the past racism of the church. For example:

“As late as 1974 our elders and deacons were still affirming their intention to not allow backs to join or attend any services at our church. Numerous other racist attitudes and decisions littered Historic First Church through the civil-rights era. In fact, these attitudes and actions only began to disappear from our records in the late-1970s…”

Could things like these be repented of? Depace goes on to make a distinction between generational guilt (there is none, per Ezekiel 18:20!) and generational corruption. Of the latter he says:

“…there are numerous warnings that God ‘visits the iniquities’ of forefathers on their descendants (Exod. 20:5; 24:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9; Lev. 26:39-41; Isa. 14:21; Isa. 65:6-7; Jer. 14:20; 32:8, and so on). The notable examples of Daniel (Dan. 9:8, ff.), Ezra (Ezra 9:6-7, ff.), and Nehemiah (Neh. 9:16, ff.), each confessing their forefathers’ iniquities, gives strong evidence that God both fulfills the warnings and the promises attached to ‘visiting the iniquities.’”

While a congregation should not be expected to repent in order to remove guilt for the sins of its forefathers, he says, for them it was important to repent in order to deal with the ongoing corruption of the community brought forth by those particular sins:

“Was repenting of these:

  • Acknowledging the wickedness of those sins,
  • Acknowledging God’s righteousness in visiting the corruption of those sins on us,
  • Trusting that in Jesus there is cleansing from the corruption of these, and
  • So confessing the sins of our forefathers,

The gospel-rooted resolution before us?”

He shares some of the ways the congregation has been blest in recent years because of the repentance of the community. For example, he mentions the following:

“Over the last few years we have been contacted by numerous former members of our church, and even some of the descendants of former members, who had all taken a stand against Historic First Church’s racism and had been driven out of the congregation for doing so. The experience of asking them to forgive the sins of our forefathers brought healing and, in some cases, a believable gospel witness from a church with a previous reputation of hypocrisy.”

Before reading the conversation between Bozo and Anselm below jumping off this article, consider reading the whole piece below.

Or, alternatively, just explore more Depace’s distinction between generational guilt and corruption in the endnote following this sentence.[i]

The full article.

P.S: In addition, note that I also touched on some of the downfalls of some kinds of corporate repentance, with some help from C.S. Lewis, in a recent sermon I did: “Woke to the World’s or the Word’s Whispers?”


900 years later, they’re back!



What do you think of the article, “A Burden Removed: A Biblical Path for Removing the Racism of Our Forefathers,” that I shared with you the other day?:

I must say, for the most part, it strikes me as sound…. That said, do you see any problems?


I am reminded of the line from Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks…”


Anything in particular that you find really objectionable? Do you find the distinction he makes between no guilt for generational sin but the presence of generational corruption to be fallacious?


If an approach to the proclamation of the gospel is based upon dealing with the sins of the past, where is the line to be drawn? The sins of five years ago? Ten? Fifty? Three hundred?

While well-intentioned, I don’t see how it can ultimately be played out, for when is “full atonement” finally accomplished? When will they know they have done enough? And when will those offended concede that enough has been done and some sort of rapprochement occur…

And does it really do anything at all, except make the ones working on it feel better about themselves? So the quote from Hamlet…

The building itself, a “construct” (both architectural and theological) is a product of the past–and a stark reminder of it. Here I am reminded of feelings toward colonial architecture in Africa…

How about simply dealing with the reality of the now, and refusing to define what is the social structure at this very moment with definitions and concepts of the past?


Perhaps they would answer because you are being utterly and willfully naive if you deny that the past has shaped the future for better or worse. What do we believe Jesus is speaking about in Matthew 23:32 if not this kind of thing? I mean, we don’t think He is importing and imputing guilt from the past onto them: he is talking about cultural practices that are systemic and passed on, creating more sin and evil. I did not get the impression that this article was about thinking anyone’s justification should be questioned, but more about the hard realization of sanctification and the utterly new life that Jesus calls us to.


I don’t disagree. My concern was simply about how actually to address past sins in the “now”. For the past always shapes the now. Always! There has never been a time when it has not.

So, for example, should the ranchers in Wyoming, admitting some sort of guilt for dubious land appropriation by their grandparents from the Indians, return the land to a Sioux tribe? Or should the Sioux now, simply admit that they really are not entitled to the land? For what would the Sioux Indian say when approached with the gospel: “I am not going to enter that church until our land is returned to us?” And if the land actually were returned, would they?

And if the rancher must admit, that in order for the sins of the past to be expiated, he must give away (not sell) the land inherited from his parents, and move into town, when he had nothing to do with that appropriation, would he say: “I am never going to enter that church again!”?

The complexities here are staggering. If we approach the situation in this way…

What does this mean?!



I recently saw someone say: “In the church, let biblical social justice flow from love! In the political realm though, I’m not a SJC[hristian]. There I want to see law & order – & that driven by a compassionate protector-spirit. Justice for past wrongs? As is politically feasible. It’s a fallen world.”

I appreciate this. That said, I also want to agree with you. I think, for me, given that there must be a statute of limitations on these things when it comes to doing actual righting of wrongs with material goods and wealth (otherwise, you are right: absolute chaos), the most justice that we can often hope for in a fallen world is for the ancestors of those who have gone before us to forthrightly admit, and acknowledge those wrongs… and to make it clear that we do not want to be a part of them going forward…

But also that “no… that doesn’t mean I am going to give you back the land that was unfairly taken from you 150 years ago…That would not be fair to my children or to yours. I think you are going to have to depend on God to be the justice-maker in the end, and to give you what He thinks you deserve in the life to come based on how well you have handled these thorny matters here….”


I do wonder how much we can leave up to the vengeance of God. In other words, so much of what we are talking about really should be left up to God.

A common theme in Chinese theater is vengeance–lifelong, and often supra-generational vengeance. Indeed, it is a driving theme in many, many movies. Why? Vengeance means justice. But what it also means is hatred and death so often to the one seeking it. And also there is this: Once such vengeance has been achieved, and justice served, an emptiness sets in, for vengeance does not accomplish what it is hoped it actually will accomplish.

So when one generation insists on justice for a past generation’s wrongs, what they are seeking, ultimately, is not justice, but vengeance. Thus the question: If we were to take this route, would there ever be enough that could be done?

So as Christians, we could, theologically, insist on dealing with the now. Of addressing the situation as it now stands. For the fact of the matter is, if we focus on addressing the past, we can conveniently avoid dealing the present. In other words, we can ignore the situation of the person in front of us, if we rectify what happened to that person’s ancestors.

But that is, I would suggest, ultimately the realm of God.


I agree with what you say. It seems justice and vengeance kind of goes hand in hand. In a fallen world, part and parcel of one another.

That said, the Chinese, for all of their obsession with order and, to a large degree, natural law, are not really a Christ-informed and shaped people. They just aren’t. There are aspects of cruelty in these elite Asian cultures that would seem pretty unthinkable to us.

And what about this?: God is our Avenger as well, and I don’t think by that the Lord means to make us into Psalm 137-hungry people…

And… justice, after all, might also have a very practical dimension, as we see with the everyday things that happen in the now. Truth be told, we are often squeamish about addressing these things in the now as well: “Why not let yourself be cheated?” (I Cor. 6) Principle, or weakness?

OK Paul, but it would be nice if my brothers, my neighbors, would then fight on my behalf so that I am not cheated… driven into the ground more than I already am…

Hope this makes some sense.

So, that article again. Does it fail theologically? Or just in practice? A bit of both? Is the whole distinction about repenting of guilt vs. corruption flat-out wrong?


True repentance is both a sorrow for sin and the desire not to sin in such a way again. True repentance therefore eliminates corruption, i.e. culturally sanctioned sin.

But the concept of corruption is simply too politically powerful. Let’s say, for example, that I would repent of racism and try every day then not to be a racist. “That is not enough” would be the cry of the politically savvy who ultimately, somehow, want the things that I have, the position that I have, my place in society, my “power and authority” etc. So they continue:

“You are, ultimately, corrupt. That is, the culture of which you are a part and from which you cannot extricate yourself culturally sanctions sin. Therefore, even though you as an individual have repented, you are not even, ultimately, aware of the depth of your corruption, and so cannot comprehend, really, what it means to repent! Why? You do not know how to NOT be a racist! Therefore, all that you can do is to turn over your institution, your wealth, your position, to ‘us’, and you…simply…go…away.”

To a certain extent it reminds me of what happened during the communist revolution in Russia. Yes, there was rampant corruption. But it seems to have been governmental corruption obviously understood and exposed. Its existence, however, was used as an excuse to rob the wealthy of everything they owned–even those who were not corrupt.

Granted: We can talk about culturally sanctioned sin. But again, once it is recognized and exposed, then what?


“True repentance therefore eliminates corruption, i.e. culturally sanctioned sin.”

Agreed. At the same time, we also know that there is always more.

Of course people come to faith in Christ without repenting of all the sin they actually have. They confess the sins they know — which are more than enough to damn! — even while much more work, more need for renovation, remains. In each one of us. Luther more than most church fathers got to the heart of the matter…and by pointing out, brilliantly, how things like marriage and children shows us our sin more and more….

Is the fact that some might politically take advantage of this kind of knowledge that we increasingly come to attain — in this or that context — an excuse to not promote and nurture such repentance — such deeper awareness of sin?

Furthermore, let’s just talk about individuals here for a moment: would it be wrong for an individual to take the opportunity of another individual’s increasing awareness to make them aware of something they have done which was never really appropriately addressed, dealt with (perhaps something where a kind of restitution would be appropriate)? Must that always be seen as a bad thing people do?: “take advantage…”

I also do not want to be taken advantage of in bad and nefarious ways, and I think it is Christ-like to not want to be taken advantage of for the sake of the ones one is charged to care for and protect.

That said, I think my question above remains…. Is the fact that some might politically take advantage of this kind of knowledge that we increasingly come to attain — in this or that context — an excuse to not promote and nurture such repentance — such deeper awareness of sin?

I am not saying of the past, by the way, that I think that any people who lived in a sinful culture and did not directly confront it, either individually or corporately, are any more guilty than many of us today who lack courage and vigor as regards this or that. I think it does us well to realize that many persons may nevertheless have given more or less brave confessions of the truth, thinking, speaking, and acting in subtle ways to undermine the current situation, try to make improvements as one sees one’s self as able to do so, etc….

And I also get not wanting to promote a victimization mentality. At the same time Scripture itself seems to say that sometimes it is not altogether wrong to see yourself as a victim…:

But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.


The chief problem with this line of thought would seem to be somehow signaling out racism as an unconscious cultural sin. For every Christian who has ever lived has confessed the sins that they know, and confessed the sins that they have learned to know, while at the same time, remained ignorant of sins that they themselves did not realize to be sins.

Indeed, if we ever became truly cognizant of the extent of the sin within us how could we continue to live? But that is another issue…

So the matter at hand is what is to be done with the sin of which we are not aware, sin specifically which was viewed to be civilly righteous at one point [i.e. not sin], but has now been exposed to be civilly unrighteous and identified actually to be sin.

Well, for the individual, he or she repents, and if possible, compensates. Here we think of Zacchaeus. Wonderful.

Corporately, we can think of the social changes within the Roman Empire which occur because of the ascendancy of Christianity. Good.

But what if someone should use the exposure of a culturally-entrenched sin for a sinful purpose, chiefly, theft? In other words, what if Jesus is preached expressly for the purpose of acquiring Zacchaeus’ wealth?

Another way of putting it: What if a Christian’s piety is used against them politically for nefarious purposes? (I think this is what happened with a seminary President I am aware of: It was assumed that since fighting his illegal firing would be viewed by him to be “unchristian” he would not fight legally, but simply go away…He fought legally, and had to demonstrate that a Christian could indeed do such a thing…)

Here lessons could be learned from Luther’s comments on the Peasants Revolt. Yes, what they did was wrong. But was their initial treatment right? Their subsequent rebellion? Their wholesale slaughter? Their imprisonment and confiscation of wealth? Were not the princes and knights using the whole matter to grab more land and authority and power?


Yes, all true.

One more thing regarding this question I ask though (Is the fact that some might politically take advantage of this kind of knowledge that we increasingly come to attain — in this or that context — an excuse to not promote and nurture such repentance — such deeper awareness of sin?)

What is so interesting to me is how this kind of thing could only happen in a Christian-ized culture…. No one else would stand for it for a minute…

No mercy elsewhere….


A subtle point but I would think it would be true. Here we need only to think of the reaction by the churches in Germany to the rise of National Socialism: Some rejected out of hand and were imprisoned and murdered. Others sought to continue with the awareness of its evil but without its renunciation. Others cooperated with it and others promoted it.

And who profited politically after the war from whatever position they had taken over against it?


“The chief problem with this line of thought would seem to be somehow signalling out racism as an unconscious cultural sin. For every Christian who has ever lived has confessed the sins that they know, and confessed the sins that they have learned to know, while at the same time, remained ignorant of sins that they themselves did not realize to be sins.

Indeed, if we ever became truly cognizant of the extent of the sin within us how could we continue to live? But that is another issue…”

Those last two sentences are true enough! I could not agree with them more.

And I agree with the things you said earlier about the way people will wrongly seize on the guilt and corruption of others….  At the same time, I don’t think my core question goes away….

I don’t really see what is the problem here: “The chief problem with this line of thought would seem to be somehow signalling out racism as an unconscious cultural sin…”

I get that many remained ignorant of their sins. When I said:

I am not saying of the past, by the way, that I think that any people who lived in a sinful culture and did not directly confront it, either individually or corporately, are any more guilty than many of us today who lack courage and vigor as regards this or that. I think it does us well to realize that many persons may nevertheless have given more or less brave confessions of the truth, thinking, speaking, and acting in subtle ways to undermine the current situation, try to make improvements as one sees one’s self as able to do so, etc….

I was saying that of persons who *do realize, at some level,* the unique evils of the culture of which they are a part. Certainly, many persons in the past who were genuinely Christians have not had a palpable awareness of the evils that their culture takes part in (since our suppression of our knowledge of the truth is multifaceted and can go very deep). They may have even thought, for example, that very bad things that they were doing were OK (for example, I do not think that Scripture outright condemns slavery in any case, and I am quite sure that people who were real Christians, driven largely by their economic and/or social interests, may very well have thought that it was also OK to think that certain individuals — even whole distinct groups of people! — were born to be slaves!).

At the same time, this discussion is not about those Christians who were exceptional in realizing the sins of their own unique cultures. It is about we today, who, having a different perspective, are able to see the evils of the past and to not want to have a part in the residual contamination that is still with us (in the form of false ideas about what is right and good and true and beautiful).

You seem to be saying that we cannot do this because there is a danger in being taken advantage of in a bad way. I agree there is that danger, but am really trying to find a way for us to promote awareness of all sin and sinful ideas nonetheless…

Are we at an impasse then? I hope that you do not feel like this is an uncharitable take on my part.

Let me repeat what you said above, as I think the wider context of the quote I was responding to is important:

“The chief problem with this line of thought would seem to be somehow signalling out racism as an unconscious cultural sin. For every Christian who has ever lived has confessed the sins that they know, and confessed the sins that they have learned to know, while at the same time, remained ignorant of sins that they themselves did not realize to be sins.

Indeed, if we ever became truly cognizant of the extent of the sin within us how could we continue to live? But that is another issue…

So the matter at hand is what is to be done with the sin of which we are not aware, sin specifically which was viewed to be civilly righteous at one point [i.e. not sin], but has now been exposed to be civilly unrighteous and identified actually to be sin.

Well, for the individual, he or she repents, and if possible, compensates. Here we think of Zacchaeus. Wonderful.

Corporately, we can think of the social changes within the Roman Empire which occur because of the ascendancy of Christianity. Good….


The thing is, I get why the “But” is important and much needs to be spoken about here. The wider question, though, remains, and there is always that nagging thought from Paul: “Why not let yourself be taken advantage of….” I’ll tell you Paul: “….because I need to provide and protect for my kids, especially when none of them — or none of my ancestors even — were really involved in race-based chattel slavery!” That said, as regards the nation as a whole admitting this, saying it was wrong, making restitution, etc…, that is a different kind of matter (and yes, one can arguably say much restitution has already occurred…).

Thinking now though of that church — the original article… that very concrete and not-so-abstract experience. It still seems very sound to me. And I don’t think anyone is taking advantage of them either….


There is no impasse. For I am not saying we cannot do such a thing. I am just suggesting that the methods forwarded so far to do it fall short for various reasons. Certainly where some gesture is possible that does not cause more harm than good I am all for it. But I think such situations would be few and far between.

An example from a book I recently read. David Scaer in his memoir “Surviving the Storms” suggests that members of a class who did not receive their calls 30 years ago and had to stay in Ft. Wayne for an extra couple of months after they graduated, instead of moving, should now be compensated monetarily. Is that going to happen? It would be a political challenge of great proportion. For if it did happen, that situation would have to be revisited and guilt placed appropriately on offending parties. But at the end of the day, would it accomplish anything? Would those students feel vindicated?

No. There really is nothing that can be done except to forgive. And forget.

And not do the same thing in the future.


That appeals to me.

But I hesitate again… and not because I feel that this is a salvation/justification issue…. (also: just because I don’t see it as this does not mean that others, even devout Christians, might not have doubts about their salvation/justification because of things just like this!)

Back to the brass tacks. You said of the article:

“While well-intentioned, I don’t see how it can ultimately be played out, for when is “full atonement” finally accomplished? When will they know they have done enough? And when will those offended concede that enough has been done and some sort of rapprochement occur…

And does it really do anything at all, except make the ones working on it feel better about themselves? So the quote from Hamlet…”

I said:

“I did not get the impression that this article was about thinking anyone’s justification should be questioned, but more about the hard realization of sanctification and the utterly new life that Jesus calls us to.”

And you said you didn’t disagree… it really is about practical matters (very terse summary). I agree — we must at some point have a “statute of limitations” — even in the church! Otherwise, I think that we will only perpetuate a cycle of resentment, anger, and “justice” which really is more like vengeance. And which never ends! At some point, we must trust the perfect justice-maker, the one who reconciled both justice and mercy at the cross!

So… the article. I think it’s good. The time is not so long ago…. it makes sense to do this. I think what the church did is good. I also don’t think it should be taken as a one-size fits-all thing, and I think that churches and others should be wary of the ways that articles could be taken advantage of by people for less than just reasons…


It is good the attempt was made. Time will tell if was simply an empty gesture of no long-term significance.

After all, the church often gets caught up with gestures, actions, movements, etc., that while significant for the moment, usually die out over time. Think here about the WWJD bracelets, the Purpose Driven church, the Prayer of Jabez, etc.

And then a second problem is this: If such a movement does take hold, and becomes the central focus of a congregation, does the congregation as church, over time, disappear, being replaced with a group that promotes one idea, one ideology, one endeavor, and that’s it?


…and if you enjoyed this article, you may also want to check out T.R. Halvorson’s recent articles at Steadfast Lutherans: “Systemic Adultery and Matriphobia: Our Guilty Silence”.

This piece by him, on cultural Marxism and critical theory, is also excellent…



[i] “The way out of the apparent contradiction here is found in the details associated with the words visit and iniquity. Rather than overwhelm you with the breadth and depth of these details, let me summarize them. One of three words used for sin in the OT, the Hebrew word translated iniquity, is used to express sin with its results. We are most familiar with the result of culpability. Sin makes us culpable before God, accountable to him for our rebellion against his law.

Yet there is another result of sin, one that is as common as culpability, but not often focused on. In addition to culpability, sin also results in corruption. This is the spiritual pollution, the contamination factor attached to sin. It spiritually infects others. A significant part of the Mosaic ceremonial law dealt with picturing the corruption result of sin:

And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. (Lev. 16:21-22)

One of the reasons for church discipline is to protect the other members of a congregation from the corruption of the offending member’s sin:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (1 Cor. 5:6-7)

The corruption result of sin is so pervasive that there is nothing we can do to avoid it:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isa. 64:6)

The Hebrew word visiting explains how the sins of forefathers corrupt their descendants. The visiting in view is not some sort of social call, as if God were promising to drop in for milk and brownies. Instead, the word refers to a covenantal visiting: God visits on people, he gives them the experience of, the blessings or curses of his covenants to those in covenant with him, and their descendants. The fourth commandment (Exod. 20:5-6) illustrates the pattern of covenantal visiting succinctly:

“You shall not bow down to them or serve [other gods], for I the LORD your God am a jealous God:
[covenant curse] visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
[covenant blessing] but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

It is quite simple: God gives to the descendants of those in covenant with him the corruption results of their forefathers’ sins. If the culpability result of sin is personal (it only attaches to the sinning individual), then the corruption result of sin is corporate (it also attaches to those in covenant relationship with the sinning individual).

Admittedly there are many more details that show this corruption result is basic to the nature of sin. But this is nothing more than the historic understanding of the church: God curses the descendants to follow in the sinful footsteps of their forefathers, sinning in related ways.

This explains why Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah were resolute in confessing their forefathers’ sins. They knew that God had promised to forgive those sins, not their culpability, but their corruption. So, they confessed and led their congregations to confess with them. Likewise, in the letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation, Jesus advises certain congregations to repent of sins committed only by some of their members (e.g., Pergamum, Rev. 2:13-17; Thyatira, Rev. 2:18-29; Sardis, Rev. 3:1-6). While not personally culpable for the sins of the few, all the members of these congregations were corrupted by these sins. Corporate repentance, confessing the sins of others to whom they were covenantally related, was Jesus’s gospel-rooted solution.”


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Posted by on July 17, 2020 in Uncategorized


God’s Predestinating Purposes: He Will Accomplish What He Desires, For and In You.

“[The] word that goes out from my mouth…will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace

the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands….”
– Isaiah 55:11-12


[sermon text]

This world, it has been said, is not our home.


For this world, ultimately, is a world of death.

And with this world passing away – with the grass withering and the flower fading – how shall we then, in this time, in this place, live?

How should we help one another? Guide one another?

Love, God’s love, asks just this.

Wherever we are in life – no matter who we are! – we all have much to learn from one another….

And, going along with this, we can always understand God and His ways, His desires, better…

How eager are you, like Mary, to sit as Jesus’ feet?

To be His learner, His disciple? How appealing – how exhilarating – does that sound to you?

If not very, ask yourself “Why?!”[i]


If you have been a Lutheran for a while, these verses from Isaiah are probably quite familiar to you.

Let us, however, cut right to the chase….

What is the most important aspect of this passage?

Is it that God’s word has amazing power? Or is it more that God’s goal, God’s purpose, God’s target… will be reached?

Not to take anything away from the power of God’s word – or the lovely pictures He often paints, like here in Isaiah, trees “clapping their hands” and such – but what, really, could be more important than this knowledge and wisdom the text alludes to…. understanding God’s goals and purposes?

Will that not tell us a lot about our God?

His heart?

Some might say of a movie: “I watch for tone, color, character, cinematography, themes. I couldn’t care less about the plot.”

Some treat the book God has given us in the same way….

But should not the words of Jeremiah 9 not both convict us – and raise our sights?:

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”


What can we learn from the Bible about the purposes of this God of Israel who speaks to us this morning through the prophet Isaiah?

Why, we learn that this God not only made the world but entered into it in human flesh.

The Son of God, the third person of the Godhead, or Trinity, “took on” human flesh…

He “tabernacled” or “tented” among us, as the majestic book of John says.

And really, the Gospels in the New Testament in general are not shy about sharing with us what the Son of God says were His reasons for coming.

He came to preach, to fulfill the law, to do His Father’s will, in His Father’s name…

Sounds about right… Makes some sense…

And yet, sometimes other things he says shock even us, His followers…

He came to divide, bring the sword separating even families… He came to blind the world… to bring fire!

At the same time, He also came for sinners…

He came to bring to bring favor, healing, and release. Love, light, and life to the full…

He came to seek and save the lost….

He came to earth to go to Jerusalem, the cross! To serve… and give His life as a ransom for many.[ii]


And when we look elsewhere in the New Testament, what are some passages that stand out about God’s purposes specifically for us… His people?

Well, the Apostle Paul is really quite helpful. Many of you no doubt remember Ephesians 2:8-10 from your confirmation class. It certainly speaks to this issue:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

There is another passage, earlier in Ephesians, that is not as well known, but speaks also of these predestinating purposes of God. Right after saying we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” he says this:

With all wisdom and understanding, he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

Again, God’s purpose in Christ is to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ “when the times reach their fulfillment”. I note many people seem to want this kind of thing apart from Christ.

He then goes on, also in Ephesians:

11 In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

Now, keeping this picture in mind, the Apostle Paul also tells us throughout his writings…

  • that it is God’s will that we should be sanctified, or made holy, and that this has largely to do with avoiding sexual immorality ;
  • that we should not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind and learn to bear with one another in love… and to love one another ever more deeply, as Christ has loved us ;
  • Also that we should not grumble or complain with the result that we will “shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life”…

Now, these kinds of things – and not the spirit of the age which chases after this or that version of justice or “social justice”– that is what God’s Holy Spirit is on about.

When you think about all of this… the scope of it all… it really is quite immense and exhilarating isn’t it?[iii]

I think here also of our Epistle passage for today. All of this kind of stuff is surely in the background of the Apostle Paul’s mind when he says:

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.”

We who share in His glory….


So why – why?! – do these things sometimes… perhaps often… fail to move us, fail to be compelling?

The simple and true and too easy answer is, yes, because we are sinners.

But let us dig deeper here:

We are redeemed sinners – which means we are also God’s saints by the blood of Christ Jesus!

Nevertheless, perhaps unlike Martin Luther, it is hard for us to assert, for example, that “misfortunes impels” the believer to “prayer and [greater] faith”…

For example, some might say “God could not have willed…even allowed…Covid-19! Only the devil could have done that!”

Our faith often does not seem so strong, and, we often feel quite stuck in our sinful habits, thought-patterns, and attitudes…

What can we do? How can my trust and love for God increase? How can I stop hurting those I love?

Well, I’ll address that question momentarily, but still, we should dig a bit more into our passages for this morning a bit more and see what they have to say about God’s purposes for His creation…

First, the book of Isaiah… Again, in chapter 55, we read:

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth

It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

When God is talking about His purpose here, what is He talking about?

Well here, drawing a parallel with how he cares for the earth, He is putting the focus on what He does for His people to sustain them in body and soul.

Has the sun come up another day? It is God.

Does the rain fall again on the good and wicked alike? That’s God.

Are you living, moving, and having your being in Him? Yes, you do, and will – even after you die. It’s God.

And specifically here, the wider context for this passage in Isaiah speaks of God’s everlasting kindness for His people, how though He abandoned them to their sin and enemies, He is going to redeem them again. [iv]

It also comes in the context of prophecies about John the Baptist and the Messiah, Jesus Christ.[v]

Through them God will accomplish His purposes of people from all nations inhabiting the new heavens and the earth in unity, worshipping Him!

And what of the parable of the sower, which we also read this morning?

Note that at its end, the goal is clear:

the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Has the soil of your heart been tilled and made ready so that you are convicted by God’s law?

….given faith through the glorious message of Jesus Christ?

….and baptized into His Name, that you might shout forth His praises forevermore?!

Is this the faith that you intend to remain in until the day you die?

The cause of these things, in order of their occurrence is: God, God, God, God, and God.

In each case.


How can my trust and love for God increase?

We must know God more…the depths of His goodness.

We must know that for the Christian, first of all, before anything else, everything that comes to us is from God.

In this sense, we are totally passive… we’re receivers….

As the Apostle Paul says “What do we have that we have not received?”

We suffer the work of His glorious predestinating purposes!

Like Jesus said, if you want to enter the Kingdom of God you must become like a little child…

Yes, faith is something that you exercise personally – its an action that happens within us – but it is first and foremost a mysterious gift of God’s Holy Spirit to us, where the good things that God gives us in Christ are freely received….

In Ephesians 2:8-10, which we read earlier for example, which we talked about earlier, even a Christian’s response is presented in entirely passive terms, as “God both initiates and completes the entire process of salvation according to the Word of God” (Nordling, Philemon, 134)!

This is what God does! He has prepared it all and He means to do it all!

Really? Yes. Many of you know that our family recently had a baby. Therefore, I was really interested this past week to read this from a pastor I follow on the internet:

“…it’s still a bit of a shock to witness the utter helplessness and tiny frailty of a newborn. Even the largest of babies are completely unable to do anything for themselves. Someone has to do absolutely everything for an infant — feeding, clothing, cleaning, holding, rocking, soothing — every day, 24/7. Otherwise, the fact of the matter is brutally simple, the child will die.

And infants do have a sense of that. Call it “instinct,” or better yet, the gracious design of God, the Creator. But a newborn infant will automatically search for his or her mother’s milk. And a newborn infant will quickly respond with recognition to the voices and presence of Mom and Dad. A newborn infant rightly clings for dear life to the parents whom God the Lord has provided.

That is where you also stand in relation to the Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth. That is the case for every man, woman, and child, whether they acknowledge Him or not…”

When it comes to our being made right before Him, when it to being able to stand before Hi, God creates cooperation in us like children.

His will is done.


And, again, things like this don’t stop there!

As with a baby, everything continues, at bottom, to be about the passive reception of God’s gifts.

At the same time though, as we grow in faith, as we still talk about how we receive everything from God, we also certainly become more knowledgeable of just Who He is, of our identity as His child, and hence also more convicted of the truth in our conscience and more conscious and deliberate in our actions…

The Apostle Peter hints at this when he exhorts: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

And here, a passage like Psalm 42:1 is especially helpful: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.”

One popular Bible teacher put it:

“The psalmist is not referring to the way some people read the Bible as a curiosity or as ancient literature. He’s not talking about perusing the Bible for intellectual stimulation or gathering ammunition to win an argument. This is studying Scripture eagerly and earnestly, hungry to extract all of the nourishment we so desperately need out of the Word.”[vi]

Exactly! How deep is our need!

Please note – none of this increasing activity on our part, this action on our part, even this effort on our part, takes anything away from the foundation of faith and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness, life and salvation!

Everything goes hand in hand!

What, after all, is prayer? You may have heard some Christians talk about “prayer warriors,” emphasizing a certain person’s qualities, but is that kind of a focus really helpful at all?

Prayer, after all, isn’t really something that glorifies or draws attention to the person praying (or at least it shouldn’t be) Instead it, magnifying God, is about thankfulness and praise.

And it is surely about dependence, even a sign of our ongoing helplessness…

And prayer is that which both exercises and increases trust.

And then loyalty. Love

…a love growing stronger all the time.

Love which is fueled by an increasing faith… an increasing knowledge of God and His ways, through the Word of God, the Scriptures….[vii]

Hence, the Apostle Paul, at the end of his letter to the Thessalonians, can’t help but excitedly state:

16 Rejoice evermore.

17 Pray without ceasing [like breath!]

18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

And, just a few verses later, Paul reminds us that God is indeed the One working in us:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”

And so we cry “Abba,[b] Father.”


So again, this is what things should look like for us, here, in this place, when it comes to the parable of the sower.

The promise of good fruit!:

“…the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

All that said, when hearing this parable of the sower perhaps some are tempted to wonder:

“Well… the other seeds don’t fare so well. Does this mean that those in the parable of the sower who don’t believe… maybe me… are forever doomed to eternal damnation?

And if they end up in unbelief and condemnation – just as so many seeds failed in the parable of the sower! – if God’s word always accomplishes its purpose, shouldn’t we assume that God means for this to happen? That such destruction is His purpose?

After all….

-Proverbs 16:4 says: The Lord works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster.

-Jeremiah 10:23 says: Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own;it is not for them to direct their steps.

-I Kings 12:15 says: “So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the Lord, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.”

May it never be!

We shouldn’t read the text, these texts, in such a way…

These texts are meant to assure the Christian that God is in control even as they also will terrify the unbeliever that God is not under his control….

Udo Middelmann can help us here as we think more carefully about God’s will:

“God rejoices over good choices made on earth. He gives conditional promises to people and grieves or rejoices over the outcome (2 Samuel 7:1ff. and 2 Chronicles 7:17ff.). He makes the promise of the land, yet the journey took an extra forty years because of the unbelief by the exodus generation (Numbers 14:20-33). God knows what will happen to David if he remains in the city of Keilah and can tell him that. But God also knows that David will choose to flee when he hears what God tells him will happen (I Samuel 23:7ff.). God can announce to Jonah that Nineveh will be destroyed because of its sin. When the inhabitants of that great city repent, which Jonah in a sense had feared they might do when they would hear of the impending judgment, the destruction never falls. One might also wonder what would have happened to Sodom if Abraham had pled for the five righteous people in the city and not stopped after interceding for ten.[viii]

Pray that God’s seed would fall on good ground!

Pray that the Lord would not let Satan to snatch seed away!

Pray that His watchmen would watch and warn as they should!

No one should even think to say: “I guess God hasn’t predestined me….”

Or especially accuse Him of the same!

Just because men – sometimes even His most devoted servants! – turn aside from God’s desires… does not mean He doesn’t earnestly desire to save all men by Christ’s blood!

Again, God desires all persons to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Even if hearts rebel against such love…


In like fashion, there is another massive temptation Christians face as well…

Sometimes we think of God’s will in too wooden a fashion.

For example, regarding God’s desire to be gracious a pastor I know on Facebook recently said:

“You can never out-sin God’s grace.”

But that sure doesn’t stop a lot of people from trying.”


Yes, it is God’s will to be gracious!

Yes, it is God’s will for pastors to always preach grace, and to always absolve those who make a good confession!

Still, such a blanket statement — with no context at all! — isn’t helpful….

Tell that to Judas, after all….  Who was left without absolution and God’s peace in this world…

And we can also be too wooden regarding God’s will when it comes to thinking about His law. 

I recently read a post from a popular blogger, a recent Christian convert, who was writing about marriage. He said of a future potential spouse:

“If God wills it, and she is someone who I believe will deepen my faith instead of obstruct it, I would marry her, in spite of the countless material obstacles and detriments of doing so, because even if that marriage doesn’t work, and I lose my children and all of my money in a divorce, I know that that too is part of God’s will.

What is he saying?

He thinks that if the marriage “doesn’t work” this will all just somehow be God’s will, in a very uncomplicated fashion.

This, however, is completely confused.

God certainly can use evil for good – and something like the crucifixion was of course in the cards from before the beginning of creation — but does God ever desire Christians to divorce?

No – that is never something that He wants. “Plan B” shouldn’t exist. Even if, yes, He allows for it in some circumstances on the one hand, and can use evil for good on the other…[ix]

So what this blogger is doing in effect is completely denying the personal responsibility and agency of Christians.

Whatever happens is meant to happen…

Or like a man named Alexander Pope said“whatever is, is right.”


There is a real lack of maturity here….

He’s an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and so perhaps what I once heard another E. Orthodox preacher say might speak to him: “God, do not let my neighbor perish because of me, a sinner…”

Or, maybe Paul gets more helpfully to the brutal point by what he says to God’s chosen people in the book of Romans: “[T]he Word of God is blasphemed among the nations because of you….”


“Don’t be a stumbling block…”

We can even do good and right things for the worst of reasons.

We can speak the truth, but not in love…

All of this is sad but true, and points to our need to better know our God…


Now, please don’t misunderstand me this morning.

If we believe in Jesus Christ, there is a sense in which God’s will has been fully done.

We call sin “sin” and call grace “grace” and are justified before God in Jesus Christ!

In Him we already have everything we need! And we have peace with God even though the world and perhaps our own brothers and sisters might rage against us… this peace can’t be taken away!

Get behind us Satan!

We are baptized.

We are His.

At the same time, insofar as we are sinners, our faith will always be challenged by our old man, and hence, there will always be a sense in which God’s will is *not* done.

Oh, God can use even our not doing His will in His will….but we have nevertheless missed the target, or at the very least have not hit it as well as we might have….

It is true that God has good works set up for us to do, as Ephesians 2:10 assures us.

All that said, we should not think for a moment that God has also not allowed there to be room for us, by the grace given to us in His Holy Spirit, to exercise personal responsibility, agency, effort….

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to need – to put it mildly, to ask for a lot of God’s help so as not to grumble and complain…

Still, should we think that we don’t have any choice? Maybe that’s just been ordained and there is no choice at all….

Well, I’ll say this too. In I Cor. Chapter 7, the Apostle Paul says this:

It is good to marry, but for those who have the gift of celibacy – very few – that it is good for them to exercise that gift: “he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better….”


So, let’s tie things up…

In whatever we do… in our individual callings where we “do everything for the glory of God” or simply in our efforts to imitate Christ, who walked in the Law of God by the Spirit…

Our life is “organized around the forgiveness of sins” as one man said….

Whenever we go to God whom we will continue to know better — even if not directly for forgiveness — this is what we come to experience again and again and again…

What we are reminded of, this side of heaven, is forgiveness of sins is the heartbeat of it all…

God longs to forgive us and all of our neighbors.

Luther talked about us being “little Christs”…

Like little children, they imitate their Lord!

And because Jesus Christ is the Christian’s Savior from sin, death, and the devil, he or she also desires Him as their example….

It is a simple matter, really. The young child imitates the parents who have given her identity, security, belonging.


We love because He first loved us.

Think about chicks and imprinting…. And also this hymn:

“On my heart imprint your image

Blessed Jesus King of Grace

That life’s riches, cares and pleasure

Never may your work erase.

Let the clear inscription be

Jesus crucified for me

Is my Life, my hope’s Foundation

And my Glory and Salvation….

And so we depend on Him in prayer…

And we forgive as Christ forgives…

And the hills will sing!

…And the trees will clap their hands in joy![x]


So rejoice: God has chosen to use you as His “little Christ” to your neighbor.

You are His adopted child, His representative, You are His ambassador!

Don’t every say “what is, is right” but rather… “As God gives me strength, I will make things right…”

Choose good over evil, and increasingly – as God gives you the will and the strength – choose the better over the good…

After all it is not that Martha – remember Mary and Martha? – was sinning in what she had done, but Mary chose the better thing….

And let me just make sure this is clear too:

This is not about getting closer to God – there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more than He does, really…

Rather, it is about knowing Him and His purposes even better… to the utter core of our being!


Now I’ve found in my life Lutherans sometimes don’t talk this way, so I just want to say a few more things… (I know this has been long)

But if you are feeling gung-ho right now about all the things you want to do, just know this: we are not going to make Jesus come back sooner….

There is no way that we are going to make the wedding feast and consummation we long for is going to come by our getting busy…

Nevertheless again, 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 your 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”, as the Evangelicals say – 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 your life.

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” – or His woman!

It is good to want to be “all there” with Him at all places and all times! (again, fixated on showing 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, also importantly, to be able to be content if He does not)!

It is good to say, as a Christian rock group when I was young, sung years ago: “I am available”!

There is nothing wrong with any of that![xi]

At any age!

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.

So 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!” (“Just follow the 10 commandments”)

Don’t take statements like that seriously. Rather….

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

And, even as we can say all of this about the importance of knowing His purposes and goals – to be sure!…

We simultaneously take nothing away from the power of God’s word here either: that it is living and active and “penetrat[ing] even to divid[e] soul and spirit, joints and marrow… judg[ing] the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” as Hebrews says.

And one more word on that from the Apostle Paul, from the book of I Thessalonians, chapter 2:

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

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.”

Sit at Jesus’ feet. Again and again.

He loves you… He loves you that much (point to the crucifix).




[i] As the book of Isaiah reminds us, after all, it is we, not God, who need this help:

“Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:14)

[ii] Purposes!:

Fulfill law! 2 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come…
Bring favor, healing, release! The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
Preach! Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.
Bring love! For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life…
For sick sinners! It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In Father’s name! I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.
Father’s will! For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
Blind the world! For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.
To Jerusalem! As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem
Bring [full] life! The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Bring fire! I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Divide! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.
Bring sword! Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–…
Seek and save lost! The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Serve! Be ransom for many! the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many…
To the cross! Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour….
Bring light! I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world…
Bring truth! “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”


[iii] As God has loved us in Jesus Christ, may this memory always be solidified… may this story never grow old… may this narrative never be displaced or replaced in our hearts and minds!

[iv] See, e.g. Isaiah 40:3, 57:14, Isaiah 54:

“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.

[v] See, e.g., Isaiah 40:3, 57:4 (John the Baptist) ; also 53 and 61.

[vi] More context from Jon MacArthur:

How strong should that affection be? Peter put it this way: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Spiritual growth comes when we know the Word, when it shapes our convictions, and when we learn to long for the sustenance it alone can provide.

Psalm 42:1 says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” The psalmist is not referring to the way some people read the Bible as a curiosity or as ancient literature. He’s not talking about perusing the Bible for intellectual stimulation or gathering ammunition to win an argument. This is studying Scripture eagerly and earnestly, hungry to extract all of the nourishment we so desperately need out of the Word.

The Word of God is our spiritual sustenance. May we have the same solitary longing for it that a baby has for milk—because by it, we are conformed to the image of Christ, who sanctified Himself for us. The Word reveals Christ to us, and the Word transforms us into His likeness. We are reminded of what our Savior repeated three times in the upper room—that He would send us the Holy Spirit. We know that sanctification is a divine work through the Word by the Spirit of truth. So, we must plead with the Spirit that He would mold and shape us into the image of Christ, through the truth, from one level of glory to the next. As the Apostle Paul explains, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

[viii] Udo W. Middelmann, The Innocence of God (Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2007), 115-116.

[ix] It is very interesting how Isaiah 53 talks about some who consider the prophesied Messiah as being one who is punished by God, which the passage goes on to confirm in a way, but not in the way perceived by the unbelieving:

“….yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”

[x] For who are we again? This is also from the Psalm for the day:

When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave[c] our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.”

They give the forgiveness that He has won…

And they bring hope and life and peace to the world!


who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

[xi] And 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)


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Posted by on July 13, 2020 in Uncategorized