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God Treats Us So That We Do Not Know What He Will Do With Us–Luther.


Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ la...

From Luther’s Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Trinity in the Church Postil.

…[Jesus] does not with certainty tell what he will do. But here is faith, that strengthens itself and only increases through such temptation, and cares naught how unkind or uncertain the actions and words of Christ sound, but clings fast to his goodness, and does not permit itself to be frightened away….

35. And this is the method God employs with us all to strengthen and prove our faith, and he treats us so that we know not what he will do with us. This he does for the reason, that man is to commend himself to him and rely on his mere goodness, and not doubt that he will give what we desire or something better. So also these lepers thought: Very well, we will go as he commands, and although he does not tell us whether he will cleanse us or not, this shall not influence us to esteem him any the less than before. Yea, we will only esteem him so much the more and higher, and joyfully wait, if he will not cleanse us, he will do still better for us than if we were cleansed, and we will not on that account despair of mercy and favor. Behold, this is the true increase of faith.

36. Such trials continue as long as we live, therefore we must also continue to grow just as long. For when he tries us in one instance in which he makes us uncertain how he will treat us, he afterwards always takes another and continually enlarges our faith and confidence, if we only remain unmovably steadfast.

 

Behold, this is what St. Peter calls growth in Christ when he says, 1 Pet. 2, 2: ”As newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation.” Again in the latter part of 2 Peter, verse 18: ”But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” And St. Paul in all places desires we should increase, continue and become rich in the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. This is nothing else than in this manner to become strong in faith, when God conceals his kindness and appears as Christ does here to the lepers, so that we do not know what to expect of him. For faith must be (argumentum non apparentium) an argument not an appearance, and be certain and not doubt in the things that are concealed and are not experienced. Heb. 11, 1.

 

37. Therefore observe that when God appears to be farthest away he is nearest…

Thus it also happened to the people of Israel in the desert, they thought God did not bring them out of Egypt, upon whom nevertheless they called and they knew while in Egypt that he would help them. But all this is done that we may not remain in weakness when we first begin to believe, but grow and ever increase until we be able to take the strong nourishment and become satisfied and full of the Spirit, that we may not only despise and triumph over riches, honor and friends, but also over death and hell.

 

39. Hence it is with the faithless and unbelieving as with unfortunate mine workers, who begin to prospect with great confidence, and dig extensively. But when they are about to strike the treasure, which would have taken but a little more labor, they give up, and look at what they did as in vain, and think, there is nothing in it. Then comes another worthy of the task, who had never yet made a beginning, but he strikes away boldly and finds what the former hunted and dug for him. Thus it is also with the grace of God; he who begins to believe and will not continually grow and increase, from him grace will be taken and given to another who begins with it; if he, too, will not continue it will be taken also from him and given to another. It only wants to be believed. And here our high schools speak wholly blind, mad, and poisonous things about faith, when they teach that the beginning of faith is enough for salvation, and is only a small degree or step from it.

 

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Note: faith has to increase so that it can overcome riches, honor, friends.  It also finally has to overcome death and hell.  In other words if the small faith we have at the beginning of our walk with Christ does not increase it will be overcome in the time of temptation or at death.

 

So how is faith in Christ strengthened?  When God leads us in such a way that we do not know what He will do with us.  In that time we learn to trust that He will do good to us, and if not what we hope, then something better.

But as Luther says earlier in this sermon, faith doesn’t wait until it feels or senses some assurance that God will be gracious to us.  It holds that confidence before it feels it.  In the same way the lepers didn’t wait until they felt cleansed.  They went to the priests as though they already were, trusting that Christ would be gracious.  But Jesus never promised that they would be cleansed.  He just said, “Show yourselves to the priests.”

Often we have no promise that God will turn a particular suffering in our life into what we hope it will be.  We simply have to be of good cheer and remember who Jesus is and how He is gracious, and believe that He will be gracious to us, however things turn out.

 

 

 

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