Archive for the ‘The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel’ Category

The Effect of Preaching God’s Law

What is the effect of the preaching of the Law? It is threefold. In the first place, the Law tells us what to do, but does not enable us to comply with its commands; it rather causes us to become more unwilling to keep the Law. True, some treat the Law as if it were rule in arithmetic. However, let the Law once force its way into a person’s heart, and that heart will strain with all its force against God. The person will become furious at God for asking such impossible things of him. Yea, he will curse God in his heart. He would slay God if he could. He would thrust God from His throne if that were possible. The effect of preaching the Law, then, is to increase the lust for sinning.

In the second place, the Law uncovers to man his sins, but offers him no help to get out of them and thus hurls man into despair.

In the third place, the Law does indeed produce contrition. It conjures up the terrors of hell, of death, of the wrath of God. But it has not a drop of comfort to offer the sinner. If no additional teaching, besides the Law, is applied to man, he must despair, die, and perish in his sins. Ever since the Fall the Law can produce no other effects in man. Let us ponder this well.

C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, pp. 13-14.

Before You Leave Seminary

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

walther pointing to bibleThis is a passage to read, read, and read again.  I am grateful for the education I got at seminary.  But some of the pastoral wisdom Walther displays here would have been very helpful.  And the assertions he makes about hermeneutics at the end…some of my professors would have argued with them.  But I think Walther is right.  Ambiguity and failure to distinguish law and gospel clearly is responsible for so many failures in caring for souls.


Twentieth Evening Lecture

(February 27, 1885.)


My Friends:–

            When a place has been assigned to a Lutheran candidate of theology where he is to discharge the office of a Lutheran minister, that place ought to be to him the dearest, most beautiful, and most precious spot on earth…  Do not the blessed angels descend from heaven with great joy whenever the Father in heaven sends them to minister to those who are to be heirs of salvation?  Why, then, should we poor sinners be unwilling to hurry after them with great joy to any place where we can lead other men, our fellow-sinners, to salvation?  

            However, though great be the joy of a young, newly called pastor on entering his parish, there should be in him an equally great earnestness and determination to do all he can to save every soul entrusted to him.  Frequently it may seem to him that the majority, if not all members, of his congregation are still blind, dead, unconverted people.  That observation must not make him morose or discourage him, but rather fill him with an ardent desire to rouse them out of spiritual death through the divine means of grace and make them living Christians.  Spite of the devil he should take up his work in the power of faith.  If he observes that some members of his new charge are even living in manifest shame and vice, he must not despair, but bear in mind that he has a powerful Word by which he can make an effort to liberate these slaves of sin.  If he observes that his congregation is on a low level as regards the knowledge of salvation, that his people are still sadly ignorant of what the Gospel really is, he must cheerfully resolve to take up the task of instructing the poor, ignorant people with patience and zeal, until they will see the light.  Or he may notice that there are people in his congregation who are sincere, but disposed by their Pietistic schooling to be legalistic, who, therefore, regard some things as sinful that are not sinful.  In that case he must resolve to forego exercising his Christian liberty lest he offend souls that regard as sin something that he feels free to do.  On the other hand, he may discover in his congregation members of an Antinomian tendency, who are inclined to go too far in the exercise of their Christian liberty, because they are not accustomed to have the Law preached to them in its severity.  In such a case he must not decide forthwith to oppose them with all his force and preach nothing but the sternest Law to them for a whole year.  No, he must go after them gently and gradually make them see the stern demands of the Law.  For the Apostle Paul says concerning himself: “I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some.”  1 Cor. 9, 22.  This statement he wants every servant of Christ to take to heart.  Its import is that a minister must not be satisfied merely with proclaiming the truth; he must proclaim the truth so as to meet the needs of his people.  He may have to defer saying many things until his people have gained confidence in him and his teaching and he knows that he may frankly tell them anything without fear of repelling them.  Briefly, he must resolve to turn his congregation from a dreary desert into a flourishing garden of God.

…Blessed is the minister who starts his official work on the very first day with the determination to do everything that the grace of God will enable him to do in order that not a soul in his congregation shall be lost by his fault.  Such a one resolves that by the grace of God he will do all he can, so that, when the day comes for him to put down his shepherd’s staff, he may be able to say, as Christ said to His Father: Here I am and those that Thou gavest me, and none of them is lost.  Even the blood of those who shall stand on the left side of the judgment-seat, he resolves, shall not be on his hands.

            But now the question arises: What is the matter of chief concern to a minister who wants to attain this glorious object?  He must approach the Lord with heartfelt prayer and earnest entreaties in behalf of his congregation and, when preaching the Word of God with great zeal publicly and privately, jointly or severally, rightly divide the Word of Truth.  For that is what Paul demands 2 Tim. 2, 15, saying: “Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”

            During your present year at the Seminary this very thing, you know, is the subject of our study—the proper division of the Word of God, of Law and the Gospel.  These two are the cardinal doctrines of all the Holy Scriptures, which are made up of these two.  Any passage of Scripture, yea, any historical fact recorded in Scripture can be classified as belonging either to the Law or to the Gospel.  No one should be permitted to graduate from a school of theology who is unable to determine whether a given passage of Scripture is Law or Gospel, or whether in any compound clause of Scripture the protasis is Law and the apodosis Gospel, or vice versa.  It is your duty to become perfectly clear on this subject.


C.F.W Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, pp. 207-210.

Kebab, Compassion, and Christian Liberty


For freedom Christ has made us free; therefore stand firm, and do not again submit to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

 These two theses seem to contradict each other…Both are Paul’s own statements, who says in 1 Cor. 9, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all,” and in Rom. 13, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”  Love by its very nature is ready to serve and be subject to him who is loved.  So Christ, although he was Lord of all, was “born of woman, born under the law”, and therefore was at the same time a free man and a servant, “in the form of God” and “of a servant.” [Philippians 2:6-7] 

Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian”

If you don’t believe in your values enough to say “no” when other people try to insist that you give them up, you will lose them.  The only question should be whether your values are right.

It’s one thing to be sensitive and hospitable to Muslims who live as foreigners in your country.  But when they reject the law of your country and begin to implement their god’s laws in defiance of you, to continue to show kindness is to give in to them, and to allow yourself to be enslaved by them.

The same thing is true for Christians.  We should love and pray for the enemies of the church and also unbelievers, and make whatever concessions we can out of love for them.  We should bear with weaker Christians in the Church out of compassion for them.

But when enemies of the church, unbelievers, or people in the church who seem to be weak say that we can’t preach or practice some part of the word of God because it is offensive and unloving, we can’t submit to them.  To do that is to say that the Word of God can only speak as long as it does not violate human rules.

It’s a good thing, I think, that the Europeans wanted to welcome people from other countries and respect their traditions.  But it’s not a good thing to confuse the lawful use of authority with oppression.  It was a bad thing that the company sold meat labeled “Halal” even though it had traces of pork in it.  But in Denmark people are not summarily beaten or executed for eating pork or for selling it or for lying about selling it.

In the Church we have a similar problem.  In our society there are few things that will get people all riled up like it will rile observant Muslims if you mislead them to eat pork.  But among the few things that are likely to cause that kind of upset is to be “hateful,” which has become a very broad kind of crime.  It’s considered hateful, for the most part, to tell someone that they do or have done something that was not just “a bad choice” but actually evil–sin.

In the Church it is not hateful to tell someone they sinned.  We are commanded to do that, but to do it in love for the other person.  So if we let it stand that a person in the church is doing wrong when they rebuke another person we end up allowing it to happen that God’s Word is not allowed to be heard in the Church.  At least in some areas.

So as Christians we must be ready to sacrifice our own comfort for the sake of weaker Christians, the enemies of the Church, and the world outside.  We have to give up legitimate things that cause unnecessary offense, and we should spare ourselves no trouble to do so out of love.

We spare ourselves no trouble, but we also cannot permit the Word of God to be bound or limited, even if people accuse us of being proud, arrogant, loveless, etc.  That is because it is not our Word.  It is God’s.  To take anything away from it is to agree that it is not God’s Word; and to allow it to be silenced at all in the Church is to allow it to be taken away from us.

Since the Word of God is the only power on earth by which God gives us salvation and protects His Church, we can’t allow it to be silenced in any part or forced to follow the rules of human propriety or “political correctness”.  If we do that we trade in the righteousness of God, which God counts as ours through faith in the message of the cross, for the righteousness of the godless world, which consists in telling everybody that as long as it works for them, that’s good, no matter what they feel like doing.



Eating Garbage…and the Holy Ghost’s Tail-Feathers

April 20, 2013 9 comments

garbage eatersSwallowing the Holy Ghost, Feathers and All…or, “How I Almost Became a Garbage-Eater” (part 1)

For freedom Christ has made you free.  Therefore, stand firm and do not again become subject to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

When someone hears himself being admonished by these glorious words, with the salvation or damnation of his soul at stake, he becomes frightened and makes a commitment immediately, unless he is well armed and well grounded against this. For it cuts like a sharp razor and penetrates body and soul.  Luther, The Sermon on the Mount.  Luther’s Works: American Edition, vol. 21, pp. 252-253.

When I left home, I was 17.  I moved as far as I could away from the Chicago suburbs.  Then I came back and went to the University of Illinois for a year.  Halfway through the second semester I decided that the reason I was so miserable was because I lived in Champaign, Illinois.*

*for further information on this you can begin your research here:

So after no small amount of mental and emotional anguish for both me and my family, I dropped out of U of I and ended up back in Seattle.

Strangely enough, I did not end up happier in Seattle.  In fact I was more depressed and miserable.  I would get into why, but that would take a long time.  The point of this story is not to tell you about how bad I used to be (or still am) but about the way the devil can destroy a person who has become convicted of sin.  That is, if the gospel is not preached to the convicted person immediately.

The Lutheran Confessions talk about this.  But it takes experience to understand what the Confessions are talking about.  And even if you’ve experienced it, it takes the Holy Spirit to give wisdom to you so that you don’t hammer and crush people who are already convicted of their sins.

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (On Justification, parts 36f.):

Lastly, it was very foolish for the adversaries to write that men who are under eternal wrath merit the remission of sins by an act of love, which springs from their mind since it is impossible to love God, unless the remission of sins be apprehended first by faith. For the heart, truly feeling that God is angry, cannot love God, unless He be shown to have been reconciled. As long as He terrifies us, and seems to cast us into eternal death, human nature is not able to take courage, so as to love 37] a wrathful, judging, and punishing God [poor, weak nature must lose heart and courage, and must tremble before such great wrath, which so fearfully terrifies and punishes, and can never feel a spark of love before God Himself comforts].


English: C.F.W. Walther was the founder of the...

English: C.F.W. Walther was the founder of the Missouri Synod. There are four known photos of him in existence. This one was not previously on Wikimedia Commons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

C.F.W. Walther, the “founding father” of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, quotes Luther to this effect in The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel:


“The doctrine of the Law, then, was given for this purpose, that a person be given a sweat-bath of anguish and sorrow under the teaching of the Law. Otherwise men become sated and surfeited and lose all relish of the Gospel. If you meet with such people, pass them by; we are not preaching to them. This preaching is for the thirsty; to them the message is brought: ‘Let them come to Me; I will give them to drink and refresh them.’ ”


“The Law cannot restore the soul, for it is a word that makes demands upon us and commands us to love God with our whole heart, etc., and our neighbor as ourselves. The Law condemns every person who fails to do this and pronounces this sentence upon him: Cursed is every one that doeth not all that is written in the book of the Law. Now, it is certain that no man on earth is doing this. Therefore, in due time the Law approaches the sinner, filling his soul with sadness and fear. If no respite is provided from its smiting, it continues its onslaught forcing the sinner into despair and eternal damnation. Therefore St. Paul says: By the law is only the knowledge of sin. Again: ‘The Law worketh nothing but wrath.’ The Gospel, however, is a blessed word; it makes no demands upon us, but only proclaims good tidings to us, namely, that God has given His only Son for us poor sinners to be our Shepherd, to seek us famished and scattered sheep, to give His life for our redemption from sin, everlasting death, and the power of the devil.”


After almost becoming a garbage-eater and swallowing the Holy Ghost, feathers and all, together with food out of a dumpster, I read Walther’s book, and that was what made sense of things for me and brought me back to the Lutheran Church.  You can imagine my surprise and dismay upon going to seminary and hearing Walther ridiculed on a regular basis.  But that’s another story.

No one is able to learn theology without experience, i.e. suffering.  So it’s no surprise if aspiring theologians at seminary, having not been through enough of a sweat-bath yet, do not appreciate the importance of the distinction between law and gospel.  That’s why I’ve managed to portray Jesus as a terror to already repentant sinners—even after having experienced the misery of seeing Christ as a “new Moses.”

Anyway, back to the garbage eaters.

Suffice it to say that during this period I was far from God and entangled in a lot of delusions and lies.  And I was suffering.  Towards the end of this I started to think that I was going to lose my mind permanently.

Somewhere in this time period—it would have been in the spring—March, April, early May, 1998, I was walking down Broadway in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.  This is where I was attending Seattle Central Community College.  I went there for a year so that I could get residency in Washington state and begin the following year at the University of Washington without having to pay out of state tuition.

That’s when I ran into this really nice guy who had a long beard and a bicycle.  He started talking to me about God or Jesus.  Now I was not particularly interested in talking about God or Jesus, and I let him know.

In fact, I was pretty annoyed that everywhere I went, it seemed like people always started talking to me about God or Jesus.  Or they would act like I was a Christian.  I remember I was in some class where we had to write a paper describing some painting of our choice in the Seattle Art Museum.  For some reason, I decided to do mine on a painting of the flagellation of Christ.  I was talking about it with some girl from the class, and she said something like, “You’re kind of obsessed with Jesus.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I mean, that’s just you.”

That really bugged me.

I didn’t want to talk about Jesus or God because, very simply, Jesus got in the way of me doing and being what I wanted.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if Jesus had been just one god among many, or offered one more cool form of spirituality as an option among the many that were on sale in Seattle.

Seattle was not an atheist, secularist place.  Hippies and dreadlocked rastafarians were everywhere.  They were all “spiritual.”  Neo-paganism and Wicca and shamanism were everywhere.  Hare Krishnas were regularly on the sidewalk handing out literature.  Scientologists stood and offered to give free personality tests.  (I took one.  They said I was too screwed up to be a scientologist.)  Buddhist temples were not hard to find in Seattle (although the real Buddhists didn’t advertise as much.)

Then you had nearly every church on every corner with a rainbow flag out in front and a sign that said “Open and Affirming,” letting you know that the Christian churches by and large were just presenting themselves as one more option in the religious smorgasbord.  They were cool with alternative sexualities and didn’t want to be associated with the patriarchal, exclusivist Christianity of the past.

Even Muslims had their niche.  At the one place I went to get gyros all the time, they always had signs up decrying the abuse of the Palestinian people by the Israelis and advertising invitation to Islam classes.  And even though Islam really is exclusive, it too was acceptable in Seattle, because it had the cache of being foreign.  Or not being Christian.

But Jesus was not acceptable in Seattle, unless He was an icon or an image associated with another time and place.

If He was proclaimed as He is, someone who speaks to us today and makes claims upon us, He was laughed at at best.  If you gave away that you actually believed in Him, you became a strange creature.  Lots of people would hate you.  Others would look at you with pity or disdain or strange fascination.  This was in about 1997, 1998.  At least among the people with whom I hung out.

But Seattle’s issues with Jesus were one thing.  The issue was—I was hostile to Him.  I wanted to be left alone.  Jesus made claims on me.  That was the real issue.  I knew Jesus would not permit me to act as if He was one God among many.  He could not be a deep religious thinker whom I, as an intellectual and a poet, chose to follow as someone whose teaching suited my taste.

It wasn’t just moral restrictions that were the issue. Primarily it was that Jesus claimed exclusive access to God.  Salvation came only through Him.  And that meant it wasn’t that I just wouldn’t be able to do this or do that if I was a Christian.  If I was a Christian, everything would belong to Jesus.  I would depend on Him completely and belong to Him; I couldn’t pretend like I didn’t believe in Him when He would have been an embarassment.  If people hated Him, I would have to be hated.  And that was most of the people I hung around with.

If people I didn’t like were Christians, I would have to love them and be associated with them.  (And there were hardly any Christians I liked.)

It wasn’t any one particular thing that I didn’t want to give up.  It was that I would have to give up everything; whatever Jesus wanted me to keep I would keep, whatever He wanted me to lose I would lose.

I didn’t want this and couldn’t tolerate it, and yet it still bothered my conscience somewhere that Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

So, as I was saying, this hippie-looking guy with a long beard and a bike, wearing what appeared to be an apron, was talking to me about Jesus.  Somehow I gathered that he had left all of his possessions behind with a group of other people in order to follow Christ.

Now this, I thought, was cool and worthy of respect.  At least if the guy was going to be a Christian, he wasn’t going to be a bourgeois, fat, materialistic, Republican “Christian.”

I told him something to the effect of, “Well, when I was a kid I was raised to believe in Jesus.  But I don’t want to follow Christ. “  Maybe I said something like, “Maybe one day I’ll want to.”  And then the man, who, I emphasize at this time seemed extremely genial and kind, said something like, “Well, there’s a lot of heartache found in pursuing the world.”

That stuck with me.  I was living that.  Consciously, it seemed like nothing was more unlikely than that I would ever be a Christian.  .

Fast forward to the summer.

During the summer quarter I started taking classes at the University of Washington.  During this same period I had undergone a radical change in direction that might be described as a “conversion experience.”  [Not that a “conversion experience” is necessarily the same as actual conversion to Christ.]  What this amounted to for me was that I quickly and drastically changed direction.  I started reading the bible and praying zealously.  I quit hanging around with my old friends, started going to church, and trying to engage with what I was studying and writing as a Christian.

It was a period of high anxiety.  I was by no means stable and I had doubts about how this was going to turn out.

Key to all of this was the conviction that the reason I had been so depressed, so close to nervous collapse, and had such difficulty functioning, because I had been running my own life instead of doing God’s will.

How did I come to that conclusion?  Because I was desperate.

I figured that the reason Christianity had not “worked” before was because I had not been fully committed.  Now I tried on a daily basis to have a will completely committed and surrendered to Christ.

I still remembered—and believed—the doctrine I was taught as a kid—at least that part that we are justified by faith in Christ alone apart from works.

However, I reasoned that if I had wandered from Christ so far as to deny Him, that proved that the faith in Him that I thought I had as a child was not saving faith at all.  Works don’t save, but they prove that faith is living.  I also remembered and believed that from my childhood religious training.

Because I had experienced and lived the outright hostility toward Christians that was common among people I hung around, I thought about martyrdom.  I wondered whether I would be able to be faithful to Christ even if I faced death for it.  My constant question to myself was, “Am I ready to forsake everything for Christ?”  If I could answer “yes,” to the question, then I could be assured that I had true faith in Christ.  If there was hesitation, then it was to be feared that my faith was not real, saving faith.

Right around this time I was walking through Red Square on the UW campus.  It was a bright sunny day.  Suddenly I looked and saw the same bearded guy who had talked to me a few months earlier.  Surely that was providential!  I went over to him and said, “Hey, do you remember me?  I became a Christian since we talked last.”

Then he stared at me and said with a completely different demeanor than he seemed to have had the first time we met:  “Have you gotten involved with the worldly church?”

Just as Luther describes in the quote up at the top—those words cut me “like a razor.”  I felt cold fear, like he had just uncovered the truth about me.

More later…

The Lord’s Salvation is Outside Us. Christmas 1 sermon.

December 30, 2012 5 comments

simeonFirst Sunday after Christmas

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:22-40

December 30, 2012

“The Lord’s Salvation is Outside of Us”


Jesu juva.


In the Name of Jesus.


On Christmas Eve the epistle reading from Titus said that “the grace of God” trains us to renounce “ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness, and to purify for Himself a people… who are zealous for good works.”  (Titus 2:11-14)


The proper fruit of receiving God’s grace and salvation is a godly life.  Jesus died for us not so that we could sin without worrying about it, but so that we would be a people who are zealous to do good.


It is a great error that is causing incredible destruction in the Church to think that Jesus’ death for our sins means we now no longer should insist on any rules or standards in our homes, in society, and in the Church.  It is true that religious people who are good about following the rules can easily become judgmental and self-righteous, like the Pharisees.  But that does not mean that the rules should be gotten rid of. 


You should go to Divine Service and hear God’s Word every Sunday and at other times when it is offered where your calling does not prevent you—that should be expected, while at the same time we do not look down on our brothers who falter in this area, but instead seek their blessing.  You should learn your catechism by heart. You should have regular prayer and meditation on God’s Word in your homes while not despising and alienating brothers who have not yet learned to do this. It isn’t wrong for the church to set standards like this.  In fact it is loving.


The church is not sinning when it requires you to behave with reverence in church.  It wasn’t a sin a few decades ago when Missouri Synod churches expected people who wanted communion to announce and be examined by the pastor beforehand.  This was not legalism.  It was discipline.  Our fathers in the faith knew well that outward discipline did not save people.  But they also knew well how easily order in the home, state, and church could be destroyed by people claiming the freedom of the Gospel as their license to ignore good works and live in sin.


The gospel reading shows us today how the godly people who were waiting for the Messiah lived.  They kept the requirements of the law, like Mary and Joseph, even though the baby in their arms was the Lord of the law who fulfilled the law and who would make the law’s requirements for purification after childbirth unnecessary.  They continued in their lowly callings in Nazareth as carpenter, husband, wife, and mother, even though they were told by the prophets in Jerusalem that their child was the glory of Israel—that is, the Lord God in the flesh.  Simeon spent his life watching and praying for the Lord to send His salvation.  Anna lived as a widow for over 80 years and spent her life in the temple, constantly praying and fasting.  Why did they go to all this trouble?  Not because they were trying to save themselves, but because it was God’s will that they walk in His commandments.  And because they believed God’s grace would come and that God therefore forgave all their sins, they gladly sought to live in the righteousness that He had given them in His Word.


This needs to be said because we live in a time where many people think the grace of God is license to sin and live an undisciplined life.  How wicked our old Adam is, that he would try to use the grace of God as license and freedom to sin! 


But at the same time we have another temptation.  When we recognize our sin and ungodliness we begin to say to ourselves, “I’ll just try harder.”  Or we see our continual failures in leading a godly life and we begin to despair and think that we are not saved or perhaps were never saved.


You should indeed repent of your sins and seek to do them no more.  Wherever you neglect prayer, you should repent and seek to do so no longer.  If you have been negligent in hearing and learning His word, you should turn away from your sin.


But fear of God’s wrath and the desire to turn away from sin and live a new life will not save us, nor will it in the long run enable us to change sinful habits—to become diligent and blameless in our callings, to pray and learn God’s Word.  Only faith in the Savior does that.  And that is not something human beings can do.


For this reason Simeon’s song is full of comfort for us who have tried to amend our sinful lives but remain sinners.  The Nunc Dimittis, which we sing after communion each week, proclaims


            The Lord’s Salvation is Outside of Us.


  1. 1.        Jesus is God in the flesh—the glory of Israel, the light for revelation to the Gentiles—and He alone is the Lord’s salvation.

The glory of Israel—the promised one—and the glory in the cloud and fire


A light for revelation—again, Simeon is saying that this baby is God.


Simeon is ready to die because he has seen the Lord’s salvation.  He has God’s Word.  This child is the Lord God in the flesh.

  1. 2.       The Lord’s salvation is an accomplished fact given in this little child.


He speaks of salvation as something done.


He undertakes a great exchange,

Puts on our human frame

And in return gives us His realm

His glory and His name.


My flesh is not completely renewed in me.  But in Him it is perfectly renewed.

In Him it is finished.

  1. 3.       Therefore devout Christians pray and watch and look only for Him, and thus participate in His kingdom and do good works.


“This is the work of God—that you believe in the one He has sent.”  (John 6)


“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will make known to them His covenant.”  (Psalm 25?  91?)


Why did Simeon pray and watch for God’s kingdom to come, if God had promised it?


When He gives us salvation, God invites us to participate in His kingdom and act as His friends—to pray for Him to fulfill His promise and do His work.


Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and spoke about his exodus  at the transfiguration.


We don’t know all that God has planned, so we can’t see in the things that He brings about in our lives how he means to do us good or accomplish His purposes. 


We do know that this child will be a sign that is spoken against, and that a sword will pierce the souls of those who love Him.  He is spoken against because we say to trust Him alone and not our works.


When this happens, we pray, knowing His ultimate purposes even if we don’t know what is happening in our lives, what his purpose is there.  Cf.  mary and Joseph, who didn’t really understand how this was all going to work out.  There was no coronation ceremony; they went back to Nazareth.


Like Simeon, He takes us into His counsel.  Like Moses, sometimes he gives us a glimpse of the promised land.  Like Anna, He uses us to bear witness and encourage and to bring blessing. 

Like Simeon, we take up the Lord’s salvation physically.  He comes to us in His body and blood, according to His Word. 

And then even if we do not see how all the Lord’s plans work together for good for those who love God, we see His salvation–the glory of Israel in our human flesh–our righteousness and holiness, given into death for our sins, given to us Christians to eat and drink under the bread and wine.


Not Very Good At Being Christians

August 6, 2012 12 comments


When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No. But I am the commander of the armies of the Lord.” Joshua 5:13-14

Ouch.  This picture stings. 

It’s easy to start thinking of all kinds of probably valid rebuttals.  People always think Christians should just feed the hungry and be nice and not stir up trouble.  Especially people who aren’t Christians think that.  And a lot of Christians think it too.  They forget some of Jesus’ other words, like, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  (Matt. 10:34)  Whenever conflict arises because of theology or for the sake of the confession of the Gospel, there are lots of Christians who think you shouldn’t get into fights if you are a Christian.  Such Christians become a great source of pain for their brothers who stand up and bear the hatred of the world.  Then the world accuses them, and meanwhile brothers in the church also say, “You’re not really confessing Jesus.  You’re just being a jerk.”

I’m assuming Jack is not a Christian.  I haven’t read the rest of the blog.  But Jesus didn’t say, specifically, that Christians should serve at soup kitchens or homeless shelters.  He did say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And, “If someone takes your cloak, offer your tunic also,” and, “give to the one who asks of you, and the one who would borrow from you do not turn away.”

But then again, it was Judas who was annoyed when a lady poured expensive perfume on Jesus; he said, “Why wasn’t that sold and given to the poor?”  And Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have Me.

But here’s the thing, even though you could argue with this meme and get annoyed with it, it really should provoke our repentance.

The folks who went to Chik-fil-a and stood in long lines—isn’t it fair to assume that most of them were Christians?  And isn’t it fair to assume that most of them are probably committed and  conservative Christians, or more committed than many?  It takes some commitment to stand up and be counted in the culture war, not to mention spending an hour in a line in order to protest something.

What made all these committed Christians come out?  A business owner says that he opposes homosexual marriage and that he considers his company a Christian company.  Then he is boycotted and picketed by homosexual activists. 

In order to show the world how many conservative Christians there are who agree with the owner of Chik-fil-a, we have this massive turnout of people to spend their dollars in the store.  “We’re not going to be intimidated.  We’re going to let business owners who are vocal about their Christianity and their opposition to gay marriage know that they can continue to be so and they will still continue to be able to run a profitable business.”  That seems to be the message, or at least some of the message.

I have no problem with the owner of Chik-fil-a saying what he said.  Christians should vocally oppose homosexual marriage.  I’ve done the same, and every time I do something painful happens.  I keep doing it not to bash homosexuals but so there are still some voices telling kids, “No, not everyone agrees that homosexual marriage is right, and they aren’t all stupid, or Nazis.”  So that Christians will not be intimidated into denying the truth or believing lies.  So that there will still be space in public discussion for those who dissent from what is being rammed down our throats by the media.

I think Christians must do this.  But the problem is that if all we do is oppose moral drift in our society, that isn’t Christianity yet. 

Christians aren’t supposed to be known simply for rigor.  The light that is supposed to shine in us is not simply defining the moral law or preaching the law’s condemnation, or voting to uphold the moral law.  The light of Christ is not “family values,” even though it’s vitally important for our country and our churches to see “family values” come back, because our country and our churches are falling apart due to the decline of the family.

But Jesus didn’t come to preach the law of God.  He did preach it, but that’s not why He came.  Family values refers to the law of God concerning marriage and sexuality. 

What Jesus came to preach is the Gospel.  The good news.  What is the good news?  That because “there is no one righteous, no, not even one” (Rom. 3), God has provided a righteousness accomplished by Him on behalf of the unrighteous.  God assumed our human nature in the womb of the virgin Mary, assumed responsibility for the sin of Adam and all his children, and received the wrath of God against sin in our place on the cross.  Therefore everyone who believes that Jesus paid for sins with His suffering and death is counted righteous; God counts this faith that He receives us for Jesus’ sake as righteousness.

This good news means that all who believe in Christ are no longer condemned, even though sin still lives in them.  And if they are not condemned, they can live in this world without fearing their enemies—they can even love those enemies—because their enemies cannot harm them.  If you hate my guts because I’m a Christian, all you can do is cause me pain temporarily.  But Jesus will be with me and will enable me to bear it and to rejoice in it, because just as He was in this world, so am I.  And then, when I die, I really have lost nothing but gained everything, because Jesus rose from the dead after bearing my sin; and if He has borne my sin and it has died, then God no longer counts my sin against me and will raise me too.

Christians fight, but they fight a different kind of battle with different enemies.  The world fights with those who oppose their interests.  Homosexual activists fight those who oppose their agenda.  Lobbyists fight for their interests in congress. 

Christians’ enemies are God’s enemies—namely, the devil and demons.  But human adversaries?  God will ultimately decide who is to be cast away forever.  We may note when someone is not a Christian, but they don’t become our enemies even though they may hate us and Christ.  Jesus judged no one, but entrusted Himself into His Father’s hands.  He took no vengeance on earth, but only did good to His enemies.

Christians should be known for the gospel.  And even if the world doesn’t understand the gospel (which is likely), or if they slander us, Christians should have lives that reflect this love of God toward His enemies, which caused Him to humble Himself and die on their behalf, even while they fought Him, dishonored Him, or denied Him. 

Thank God that He did that toward His enemies?  Because in the flesh I am His enemy.  And my flesh has dishonored and hated Christ all my life.  I would not believe in Him now unless He was willing to endure abuse from His enemies.

In the verse I quoted way up at the top of this post, Joshua goes over and says, “Are you for us or our adversaries?”  And the guy with the sword says (by the way, that guy is the Son of God before the incarnation, I’m pretty sure)—“No.”  No, the Lord when He was about to go in with Joshua and slaughter the idolaters in Canaan and put the Israelites in that land—He was not fighting on the side of the Canaanites or the Israelites.  He was doing what He was doing for His own Name.

God is on the side of Christians when Christians are on His side.  God is on the side of repentant sinners.  God is for me in Christ, but that doesn’t mean God is on my side in the culture wars. 

He wishes to save sinners, whether the sinners are clinging to very ugly sins, or whether they are repentant and have the Holy Spirit beginning to destroy the old man within them.  Either way, we do not fulfill the law of God.  So Jesus seeks both.

He seeks to bring the unbelievers to repentance and faith in Him, so that they begin to keep His law.

He seeks to bring the true Christians again and again to faith in Him, so that they grow in holiness.

Our critic is right.  How much we lack in holiness, that you can find conservative, consciously committed Christians waiting in long lines to do what—stand with a man who confessed that homosexual marriage is wrong.

Good!  But even the pagans know that.  Muslims know it.  Hindus know it.  People who worship their ancestors also know it.

Where Christians should be conspicuous is in their pity toward the wretched, helpless, damned.  And toward their enemies.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?  Do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?  Do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  [St. Matthew 5:43-48]

Yes, if only we were as eager to pray for our enemies and to bear the suffering of the poor or endure the pain of trying to help a person caught in sin get free from it as we are to buy fast food in the name of Jesus, or condemn homosexual marriage in the name of Jesus!

Don’t misunderstand; it is necessary to say it clearly.  But at the same time the mercy of Christ that extends to us in the black hole, the depths of hell in which we were born in Adam, ought to move us to show the same compassion to those who are no different than we are by nature. 

If I hurt sound critical of anyone who was at Chik-fil-a, I promise you, all these things are preached to myself too. 

You are doing right to uphold the Law of God which worketh death.  It is necessary.  But when I hear it from someone who I cannot believe has struggled with sin and hopelessness in the way that I have, I am crushed into despair.  That’s what the Pharisees did to the sinners. 

I’ve been a Pharisee.  So was St. Paul.  St. Paul found—and so–that when we put all we have into serving God and are zealous and rigorous in the name of God–it’s then that we commit the greatest sins.  Unless the Spirit converts us, we can only do evil.  And even after we are converted, even when it is the Spirit who does the works in us, even then our works could not stand before God apart from His gracious covering of the sin in them.

That is how helpless we are in the flesh to please God.  And the worst is that after a person believes in Christ, our flesh and the devil often trick us into doing worse than we ever did apart from Christ–because now, so easily, the evil in our flesh is cloaked by the name of Christ.

let the recognition of every such attempt in the flesh which we have committed pierce our hearts, so that we are constantly driven to the pure mercy of God to us in Christ, for there is truly nothing good in us.  May Christians in this country carry weight in our society not so much for their capacity to buy things, but for their wealth of compassion, grace, and love for their enemies.

Jesus: Not a Part of Your Complete Breakfast

July 21, 2012 3 comments

CS Lewis, back when Anglicans were English and Christian; apparently now they are almost always one or the other.

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” C. S. Lewis

I love that quote by Lewis.  All too often church members have the idea that Christianity is supposed to be “moderate.”  Or that you are able to be a Christian without ever appearing to be a fanatic to the world.

On the other hand, it’s important to remember that as true as this is, there are also those in the church who understand this and want to be fully devoted, passionate, and “sold out for Christ,” yet feel that they are not, and perhaps even are afraid about it.

They have good reason to feel that way, because God not only commands that we recognize Him as having chief claim on our lives.  He commands us, “You shall have no other gods.”  Jesus unpacks the first commandment this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and with all your soul.”

In the Small Catechism, Luther gives us a helpful summary of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods.  What does this mean?  We should




in God above all things.”

It’s important to say what Lewis said.  Christian congregations seem to have many members who sleepily think that being a Christian is supposed to fit into their lifestyle, instead of their lifestyle being altered [or completely re-styled] by their discipleship of Christ.

“Christianity is either of infinite importance or no importance.  It cannot be moderately important.”  That is a word that must be preached, clearly and often.  It can be a comforting word, because we are set free from the impossible burden of trying to be a Christian and also be pleasing to our unbelieving peers and friends.

However, left there, it is the law, and “the law worketh wrath.”  When it has its full effect, it will not produce truly passionate disciples of Jesus.  It will either produce self-righteous hypocrites who terrorize the sheep of Christ.  Or it will produce broken sinners who dangle over the precipice of despair, recognizing that Christianity is of ultimate importance while remaining unable to “fear, love, and trust” in the true God above all things.

It needs to be preached to contented and satisfied sinners.  But to terrified sinners, who realize that they are not as fully committed to Christ as they ought to be (even if they are more committed than other people)–the Gospel needs to be preached.  To them it needs to be said, “Your passion for Christ is insufficient.  He knows that even though you believe in Him and love Him, your flesh prevents you from doing what you would, from loving Him as you ought to.  But His passion for you is perfect and it is sufficient.  He has loved you with perfect love, and His love made Him so dedicated and wholehearted about you that He suffered the death of the cross and the wrath of God and merited for you the full pardon of your sins.  Even though the flesh prevents you from keeping the first commandment even now, you stand before God as having fulfilled it, because Jesus Christ, who feared, loved, and trusted God with His whole heart, and offered Himself to bear God’s terrible and righteous judgment.”

Evangelicals often fail to preach the second part clearly.  Lutherans, in reacting against it, inadvertantly often make provision for the flesh of members who want Christianity to be part of  a balanced, healthy American life in the 21st century, the way that sugary breakfast cereals were always “a part of this balanced breakfast” in tv advertisements when I was a kid (even though they had nothing in common with the healthy food they were placed next to.)

I stumbled on this book in a box at my dad’s house when I was twenty; my pastor gave it to me when I was 13. I read it in my early twenties, when I was being destroyed by the terrors of the law, and I was comforted. This was the first time Christianity made much sense to me.

Lutherans are blessed to be aware of the proper distinction between law and gospel, which is vitally important when it comes time to motivate Christians to good works, as well as when it comes time to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.  Lately, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian church, who is somehow related to Billy Graham and is therefore twice over Evangelical royalty, has been posting on his blog about the distinction between law and gospel and the theology of the cross, which are distinctive motifs in Lutheran theology… [  ]

He is a teacher at a reformed seminary, so we might take exception to some of what it says, and yet I think we can thank God that these treasures of the Gospel are being articulated outside of Lutheran enclaves. [It may well be that he is unpacking the distinction between law and gospel better than many Lutherans can–including myself!  I haven’t read them in depth but just been pleasantly surprised to see so much by him on it.]

However, I think we Lutherans often forget the reality that many of our members are not troubled, contrite sinners.  Then unfortunately the Gospel is used as an anodyne to excuse the fact that I am not a follower of Christ. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was describing in the beginning of The Cost of Discipleship: forgiveness of sins as an a priori theory which makes discipleship and the following of Christ unnecessary.

No, the Gospel is for terrified sinners.  This is why Luther got so upset with the antinomians who arose among the Lutherans after they had forgotten what things had been like before 1517.   Luther realized that within a few years of being set free from the papacy, most of the people had forgotten what it was to be terrified of God’s law and judgment, and therefore needed sharp preaching of the wrath of God so that they would be contrite and ready to listen to the Gospel.  If that happened so quickly in Luther’s day, we should to recognize that human nature today is the same, and now it is aided by a culture that has largely traded in moral judgments for therapeutic explanations.

No, evangelicals are right when they say, “Moderate Christianity is not really Christianity at all.”  The death of Jesus on the cross is not a part of this balanced breakfast.  The cross of Jesus is the tree of life.  All our spiritual food and life and health come from it.  The forgiveness of sins and eternal life won on the cross are given to us in the Word of God, Baptism and the true Body and Blood of Jesus in His supper.

At the same time, the death of Jesus on the cross for my sins is not a part of my salvation, of a balanced salvation consisting of God’s grace and work, along with a dash of my free willed choice to serve Him.  Jesus’ death on the cross, God’s gracious will to save me, the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in the means of grace to convert me and renew me; my salvation, my creation, my preservation in earthly life and the new life in Christ–they are all solely God’s gracious work.

So, don’t simply attempt to commit yourself to Jesus.  To be sure, shake off your sloth and preach the law to yourself with its terrors.  But more importantly, listen to His Gospel in which Jesus gives Himself to be our all in all–our wisdom, our justification, our sanctification (1 Cor. 1).

“But you, who were dead in your trespasses and sins, He made alive together with Christ–it is by grace you have been saved.  And He raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”  (Ephesians 2:1-9)

“Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your mind on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God…For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, you also will appear with Him in glory.  Put to death, therefore, your members which are on the earth…” (Colossians 3:1-5)

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