Righteousness—by working or through faith?

An insight from tonight’s Bible study on Romans 4:

It’s not just that we can’t work our way to righteousness by perfect law-keeping. Moreover, the sort of relationship that comes by working is of a different kind from a relationship based on faith.

A servant works for wages, and the relationship depends on the work of the servant. A child is in a relationship prior to any behaviour on its part.

So although God does demand perfect law-keeping, He wants something even better than perfectly obedient servants: children who will allow Him to be their Father.

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Rejoice in the Lord

Sermon preached at Vespers for the 61st Annual Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Coventry
2 October 2015
Ps. 119:145–52; Philippians 4:4–9; Luke 11:5–13

There are certain commands that almost always have the opposite effect from what they actually command. An exasperated parent’s “For goodness sake, stupid child, stop being so miserable” is likely to add to rather than reduce said child’s misery. A drill sergeant yelling at privates to “stop being afraid or else” will only add to their fear. When I was a young schoolboy, I was often told by playground bullies to do something or I would cry and do it. It didn’t take us long to come up with what we thought was a great witticism: cheer up, or you’ll cry and cheer up.

At first sight, it appears that in the reading from Philippians, chapter 4, the apostle Paul is guilty of issuing such counter-productive commands. And not only one of them, but several.

Rejoice in the Lord always!
Do not be anxious about anything.

You can’t tell people to rejoice. They either do, or they don’t. Your telling them to do so won’t change a thing, except perhaps put pressure on them to be joyful, thereby killing whatever joy they had to start with.

Likewise, if someone has a tendency to be anxious, telling not to be anxious simply makes matters worse. Before, they were anxious about X, Y and Z. Now they are anxious about X, Y, Z and the fact that they are anxious when they shouldn’t.

It seems that Paul is being as profound as Bobby McFerrin—Don’t Worry, Be Happy—without the catchy tune at least to cheer us up for a moment.

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Rest and Recreation

Here’s an article I wrote for another local church’s community magazine. The issue in question was cancelled, so I’m posting it here instead.

Rest and Recreation

I have been writing articles for Pipeline for some years now. So far, the editor has had to remind me of the impending deadline for publication every single time, sometimes more than once.

This article has been more troublesome for him than usual, as the usual reminder came to me right at the very start of my holiday – and was promptly forgotten as I got into the serious business of holidaying. As a result, these words are being written very late in the day, but by an unusually rested and refreshed me.

For many of us, holidays have become a central part of our lives. Those who can, spend a lot of money to take themselves somewhere fun, or interesting, or just restful, as often as they can. And whether it’s a cottage in Wales, a villa in Italy, Disneyworld, or a beach resort on the Mediterranean, we are willing to devote a lot of effort, time and money to having a break from the daily routines of life. And even if we don’t, our weekly life is punctuated by the weekend and the opportunities for relaxation every Saturday and Sunday.

What isn’t so well-known these days is that both the weekend and the holiday are ideas that come from the Bible. According to the story of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, making the seventh day (in the Old Testament, Saturday) a day of rest when every person got a rest, together even with farm animals – the invention of the weekend. Moreover, the year was punctuated by various festivals, when people stopped working for the day, the weekend or even a whole week – the first holidays.

This wasn’t rest only for the sake of rest, or for mere fun. Rather, both the day of rest and the festivals were for the purpose of recreation – in the original sense of the word, of being created anew. In other words, they were times for worship, holy days: of resting by allowing God to refresh us through the forgiveness of all our faults, through his word, through prayer and through participation in the life of the community.

From the very beginning, the Christian church, too, has celebrated holy days (or holidays, as the word came to be known). To the weekly remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection on Sundays were added festivals commemorating events in the life of Jesus as well as other important people from the Bible and the history of the church. Like the people of the Old Testament, Christians, too, were given time off work for recreation.

This recreation, moreover, is something better than just a press of the ‘reset’ button before the return to the relentless world of labour. Rather, it is an anticipation of something that this world cannot offer but which God has promised to all who have faith in Jesus: life in a new creation to be revealed at the end of the world – a life of continual rest in God’s care, where we will be continually refreshed by His gifts. In the words of the fifth-century bishop, St. Augustine, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

As the summer holiday season draws to its close and people return to school or to work, many of us can be grateful for the opportunity to rest and to relax – or to be stimulated by new experiences. It is also a great opportunity to remember that the rhythm of toil and rest is not all that there is. By his anguished toil on the cross, his three-day rest in the tomb and his resurrection, Jesus has opened up the possibility of eternal rest and eternal well-being in God’s kingdom, available freely through faith in him.

I hope that many of you will take the opportunity to participate in the foretaste of the rest promised by God in one of the local churches at the weekend and on the holy days of the year.

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Law and Gospel—Taxis or Praxis?

The proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel in God’s Word is, according to the Lutheran understanding, the mark of a true theologian. Confuse, mix, or otherwise mishandle them, and the Gospel will be lost. And when the Gospel is lost, faith is destroyed, and salvation is lost also. Plenty has been written on the subject, and C.F.W. Walther’s Law and Gospel remains a great work to go to (or Bo Giertz’s Hammer of God, if you prefer fiction to non-fiction, story to proposition).

Over the last couple of years, this topic has been the subject of renewed frenzy in the blogosphere, thanks both to a seeming controversy over the so-called third use of the Law, and also with the high-profile adoption of the Law-Gospel distinction by high-profile non-Lutherans. The most high-profile of this crop is probably Tullian Tchividjian, who has written several books on the topic, fallen out with The Gospel Coalition and started a whole new online ministry, Liberate [at the time of writing, Liberate.org is on a hiatus].

All of this has been very controversial, in the sense of stirring a controversy.

It seems to me that this controversy has in part been over mere words, with people talking past each other. Jargon is to blame for this, at least in part. When jargon and other shorthand is used, each speaker comes to the conversation with their pre-loaded semantic field for each term. If those terms are not unpacked in longhand, misunderstandings are inevitable.

However, there is more at stake, as Anthony Sacramone, Mark Surburg, Jordan Cooper and others have pointed out far better than I could.

There is a radical distinction between the Law and the Gospel in God’s word. The Law contains God’s demands on what we are to do, whereas the Gospel is God’s unconditional promise of grace through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So much is uncontroversial (if you are a Lutheran, at least). What manner of distinction it is, however, is another matter. This is where we risk running into problems.

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Preaching to the Strong

CC BY-SA 3.0 de
CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend Eberhard Bethge these famous, much-abused words on 30 April 1944:

What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience — and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more. Even those who honestly describe themselves as “religious” do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by “religious.”

Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the “religious a priori” of mankind. “Christianity” has always been a form — perhaps the true form — of “religion.” But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless — and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any “religious” reaction?) — what does that mean for “Christianity?” It means that the foundation is taken away from the whole of what has up to now been our “Christianity,” and that there remain only a few “last survivors of the age of chivalry,” or a few intellectually dishonest people, on whom we can descend as “religious.” Are they to be the chosen few? Is it on this dubious group of people that we are to pounce in fervour, pique, or indignation, in order to sell them our goods? Are we to fall upon a few unfortunate people in their hour of need and exercise a sort of religious compulsion on them? If we don’t want to do all that, if our final judgment must be that the western form of Christianity, too, was only a preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church? How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity — and even this garment has looked very different at different times — then what is a religionless Christianity?

… What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God — without religion, i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even “speak” as we used to) in a “secular” way about “God?” In what way are we “religionless-secular” Christians, in what way are we the εκ-κλησία, those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favoθred, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer ina religionless situation? Does the secret discipline, or alternatively the difference (which I have suggested to you before) between the penultimate and ultimate, take on a new importance here?

The Pauline question whether περιτομή is a condition of justification seems to me in present-day terms to be whether religion is a condition of salvation. Freedom from περιτομή is also freedom from religion. I often ask myself why a “Christian instinct” often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, “in brotherhood.” While I’m often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people — because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it’s particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable) — to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course. Religious people speak of God when human knowledge (perhaps simply because they are too lazy to think) has come to an end, or when human resources fail — in fact it is always the deus ex machina that they bring on to the scene, either for the apparent solution of insoluble problems, or as strength in human failure — always, that is to say, exploiting human weakness or human boundaries. Of necessity, that can go on only till people can by their own strength push these boundaries somewhat further out, so that God becomes superfluous as a deus ex machina. I’ve come to be doubtful of talking about any human boundaries (is even death, which people now hardly fear, and is sin, which they now hardly understand, still a genuine boundary today?). It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously in this way to reserve some space for God; I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the centre, not in weaknesses but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in man’s life and goodness. As to the boundaries, it seems to me better to be silent and leave the insoluble unsolved. Belief in the resurrection is not the “solution” of the problem of death. God’s “beyond” is not the beyond of our cognitive faculties. The transcendence of epistemological theory has nothing to do with the transcendence of God. God is beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village. That is how it is in the Old Testament, and in this sense we still read the New Testament far too little in the light of the Old. How this religionless Christianity looks, what form it takes, is something that I’m thinking about a great deal, and I shall be writing to you again about it soon. It may be that on us in particular, midway between East and West, there will fall a heavy responsibility. (Letters and Papers from Prison [London: SCM, 1971, 279–282)

The letter is famous, because it opens up several enormous questions, each of which could be (and has been) turned into many books.

One very important theme here that has particular currency in that part of the church that today wants to remain faithful to the Reformation understanding of the Gospel: the preaching of the Gospel to people when they are strong, not only when they are weak (a theme that must have had particular resonance in National Socialist society).

At various times, Augustine, Luther and others have been blamed for the inward turn of the Christian faith, to what Krister Stendahl styled the “introspective conscience”. While I’m not convinced that the charge sticks to Augustine or to Luther, it certainly is a central feature of modern Protestantism in a great number of different disguises: charismatic experiantialism, do-gooding moralism, Arminian conversionism and its sub-heresy, revivalism.

But there’s also a conservative variant, which is currently all the rage in English-speaking Lutheranism (among both professing Lutherans and Lutheranising others, such as Tullian Tchvidjian). This particular variant quotes a lot of Luther, but also has existentialism in its family tree. Its watchword is the sharp disjuncture of Law and Gospel, and it is introspective in its own, unique way.

In this particular view, the relationship between Law and Gospel is both contrastive and basically linear: the Law (because it always accuses) crushes, while the Gospel (because it always only gives), brings to life.

Which is true. As far as it goes.

This particular hermeneutic has its very important place in caring for ‘terrified consciences’, in bringing consolation to those who mourn and building up those who are broken.

But it’s not the whole truth, and it’s not the whole story. It is tremendously important and powerful in lifting up the weak. But it has less to say to those who are not weak.

The spiritual malaise of our day is not weakness and fear but strength and boldness. And if the only narrative we have is that the Gospel takes those who are broken or weak, and heals them and gives them strength, then we have very little to say to those who feel on top of the world, those whose lives are full of meaning, those who are contented and confident.

Moreover, as Antony Sacramone has pointed out very powerfully and, to my mind, persuasively, this hermeneutic risks infantilising (my word, not his) the Christian, with nothing to give other than a broken record of a Christian life lived in a steady circle of condemnation and redemption. It’s not very difficult to demonstrate that this is not how the New Testament authors speak, and it is not how Luther himself speaks.

But if this is our narrative, then the only entry into this narrative is through weakness. It appeals to the weak; those who are not weak must be made so. And if they’re not game for weakening, we have nothing to say. That is to say, the only sermon we have is the final flourish of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, and the only evangelistic strategy we have is Paul in the Philippian gaol.

And if this is so, the surely Nietzsche was right (and Freud not far from the truth) in identifying Christianity as the religion of the weak, of the infantile. Psychologically, that is.

But the Gospel is for all the world. It’s for the weak, but it’s also for those who think they are strong. What message does the Church have for those who are not weak? What does Jesus have to say to the St. Pauls of this world, as well as to the St. Peters?

Of course, theologically speaking those who think they are strong are in fact dead in their trespasses—weaker than the weak, without a living leg to stand on. But we mustn’t confuse that theological truth with psychology.

Nor should we reduce those who have been strong in the Lord repeatedly to a state of psychological weakness by “the Law”, to which a psychologically motivated “Gospel” then provides the answer. That’s to turn Law/Gospel preaching into yet another “religion”, where the forgiveness of sins functions as nothing but a deus ex machina in formulaic preaching.

It’s lazy preaching, it’s monochrome exegesis (if that), and it is utterly alien to the biblical proclamation, which is never without the cross of Christ in its centre but which brings the fulness of life in Jesus Christ. You won’t find it in the pages of Scripture (how many times does Paul address 1st century Christians as sinners, as opposed to saints?), and you won’t find it in the sermons of Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther or Gerhard. Not unless it’s in the actual text which they are expounding, that is!

Since the Scripture is the Word of God, we can have confidence that it can do what it does with people when they are exposed to it. If we only have one ordo salutis into which to squeeze all of humanity in order to speak God’s Word meaningfully to all creation, perhaps there’s a problem with our religion, and we need to recover the living voice of the Gospel.

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Defrocked—A Pastor’s Response

Anssi_SimojokiLast week, my father Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki, together with four other pastors, was defrocked by the Cathedral Chapter (the governing body) of the Archdiocese of Turku in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. His crime: participation in the life and work of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. You can read about the facts of the matter on their website here. I will write some personal reflections another time.


What follows is the response my father wrote to the Cathedral Chapter’s letter threatening him with defrocking if he remains unrepentant about his activities. It is thorough and, therefore, long, but I recommend you read it in full.

The translation is mine, and hastily produced. Any mistakes are mine. I have added some notes to clarify certain names and terms to readers unfamiliar with things Finnish.

To the Cathedral Chapter of the Archdiocese of Turku

11 November 2014

I have received from the Cathedral Chapter what amounts mutatis mutandis my own bull threatening excommunication, just as our doctrinal father Martin Luther did in November 1520, at precisely this time of the year. Although burning at the stake and defrocking are completely different orders of punishment, the accusations against me are, nevertheless, not slight: breaches of the duties of the Pastoral Office, the breaking of ordination vows and demonstrable unsuitability for the Pastoral Office. These matters, which the Cathedral Chapter appears to insist on persistently, if true would mean nothing less than the declaration that I am a perjurer. In the secular world, the equivalent crimes are desertion and treason. In the kingdom of Christ, perjury is a mortal sin. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, this is considered to demonstrate that I am evidently unsuitable for the Pastoral Office in the Evangelical Lutheran Church—an Office in which I have served the church as well as the Lutherans of various mission fields and churches in different parts of the world continuously since June 1972 until this day.

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Commemoration of George Herbert

george_herbertToday, the Anglican church commemorates my favourite poet, George Herbert. To mark the occasion, I share one of his fine creations:


IESU is in my heart, his sacred name
Is deeply carved there: but th’other week
A great affliction broke the little frame,
Ev’n all to pieces: which I went to seek:
And first I found the corner, where was I,
After, where ES, and next where U was graved,
When I had got these parcels, instantly
I sat me down to spell them, and perceived
That to my broken heart he was I ease you,
And to the whole is I E S U.

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Jesus, My Husband?

Song-of-SolomonAnother story of a hymn ‘improved’ by hymnal editors.

John Newton, of ‘Amazing Grace’ fame, wrote another well-known, and a far better, hymn on the name of Jesus. It was published as part of Olney Hymns, a collaboration between Newton and William Cowper.

The original text of this hymn is given below. I have put in bold the parts that will be unfamiliar to almost anyone who will have learned this hymn from a hymnal other than Olney Hymns.

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.

Dear Name, the Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding Place,
My never failing treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace!

By Thee my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled;
Satan accuses me in vain,
And I am owned a child.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
O Prophet, Priest and King,
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I’ll praise Thee as I ought.

Till then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath,
And may the music of Thy Name
Refresh my soul in death!

Why might the fourth verse have been almost universally omitted? It’s not fantastic poetry—in the Olney partnership, Cowper was the poet while Newton’s verse tends to be wooden at the best of times—but it’s good enough theology. You choose.

Far more glaring is the other change, the replacement of just one word in the fifth verse. The most commonly published and known versions have the first line either  thus:

“Jesus! my Shepherd, Brother, Friend, …”

or thus:

“Jesus! my Shepherd, Guardian, Friend, …”

(Some substitute the word “Saviour” as well.)

While there’s nothing wrong with claiming Jesus as our brother or our guardian—not to mention Saviour—that isn’t what Newton wrote.

In fact, the change makes little sense of Newton’s original. In Olney Hymns, this hymn is placed in a section called “On Select Texts of Scripture”, with the Bible reference in question given at the top of each hymn. The text of Scripture in question here was Song of Songs 1:3, which reads,

Because of the savour of thy good ointments
thy name is as ointment poured forth,
therefore do the virgins love thee.

This reference is clear in the opening stanza of the hymn. But the wider context is equally important: these are the words of the Bride in the Song of Songs, addressed to the Bridegroom. In typological terms, it’s the voice of the Church addressing Christ (Eph. 5:31–32).

To substitute ‘Brother’ or ‘Guardian’ for ‘Husband’ is to miss this point altogether. So why was it?

I can only guess. First, a quick comparison of hymnal versions on Hymnary.org (which only seems to include hymnals published in the USA) shows that whereas in the early 1800s, the text was left unchanged, by the middle of the 19th century the change was widespread (though the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861, still kept the original text). Is this a case of Victorian prudishness, preferring a more distant ‘Guardian’ or ‘Brother’ to the all-too-intimate ‘Husband’?

Of course, the other possibility is that hymnal editors found that the first-person approach was an illegitimate application of bridal mysticism to the individual believer, rather than to the church as a whole. While misguided, this could be understandable. Within Lutheran circles one might think of a reaction to the popularity of this theme in many forms of Pietism—but this shift didn’t take place in Lutheran circles. Since Methodism broke away permanently from the Church of England, Anglicans didn’t have a pietist problem, while presumably the pietists themselves (i.e. Methodists) wouldn’t object. I’m not convinced.

The third possibility is that such portrayals of the believer’s (and, by extension, the whole church’s) intimate relationship with Jesus were unfashionable because the theology underpinning them was unfashionable. Not only among Anglican and other Protestant hymn editors but seemingly across the churches of the Reformation.

For example, one of the notable features of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) is the consistency with which bridal mysticism has been obscured or even removed from the translations of Lutheran hymns—all of which pre-date the heyday of Pietism (as I have complained here and here). There seems to have been a general disdain for this biblical theme which has an extremely good pedigree in theology and piety throughout the Church’s history.

The fact is, the Church is the bride of Christ. The husband’s body is no longer his but belongs to his wife, and the wife’s body is not hers but belongs to the husband (1 Cor. 7:4). And so, not only the Church as a whole but individual members of the Church belong to Christ as His bride, just as His body is given not only to the whole Church, but to each individual member.

Jesus is my brother and friend, but he is also my husband—or else, I’m not his at all.

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Holding Forth Jesus

A sermon for Ash Wednesday, preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Fareham (typos and all)

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

“When you fast …” When do you fast? Do you fast?

Jesus certainly seems to assume that you will, and speaks of rewards that we will receive from our Father in heaven if we do. And the Small Catechism likewise commends fasting as fine outward training as part of our preparation to receive the blessed sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. Throughout the history of the church, the whole church, Christians have marked times and seasons of fasting. Except of course in our time, and perhaps for a few generations before us. We don’t have to do that, do we? Isn’t that a Catholic works-righteousness thing. After all, we are not saved by what we do, and external actions are just that. What matters is the faith of the heart, the life of the spirit.

And so we don’t fast.

Or we follow the world’s lead in using Lent as a useful time to regain some self-control—or exercise a bit of self-discipline or just take up a tough challenge—in the matter of eating chocolate, or drinking wine, or getting exercise. Forty days without the excess sugar or unnecessary alcohol makes us feel more in control of our lives and gives us more of an incentive for a more considered approach to diet, or exercise, or whatever aspect of our lives we decide to subject to such discipline.

And so we do fast, but only for earthly reward.

But here we are now, at the start of our forty-day journey to Easter, at the start of the season of Lent, also know by the ancient title ’The Great Fast’; here we are, bearing on our foreheads the mark of death, with the words of the great penitential Psalm, and the call to repentance, still ringing in our ears. What are we to do with these days, and for what purpose?

Jesus calls us to walk the narrow way to the narrow gate that leads to life. Part of the trouble with narrow ways is that you are never far from the ditches on either side. In a fallen world, where death rules through sin and the law, the perverted human heart wants to take every gift of God, turn it into a law and then either reject it or manipulate it. So also with the good gift of fasting and other bodily preparation for receiving God’s gifts.

As he turned his face towards Jerusalem, Jesus proclaimed that if anyone wants to be his disciples, he must take up his cross and follow him. It’s easy to over-spiritualise this proclamation into some general message about self-denial and willingness to make sacrifices. This is not the point of Jesus’ message, however. His point is much simpler: if you are to be Jesus’ disciple, you must follow him into death. You shall die with Jesus, or else you will have no part in him.

To untrained ears, this sounds like a terrible marketing strategy, a project doomed to fail. Who would heed such an invitation. Certainly, the disciples on the night when Jesus’ final plunge into the ignominious death of the cross began, were unwilling to follow him and scattered.

But living on this side of both Good Friday and Easter, and having received the Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit to open to us the Scriptures, we know better: the invitation to die with Jesus is not an invitation to destruction, but a rescue from certain destruction. Unless you die with Jesus, you will die without Jesus! And I you die with him, you will certainly also be resurrected with him.

And so we must learn to die to ourselves, so that the life of Christ may take shape in us. So much is clear from Scripture. But since this is a gift of God, rather than an odious burden, it comes freely given, and given in freedom. It isn’t a matter of setting up hoops through which the church is to jump, but a matter of setting forth Christ, and the church in each place and in each generation fixing their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

And so we have Lent, not as a time for earthly or spiritual achievement, but as a time when we work with renewed vigour for the reward our Father in heaven has prepared for us.

And that reward is the reward won for us by Jesus, who accomplished all that the Law demands for us, to break the stranglehold of death over us by his death once for all.

Our life in this flesh, while we await the day of resurrection and our entry into God’s eternal kingdom, consists in the daily putting away of the old Adam, and the daily clearing away of anything that obscures Christ, so that he may be all in all for us.

And so we fast and deny ourselves, and we cross ourselves, and we bow and we kneel, to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return; to remember that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord; to remember that to eat and drink is necessary but ultimately futile postponement of death, whereas to eat the body of Christ and to drink His blood is hope-filled partaking of eternal food and drink and a foretaste of the everlasting feast in the kingdom that is to come; to remember that just as Christ came not to be served but to serve, we too are called to serve our neighbour in need, and so it does us good to cut economise on luxuries so that we might be able more freely to give; to have our face set towards Jerusalem and the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ, so that the fruits of his passion and death, and the reward of his victorious resurrection, may grow in us and we learn to set our face towards the heavenly Jerusalem, where he has gone ahead of us to prepare a place in his father’s roomy mansions.

Dear saints in Christ, don’t look or feel gloomy at the thought of the forty days of the Great Fast. Fast away, but with anointed head and washed face, full of the joy of the resurrection life which Christ has won for us and already delivered to us in the washing of the new birth and anointing with the Holy Spirit in the Holy Baptism. The Lord has been jealous for his land, he has had pity on his people, and has sent us the grain, wine and oil of gladness.

See, the fruits of Calvary are set before us, and the first offerings of the heavenly feast are being prepared for us to receive tonight. Let us set aside every thought that hinders, and fix our eyes on Jesus, who is here with forgiveness, life and salvation. Come, you who are dying, and eat that you may live and not die.

In the holy name of ✠ Jesus.


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What Is the Christian Life?

These two are the first elements of Christian life: Repentance or contrition and grief, and faith through which we receive the forgiveness of sins and are righteous before God. Both should grow and increase in us. The third element of Christian life is the doing of good works: To be chaste, to love and help the neighbor, to refrain from lying, from deceit, from stealing, from murder, from vengefulness, and avenging oneself, etc.

Philip Melanchthon & Martin Luther, Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony (LW 40)

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