More than Forgiveness

From Luther’s Epistle Sermon for the Third Sunday after Easter (1 Peter 2:11–20):

We have heard above that the two parts are to be together in a Christian and emphasized in Christan teaching. The first part is faith, that we are redeemed from sin through the blood of Christ and have forgiveness. The second part, after we have [faith], is that afterward we should become different people and live a new life. In Baptism, or when we begin to believe, we receive not only the forgiveness of sins (which is the grace that makes us God’s children) but also the gift that must do away with the remaining sins and kill them. Our sins are not forgiven so that we would continue in them (as St. Paul says in Romans 6), as the insolent spirits and despisers of grace allege. Rather, even though sins have been blotted out through Christ’s blood, so that we do not need to pay or make amends for them, and we now are children of grace and have forgiveness, yet that does not mean sin has been entirely done away with and killed in us.

The forgiveness of sins and the killing of them are two different things. Both of them must be proclaimed against those who confuse and turn things upside down with false doctrine. Against the first, the pope and many others have taught that the forgiveness of sins is to be obtained through the trickery of their own self-chosen and invented works and their own satisfactions. This error always continues in the world from Cain at the beginning to the end. Then, when this error has been put down, there are again false spirits on the other isde, who have heard the preaching about grace and boast about it and yet produce nothing more from it, just as if that were enough, and forgiveness should do nothing more in us than that we remain as we were before. Afterward, there were just as many as before, when we still knew nothing at all about Christ and the Gospel.

Therefore, those who want to be Christians must know and learn that, since they have obtained forgiveness without their own merit, they must from now on not allow or indulge in sin, but rather oppose their former, evil, sinful lusts and avoid and flee their work and fruits. That is the summary and meaning of this Epistle reading.

Luther’s Works, Vol. 78: Church Postil III (St. Louis: CPH, 2014), 154–155

Forgiveness: the end of regret

Today, I have had cause again to dwell on the nature and the destructive power of regret. Lives lived facing backwards, full of what-if and if-only, are at best deprived of freedom and sapped of the fullness of joy.

For all of which the Gospel offers a simple alternative: forgiveness. God takes your sins to one end of an infinitely long straight line in an eastwardly direction, and your life to the opposite, western end of the same line. Or drops the lot into the bottom of the sea. Drowned in the blood of Jesus, they vanish, disappear. If you say to omniscient God, remember that sin I confessed last week, He replies, “What sin?”

And so, freed to live forward-wise, we go from opportunity to opportunity, promise to promise, until the fulfilment of every promise appears, with the fulness of joy.

I wrote on the subject at greater length and from another angle some time ago here: Non, je ne regrette

The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church — Free Download

New Reformation Press has made the classic Rod Rosenbladt lecture, The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church, available as a free download (it used to be for sale only). You can get both the audio (mp3) and the text (pdf) from here.

Later this year, the lecture will also become available as a HD video. Watch this space.

A Tale of Two Sinners

Homily on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 13 June 2010, at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Fareham (UK).

Text: Luke 7:36—8:3

Knowing Jesus

Jesus with ChildrenThis morning, the teacher of the Sunday school at my congregation reported the following conversation she had with one of the children, a 6-year-old boy:

Teacher: Why do we read so many different stories about Jesus in Sunday school?
Boy: So that we get to know Jesus.
T: What do you mean?
B: Not just know about Jesus, but to get to know Him.

Couldn’t put it better myself!

How often do people — both Christians and non-Christians — criticise the notion that being a Christian is about holding certain facts about Jesus in your head, rather than, say, living a certain kind of life? And often they do it with considerable justification, when theologians, individual Christians, and whole churches reduce the Christian faith to the facts of the faith. To knowing about Jesus.

The key to being a child of God is not knowing about Jesus, but knowing Him. What in some circles is called a “personal relationship with Jesus”.

However, this relationship with Jesus is not distinct from facts about a person. No sensible person would go about human relationships that way. Can you imagine it? “I don’t know the slightest thing about my fiancée. For me that’s not important. What matters to me is to know her.” What sort of odds would a marriage based on that sort of foundation get from a bookie, I wonder.

No, the aim is to get to know Jesus. But we only get to know Him by finding out about Him. As we read and hear about Jesus speaking and acting, we get to know Him as He is. The dogmaticians have referred to these two facets of the faith fides qua and fides quae, the “faith which” is believed, and the “faith by which” one believes. The former informs and creates the latter, the latter receives what the former states.

As Martin Luther might have put it: Thank God that even a six-year-old child knows what the proper relationship between propositional truth and personal faith is!

A wonderful illustration

for anyone trying to understand (or explain) God’s method of action in sending His Son to a rebellious people. This is a true story, told by  Kenneth Bailey as part of his discussion of the (falsely) so-called Parable of the Wicked Tenants. (Why falsely, that’s another post for another time. If you can’t wait, read Bailey.)

One night in the early 1980s, [king Hussein of Jordan] was informed by his security police that a group of about seventy-five Jordanian army officers were at that very moment meeting in a nearby baracks plotting a military overthrow of the kingdom. The security officers requested permission to surround the barracks and arrest the plotters. After a somber pause the king refused and said, “Bring me a small helicopter.” A helicopter was brought. The king climbed in with the pilot and himself flew to the barracks and landed on its flat roof. The king told the pilot, “If you hear gun shots, fly away at once without me.”

Unarmed, the king then walked down two flights of stairs and suddenly appeared in the room where the plotters were meeting and quietly said to them:

“Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that you are meeting here tonight to finalize your plans to overthrow the government, take over the country and install a military dictator. If you do this, the army will break apart and the country will be plunged into civil war. Tens of thousands of innocent people will die. There is no need for this. Here I am! Kill me and proceed. That way, only one man will die.”

After a moment of stunned silence, the rebels as one, rushed forward to kiss the king’s hand and feet and pledge loyalty to him for life.

(Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, 418)

Of course, in the case of the incarnation, the ending was different. The rebellious people did not “kiss the Son” (Ps. 2:12), but killed him.

In the case of king Hussein, his self-emptying—you could call it his magnanimity—averted the coup and the bloodshed and won back the loyalty of the rebels.

In the case of the Son of God, His self-emptying—His magnanimity—provoked no such show of faithfulness. Instead, He was crucified, died and was buried. Yet, by the power of God, His death in the hands of the rebels was not the end of the story. Rather, it was precisely by dying, rather than avoiding death in a courageous game of chicken, that the rebels were one over.

And so, even today, risen and ascended, He keeps walking into the barrack rooms of our rebellion, spreading His pierced hands and feet, and saying quietly: Ladies, gentlemen, it has come to my attention that you insist on walking into a certain and eternal death in a doomed attempt at a coup. Here I am. I have already died that death. And by my death, the kingdom is yours without any further bloodshed. Will you not take it?

Preaching the Gospel without words

HT: Cyberbrethren

Saying “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words” is like saying “Tell me your phone number; if necessary use digits.”

A Season of Receiving

GiftI was planning to write a short post on why it is better to receive than to give at Christmas. However, a far more professional and prolific blogger beat me to it. Read it.