God heals…the brokenhearted

He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds.
Psalm 147:3, NKJ

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

God helps those who help themselvesGod doesn’t leave the brokenhearted to self-mend. God doesn’t leave the wounded to self-heal. Rather, the Lord God does the healing and the mending. He binds the wounds of the brokenhearted and heals them.

Note, though, that it is the brokenhearted and the wounded that the Lord heals and binds. Those not wounded and those not brokenhearted are whole and well. It is as Jesus had said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).

Thus, if you are neither brokenhearted or wounded, you have no need of healing and binding. If you have no sin, you have no need of forgiveness and salvation. If you aren’t sick, you don’t need a doctor or medication. If you don’t need salvation, you don’t need Jesus.

But don’t go by what you perceive or by what you think. Don’t follow your own advice or your own self-diagnosis. If you do, you will be woefully wrong.

Jesus says, “Judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). Determine how things are with you according to the Word of our Lord, who teaches that, “Whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20).

TwoTablets
According to the Law of God (The Ten Commandments), you are not as God would have you be (i.e. Matthew 5:21-42; Romans 7; etc.). You are not as God commands you to be. And this is not because you don’t try. It is because you offend the Holy God by your transgressions. Though you may minimize your shortcomings before God, He certainly does not.

It is for this very reason that God the Father sent His only begotten Son (John 3:16), to save you from your sin, which is not little at all, for if it is, then Jesus is only a little Savior.

Thus does St. Paul write, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).

Even while we were sinners, Paul says, Christ died for us. He also states that even while we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of Jesus. This means that your justification before and your reconciliation with God is in no way dependent upon you (nor your decision or choice, for such you cannot make, Ephesians 2:1-2, 5). Rather, these are founded alone in Christ. Faith simply takes hold of what God has already declared and says, “Amen,” to what God has made known.

3CrossesYou don’t make yourself acceptable to God. So also, you don’t make yourself healthy and you don’t bind your own wounds. God does these, through His Son. He speaks to you His Word, and you stand forgiven. He absolves you of your sins, and you are absolved. He declares you righteous before Him, and so you are. He declares you whole and well, and so you are. All in Christ.

Take hold of Christ, therefore, and believe the Word of the Lord to you. As He calls you a sinner, don’t deny, but confess the Lord to know more than you (Psalm 19:12). As He says, “Believe,” don’t deny or reject as the godless and unbelievers do, but believe, according to His Word, that it is just as He says. As God speaks forgiveness to you in Christ, and justification, and reconciliation through Him who shed His holy blood, entrust yourself to these blessed words and our Lord who, in His mercy, raises you from the dead and gives you everlasting life. Doubt yourself, yes, but not God, who alone is faithful and true!

If you are brokenhearted because of your sin, and fear that the Lord’s kindness is not to you, cast away such thoughts, for it is to you that God speaks and heals with His kind and compassionate words. If you are wounded because of your own transgressions or those of others, and doubt the Lord’s care and keeping, forsake such thoughts and cling to Christ, who through His wounds not only cleanses you, but heals the scars and ensures you everlasting peace with God.

If you neither feel your sin, be brokenhearted, or recognize the extent of your troubles before God, trust what the Lord says. “There is a time for everything under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Times of overcast and clouds, as well as rain and troubles, even if they be minor, will come, as also, by God’s grace, times of sunshine and warmth. Circumstances vary in life, as you know, but God does not change, nor do His promises in Christ. Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to believe your Word and promises, even if I don’t feel my sin and my need for you. Take care of me and keep me from doubting what you say. Give me firm faith in You that in any and all circumstances, I repent of my sin and entrust myself to You, my Great Physician and healer of body and soul. Amen.

Forgiveness & Love

Apology, IV. Justification

(Tappert)

152 There is a familiar figure of speech, called synecdoche, by which we sometimes combine cause and effect in the same phrase. Christ says in Luke 7:47, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much.” But he interprets his own words when he adds: “Your faith has saved you” (v. 50). Now Christ did not want to say that by her works of love the woman had merited the forgiveness of sins. 153 Therefore he clearly says, “Your faith has saved you.” But faith is that which grasps God’s free mercy because TwoDebtorsof God’s Word. If anybody denies that this is faith, he utterly misunderstands the nature of faith. 154 And the account here shows what he calls “love.” The woman came, believing that she should seek the forgiveness of sins from Christ. This is the highest way of worshiping Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to him. By looking for the forgiveness of sins from him, she truly acknowledged him as the Messiah. Truly to believe means to think of Christ in this way, and in this way to worship and take hold of him. Moreover, Christ used the word “love” not toward the woman but against the Pharisee, because Christ contrasted the whole act of reverence of the Pharisee with that of the woman. He chides the Pharisee for not acknowledging him as the Messiah, though he did show him the outward courtesies due a guest and a great and holy man. He points to the woman and praises her reverence, her anointing and crying, all of which were a sign and confession of faith that she was looking for the forgiveness of sins from Christ. It was not without reason that this truly powerful example moved Christ to chide the Pharisee, this wise and honest but unbelieving man. He charges him with irreverence and reproves him with the example of the woman. What a disgrace that an uneducated woman should believe God, while a doctor of the law does not believe or accept the Messiah or seek from him the forgiveness of sins and salvation!

155 In this way, therefore, he praises her entire act of worship, as the Scriptures often do when they include many things in one phrase. Later we shall take up similar passages, like Luke 11:41, “Give alms; and behold, everything is clean.” He demands not only alms, but also the righteousness of faith. In the same way he says here, “Her Eph2,8sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much,” that is, because she truly worshiped me with faith and with the acts and signs of faith. He includes the whole act of worship; but meanwhile he teaches that it is faith that properly accepts the forgiveness of sins, though love, confession, and other good fruits ought to follow. He does not mean that these fruits are the price of propitiation which earns the forgiveness of sins that reconciles us to God.

156 We are debating about an important issue, the honor of Christ and the source of sure and firm consolation for pious minds — whether we should put our trust in Christ or in our own works. 157 If we put it in our works, we rob Christ of his honor as mediator and propitiator. And in the judgment of God we shall learn that this trust was vain and our consciences will then plunge into despair. For if the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation do not come freely for Christ’s sake, but for the sake of our love, nobody will have the forgiveness of sins unless he keeps the whole law, because the law does not justify so long as it can accuse us. 158 Justification is reconciliation for Christ’s sake. Therefore it is clear that we are justified by faith, for it is sure that we receive the forgiveness of sins by faith alone.

Whose influence?

One of the definitions of iInfluence18nfluence according to Webster’s New World Dictionary is, “the power of persons or things to affect others, seen only in its effects” (1998).

According to this definition, we all affect others, either positively or negatively, in one way or another, for good or for ill.  Perhaps we can also affect others in such a way that the other doesn’t act or react, too, to our “influence.”  Regardless, like the falling dominoes, what we do (or don’t do) impacts others.

The concern for influencing others (and how) is a concern for the Christian.  According to God’s Word, Christians want others to believe in Christ.  We can’t force another to believe, but we do want to live according to God’s Word, loving others, and hope also that those who see how we live and love will have a yearning for Christ and His blessed peace.

However, placing emphasis on our influence and what we do, while assuming the influence of our Savior and the Gospel to affect true change (in ourselves or others)Influence15 essentially lays the burden upon us, and demonstrates, not faithfulness to our Lord, but a failure to believe in the Lord’s Word and promise of forgiveness, drawing attention away from the Lord who bought us (1 Peter 1:17-19)[1].

In effect, to speak about our influence(s) upon others, without also referencing our sinfulness before God and our need for salvation in Christ (and sanctification), is to speak outside of the Christian faith and to emphasize piety over grace and our work over Christ’s work.

Consider the following statement and questions from a letter I received from a popular Christian ministry (name to follow, dated May 2013), and whose theology I presume many adhere too…

The letter begins, “As time goes by, (1) do you ever think about the influence you have on those around you?  (2) Do you wonder if you are making a difference in the lives of those you love or (3) if you are accomplishing anything of lasting significance?”

Red Flag8Immediately reading these words, for me, red flags go up.  I answer yes to the first (1) question, specifically, for as a husband and parent, I am concerned about the effects of my words and actions to them, and others, too.  As a pastor, I also answer in the affirmative, as I desire that my words and actions model Christ, and that through me, by God’s grace, the members of my congregation and those in my community (and more broadly still) are somehow encouraged to not only do what is right and pleasing to God, but also to believe in Him for their salvation.

With reference to the second (2) question, however, I honestly don’t have to wonder if I am making a difference in the lives of those I love.  I know I am, though not always in a positive way.  Where I speak and do (or don’t do) in a sinful way and not  according to God’s will and Word, I repent.  I try to do better, but according to God’s standards (i.e. Ten Commandments, Exodus 20; see also Matthew 5:13-27), I am WOEFULLY short.  I fail.  I fall.  My influence, except by God’s grace and HIS influence (not mine), is worth little (see Philippians 3:7-11)[2].  By myself, I am nothing (Romans 7:14-25)[3].  And far from pure pessimism, this is simply the truth according to God’s revelation, Holy Scripture (see also Genesis 6:6; 8:21; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3; etc.).  In light of these, my influence on others is not at all comparative to God’s Word of Judgment and Promise.  His influence is eternal.  Mine is only temporary.  Thus, do I seek, by God’s unmerited favor and grace, to point to Him and to Him alone (i.e. Galatians 6:14)[4].  I don’t want the attention and influence to be on me, but on Christ alone.  He’s worthy of that honor, and not me or you.

Thus, my influeBoast in the Lordnce on others is really, not the concern.  Rather, the concern is continuing in the love of God in Christ (faith) and loving neighbor (works), Matthew 22:37-40[5] (see also Romans 13:10).  Any influence, apart from Christ and His Word, is not lasting.  Only God’s Word and work is eternal (1 Peter 1:25)[6].  HIS work is what matters, not mine.  This is why questions about my or our influence upon others, as deceivingly worthwhile as they might appear, and as pious and well-meaning as they might sound, are really the wrong focus, as the focus becomes them and not on repentance and hope in Jesus.  If the focus is upon us and our influence, then the focus is not on Christ’s and His Word.  Also, focus upon ourselves and our own influence only caters to our sinful human nature that we self-improve (to feel better about ourselves) and not to genuine repentance and the faith (Hebrews 12:1-2)[7].

The third (3) question, do you wonder “if you are accomplishing anything of lasting significance” has been addressed above.  Honestly, I do wonder about this at times, and struggle with it, too, but in the end, my significance will not last.  Would I like a name for myself and for people to remember me?  Yes, I would.  However, if anyone only remembers me for me, then it really amounts to nothing.  Again, Christ is what matters, not me.

This is why I find letters as the one this blog is addressing so troublesome, especially as it is from a fairly well-known preacher and ministry, In Touch with Charles Stanley (www.intouch.org/). Instead of focusing on Christ alone, he draws attention away from Christ and places that attention on sinners, who, by nature, sin, and cannot and do not do otherwise.  This doesn’t mean that Stanley and In Touch ministries have little or no value, or that they don’t speak the truth at all.  But such distinctions between truth and error concerning God’s Word and doctrine continue to be necessary.  As we live in a fallen world, and as sinners, we can’t just assume the Gospel, but must proclaim it, for only the Gospel, the Good News of sins forgiven in Christ, is the message of salvation.  Instead of turning inward and to ourselves for certainty and confidence before God, God gives you Christ and says, “Look to Him alone for your help and salvation” (i.e. John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6).[8]

Instead of on sinners, the confidence of the Christian is Christ and Christ alone.  Instead of placing emphasis on our own works and our own influence, Christ is the emphasis, for only through Him do we have true hope and genuine peace with God.

I understand that this is not a popular message, even among Christians today.  And I would assume that such proclamation of Christ would be deemed as heresy in many a congregation, too, as it does not focus on us and our doing.

But search the SIsaiah 53criptures (John 5:39)[9], and you’ll find that they’re not really about us improving ourselves or our influence on others.  Instead, you’ll find that the Bible is God’s revelation of His salvation of real sinners (i.e. you) by a real Savior (Jesus), born on Christmas Day (though not December 25 when the Church celebrates the incarnation of our Lord), God in the flesh (John 1:14)[10], “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25) [Reflect also on Luke 24:44-47 & John 20:30-31]  Our lives, too, are not about us, as much as we might think that they are.

In conclusion, consider upon whom Stanley places the emphasis, whether on you, the sinner, or on Christ, the Savior, by how he summarizes what “matters.”

In summarizing what “matters,” Stanley does rightly say, “It doesn’t matter how much you own, who seeks your counsel, the power you wield, the honors you’ve earned, or the number of people who know your name.”  Regrettably, though, he does say, “What matters is the love and obedience you have for God” (emphasis mine).  Yet what of God’s grace and mercy in Christ?  Where is Christ in Stanley’s answer and summary of what matters?  Is God’s unmerited favor and boundless kindness dependent upon our love and our obedience that we have for God?  If it is, then woe to us, for then, we are still in our sin.

Thanks be to God that your confidence[11] and mine is not at all dependent on you or your works[12] or my own, or your influence on others (good or bad), but on Christ, upon whom the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)!


[1] “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” [Note that Peter does not discount the necessity of good works, but these are distinguished from God’s work in Christ (and death), which alone is the means of our redemption] (All Scripture quotations are from the NKJV)

[2] “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” [Whose “influence” is greater here?  Who alone provides the help and salvation we so desperately]

[3] “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

[4] “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

[5] “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”

[6] “But the word of the LORD endures forever.”

[7] “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Note: Attention given to the “great cloud of witnesses” was not made in order to move Christians to have greater influence on others, but rather, that they, too, focus on Jesus and not on their own works.]

[8] John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”

Acts 4:12 “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

1 Timothy 2:5-6 “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all…”

[9] “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

[10] “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

[11] Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

[12] Galatians 3:9-14 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’ Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

 

 

Words out of place for today’s church?

False Prophets“Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the LORD, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ “Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the LORD, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the LORD.”

Jeremiah 23:31-32

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.  To many, even in the church today, these words from Jeremiah the prophet seem out of place.  “They are too rigid, too condemnatory, too judgmental.  They are words from an historical narrative, an unenlightened past, and don’t deserve our hearing.”

Though many in the church in today’s Christendom would immediately dismiss these words of our Lord through the prophet as irrelevant, irrelevant these words certainly are not!  To say that they are irrelevant to our day is essentially to declare that God’s Word for God’s people is only applicable for a certain time, place, and locale.  But a closer look at what God says reveals the truth far differently than that of today’s “enlightened” and “advanced” “Christianity.”

A closer look at Holy Scripture reveals that God’s people today face the similar temptations of those who have come before us in the faith, to deny the truth and to go after their own gods, even while claiming faith in the true God.  Today’s church faces the same struggles as the people of God in the Old and New Testaments and throughout the history of the Church, to compromise the faith, to follow the popular and “acceptable” way, and to live by sight (and experience) and not by faith in what the Lord says.

In Jeremiah’s day, prophets preached, not according to the Word that God had given them to preach, but according to the content of their own heart and that which the people wanted to hear. This was the easier way to go.  Just look at Jeremiah!  Look what his preaching got him—thrown into a pit, ridiculed, despised, rejected by the people.  Who wants that?  I know that I don’t.

Jeremiah didn’t have an easy time with the people, for they didn’t listen.  Yet his calling was not to please people or to say what they wanted to hear (Ephesians 6:6).  His calling was to speak the truth, the very words that God gave him to speak:  “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’ Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ But the LORD said to me: ‘Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,’ says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

Jeremiah’s words were not to be his own, but God’s.  The same applies to those who preach with the name clergy today.  However, as in JerNo Compromiseemiah’s day, so today, there are those who say that the Lord says where the Lord has not said.  Today, there are those who say what people want to hear, who compromise the truth for acceptance by the world, and who condemn those who speak the truth as unloving, intolerant, and hate-mongers, even though they are simply making the same distinctions that God Himself makes in Holy Scripture.

Most certainly, there are those who do say what they say in spite or in anger.  There are those, too, who speak uncharitably and not out of love for neighbor.  Yet how something is said should not take precedence over what is said.

The litmus test for the truth is not how we sinners view or respond to the message.  Just because we get excited about the preaching because of the dynamism of the preacher, or “get into the service” because of the beat of the music, these don’t immediately translate into “God at work.”  In contrast, just because the preaching is unappealing and the service slow or dull doesn’t mean that God is not at work.

The true litmus test for cross1true preaching and the faithful worship service is not how you feel during or afterwards or what you get out of the sermon, how moving the message was, or how people react.  The true litmus test is simply this, the Gospel rightly preached and the Sacraments administered according to the Lord’s institution.  The music, hymns, responses, etc. should all point to Christ and what God has done in Him.  Where they do not, be on guard, and closely examine Scripture.  Yet, even where the preaching is right, and the congregation seeks to be faithful, and the worship is Christ-centered, continue to examine Scripture, for those who are of God hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27).  They continue in His Word (John 8:31-32), and they know Him and His ways, not according to what they see, feel, or experience, but according to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

Also to remember is this, as St. Peter reminds us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  We remain sober and vigilant as we look to the Lord and His Word (See also Ephesians 6:10ff).

We most certainly have the devil to contend with throughout our earthly lives, as well as the world and our sinful flesh.  Therefore, does our Lord give us His Word, that we remain in the faith.  He gives us prayer, that we call upon Him in every trouble (Psalm 50:15).  He joins us together with others that we encourage one another in the faith (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:23-25).  In effect, God doesn’t leave us alone, but gives us what He would to keep us in the faith.

The reality is, in Jeremiah’s day, as in ours, not all preachers preach the truth.  False preachers and false preaching continue.  Falsehood, however, is not of the truth.  And false gospels, though appealing and man-centered, do not confess the truth, nor do they lead to heaven.  False gospels, essentially, teach salvation apart from faith in Christ alone.  They teach another way to heaven than the way God has already given (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

It is necessary, therefore, to make distinctions, to clarify, and to avoid that which is false, according to the Word of our Lord.  Not doinWalther's-L&Gg so leads away from Christ and His Word.  It also leads to self-security or despair.  Either direction does not lead to heaven, but to eternal death.

God’s people do make such distinctions between truth and falsehood, and they long to abide where Christ is.  Indeed, where Christ is, there also are they (John 12:26).  They forsake the false, even denying themselves, and follow Christ, carrying their crosses and burdens, and rest only in Christ, where true rest and genuine peace are found (Matthew 11:28; Romans 5:1-5)

Luther

Now when Paul speaks of “the truth of the Gospel,” he shows that there are two uses of the Gospel, a true one and a false one, or a true and a false gospel. It is as though he were saying: “The false apostles proclaim a faith and a gospel too, but their gospel is a false gospel. Hence my stubbornness and refusal to yield. I did this in order that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved among you.” Thus in our day the pope and the sectarians brag that they proclaim the Gospel and faith in Christ. Yes, they do, but with the same results that the false apostles once had, those whom Paul (Gal. 1:7) calls troublers of the churches and perverters of the Gospel of Christ. By contrast he says that he is teaching “the truth of the Gospel,” the pure and true Gospel, as though he were saying: “Everything else is a lie masquerading as the Gospel.” For all the heretics lay claim to the names of God, of Christ, of the church, etc.; and they pretend that they want to teach, not errors but the most certain truth and the purest Gospel.

The truth of the Gospel is this, that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the Law. The falsification or corruption of the Gospel is this, that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the Law. The false apostles preached the Gospel, but they did so with this condition attached to it. The scholastics do the same thing in our day. They say that we must believe in Christ and that faith is the foundation of salvation, but they say that this faith does not justify unless it is “formed by love.”7 This is not the truth of the Gospel; it is falsehood and pretense. The true Gospel, however, is this: Works or love are not the ornament or perfection of faith; but faith itself is a gift of God, a work of God in our hearts, which justifies us because it takes hold of Christ as the Savior. Human reason has the Law as its object. It says to itself: “This I have done; this I have not done.” But faith in its proper function has no other object than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was put to death for the sins of the world. It does not look at its love and say: “What have I done? Where have I sinned? What have I deserved?” But it says: “What has Christ done? What has He deserved?” And here the truth of the Gospel gives you the answer: “He has redeemed you from sin, from the devil, and from eternal death.” Therefore faith acknowledges that in this one Person, Jesus Christ, it has the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Whoever diverts his gaze from this object does not have true faith; he has a fantasy and a vain opinion. He looks away from the promise and at the Law, which terrifies him and drives him to despair. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p87-88)

Prayer: Gracious Father, forgive us for turning from you to our own way.  Continue to have mercy on us, through Your only Son, Jesus Christ, that we remain steadfast in the true faith, and denying all others, boldly confess Your Holy Name.  In Your Name we pray, Amen.

Sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive

Heidelberg Disputation

Thesis 28

 

God is loveThe love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it…the love of God which lives in man loves sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive…Christ says: “For I came not to can the righteous, but sinners” [Matt. 9:13]. This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” [Acts 20:35], says the Apostle. (LW 31, Heidelberg Disputation, 1518)

Heidelberg Disputation

Rise Up and Build? Build what?

RU&BHave you seen advertisements like this before?  Some of the wording about the conference, which I recently received in my email, follows:

“Has God placed a vision on the heart of your church or Christian school to reach out in new ways and expand ministry opportunities to your community and beyond?”

“Is your facility limiting your ability to accomplish that vision?”

“If so, this seminar will encourage you to apply the determination and courage of Nehemiah and step out in faith.”

Quoted (in part) on their web page is Nehemiah 2:8, 18: “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests…And they said, “Let us rise up and build”.

Since this conference advertisement quotes the Bible, it is necessary to try to understand how the passages used are to be understood according to their context in Scripture, and then compare the actual scriptural use of the passage with the how the words are used to raise interest in this conference, “Rise up.”

Very briefly, the Old Testament book of Nehemiah concerns the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city walls and the reform (repentance) of the people of Jerusalem.  The city walls had been in disarray since the Babylonia Captivity, [1] and this demonstrated the neglect of the city where God’s temple was, neglect for the temple, and the state of affairs between God’s people and their Lord.  God had punished His wayward people by exile due to their apostasy and waywardness, yet by His grace, He would bring them again to Himself.

The words of Nehemiah 2 (v8), quoted above, refer to the request of Nehemiah to King Artaxerxes concerning materials and the building of the city walls (2:1-8).

The “Let us rise up and build” of verse 18 is the response of the city officials to Nehemiah after he had examined the condition of the city walls himself and said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me” (v17-18).

Essential to note concerning Nehemiah’s motive and God’s gracious hand concerning the “building project” are both the report of Jerusalem and the people living there (Nehemiah 1:1-3) and Nehemiah’s response and prayer.

When Nehemiah heard the news about the condition of Jerusalem and the people, he “sat down and wept.”  He also “mourned and fasted and prayed.”  In his prayer, Nehemiah said:

“I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; ‘but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:5-11, NKJ)

Notice the bold face words in Nehemiah’s prayer?  These are telling, because Nehemiah is calling on God to do as He had promised.  He is calling on God to fulfill His Word of mercy (i.e. Leviticus 26 (40-45).  Additionally, and not at all to be ignored, is the humble and repentant heart of Nehemiah, demonstrated by his words.  He recalls why the people of God suffered exile and the reason for the city’s condition—because of their sinfulness (i.e. Leviticus 26 (14-39)).

Nehemiah confesses His sin to God, and the sin of Israel, and asks for God’s mercy and help. These are not at all to be ignored with reference to the passages, Nehemiah 2:8 and 18, quoted on the “Rise Up” conference website.  They draw attention to two essential elements, which, if removed, misapply scripture and attempt to make God’s Word say something which it in truth does not.

The two elements are just those stated: confession & repentance (faith), and the word & promise of God.  In his prayer and by his request, Nehemiah was seeking for the Lord to fulfill His Word.  He wasn’t asking for something that he simply wanted personally, dreamed up, or envisioned.  Rather, Nehemiah’s motive and prayer had as their basis, foundation, and directive the very Word of God.

This truth is an imperative that cannot be removed from any discussion (or conference) concerning any “vision of your heart,” reaching out “in new ways,” or “expanding ministry opportunities.”  Nor should the Bible be used to say something that it doesn’t.

This conference, “Rise up,” may already be suspect, at least from the questions raised, and in relation to the Scripture used.  In context, Nehemiah is not about his “vision,” “new ways,” or “expanding.”  Instead, Nehemiah seeks to do according to God’s mercy.  And initially, he rightly confesses his sin and the sins of God’s people.  He seeks God’s mercy concerning himself, God’s people, and the work that he desires to do.  Also, initially and throughout, God’s Word and promise alone guide Nehemiah.  He recalls God’s promise and Word, and directs God to do what He has already spoken and according to what He has already said.

In contrast, the questions used on the web site about the “Rise Up” conference direct, not to God and His Word, but to self.  The word, “vision,” remaining undefined, could mean anything, and though reference is made to God placing it, any such vision, if it is of God, finds its sole foundation in the Holy Scriptures.  Yet, reaching “out in new ways” and expanding “ministry opportunities” is not something that God has promised or commanded.  Rather, God would have His people not be ashamed of him and confess His name (not ashamed–2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15-16; 4:16-17; confess– Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:8-13; 15:9; 1 Timothy 6:12).  These characteristics have God’s approval, yet our “visions” do not.

Trust in God’s Word is what God calls us to be about doing (Psalm 37:3; Proverbs 3:5-6; John 6:29; 14:6).  Concerning “new ways” of reaching out, these might be new, but in the sense that God opens our blind eyes to His ways and work, that we make use of the time that He has given according to His Word and will (the latter we only know from the former) within the callings that He has already given (1 Corinthians 1:26; 7:20).

Similarly “expanding ministry opportunities” doesn’t have to do with us doing it, but God “opening the doors” (Colossians 4:3) for us and using us as He will.  The challenge, though, is that we don’t always believe, act, and do according to the will of our Lord, because of our sinfulness (Thus is the Christian always and constantly in the state of repentance, denying self, and turning to God for mercy in Christ, like Nehemiah before us).  Yet God continues to use us and work through us, too, according to His grace and mercy.

Additionally, St. Paul writes:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-11).

That foundation and the building of which Paul speaks is not man’s doing, but God’s, and again, according to His Word (see Matthew 7:24-27), and not all apart from it or conditional on man and his ways.

As to the question about “your facility limiting your ability to accomplish” your “vision,” this too is founded on the precepts of man.  For one thing, man’s facilities are gifts of God, and to be used for His purposes, not ours.  And as mentioned before, “your” vision is to be tested only by and according to the Word.  Thus, if your “vision” is of God, then it’s not yours at all, but God’s.

The question, “Is your facility limiting your ability to accomplish that vision?” is the wrong question, as is the first, for it (and the other) places the emphasis on you, the sinner, and not on God the Giver and Savior.  It also assumes that any change can (and should?) be affected by you.  The questions do not call for repentance from sin (individual and corporate) and assume that any personal “vision” is already godly in nature and not all misdirected.

For these reasons, such a conference (see here for more information) may just be contrary to the very will of God for His people, for God calls His people and church to be faithful to Him and to His Word (Revelation 2:10, to the Church in Smyrna), and in doing so, will speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and preach His name:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, NKJ)

Lastly, for the present, the intended result of the conference, “will encourage you to apply the determination and courage of Nehemiah and step out in faith,” also is misdirected.  First of all, the “determination and courage of Nehemiah” cannot be ours, because it was his.  Thus, the wording is at minimum, incorrect.  Secondly, who applies that which is of Nehemiah (the determination and courage)?  You do, not God.  And thirdly, the word faith is undefined.  Faith can mean any number of things, and correlated with “vision,” the word may not at all be that which Jesus and Paul speak of, that is, the God-given faith of Christianity according to the very Word of Holy Scripture.  Many, for example, speak of believing, yet such believing is not of God unless it be according God’s Word, centered on Jesus Christ.

Some will likely read this and consider these concerns about such a conference as miniscule and “making mountains out of mole hills.”  After all, shouldn’t Christians be about spreading the Gospel and “reaching people for Christ?”  Yes, indeed!  Yet the church doesn’t need such conferences to do this.  Instead, God calls His church to repent of her selfishness and to speak His truth, not according to our “vision,” but according to His Word, not only for herself, but for others, that they “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).  This happens as God’s people, moved by God with repentant faith, believe, speak, and live according to His Word.

For the Sake of Christ’s Commission-Evangelism & Church Growth

The Not-So-Great Commission, IE1, 2011

The Not-So-Great Commission, IE2, 2011

VOCATION AND EVANGELISM.Pless


[1] Nehemiah 1:1-4: The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (NKJ)

 

The Great Exchange

 

LutherPreachingThrough faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours. Therefore the Apostle calls it “the righteousness of God” in Rom. 1[:17]: For in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed …; as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by his faith.’” Finally, in the same epistle, chapter 3[:28], such a faith is called ”the righteousness of God”: “We hold that a man is justified by faith.” This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ. On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he. It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him. This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam. It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more. (LW 31, Two Kinds of Righteousness, 1519)

Two Kinds of Righteousness

The one thing necessary

Freedom of  a ChristianOne thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11[:25], “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”; and John 8[:36], “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”; and Matt. 4[:4], “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing.  On the other hand, there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of the hearing of his Word, as he says in Amos [8:11]. Likewise there is no greater mercy than when he sends forth his Word, as we read in Psalm 107[:20]: “He sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.” Nor was Christ sent into the world for any other ministry except that of the Word. Moreover, the entire spiritual estate—all the apostles, bishops, and priests—has been called and instituted only for the ministry of the Word. (LW 31, The Freedom of a Christian, 1520)

It is clear, then, that a Christian has all that he needs in faith and needs no works to justify him; and if he has no need of works, he has no need of the law; and if he has no need of the law, surely he is free from the law. It is true that “the law is not laid down for the just” [I Tim. 1:9]. This is that Christian liberty, our faith, which does not induce us to live in idleness or wickedness but makes the law and works unnecessary for any man’s righteousness and salvation. (LW 31, The Freedom of a Christian, 1520)

Free resources from Lutheran Press

Smalcald Articles, Part II, Article I–Christ and Faith

 Tappert1 The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). 2 He alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all” (Isa. 53:6). 3 Moreover, “all have sinned,” and “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood” (Rom. 3:23-25).

4 Inasmuch as this must be believed and cannot be obtained or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that such faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says in Romans 3, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom. 3:28), and again, “that he [God] himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

5 Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised,6 even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed. For as St. Peter says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “And with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

On this article rests all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world. Therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubts about it. Otherwise all is lost, and the pope, the devil, and all our adversaries will gain the victory. (Tappert edition, The Book of Concord)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 253 other followers

%d bloggers like this: