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Feelings…Nothing but feelings…Hope in the other

The following is from: Memorial Moment, smurray@mlchouston.org

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Romans 5:1-8

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (ESV)

Hope in the Other

Wednesday of Pentecost 16

15 September 2010

We are a people obsessed with our feelings. One of the standard greetings we use is: “How are you feeling?” This is a sign of the self-centeredness of humans after the fall. We spend a lot of time considering how we feel. Despite all our efforts to feel good, we always fail to reach the nirvana of feeling really good. In fact, some of our efforts to improve how we feel fall into painful pitfalls. Witness the number of people who have fallen into drug or alcohol addiction, sexual license, or vocationally unproductive lives. We’re told by the cultural elites: “If it feels good, do it.” The modern offense industry is indicative of this preoccupation with feelings. If anyone is in the least bit offended or made to feel bad by us, even by an unintentional and inadvertent word or action, we have committed the ultimate sin. If you make me feel bad for any reason, you are a satanic being.

Satan can use this feeling focus to get us set off the track of our true hope in Christ. It is easy to feel our sin. Our sin first and primarily is sin against God Himself and then also against our brother and community. When we do something that is an offense against God, we feel the crushing load of His wrath. That is a real thing. We truly ought to feel this way when we are faced with the holiness of God in comparison to our filthy sin. The work of Christ calls us beyond feeling, as real as it might seem. How freeing it is to know that we can be taken beyond our often roiled emotions. We feel our sin. We feel the wrath of God. We presume then that if we feel these trials in our hearts, we should also feel in our hearts the salvation that God has promised us in Christ. The problem with this view is that we are solving the feeling problem with another feeling. This is a solution that is simply a bigger problem.
We certainly have a growing hope in what is promised by God, but it is a hope in something entirely outside of us. The work of Christ, done in time, is that in which we have hope. Our righteousness is not dependent on a feeling, but dependent on something so much more certain and unchangeable: the person and work of Christ. We should not substitute one feeling for another, but substitute Christ who is not visible to us nor experienced outwardly by us for our faulty feelings. We need to have our pastor or Christian brother or sister take us aside and point us what is certain: the cross of Christ, what is greater than our hearts: “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1Jn 3:20). The substance of what is hoped is far superior to the hope itself. Our hope is in a righteousness that cannot yet be called our condition. And so it is not the mirror image or analog of our sin. It is something entirely other, because it comes from the Other and it consists in the Other: Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Martin Luther

“As long as we live, sin still clings to our flesh; the law remains in our flesh and members battling with the law of our mind and making us captive to sinful compliance (Rm 7:23). While these passions of the flesh are raging and we, by the Spirit, are struggling against them, the location of hope remains elsewhere. We have indeed begun to be justified by faith, by which we have also received the first fruits of the Spirit; and the mortification of our flesh has begun. But we are not yet perfectly righteous. It remains for us yet to be perfectly justified and this is what we hope for. Thus our righteousness is not in our condition, but it is as yet in hope (Gal 5:5).
“This is the greatest and sweetest comfort by which to bring wonderful encouragement to minds afflicted and disturbed with a sense of sin and afraid of absolutely every flaming dart of the devil (Eph 6:16). For as we who teach know from our own experience, in such a struggle of conscience the sense of sin, of the wrath of God, of death, of hell, and of every terror holds powerful sway. One must say to the one who is suffering a trial: ‘Brother, you want to have a righteousness that you experience; that is, you want to feel your righteousness in the same way you feel your sin. This will not happen. But your righteousness must transcend your feeling of sin and you must hope that you are righteous in the presence of God. That is, your righteousness is not visible, and it is not experienced; but it is hoped for as something to be revealed in due time. Therefore you must not judge on the basis of your experience of sin, which terrifies and troubles you, but according the promise and doctrine of faith, by which Christ is promised to you, who is your perfect and eternal righteousness.’ Thus in the midst of fears and of the experience of sin my hope-that is, my feeling of hope-is aroused and strengthened by faith, so that it hopes that I am righteous. Consequently, hope that is, the thing hoped for-hopes that what it does not yet see will be made perfect and will be revealed in due time.”

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.


Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, my hope is weak and imperfect. It is plagued by fear of my weakness and Your wrath. Through Your divine speech turn me out of myself to You alone, that when I look beyond my feelings I might see only You. Keep the substance of what I hope for Your righteousness. Grant the church pastors and teachers who will direct those struggling with their weakness to Your cross alone. Amen.

For the Council of Presidents of the LCMS, that they might be signs of the divine righteousness in the world

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