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Faith is God’s Work

 

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (Jn. 6:29 NKJ).

 

“Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

Doing and fulfilling the Law

 

“Accustom yourself, then, to this language, that doing the works of the law and fulfilling the law are two very different things. The work of the law is everything that one does, or can do, toward keeping the law of his own free will or by his own powers. But since in the midst of all these works and along with them there remains in the heart a dislike of the law and compulsion with respect to it, these works are all wasted and have no value. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:20], when he says, “By works of the law will no man be justified in God’s sight.” Hence you see that the wranglers and sophists practice deception when they teach men to prepare themselves for grace by means of works. How can a man prepare himself for good by means of works, if he does good works only with aversion and unwillingness in his heart? How shall a work please God if it proceeds from a reluctant and resisting heart?

To fulfil the law, however, is to do its works with pleasure and love, to live a godly and good life of one’s own accord, without the compulsion of the law. This pleasure and love for the law is put into the heart by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in chapter 5[:5]. But the Holy Spirit is not given except in, with, and by faith in Jesus Christ, as St. Paul says in the introduction. Faith, moreover, comes only through God’s Word or gospel, which preaches Christ, saying that he is God’s Son and a man, and has died and risen again for our sakes, as he says in chapters 3[:25]; 4[:25], and 10[:9].

So it happens that faith alone makes a person righteous and fulfils the law. For out of the merit of Christ it brings forth the Spirit. And the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be. Thus good works emerge from faith itself. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:31]; after he has rejected the works of the law, it sounds as if he would overthrow the law by this faith. “No,” he says, “we uphold the law by faith”; that is, we fulfil it by faith.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

I am not ashamed, Romans 1:16-17

 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

 

Some words of Luther on the Gospel and righteousness…

Let us summarize: The Gospel deals with His Son, who was born of the seed of David but now has been manifested as the Son of God with power over all things through the Holy Spirit, given from the resurrection of the dead, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. See, there you have it: The Gospel is the message concerning Christ, the Son of God, who was first humbled and then glorified through the Holy Spirit. (Luther’s Works vol 25)

In human teachings the righteousness of man is revealed and taught, that is, who is and becomes righteous before himself and before other people and how this takes place. Only in the Gospel is the righteousness of God revealed (that is, who is and becomes righteous before God and how this takes place) by faith alone, by which the Word of God is believed, as it is written in the last chapter of Mark (16:16): “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” For the righteousness of God is the cause of salvation. And here again, by the righteousness of God we must not understand the righteousness by which He is righteous in Himself but the righteousness by which we are made righteous by God. This happens through faith in the Gospel. (Luther’s Works vol 25)

 

 

The Visitation, Luke 1:39-56

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Luke 1:39-56

“Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” 46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.”

 

“And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk. 1:39)

Luther: God is not magnified by us so far as His nature is concerned—He is unchangeable—but He is magnified in our knowledge and experience when we greatly esteem Him and highly regard Him, especially as to His grace and goodness. Therefore the holy mother does not say: “My voice or my mouth, my hand or my thoughts, my reason or my will, magnifies the Lord.” For there are many who praise God with a loud voice, preach about Him with high-sounding words, speak much of Him, dispute and write about Him, and paint His image; whose thoughts dwell often upon Him and who reach out after Him and speculate about Him with their reason; there are also many who exalt Him with false devotion and a false will. But Mary says, “My soul magnifies Him”—that is, my whole life and being, mind and strength, esteem Him highly. She is caught up, as it were, into Him and feels herself lifted up into His good and gracious will, as the following verse shows. It is the same when anyone shows us a signal favor; our whole life seems to incline to him, and we say: “Ah, I esteem him highly”; that is to say, “My soul magnifies him.” How much more will such a lively inclination be awakened in us when we experience the favor of God, which is exceeding great in His works. All words and thoughts fail us, and our whole life and soul must be set in motion, as though all that lived within us wanted to break forth into praise and singing.

But here we find two kinds of false spirits that cannot sing the Magnificat aright. First, there are those who will not praise Him unless He does well to them; as David says (Ps. 49:18): “He will praise Thee when Thou shalt do well to him.” These seem indeed to be greatly praising God; but because they are unwilling to suffer oppression and to be in the depths, they can never experience the proper works of God, and therefore can never truly love or praise Him. The whole world nowadays is filled with praise and service to God, with singing and preaching, with organs and trumpets, and the Magnificat is magnificently sung; but it is regrettable that this precious canticle should be rendered by us so utterly without salt or savor. For we sing only when it fares well with us; as soon as it fares ill, we stop our singing and no longer esteem God highly, but suppose He can or will do nothing for us. Then the Magnificat also must languish.

The other sort are more dangerous still. They err on the opposite side. They magnify themselves by reason of the good gifts of God and do not ascribe them to His goodness alone. They themselves desire to bear a part in them; they want to be honored and set above other men on account of them. When they behold the good things that God has done for them, they fall upon them and appropriate them as their own; they regard themselves as better than others who have no such things. This is really a smooth and slippery position. The good gifts of God will naturally produce proud and self-complacent hearts. Therefore we must here give heed to Mary’s last word, which is “God.” She does not say, “My soul magnifies itself” or “exalts me.” She does not desire herself to be esteemed; she magnifies God alone and gives all glory to Him. She leaves herself out and ascribes everything to God alone, from whom she received it. For though she experienced such an exceeding great work of God within herself, yet she was ever minded not to exalt herself above the humblest mortal living. Had she done so, she would have fallen, like Lucifer, into the abyss of hell (Is. 14:12).

She had no thought but this: if any other maiden had got such good things from God, she would be just as glad and would not grudge them to her; indeed, she regarded herself alone as unworthy of such honor and all others as worthy of it. She would have been well content had God withdrawn these blessings from her and bestowed them upon another before her very eyes. So little did she lay claim to anything, but left all of God’s gifts freely in His hands, being herself no more than a cheerful guest chamber and willing hostess to so great a Guest. Therefore she also kept all these things forever. That is to magnify God alone, to count only Him great and lay claim to nothing. We see here how strong an incentive she had to fall into sin, so that it is no less a miracle that she refrained from pride and arrogance than that she received the gifts she did. Tell me, was not hers a wondrous soul? She finds herself the Mother of God, exalted above all mortals, and still remains so simple and so calm that she does not think of any poor serving maid as beneath her. Oh, we poor mortals! If we come into a little wealth or might or honor, or even if we are a little prettier than other men, we cannot abide being made equal to anyone beneath us, but are puffed up beyond all measure. What should we do if we possessed such great and lofty blessings?

Therefore God lets us remain poor and hapless, because we cannot leave His tender gifts undefiled or keep an even mind, but let our spirits rise or fall according to how He gives or takes away His gifts. But Mary’s heart remains the same at all times; she lets God have His will with her and draws from it all only a good comfort, joy, and trust in God. Thus we too should do; that would be to sing a right Magnificat. [Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 21 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 307–309.]

 

Prayer: Lord, visit us that we blessed by Your Word through Your Son, believe Your Promises, confess Your Name, live by faith, proclaim Your praises, and entrust ourselves fully into Your blessed care. Amen.

 

 

Martin Luther: Civil Libertarian?

 

Presenters:

Rev. Jeff Pederson, Lutheran Church of Peace (ELCA)-Platteville

Mike Trinklein, Writer and Producer of the PBS documentary, “Martin Luther: An Idea that Changed the World

 

Overview

Rev. Pederson offered a chronological summary of Luther’s life, from birth to death, his education, writings, and interest in finding peace with God, mentioning also Romans 1:16-17, “The just will live by faith” and how these words changed Luther.  The reason for the Reformation, stated Pederson, was the timing, as the times were that of change.

Trinklein, referencing the previous summary of Luther’s life and activity, presented on what I would call the worldly/secular results of Luther and the Reformation. The presentation itself was engaging and drew attention to what Trinklein considered the reasons for a number of the freedoms we have today in the U.S., including especially freedom of speech, free press, minority rights, right to education, separation of church and state (noting, however, that this is not identical with the teaching concerning the “two kingdoms”), and individualism (i.e. of religion).

 

Evaluation of the content

luther1Pederson, in his chronological overview of Luther, noted key events of the Reformation and that which led up to it, including Luther’s vow to become a monk, studies, “tower experience,” 95 theses (referencing their posting, but not stating any, 1517), debates (i.e. Erfurt), Diets of Worms (1521), Marburg (1529) and Augsburg (1530).  Pederson also spoke briefly about the circumstances of that time period, which were that of change.  It is that “time of change,” stated Pederson, that was the reason for the Reformation.

Such a time, I would argue, was not the reason for the Reformation.  The reason for the Reformation was God’s doing, not Luther’s or merely the timing itself.  Luther and time had something to do with it, to be sure, but only on account of God’s working through these for His purposes.

Such a statement is that of faith, recognizing God’s work in the world through the work of man and time for the clear preaching of the Gospel.  Why that time and that place?  God knows. A closer look at Luther’s writings reveal that it was not Luther’s reformation, but God’s, as God’s Word was clearly articulated and made known, in contrast to the corrupted teaching of the Roman church and others (i.e. Zwingli, radical reformers).

The second presenter, Trinklein, had mentioned Luther’s focus as an interest in ‘right relationship with God’ (historically not a Lutheran statement), but he took much greater pains to emphasize, not Luther’s theological endeavor, but the secular results/effects (i.e. changes), even going so far to (immediately/directly?) link Luther and his personality to the freedoms experienced today as we have them in our American context.

Thinking about this, the statement could be made that Luther’s example of how he “stood up” to the ecclesiastical and ruling authorities, his emphasis on education, his use oLuther-God speak.jpgf the media (i.e. printing press), and his forthright speaking to the issues of the day were precursors of our freedoms today, though such freedoms were not in place in Luther’s day as they are ours.

Considering Luther as a precedent for American Freedoms, however, apart from the historical connections, seems a bit presumptuous.  Trinklein offered little or no direct line of historical continuum between Luther and the Reformation to our day (i.e. historical legislation noting that our freedoms were a direct result of Luther).  He had mentioned, though, that the father of Mike King, having learned of Martin Luther while in Germany, changed his son’s name from Mike to Martin Luther as a result of his work in the Reformation.

Such a connection, if used to link Luther to current civil rights issues, is misplaced, as the father of Mike King, as presented, took to Luther on account of the freedoms derived from the movement rather than on account of what Luther was actually preaching, teaching, and writing according to the Word.

This was the grand omission of Trinklein’s presentation and to a large degree, the deficiency of the PBS documentary, “Martin Luther: An Idea that Changed the World.”

Minimizing the very words that Luther spoke and wrote in order to draw attention to the “bigger picture” of societal change, or to see Luther primarily as the catalyst and example for change, is to misunderstood Luther and to present a caricature of Luther that is not accurate. Though Trinklein (and others) see Luther primarily as one who “set in motion societal change” and some current American civil liberties, such a limited view not only distorts the contribution of the Reformer, but gives precedent to the worldly while giving lip service to the heavenly.

LutherPreachingLuther’s interest was that of the Gospel.  What was opposed to it in the church, Luther wanted reformed.  Luther hadn’t set out to “change the world.”  His interests were theological.  His oral and written words derived from this interest, and such was the foundation for what he wrote and spoke.

To relegate Luther and His interest in God’s Word and the very Gospel itself to mention, while at the same time emphasizing the possible results of such work, societally and secularly, but not theologically, is to use Luther as a means to one’s desired end.

Rather than champion Luther as a “civil libertarian,” read his writings.  The freedom that the Gospel speaks of is not temporal liberty from worldly oppression and peace in the world.  More significantly, and eternally, the Gospel revealed in the Bible, and that which Luther proclaimed, frees the conscience and declares peace with God and freedom from sin’s penalty, which is eternal death, through the death of Jesus Christ.

Whether freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to education, etc. exist or not, the Gospel cannot and will not be silenced.  American Christians do not rejoice for primarily the freedoms of this world.  They rejoiromans 1-16ce in sins forgiven through Christ and the certainty of their eternal inheritance.

Emphasizing the freedoms of this world and downplaying the true freedom of and in the Gospel (before God and man) is the way of the world.  It is not the way of the Lord Christ. Nor was it the concern of Luther.

 

Link to presentation on the campus of UW-Platteville

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

 

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