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The Importance of Distinguishing Law & Gospel

thelutherandifference

“For Luther, a proper distinction between Law and Gospel opened the door to a right understanding of God’s Word and, therefore, a right understanding of God’s will for humankind and our salvation.  Throughout its history, the Lutheran Church has continued to maintain that rightly distinguishing between Law and Gospel is absolutely necessary in this regard.  The Law shows us God’s will and reveals our sin; the Gospel proclaims our salvation in Christ.  To confuse these two doctrines is to remain confused about ourselves and about our God.  To misunderstand them is to misunderstand the reason for the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  In short, Law and Gospel are the means by which we can rightly understand the whole of the Christian faith.” [Edward Engelbrecht (ed.), The Lutheran Difference (St. Louis: CPH, 2010), p40-41)]

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Salvation–Possible with God!

“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

Mark 10:27

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Such words of our Lord as the words above have a specific context which Jesus speaks them. Here, Jesus is not talking about overcoming every obstacle, climbing every mountain, or prospering in life. The context in which our Lord speaks is quite different.

EyeOfNeedleJesus had just relayed to the disciples how difficult it is for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23-25), to which the disciples responded, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). It is at this point that Jesus then says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

Note the it that Jesus references. That it references the salvation that the disciples ask of. This means that salvation is impossible with men, but not with God. Thus, the all things that Jesus speaks here, contextually, is that of salvation.

I know of only one other place in the New Testament where similar words are spoken. However, these words are given in a very different context than that of salvation. The context is that of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that Elizabeth, who is beyond the age of child bearing, had conceived a son (Luke 1:36). The angel then concludes the announcement, “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

ContextThe pair of phrases addressed here each has its own context in which it is spoken. However, each is often used apart from its context, and often for personal, self-help, motivational encouragement. Doing this, however, is a misuse use of the text, applying it in ways not intended, and doing so also demonstrates a use of the text according to one’s own circumstances and inclinations rather than that of the Holy Scripture.

Divorced from context, the content of the passage becomes divorced from its biblical meaning. And though this not be the concern of many a people, it is a concern for all who seek to be faithful to the Biblical text itself and its intended meaning.

Confining oneself to the words, context, and meaning of the sacred text of the Holy Bible is not only faithful practice, but is the very means by which the Lord draws us to Himself, even to Jesus, through whom salvation is certain (i.e. John 20:31). The Lord doesn’t give us His Word that we determine its application. Rather, He gives us His Word that we might believe it, and believing it, that we abide by it, and so live through faith in Him who died and rose again.

Slippery slope2It’s a “slippery slope” to use the Bible in ways not given. Remaining with the context, however, leads us to rightly believe, and firmly to trust, in Jesus.

Additionally, if one passage, like Mark 10:27 (or Luke 1:37), doesn’t do for us what we would like it to do, that’s okay, because the Lord directs us with His Word where He wants us to be and where He wants us to go, that is, in and to His Kingdom. Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to deny ourselves and to entrust ourselves into your keeping, that we not misuse Your Hold Word or try to make it say what we want it to say for our own ends. Move us to believe what you say, that we grow in grace and true knowledge of You. Amen.

God desires your salvation

“‘I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord GOD. ‘Therefore turn and live!’”

(Ezekiel 18:32)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Prophet-ReflectingIt may seem as so few hear the call! God sent His prophets in the Old Testament, to preach to them the Law and the Gospel, and yet few heeded. God desires the salvation of all, yet even some who call themselves Christians remain numb to the hearing and studying of God’s Holy Word, partaking of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and attending God’s house on Sunday morn to receive God’s free and unconditional gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

We are not too far removed from the people of God in the Old Testament, who even claimed that God’s way was unjust. He condemned the righteous and forgave the wicked. According to their faith, so it was. Those who had “done good,” yet remained in their sin were judged. Those who had done evil, yet repented, these stood in God’s favor.

Such ways do not align with sinners. We reason that God should look at the good that we have done (or tried to do), and relent. We also reason that the “bad” of former times cannot be fully amended by a “change” of heart or action (i.e. How naturally we say that we are better than criminals before God and that the worst of “sinners” do not “deserve” God’s forgiveness!).

However, God’s way is not our way, nor is our way His (Isaiah 55:8-9). He is just to forgive and merciful to the undeserving. In fact, none deserve God’s mercy. Rather, we ought to merit His wrath. But for the sake of Christ, you stand in God’s good and divine blessing. In Christ, you have already died to your sin, and do die daily as you remember your Holy Baptism, drowning the old man on putting on the new (Romans 6:1-14). You now live by faith in Christ your Savior. And so living, you now also desire to live according to Christ’s Word, abiding by the will of God, hearing and studying the sacred Text, and partaking of Christ’s body and blood given for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

In Christ, you live a new life, daily. You continue to struggle, but in your struggle, you are not solo. God provides the means by which to sustain you—Word and Sacrament. Only do not forsake, ignore, or despise these means as is the manner of some, even of those who considered themselves to be the people of God in the Old Testament and today, who think that they can manage by themselves and continue to live as they please. They were chastened for their unbelief, for that’s what their actions demonstrated. This is why the Lord sent His prophets. And those who did heed the call, these sought to change their ways and turned to the Lord in repentance, looking to the heavenly Father for mercy, and in the promise of God in Christ, had it with certainty. Amen.

All is well

All is well–In God’s hands are we

And though all–our eyes are not able to see

Such is not necessary to be

For Christ is our strength, vision, and sight

It is sufficient for Him to know our plight,

For He will not leave or forsake His own.

We need not at all fear, salvation has already been won.

The Necessity of True Doctrine

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.

1 Timothy 4:16

 

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, writes what he writes with a purpose in mind—the purpose of encouraging Timothy to remain in the true doctrine.  Contrary to the world, remaining in the true doctrine is not at all of insignificance.  It does matter, for “doctrine is life.”  I am not talking about man’s doctrine (i.e. Mark 7), for man’s doctrine only alienates from God and hardens the sinner against God.  God’s doctrine, in distinction, does give life, just as Jesus says, “My words are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).  Depart or stray from these, and there is nothing but death.  Continue in the very Word of the Lord Christ, and you are truly His disciples and “will know the truth” and will be set free by that truth” (John 8:31-32).

Such does God’s Word, The Truth (John 14:6), do.  It gives life, raises that which was dead, and also preserves one in the truth by that same truth.

To the Galatians, St. Paul writes, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?  Have you suffered so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain?  Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? — just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” (Galatians 3:2-6)

Not by man’s doctrine and not by man’s doing were the Galatians being made perfect and complete, but by the hearing of faith (Romans 10:17), by hearing the Word of Christ.

The doctrine/teaching is important.  Get this wrong, and you get Christ wrong.  Getting Christ wrong leads to eternal death, not eternal life, for outside of Christ Jesus, there is no forgiveness and no peace with God.  But in Christ Jesus, there is nothing but forgiveness and the peace that surpasses understanding, which the world cannot ever give (Philippians 4:7)

The world and those of the world will go their own way, claiming that you cannot know the truth or that it is not found in the Bible.  But Christians believe differently, for the Christian faith is not of the world, but of God, revealed through the Holy Scriptures, and centered on Christ, and Christ alone!

 

Luther

‘Let every faithful person work and strive with all his might to learn this doctrine (of the Gospel) and keep it, and for this purpose let him employ humble prayer to God with continual study and meditation on the Word.  Even when we have done ever so much, there will still be much to keep us busy.  For we are involved, not with minor enemies but with strong and powerful ones, who battle against us continually, namely, our own flesh, all the dangers of the world, the Law, sin, death, and the wrath and judgment of God, and the devil h9imself, who never stops tempting us inwardly with his flaming darts (Eph. 6:16) and outwardly with his false apostles, so as to overcome some if not all of us” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p65).

 

Prayer:

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your word; Curb those who by deceit or sword

Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son And bring to naught all He has done.

O Comforter of priceless worth, Send peace and unity on earth;

Support us in our final strife And lead us out of death to life.  Amen.

(Lutheran Service Book (2006), “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Word” 1, 4)

Return to the Lord

        12“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13and rend your hearts and not your garments.”  Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?   15Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16gather the people.  Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.  Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.   17Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples,  ‘Where is their God?’”  18Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people.    19The Lord answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.”  (Joel 2:12-19)

 

The day of the LORD is great and very terrible; Who can endure it? (Joel 2:11)

The day of the Lord, the day of Judgment, is come.  It is great and very terrible.  Yes, indeed!  Who can endure it?  Who can persist and continue when the Lord meets out His judgment upon a wayward people, a wayward people even called by His Holy Name.

Joel prophesied to such a people.  He spoke and proclaimed to the people of God.  They had departed from the Lord, following their own ways, heeding their own opinions, holding fast to their own judgments, and not according to the will of the Lord.  They were a way faring people, led by their own desires and hearkening to their own inclinations.

They took for granted all that the Lord had done for them, all that He had provided for them, and how He had kept and preserved them.  And now, judgment was to come, judgment by way of that which would destroy their bounty, diminish their excess, and humble a prideful people.

Joel speaks of locusts, which would devour the land (Joel 1:4; 2:25).  They would leave nothing behind.  Crops would be leveled.  No grain would be in sight.  Harvest would be absent.

The prophet Joel speaks of the destruction caused by the locusts as “The day of the Lord.”  We in our day, on this side of the hemisphere and in this nation have a hard time understanding such devastation caused by such things.  But the people in Joel’s day lived off the land.  They depended on the crops and their bounty for their livelihood.  They couldn’t go to another grocery store if one was empty.  If the crops failed, that meant dire straits.

Farmers today know this.  Yet, for most of us, we know little about true hunger and true devastation.  We know little of what it means to be truly in want, to have little or nothing.  We do not really know what it is like to be in a famine, to suffer the consequences of a deadly plague, to be in the state of starvation, or to be literally dying of thirst.

We have it fairly easy today.  Food is abundant.  We have clean water, clothes on our back, a roof over our heads.  We have all that we need, and more.

Like the Israelites of Joel’s day, we take for granted all that the Lord has provided for us.  We take for granted all that He abundantly gives us of His mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.  We, like the people in Joel’s day, fail to even see the means by which God would call us back to Himself.

By means of the prophet Joel, God called His people to repentance, to Return to Him with all their heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13and to rend their hearts and not their garments.  God called His people to repent of their idolatrous hearts and their false assumptions that God would always be with them, even should they forsake Him and His ways and not trust in His promises.

They simply went through the motions of God’s people, but their hearts were far from their Lord and their God (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8).  They went to church.  They gave offering.  They did what they thought God required of them.  But they did not believe.  They forsook the Word and trusted in themselves.

Do you see the events in the world enfolding before your eyes as a call to repentance?  The downward spiral of our economy and the increasing debt?  The revolutions and rebellions across the globe?  Troubles in the Mideast and elsewhere?  The hypocrisy and the apostasy of church after church which claims to bear Christ’s Name?  Accidents (as we call them), and death after death because of this or that?

Do you see these things as reminder of sin and a call to turn to the Lord with repentant hearts, turning away from your own sinful hearts and to the welcoming arms of the Lord?

May it be that even the smallest and most insignificant thing would move you to turn away from yourself and worldly things to the Lord Himself!

The Lord does not want your false repentance, or your hypocritical and meaningless confession.  He does not want your empty words of regret or hollow mourns of sorrow.

The Psalmist says that, The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:15-19).

The righteous are they who see themselves as God sees them—as unrighteous, who say, We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away (Isaiah 64:5).

The righteous claim no righteousness, or goodness, of their own.  They take God at His Word, and believe Him, come what may.  They do not argue and deny that God is true, but submit to His Word, and believe in the only Savior–Jesus.  In this they are righteous, not because of their own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of another.

Therefore, at the hearing of the Lord’s Word, even through the prophet Joel, God’s people turn to the Lord with all their heart.  They rend their hearts, not their garments.  They acknowledge that they have not been as God would have them be, and seek God’s favor, His pardon, and His peace.  They seek God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus, and there, in Him, they have it.

There, in Him, in Christ Jesus, you have God’s full pardon and peace.  There, you know that you have God’s favor upon you.  In Christ, with nail prints in His hands and feet, and with the mark of the spear in His side, you know that God’s judgment has been removed from you.  God laid the punishment of your sin on Him.

God is indeed Gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  This you know and believe because of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Turn to God with all your heart!  Return to the Lord your God!  Repent!  Forsake your sinful ways, your trust in yourselves, and your dependency on the things of this world.  These things cannot help you or save you.  But God can!  And God does!  He gives you life in the midst of death, joy in the midst of sorrow, and peace in the midst of strife.  He feeds the hungry and gives drink to the thirsty.  He gives aid to the poor and bounty to the needy.

Therefore, hold fast to the Lord.  He does not forget you.  He remembers His promises.  He holds you in His hands and bears you up (Psalm 91:12).  Sorrow over your sin, but rejoice in the Lord, for He is good and gracious, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me my sin against you.  I am a poor miserable sinner.  Give me faith to firmly believe in Your salvation, and help me to amend my sinful ways before You.  Amen.

Questions about the Christian Church and faith

From November 2010-November 2011, these questions and answers were published in an “Ask the Expert” section of the “The Shopping News”. The 12 questions contained herein include: what to look for in a church, the Holy Bible, Tolerance, Salvation, and the Sacraments. Answers were limited to around 100 words, so they are not at all exhaustive. I hope to expand on these in time.

AskTheExpert-ShoppingNews, 2010-2011.pdf

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