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Acceptable Offerings

 

Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.(Genesis 4:3-5)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

It wasn’t because of the offering itself that God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s.  Both gave offering to the Lord.  But such offering given revealed the kind of man who had given it.

As a farmer, Cain gave what he did, “an offering.”  Abel, as a shepherd of sheep, “brought of the firstborn.”

Lest we think that an animal offering is greater than that of the harvest, consider that the offering of grains and produce were commended and acceptable to God, as revealed in Exodus (i.e. Exodus 29:41).

The distinction between the offerings were not the issue, though the offerings did differ.

The difference between the offering of Abel and that of Cain was that of the heart.  Had Cain believed, at the Lord’s Word, he would have repented and not later murdered his brother (Genesis 4:8).

Cain demonstrated his unrepentance by murdering Abel.

He demonstrated his disbelief with the offering that he had given, not the first of the crop, but simply “of the ground.”

On the other hand, Abel, having offered “of the firstborn and of their fat,” demonstrated faith.  We know this because God accepted the offering of Abel, but not that of Cain.

Had Abel not had faith, his offering would not have been acknowledged by God.

Though we readily look at what is given by mere appearance (and the amount), God looks at the heart from which such gift is given.

We can’t see the heart and its disposition to God.  God can, and God does.

It’s not by the offering and what we do (or don’t do) by which we become (or are) acceptable to God.  Rather, first, we are acceptable to God, and then the offering (and works) are.

Thanks be to God that this is so!

Acceptance by God is not dependent on you.  It’s founded on Jesus Christ.

“By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus(Rom. 3:20-24).

“Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,(Rom. 5:1).

 

“Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone

And rests in Him unceasing;

And by its fruits true faith in known,

With love and hope increasing.

Yet faith alone doth justify,

Works serve they neighbor and supply

The proof that faith is living.”

(The Lutheran Hymnal 377 “Salvation unto us has Come,” verse 9)

 

Luther

“First he regarded Abel, the person, and thereafter the offering.  His person was previously good, and right and acceptable.  Thereafter, for the sake of the person, the offering was also.  The person was not acceptable for the sake of the offering.  Then again, he did not regard Cain and his offering.  So also, first he did not regard Cain, the person, and thereafter he also did not regard his offering.  From this text it is certain that it is not possible for a work to be good before God if the person is not previously good and acceptable.  Then again, it is not possible that a work is evil before3 God unless the person is previously evil and unacceptable…God in the Scriptures concludes that all works before justification are evil and of no use and he desires them to be justified and made good first.  Again, he concludes that every person, if they are still by nature in the first birth, are unjust and evil, as Psalm 116:11 says, ‘All men are liars.’ Genesis 6:5, ‘Every thought and desire of the human heart is always evil.’” (Luther’s Family Devotions, p211-212)

 

Prayer: God, forgive me for thinking that You accept me on account of my works and not on account of Your Son who died for me and gave Himself for me that I be acceptable in Your sight.  Help me to believe that, not by my works, but through faith in Jesus alone, I am justified before You. Amen.

 

 

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Minors and Majors

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

Acts 16:31

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.  How easy it is to focus on the “minors” rather than on the “majors,” on things trivial and not the main thing.  Such happens in the church, too.  We become so obsessed with appearances, actions, and external things that we actually miss the “one thing needful,” as in the hymn, “One thing’s needful; Lord this treasure.” [1]  When how we live and what we do (or don’t do) become the focus of our preaching and our life, we major on the minors.  In the church, too, when the center becomes growing the church or “doing this” or “doing that,” (and the “right way”) and not on Christ and the Gospel, we’re losing sight of our means of salvation and eternal life.

The Christian life is of Christ, and remaining in Him.  Only if the tree is first good does that tree bear good fruit, says our Lord (Matthew 7:17-18).  Jesus cleanses us with His Word (John 15:3), and we are clean.  Clean in Him means that our sins are not counted against us.  By remaining in Jesus, we do good works and bear fruit (John 15:4-5).

The concern of the Christian, therefore, is remaining in Christ who works the good works within us, which is faith.  If one is not doing good works, it is because that one is not first good in Christ.  On the other hand, one who is doing good works is only doing so because Christ is doing the good works in him.

Our concern, then, is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Where this faith is placed aright, right confession and good works follow.  The Gospel works this, not the law.  The Law condemns and shows us our sin (Romans 3:19-20).  It is the Gospel that saves, that God forgives your sins through faith in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul and the early church faced opposition to the clear Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, as do we.  In his day, and demonstrated in his letter to the Galatians (and elsewhere), some were saying that you had to keep the law in order to be saved (i.e. circumcision, etc.  See Colossians 2:6-23).  You had to do things “the right way” for eternal life.  Thus, they emphasized the command of Moses, ritual, and ceremony.  Doing so, they set aside Christ, even as they spoke piously about God, His Son, and the church.  The preaching of Christ crucified and the forgiveness of sins took “back seat” to “living rightly” and “doing the right thing” to be assured of God’s favor.

We, of course, have the same struggle today.  For some, it’s what “Mother Church” says.  For others, it’s what “the pastor” says.  Still, for others, it’s what “I say or believe.”  However, each of these demonstrate the removal of Christ as the means of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Instead of pointing to Pope, Church, pastor or self, the attention of Christian doctrine is Christ and His Word and work.  The pope, the Church, the pastor, and self are to look to Christ alone, and to draw attention away from themselves to Him who forgives.  Our works and what we do never will save.  Only the work of Christ and what He has done does!

For this reason, circumcision and following the Law doesn’t merit you eternal life.  These can’t help you obtain salvation, but they can prevent it if such are your hope.  But where Christ is your hope and your foundation, know that you have God’s forgiveness.  And having God’s forgiveness in Jesus, the main thing, everything else will fall into place and will indeed, become trivial, as they are.  Yet Christ and His Word, His doctrine, will only become more and more precious and meaningful.

Luther

“It is neither sin nor righteousness to be either uncircumcised or circumcised, just as it is neither sin nor righteousness, but a physical necessity, to eat and drink. For whether you eat or do not eat, you are neither better off nor worse off (1 Cor. 8:8). But if anyone came along and attached either sin or righteousness to it and said: “If you eat, you are sinning; but if you abstain, you are righteous,” or vice versa, he would be both foolish and evil. Therefore it is a very wicked thing to attach sin or righteousness to ceremonies. This is what the pope does; in his formula of excommunication he threatens with punishment the soul of anyone who does not obey the laws of the Roman pontiff, and he makes all his laws necessary for salvation.6 Therefore it is the devil himself who is speaking in the person of the pope and in all such papal decrees. For if salvation consists in the observance of the pope’s laws, what need do we have of Christ as our Justifier and Savior?” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p87)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, keep us from disputing over trivial matters and grant us rather to “set” our “mind on things above, not on things of the earth” (Colossians 3:2), ever trusting in only Your Son, our Savior.  Amen.


[1] Lutheran Service Book, Prepared by The Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, (St. Louis: CPH), 536.

 

 

“Faith Alone”, Paul, and James

 The very words “alone” or “only” are not grammatically next to the word faith in any of St. Paul’s letters.  However, in the epistle of James, we have these words, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes, “that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).

So which is it?  Is man justified by faith (Paul), or is man justified by works and not by faith alone (James).  Lutherans (and most non-Catholics) will affirmatively confess the former,[1] Roman Catholics the latter.  Whose right?

For an answer, we must note that the emphasis of James is different than that of Paul.  The context itself indicates this.

James, clearly, is speaking of how works demonstrate a faith already present (Read James 2:14-26), while Paul is speaking of the righteousness of faith (Read Romans 3:21-26, 28, 2-8, etc.).

As you read Paul in the sense that he is writing, that is, according to text and context, and with the words that he uses, even without the words “sola,” “alone,” or “only” preceding or post the word faith, the meaning Paul plainly intends is that righteousness is through faith, with no works attached whatsoever to justification (note esp. Romans 3:21, 28; 4:6—he doesn’t use the word “alone” or “only,” of course), but he does use the word “apart from” or “without,” depending how the Greek word is translated.

For clarification, Luther did not add “faith alone” in order to justify the Lutheran tradition (See the following).

LW35.OnTranslating-AnOpenLetter.SelectedQuotes

The text of Paul’s letter to the Romans itself indicates that righteousness is through faith, without/apart from anything that man does (See the following).

LW35.PrefaceToRomans.a


[1] For example, as in Robertson’s Word Pictures, “Jam 2:24 – James is discussing the proof of faith, not the initial act of being set right with God (Paul’s idea in Ro 4:1-10). And not only by faith (kai ouk ek pistewj monon). This phrase clears up the meaning of James. Faith (live faith) is what we must all have (2:18), only it must show itself also in deeds as Abraham’s did.”

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