Monthly Archives: June 2015

Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 6:36-42

The Collect for today asks the Lord to “grant that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by Your governance that Your Church may joyfully serve You in all godly quietness.” What does this prayer have to do with not judging and not condemning, not mentioning splinters and beams?

Everything.

Some in the Church are given to judge, especially those with vocations that call for judging. For example, the sheep judge her shepherd when it comes to preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified. You keep me honest by reminding me what I am to be about as the shepherd of the Good Shepherd’s flock in Momence. Preach Christ. Don’t preach politics. Don’t preach self-righteousness. Don’t preach virtues and values. Preach Christ.

Yet there comes a time when preaching Christ means I have to say some very unpopular things. I am called to preach the Gospel. Understood in a wide sense that means I also preach God’s judgment upon the world. Outside of Jesus Christ, you stand condemned. It is not my condemnation. It is not my judgment. This is the Word of the Lord. I am the messenger.

The message Christ has for you today is that unless you are given to judge someone, and by judging here Jesus means to judge whether or not someone is spared hell for all eternity or condemned to hell for all eternity, zip your lips. The psalmist writes in Psalm nine: You have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment. “You” there is not you. It is not me. It is the Lord Almighty. Only He sits on that throne and judges. His judgment is righteous because He alone is righteous.

The Church of God, elect and glorious, is given to be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. This doesn’t mean that anything goes. The Church who cannot condemn is a Church who cannot bless. The condemnation we speak is what Scripture speaks, not our own opinion. Believe it or not, when it comes time for Christ’s Church to speak condemnation against something in Holy Scripture, that is being merciful. How would you like it if, when you were a child, your parents never spoke a word of condemnation to you about eating rat poison? You probably never have said, “Oh, if only my parents would have been less judgmental and let me eat D-Con that one time.” Mom and Dad had mercy on you. They spared your life by speaking a word of judgment. It was their place to do so. That’s what the Collect means when we pray the Church “may be so peaceably ordered by Your governance”.

We hear another example of peaceable orderedness in today’s Old Testament reading. Joseph cares for his reunited family because he is given to do so. As second in command only behind Pharaoh, Joseph makes sure his brothers, who did evil to him, are provided for. He says, God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. God meant it for good because Joseph keeps the promises of God alive and well. There will be a Savior.

Joseph is a type of Christ in this instance because, like Jesus, Joseph is given the duty to care for his family, even when they don’t know what they are doing. He could have wiped them from the face of the earth for what they did to him. Joseph instead sees the big picture. He uses his authority to provide for them. He considers the beam in his own eye before nagging about the specks in his family’s eyes.

Consider the beam in your eye, too. Consider how you daily speak words of condemnation and judgment not only to your neighbor, but also to God. God could very well leave you to your own devices. That’s a merciful thing to do when you refuse to acknowledge, let alone receive, the gifts God gives you both in tangible things as well as in spiritual things.

The beam is removed from your eye in order that you are able to see Jesus Christ laying on two beams of wood in order to make perfect payment for your sin. Do not fear, for Jesus is Lord. He comes not in the place of God, but as God in flesh, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive. You are one of many. He provides forgiveness and life for you. Even as you groan inwardly as [you] wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of [your body], this eager anticipation is a sure and certain hope in Jesus Christ. It is your reality. It is the Father’s mercy on you, for you are judged worthy of eternal life because of Jesus Christ. Jesus is condemned and you are not guilty. You are reckoned righteousness for Christ’s sake. That is mercy in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.

Now there is joy in quiet serving. God, in His merciful, giving way, gives you many callings in life where you get to serve your neighbor. You get to show mercy as mercy is shown to you. You get to give in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. This is not a burden, but a joy. It is a joy because the Lord, Who pleads for you endlessly, first endured this burden for you in all joy. That is mercy, and this mercy is yours in Jesus Christ.

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Third Sunday after Trinity – Luke 15:1-32

A bit late getting this one up. I was on vacation last weekend, so an elder read this sermon in a service of prayer and preaching in my absence. The church computer has been down most of the week after taking on water Monday night/Tuesday morning when my congregation’s sump pump failed. New sump pump, new computer, same Jesus.

Jesus is looking at the religious types when He tells this parable in Luke chapter fifteen. The Pharisees and the scribes are the blue chip, A-list, religious folks who, like so many religious types, spent much of their religious time and energy judging and criticizing others who didn’t rise to their standards of religiosity. The company that Jesus kept is the issue: This man receives sinners and eats with them. That alone was reason enough to write Jesus off. What kind of Savior hangs with tax collectors and “sinners”?

You might as well ask, “What kind of doctor hangs out with sick people?” It’s not the healthy who need a physician but the sick, Jesus said on a similar occasion. How would you like it if you came into your doctor’s office with the flu or a cold and he immediately takes one look at you, covers his face, and runs out the exam room door? Doctors hang with sick people. Saviors hang with people who need to be saved. Jesus came to save sinners. The self-righteous have no need for Jesus or His salvation. They’re fine, or so they think. They’re walking the walk and talking the talk and judging the world around them. What on earth do they need a Savior for or from?

This man receives sinners and eats with them. Be glad He does. That means He receives you and eats with you too. It’s become fashionable in some circles to say that Christians aren’t sinners anymore, and that they shouldn’t call themselves sinners. Some would say it’s wrong, if not downright false teaching, to say “I, a poor miserable sinner.” They would say, “That’s what you were, not what you are. You’re a saint not a sinner. Don’t talk like that! Think positively and you’ll act positively. Call yourself a loser and you’ll lose. Call yourself a winner and you’ll win.”

Then along comes Saint Paul, the apostle Paul. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. No less than the apostle Paul declares in words written down for us and for our learning that he is the chief of sinners. The biggest loser in the game of religion. In his letter, Paul called his entire religious past a “bunch of dung” in view of the excellency of knowing Jesus Christ and being found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That simple message needs to be repeated over and over like some punch line the world and all its dour religions don’t get. Jesus is the Savior of sinners. He’s the Redeemer of the unredeemable, the Justifier of those who don’t have a case. He’s the Finder of the lost, the One who seeks losers in their lostness and raises the undeserving dead from their grave.

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? Who in their right minds leaves ninety-nine valuable sheep to fend for themselves in a wilderness full of wolves to go chasing after one sheep that doesn’t have the good sense to stick to the flock? This is just bad stewardship of energy and time.

Even more outrageous, when the shepherd finds this lost sheep he’s been searching for, he gives it a free ride home on his shoulders, invites his friends and neighbors over, and throws a party for the lost sheep that was found. Now the text doesn’t mention this, but there’s no such thing as a party without a barbecue, so something got roasted and it wasn’t the sheep that was lost. And if you don’t think that is simply outrageous, you haven’t gotten the Gospel punch line. Here it is: Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who recognizes his sinfulness and says, “I, a poor miserable sinner” than over ninety-nine self-justified righteous religious folks who need no repentance. There is more joy in heaven over someone who simply says, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” than over ninety-nine teetotaling, morally upright, society transformers who need no repentance.

A woman has ten silver coins. She loses one. She turns the whole house upside down looking for it. Sweeps the floor, turns out the cushions in the couch, moves all the tables and chairs. Spends a whole day and more seeking and searching. And when she finds it, she calls together all her friends and neighbors and throws and party and spends a lot more than that coin was ever worth not counting all the time she took to look for it.

That’s crazy, isn’t it? Nobody would do that. Maybe they would look for the coin. It was fairly valuable; the price of one sheep. There’s joy in finding what was lost. Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. That’s outrageous. Joy in heaven over one sinner who simply comes to the recognition that he cannot save himself and trusts Christ to save him. One sinner who repents, who comes to a new mind about himself and Christ, causes a burst of joy before the angels. And it’s not even something he does. He’s the lost sheep, he’s the lost coin. The seeking and finding happen to him. And his being found is cause for joy and celebration and a party!

And then comes the big joke about the son who told his father to drop dead, took his inheritance, wasted it, and came back home to the forgiving arms of his father who was so overjoyed that his son was back safe and sound, he killed a calf and threw a party and invited everyone, including his older brother who refused to embrace the outrage of grace that justifies sinners. And we’re left wondering at the end, will he get it? Will he join the party? Will he see himself in the same light in which he judges his brother? Will he laugh at the seeking, searching grace of God who dies for His enemies, who justifies us while we were yet sinners, who sought us before we knew we were lost, who found us in our death and raised us to life while we were dead.

Will we get it? Will we see ourselves in the same way Paul saw himself? The Law of God demands it and reflects it back into your face. You are that chief of sinners. You are that wayward, wandering sheep. You are that hopelessly lost coin that can’t find itself. You are the cause of joy in heaven, the joy that caused Christ to endure the cross and scorn its shame. You were lost in Sin and Death and Christ went out and sought you in the wilderness of your Sin. He found you in the darkness of His death. He put you on His shoulders and lifted you up in Him from the depths of the grave to the highest heavens at the Father’s right hand. He searched for you, and was restless until He found you in the water of your Baptism. And there was rejoicing that day, rejoicing with the angels and the whole company of heaven who sang their Alleluias to the Lord when you were baptized.

There is much talk today about joy or the lack of it. Churches have become joyless places, burdensome, tiresome, more like a pep rally for sales people than a gathering of sinners, a celebration of the winners instead of a party of losers. The reason churches have lost their joy is that they have lost the punch line. They have forgotten the joke or they no longer think it’s funny. They’re so busy transforming society and being the world’s moral nanny that they miss the point: that Christ Jesus came to this world to save sinners of whom I and each one of you are foremost.

Jesus told them this parable because they grumbled at the company He kept. They should have been relieved, grateful, even giddy at the great good news that He received tax collectors and sinners and ate with them. That meant there was room at His table for them. And for you.

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Second Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:15-24

It’s a harmless comment. Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God. It’s a pious platitude, a nice thought. You hear many comments like it every day. Even music lyrics have them. Take “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” and the line, “There’s a better/Home a-waitin’/In the sky, Lord, in the sky.”

Jesus could nod and make a wry smile here. He could cock His head a certain way, close His eyes, and have a peaceful countenance while making a little noise, a hum, maybe, to agree with the fellow sitting at the table with Him. A harmless comment deserves a harmless response, a little something to let the guy know you heard what he said. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t agree, but at least you acknowledge it.

Not Jesus. Not now. You want to eat bread in the kingdom of heaven, eh? Then why do you spurn the invitation to the great banquet, where many are invited but few actually show up? The harmless comment is a fumbled football. Jesus picks up the fumble and runs in for the touchdown. Jesus doesn’t want to embarrass the fellow. But the comment cannot be acknowledged with a mere grunt or a nod of the head. Why? Because Jesus went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, that’s why.

Now that you know where the action is taking place, the parable fits the scene. Consider also that they were watching him carefully. Earlier in chapter fourteen Jesus healed a man who had dropsy, then told a parable about taking the best places at a wedding feast. God willing, we’ll hear those accounts toward the end of September. For now, Jesus tells a parable about a great banquet while sitting at a banquet.

The ones invited to the banquet Jesus tells about are sitting at the table. They are the first to be invited. They are the ones who are supposed to have the best seats. Messiah was sent first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Pharisees are supposed to point their fellow Jews to Messiah in the flesh, preparing them for His upcoming fulfillment of the Passover, where Jesus is the Roasted Lamb sacrificed for their sins.

Come, for everything is now ready. The hall is booked, the places are set, and the dinner is keeping warm. All that is left is banquet guests to be welcomed. But would you believe the excuses they give? I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. Everyone has an excuse. It’s almost as if it was planned that way by some group exercise in passive-aggressive behavior. Sure, we’ll get invitations, but we’ll show the host how much we care about His banquet. We’ll say we’re going, because we’re expected, but then something suddenly will come up that could be done at any time, but needs to be done right now. That’ll show Him.

That certainly showed the host. They lost their place at the banquet because they made excuses. Fast forward to Jesus’ passion and death and you’ll see these excuses play out as the Pharisees lead the cries of let Him be crucified. After all, that guy from Nazareth said He was Messiah, the Christ, and the very Son of God. He’s just a carpenter’s boy from up north in Galilee. Nothing good comes from up that way.

So the lesser class of Jews were then brought in to take the elite’s place. And still there is room. Time to go out to the highways and hedges. Compel people to come in, says the banquet master. It’s as if you almost don’t have a choice in the matter. There’s a spot at the table for you, and you just about can’t say no.

Then comes the dagger to the heart: none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet. Sure, they’ll be invited to other banquets. Maybe they will throw their own banquet. You might think what happened that Passover Sabbath after the Jews thought they did away with Christ? Was there a little extra-curricular celebration going on among some now that the rabble-rouser and His disciples were silenced? In any event, the invitation has been taken away from them. Their free spot at the table, courtesy of living in Father Abraham’s being reckoned righteous as He waited for the Savior to come, is gone. The poor and crippled and blind and lame and those in the highways and the hedges are there now.

You are the ones in the highways and the hedges. You are compelled to come and partake of the banquet. Perhaps you’ve had a meal you have never forgotten. Maybe it was a high-toned gourmet dinner in Chicago, or maybe it was a simple roasted chicken from your own oven. The experience lives on in your memory. There’s a greater banquet than the best meal you’ve ever eaten. You are present at that banquet right now.

Just as any main course is taken off the stove or out of an oven, plated, and served to guests at a table, so Jesus Christ, having suffered agony on the cross, was afterward removed from the cross, laid in the tomb, raised from the dead, in order that all may dine from this food. Jesus is the Bread of Life for Jew and Gentile alike.

Wherever Christians are gathered, there you find the table. The main course is the preaching of the Gospel. The servers are the pastors. Christ Himself is the food. Through the pastor’s mouth the food is laid on the table and served. When the Gospel is preached, the food is offered and served. Each of you receives as much as you need, for this is a food that satisfies. All believers partake of the roasted Christ, so to speak, yet Christ remains whole, something you can’t say about a porterhouse steak or a whole roasted chicken.

Blessed are you, for you will eat bread in the kingdom of heaven, not because of whom you are or what you’ve done, but because of what Christ has done for you.

Bon appétit!

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Martin Luther on The Roasted Christ

Just as a hen or anything else is not kept on the spit and roasted in order to remain there permanently, but upon being roasted is removed from the spit and placed on the table for people to eat and be nourished, have their hunger satisfied and become stronger, so Christ, having suffered with terrible pain on the cross, was afterwards removed from the spit of the cross, laid in the tomb, risen from the dead, and so on, in order that the whole world might have this food.  For Christ was the world’s genuine Bread of Life, for Jews and Gentiles alike.

So now this heavenly food, so carefully prepared and subjected to the intense fire of the cross, is served up and offered to the whole world.  Wherever Christians are gathered, there you find the table.  The preaching of the gospel is the dish.  The servers are the pastors.  Christ is the food.  Through the pastor’s mouth the food is laid on the table and served; for when the gospel is preached, this food is served up and offered.  It is embraced solely in the Word and is heard by both young and old, learned and unlearned, rich and poor, and the like.  Each person receives just as much as anyone else in the world if only he believes, for it is a food that fills and satisfies; yes, it is possible for the whole world to have their hunger sated by this food.  All believers partake of Christ, and each receives him wholly, despite which Christ remains whole, something that does not occur when earthly food, whether a hen or capon.

This food is offered in the following way: the gospel is proclaimed, telling how Christ suffered, was crucified, and died for our sins.  Everyone in the world is urged to come and not to stay away, to eat of this food, gladly hear the gospel of Christ, and believe what the gospel proclaims.  For to the serving up belong three things: first, the dish, which is the Word of God; second, the waiter, that is the pastor’s mouth; and third, to believe it with all one’s heart.  When these three things come together, man’s heart and soul begin to eat, saying, Here is a deliciously prepared hen or chicken; here Christ is proclaimed; I see and hear what this food is, the “roasted” Christ; I am to eat of this; hence, I must believe what is proclaimed and taught in the gospel.  Whoever believes this with all his heart eats of this Christ.

House Postil for the Second Sunday after Trinity (Luke 14:15-24)

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Luther on True Perfection

I’m a simul justus et peccator guy to the end. I know I’ll never be perfect. I cling to Christ and His righteousness. I am weak on sanctification. I do not, however, deny that I quit striving after perfection in the way Saint Paul describes in Philippians chapter three: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Franz Pieper says it best in Volume Three of “Christian Dogmatics”: “But the truth of the imperfection of sanctification in this life is not an excuse for laziness in sanctification and good works. Instead, God’s will and the corresponding Christian attitude to it seeks to ascertain that the Christian strives after not merely a partial, but a complete sanctification and not just some, but all good works.” (page 33 English Translation, page 38 German original. I’ve translated the German original here.)

With this teaching and these examples Christ now concludes [Matthew chapter five]: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here our sophists have spun out many dreams about perfection and have applied them all to their orders and classes—as if only priests and monks were in a state of perfection, the one higher than the other, the bishops higher than all the others, and the pope the highest of all. By this means the word “perfection” becomes completely inapplicable to the ordinary Christian way of life, as if such people could not be called perfect or be perfect. But you hear Christ talking here not to bishops, monks, and nuns, but in general to all Christians who are His pupils, who want to be called the sons of God, and who do not want to be like the publicans and criminals as are the Pharisees and our clergy.

How does it come about that they are perfect? The answer—in brief, because elsewhere I have discussed it in more detail —is this: We cannot be or become perfect in the sense that we do not have any sin, the way they dream about perfection. Here and everywhere in Scripture “to be perfect” means, in the first place, that doctrine be completely correct and perfect, and then, that life move and be regulated according to it. Here, for example, the doctrine is that we should love not only those who do us good, but our enemies, too. Now, whoever teaches this and lives according to this teaching, teaches and lives perfectly.

But the teaching and the life of the Jews were both imperfect and wrong, because they taught that they should love only their friends, and they lived accordingly. Such a love is chopped up and divided, it is only half a love. What He wants is an entire, whole, and undivided love, where one loves and helps his enemy as well as his friend. So I am called a truly perfect man, one who has and holds the doctrine in its entirety. Now, if my life does not measure up to this in every detail—as indeed it cannot, since flesh and blood incessantly hold it back—that does not detract from the perfection. Only we must keep striving for it, and moving and progressing [My note: Luther uses here fortfahre – “continue”. “Progress” would be fortschritte machen] toward it every day. This happens when the spirit is master over the flesh, holding it in cheek, subduing and restraining it, in order not to give it room to act contrary to this teaching. It happens when I let love move along on the true middle course, treating everyone alike and excluding no one. Then I have true Christian perfection, which is not restricted to special offices or stations, but is common to all Christians, and should be. It forms and fashions itself according to the example of the heavenly Father. He does not split or chop up His love and kindness, but by means of the sun and the rain He lets all men on earth enjoy them alike, none excluded, be he pious or wicked.

Luther’s Works Volume 21, pages 128-129

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Wanna Be Righteous? Become A Sinner First.

For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:12 ESV)

Whoever would be righteous must first become a sinner; whoever wants to be well, good, and like God as a Christ-like member of the church must first become sick, bad, perverted, devilish, even heretical – as unbelieving as a Turk – as Paul says, “Whoever among you would be wise must first become foolish in order to be wise.” Let this statement stand, for it is God’s will in heaven that He has intended through foolishness to create wisdom; through wickedness to create the good; through sin to create righteousness; through folly, even through sickness to create health; through heresy to create churchliness; through unbelief the believer; and through the form of the devil to create godly people. You ask, “How?” It shall be answered briefly and quickly. You cannot become before God someone that you would like to be if you first have not become before yourself and before others the kind of person He wants you to be. God does intend, however, that you should become before yourself and others what you really are – namely, a sinner; bad, sickly, perverse, and devilish. Those are your names. Those are the things that you are in truth and they are your humiliation. As soon as that happens you are already before God what you wanted to be: holy, good, true, straight, and pious. On this basis you become a new person before yourself, others, and before God. Why are you surprised? Why are you bothered when you displease yourself and others? Because if you don’t displease them, them you can’t please God.

Martin Luther, “Operationes in Psalmos”, WA 5:195:41-196:15. Quoted in Hans Iwand’s “The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther”, pages 72-73

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First Sunday after Trinity – 1 John 4:16-21

Human beings are no good at perfect love. Sure, you say you love someone with a deep, rich love reserved for no one else. You say you’ll never love someone the way you love your friend, your spouse, or a family member. But that love comes with some outs, a backstop, if you will.

This is seen in how wedding vows are sometimes worded. Some couples put conditions on their vows. Instead of “Till death us do part” you have “Until our time together is over” or “Until our love for each other runs out.” The marriage is already doomed to fail. Add a pre-nuptial agreement and the count is up to two strikes.

Human love for another human has built-in fear. Love for God also has fear. You fear that God will remove His tender Hand from you when you do something wrong. You fear that God doesn’t really love you, that you are outside His providence and His salvation. You worry that you don’t love God enough, and in turn that you don’t love your neighbor like yourself, let alone love your neighbor at all.

Saint John puts an end to fear in love when he writes whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. Consider the last phrase first, especially the last clause, perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love is what you seek. Perfect love is impossible when sought outside the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. That’s the mystery the world seeks. Even Christians seek this mystery while not realizing it’s under their nose.

The quest for perfect love ends in Jesus Christ, Who is perfect love in the flesh. Our Father in heaven loved you first. He sent His Son as the propitiation, the perfect sin offering, for your sins. The Holy Spirit teaches you to recognize His love. Every physical blessing and every spiritual gift is proof of His love for you. As you recognize His love for you, you also cling to His love and grace by trusting in His promise of perfect love given to you. He displays His perfect love for you and for all in His innocent suffering and death. He gives you the benefits of His death in His holy Gifts, especially the Gift of His holy preached Word. God abides in you, and you abide in God. You shall not die, but live.

Now to that first phrase, whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. Love toward God is never perfect this side of Paradise. God’s love toward you in Christ is your perfect love. As you cling to Christ and His perfect love, our Father in heaven now sees Christ’s perfect righteousness that covers you as perfect love. Your pleasure and joy is now in God and His Word. As a New Creation you surrender your live to God for service. You love what He commands and suffer everything for His sake. The struggle between the Old Man’s hatred of God’s perfect love for you and the New Creation’s love of everything God has done for you will persist until you fall asleep in Jesus, awaiting the day of resurrection when you will rise from the grave a completed New Creation and live with the Lord God forever in His kingdom.

You abide in God, and God abides in you, as you rejoice in His Gifts of forgiveness and life. By this, John writes, is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. You abide in God as you hear His proclamation of redemption and resurrection. You abide in God as you live in your Baptismal grace, dying daily to sin and rising daily to life in Jesus Christ. You abide in God as you eat and drink His true Body and true Blood in the Supper. You abide in God as your sins are absolved. You abide in God as you leave His house with His Name on you, loving your brethren as He loves you. Loving your neighbor shows to the world you are God’s precious child and that God dwells among you.

Don’t be afraid. Jesus Christ is perfect love. His perfect love and perfect righteousness covers you. You are free. You are forgiven. You are loved. As you are loved, you then are free to love and serve your neighbor wherever God puts you. There are no limits, for God abides in you and you abide in Him. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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Faith, Works, and Holy Apes

Luther understands works of faith as essentially no different from works of law, except that they are missing the glory that one seeks for oneself in one’s own works. Faith cannot live without actions, yet faith does not live from the actions that it effects, but lives because God is active and because Christ “is not idle.” Faith lives because one believes and so the believer does a good work, but he does not require the good work to be what he is already. That is why the death and the transformation – the coming-out-of-oneself – of a person is important, so that “the person learns to do good works not for his own sake, but out of the overflowing of mercy – the free and spontaneous action in response to God”s graciousness – without trusting in the works themselves.” Whoever acts in this way as an instrument of God because he has everything he wants from God and can give himself to his works without seeking his own self-interest in the works themselves. On the other hand, the person who does not do works in this way (as actions that are done simply and unselfconsciously in response to need) but who seeks in each action to make himself or herself good and pious – because they see that other pious people do them – these people Luther calls “holy apes.”

We are therefore able to say in response to the accusation that is made regarding Luther’s emphasis on good works (viz., that it produces the opposite of what it intends) that without despairing of oneself and one’s ability to truly do pure, good works, a person will never gain the  truth about himself or about God, which will prevent any action that he does from having any integrity and stability. Simply put, unless a person can stop himself from being the purpose and goal of his own actions and begin to seek God’s honor and not his own honor, there is no such thing as a good work.

Hans Iwand, “The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther”, pages 58-59

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Not Our Merit, But Christ’s Merit Alone

Here we should steadfastly maintain our teaching so that we never let any work take credit for gaining the favor and grace of God, for liberating us from sin, and for bringing us to heaven. My merit is worthless for this. And if someone should want to use it for this, I must trample it underfoot and damn it to the devil himself in hell, as a thing that denies Christ and seeks to hinder my faith. All that avails here is the fact that God has given all this free, out of pure grace, by sending Christ, His Son, and letting Him die for me, announcing and granting this to me, and commanding me simply to believe it and to be baptized in it. None of my works has anything to do with this, but it is purely a gift, bestowed from heaven and brought to me by Christ. Let all merit be simply discarded here in favor of the conclusion that it is impossible to obtain grace and the forgiveness of sins in any other way, manner, or measure than by hearing the Word of God about Christ and by receiving it through faith. And why should we brag about our merit in order to make God applaud us? They themselves and all the saints have to pray in the Lord’s Prayer every day as long as we live: “Forgive us our debts.” And yet these desperate saints have the audacity to say that a man in mortal sin can prepare himself for grace, and then can merit eternal life!

How do you deal with the fact that there are so many passages about reward and merit? For the benefit of the simple people, we give the answer now that these are simply intended to comfort Christians. Once you have become a Christian and have a gracious God and the forgiveness of sins, both of past sins and of those that cling to you every day, a certain result will be that you will have to do much and suffer much on account of your faith and your Baptism. As these three chapters have shown in detail, the devil himself, together with the world and the flesh, will attach himself to you and torment you from every side, making the world seem too narrow for you. If we were left to be stuck in this, without Word or consolation, we would despair and say: “Who wants to be a Christian or preach or do good works? You see what happens to them. The world tramples them underfoot, defames and slanders them, and tries every kind of villainy and evil trick on them, finally robbing them of their honor, their property, and their life. All Christ can call me is poor, troubled, hungry, meek, peaceable, afflicted, and persecuted! Is this supposed to last forever and never change?”

Then He has to speak out, strengthening and comforting us and saying: “Now you are in grace, and you are the children of God. Though you have to suffer for that in the world now, do not let it frighten you. Hold on tight, and do not let what you see tire you out or wear you down. Let everyone do his duty. If this causes him trouble, it will not do him any damage. He should know that the kingdom of heaven is his and that he will be richly repaid.” Repaid, but how? We already have it through Christ, apart from, and prior to, any action of ours. As St. Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:41), God will make you a big, bright star and give you a special gift, even in this life. Even here on earth, a Christian can obtain so much from God through his prayer and good works: He can save a whole country, prevent war, famine, and pestilence. This is not because the work is so precious in its own right, but because He has promised this to strengthen and comfort us and to keep us from thinking that our works, troubles, and sorrows have been lost and forgotten.

Luther’s Works Volume 21:289-291

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