Category Archives: Steven Hein

God’s Uses of His Law

It is God who accuses, condemns, and instructs in good works when, where, and as He chooses through the proclamation and teaching of the Law. It may be that one hearer is accused, but not condemned (living under grace through faith), another is condemned (and finally brought to despair of his own righteousness) and another, at any given moment, learns something new about the fruit of faithfulness that was not understood before. These things that God would accomplish through His Law are not to become a program for the preacher to organize his sermon. He is just to preach the Law at full strength and then the pure. sweet Gospel. Period! There is not to be a third part of the sermon after the Gospel for a programmatic and independent instruction in the Law to inform and press the Christian to do good works after he has heard his forgiveness in Christ. The accusatory and instructional uses of the Law are to be distinguished as we teach about how God uses His Law, but this distinction is not to be made into separate programmatic installments, as if the servant of the Word is supposed to orchestrate the accusation of the Law before the Gospel, but then instruct in good works afterward. Instructing and exhorting the believer about works after hearing the life-giving freedom of the Gospel can have the effect of erasing its impact. It is as we pointed out before: the Law always accuses. The Gospel predominates in the Church’s ministry when it is heard as God’s final Word and thus most appropriately followed by an A-men and then silence. Do we not all understand the final word has been heard, when silence follows?

Servants of the Word are simply to proclaim pure Law at full strength as preparation for the ministry of the Gospel. If on such an occasion God wants to condemn right to the depths of Hell Mr. Schmidt sitting in the second pew that is God’s business. If He wants to expose the fleshly living of Mrs. Miller in the back row and accuse her of using her family ties in an idolatrous manner, again that is God’s business. If God uses our preaching to curb and discipline teenager Billy’s gross rebellious behavior with the threats of Hell (notice, I have even brought in the civil use of the Law!), again that is God’s business. And, if God uses the pastor’s fine proclamation to teach Mr. Yamamoto that the fruits of faith include even the ordinary duties around the house as a husband and father that is God’s business. Even if Mrs. Smith sleeps through it all and Mr. Jones is simply provoked to greater levels of sinful rebellion – well again, that is God’s business. He works His curbing, accusing unto repentance, and/or instruction when, where, and as He chooses.

The servant of the Word is simply to rightly divide Law and Gospel in all its strength and purity, and then leave the uses (in Luther’s twofold sense, or Melanchthon’s threefold sense) up to God. The same point can be made about the ministry of the Gospel. The Gospel is not to be proclaimed for conversion at one point, then to strengthen faith at another, at another to energize works of love, etc. The Gospel is just to be proclaimed in all its comfort and consolation as the power of God unto all aspects of His salvationing sinners (Romans 1:16)! How God will use the ministry of Law and Gospel in the lives of the people is His business – when, where, and as He chooses.

Dr. Steven A. Hein, “The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?”, pages 142-144

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The Law as Appetite Builder for Gospel

What does effective ministry of the Law do for the new creation in Christ? Nothing in any direct way but it does create a powerful hunger and thirst for our Lord’s bread of life and living water of the Gospel. The Law itself imparts no spiritual nutrition or power for Christian living, even when its exhortations are softened and joined with words of inspirational encouragement. Rather it is intended to be God’s great appetite builder that sends us running for the Word of Life. Only through the ministry of the Gospel does our Lord nourish the new creation to sustain and mature our faith and life in Him. Full-strength Gospel can often by the simple Gospel – you are forgiven; God loves you and accepts you just as you are for the sake of Christ. It can even be as simple as, Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. For our little ones in Christ, we must take care to continually feed them with the pure milk of the Gospel. And often the simple Gospel is what we need – just the plain but full-strength words that absolve: I forgive you all your sins. Yet it is also true that the Gospel is not simple. There is more to it in its implications and applications than we will ever grasp in a lifetime.

As we grow and mature in Christ, the Lord also intends for us to feed on the “meat and potatoes,” indeed the whole nine courses of the Gospel, not simply the milk and pabulum. The Spirit is working through Word and Sacrament to renew our minds and hearts to the full stature of the mind of Christ Himself. We need a mature understanding and trust of faith to handle the front lines of Christ’s warfare with the powers of darkness in our lives and in the world – maturity for battle and service at the tough outposts of life. The milk and pabulum of the Gospel alone will not provide that kind of growth and equipping. With a full-orbed Gospel the new creation becomes progressively built up for a fuller and deeper flow of the love and ministry of Christ through us to those He gives us opportunity to serve.

Dr. Steven A. Hein, “The Christian Life” pages 51-52

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Steven Hein on The Experience of Maturity

The more the New Self grows into the maturity of the full stature of Christ, the more intense our spiritual warfare. Christ sees our corrupt colors perfectly and hates them with a righteous hatred. The more we grow in the mind and heart of Christ, the more we will see of the depths of our sinfulness and hate them. This has a profound effect on how we experience growth in Christ.

The experience of Christian maturity is not unlike growing in knowledge. The more we know, the more through that knowledge we are able to see the vast horizons of our ignorance. The smarter we get, the dumber we feel. Real growth in knowledge brings a sense of humility produced by a greater vision and experience of the magnitude of our ignorance. We all realize that the know-it-all has much to learn. Growth and maturity in the grace of Christ brings with it a parallel experience. The more we grow and live in the righteousness of Christ, the better we see our own sinfulness. It is with this expanded vision and experience that St. Paul could confess that he was chief of sinners. It is exactly how he felt. Moreover, this is precisely the awareness that God also seeks to produce in us. Here is the dry bones vision that brings a thirst for the Word of God that we might live (Ezekiel 37:4). And it sends us back again and again to drink the living water that flows from the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.

The fruit of the Spirit grow in our hearts from that living water: love, joy, peace, patience, and all the others that Paul mentions in Galatians 5:22-33. The experience of these in Christian life does not remove the turmoil of Romans 7. Rather, they exist in, with, and under it. God blesses us with a peace that passes all our awareness of this turmoil, but it does not replace it. Christians are those who become progressively more disturbed about themselves, but they sleep real well. We walk by faith and we rest in grace.

We shall indeed win some battles, but they will only bring us greater and more challenging ones to fight. The fleshly self will be a part of us throughout our earthly life. It will not surrender and it cannot be reformed. It must be beaten down and ultimately killed. Moreover, we need to remember that we are not simply contending with flesh and blood; but, as Paul explained, with the powers and principalities of Satan himself (Ephesians 6:12). There is no final victory or triumph for us in human history except what we claim in faith and hope in the cross and resurrection of Christ.

Beware of those who promise a sweet, calm, tranquility in this life from God by perfecting your commitment to spiritual exercises. They did not work for Luther in the monastery and they will not work for us. Do not believe that we can reach a lofty level of sanctification where we can be free of the battles that rage in our minds and hearts in this life. We walk by faith hope for the better day that is coming when eternity blesses us with the full fruits of Christ’s victory at His Heavenly Banquet. For now, we join Christ in His battle against the powers of darkness within and without as very much a junior partner. This is His mission and ministry. His resources and work have come packaged to us in the form of two ministries, Law and Gospel. Through these, His work of sanctification in us and the extension of His Kingdom through us in the world are carried out.

The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?, pages 99-100

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Dr. Steven Hein: Going East?

The Constantinople fervor in the Missouri Synod seems to have died down from the heady days of the middle of the last decade, when it seemed to me that every other pastor in the Missouri Synod was leaving for the Orthodox communion. It has been a long while since last I read these words from Dr. Steven Hein, erstwhile professor of theology at Concordia University, River Forest, IL. These words are from my friend William Weedon’s blog. William posted them almost seven years ago, when he had been tempted to leave our fellowship for Orthodoxy. Here’s Dr. Hein.

Going East?

There is an important lesson to be learned when we hear of another faithful servant of the Word vacating his ordination vow to join some heterodox communion. There is an unfortunate, but familiar pilgrimage that entirely too many have taken – men who have offered strong confessional Lutheran service in the Gospel – but who then have doctrinally gone astray. How does this happen? When the chief article of justification begins to wane in one’s thinking as the chief article; when it becomes just one among all the other articles of faith, the Devil can use whatever articles make up one’s doctrinal passion (good in their own right) to replace it. Just because you are against the false teachers about whatever articles of faith are near and dear to you; this is no guarantee that the Devil must thrown up his hands and raised the white flag in seeking to separate you from a right faith and ministry in the righteousness of Christ. He has demonstrated ample ability to use your passions, your commitments against the false teachers, and your zeal, to dethrone the central significance of the forgiveness of sins in an all-sufficient cross of Christ.

Once dethroning the sufficiency of the righteousness of Christ as the chief article, he then works to drive a wedge between those articles of faith and issues of praxis that stir your passions, and the pure milk of the Gospel. When other heterodox traditions hold your views on your passionate articles of faith, the Devil will be at work to have you view their doctrinal errors as not so bad . . . even when they involve false understandings of justification, the central article of the Gospel.

Those who have been around a while have observed well how this played out over time with many champions of an inspired and inerrant Bible in the 1960s and 70s. Tragically over time, many of these faithful confessors sold out the pure Gospel in the name of passion and zeal for evangelism and the mission of outreach. Let’s get on with the mission of the Church was their cry. And they believed that the Baptists, Campus Crusade, and the church-growth authorities had what was needed to successfully undertake the Great Commission. Since these Protestants had it right with mission and evangelism, it could be minimized that they had faulty understandings of how sinners are justified before God. In the midst of their narrow-minded passions; the Church and her Ministry, the Means of Grace, the historic liturgy, and a totally monergistic understanding of the saving work of Christ could be compromised for the sake of an all encompassing, passionate vision of effectively saving souls.

But this is only the half of it. Many who entered the Ministry some time after the Battle for the Bible and the compromise with Protestantism in the name of evangelistic mission – members of the next generation – These men were especially nurtured to cherish the treasures of the Church, its Holy Ministry, and its historic liturgy. And many through the teaching they received came to appreciate these articles and practices as confessional Lutheranism historically retained and expressed them. But I believe that we are witnessing how the Devil can use a passion for the catholicity of the Church, its historic liturgy, and the Holy Office of the apostolic Ministry, to rend asunder the crown jewel of the Church – justification by grace through faith alone. The Devil can do it just as easily as he can use and pervert passions for an inerrant, fully authoritative Bible. The point that Jesus makes about he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me (Matt.10:37) has application also for we who would hold and cherish the articles of faith in the Gospel of our Lord. If we miss-order these articles, cherishing any article more than the chief work of the Savior on the cross and in the Gospel; if we treat any other article of faith in our minds as the central article upon which the Church stands or falls . . . then we become vulnerable to a form of doctrinal idolatry that the Devil can use to wrench the righteousness of Christ from us and our ministry to others. Good Lord, deliver us!