Lately I have not had the urge to write on a regular basis. It’s not that my life is dull or I have suddenly lost all my opinions. No, it is because of something much simpler. I simply stopped.
To be honest though, I miss it.
I miss the creative outlet. I miss the consistency that resulted from it. I miss the ability to process what I’m going through on a regular basis. Most of all, writing brings me a good deal of comfort and I miss that.
I don’t know if I’ll ever aspire to the angst filled writing of Hemingway, seeking the one true word or sentence or chapter. That is simply too torturous for me. I find myself varying between the stream of consciousness posts, while other times I simply cut my finger and bleed on the page. Either way, I find a place of refuge in the written word.
I think that’s why I write.
I write for the same reason why I run—it brings freedom and a measure of hope. I write because it feels good after I have a completed a page (or mile) or two. I write because it brings joy and fullness. I write because it is a place I can inhale and exhale, working out frustrations with a mild dose of lucidity. To be dramatic, I write so that I can be free.
Why do you write?
Martin Luther is arguably best known for his argument that the “just shall live by faith.” His creed sola fide captures this biblical principle and he raises it quite about in Concerning Christian Liberty.
For Luther, faith is an inward action: it is an action that is done within the person. Of course, they will outwardly confirm the inward reality through public confession (baptism, their life, and participation in Eucharist) and through a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit living within them (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, “For with the heart, one believes and is justified, and the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Out of the new life rooted in the heart of the Christian, they then confirm the inward reality to others. While they ought to live differently, no outer works can ever replace what happened inwardly.
Let me put it another way. Psalm 1 describes the righteous person as a tree planted by streams of living water. This tree, out of a place of health and growth from the living water, will then produce fruit and shade for others. Out of the tree’s health it then demonstrates that health through outer means.
Luther argued that the only work we need as a Christian is to lay aside our works and trust in the work of God in Jesus. As John 6:27, 29 asserts
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’…Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
If you don’t catch anything though, catch this: everything is dependent on faith. If you have faith, then you have everything. If you don’t have it, then you have nothing. Putting faith in Christ will lead to life and to all the blessings God promises his people. They will find rest in seas of turmoil and peace in the darkest valleys, for one day Christ will put this world to rights and will wipe away every tear. As Tullian Tchividjian put it recently in a book: Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
“One thing, and one alone, is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty; and that is the most holy word of God, the Gospel of Christ, as he says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me shall not die eternally (Jn 11:25),’ and also, ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (Jn 8:36),’ and, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Mt 6:4).’” -Martin Luther On Christian Liberty
This chapter of the Wisdom Wednesday series on Martin Luther will hopefully clear up some issues that I have wrestled with. Growing up in a church that emphasized the “word” made me feel confused every time I heard it. No one ever explained what that loaded word meant, so I hope Luther will help unpack this for us.
“Word” has a dual meaning within this passage, it can mean the language recorded on the page and it can also mean the Word (Logos, a Greek term that has an eternal meaning to it), of God. Jesus was described in John as the Logos, the Word of God that was given to the world (see John 1).
Words have power
Words have power, they mean something. If you have ever been lied to, or have fallen victim to believing an elaborate tale (only to find out later it was false), you know how broken words can leave you crushed. But please hear, this word of God gives a promise, it promises that if you trust in Jesus, you will have life. If you take hold of God’s word and the offer that Jesus gives to each one of us, then you will be free.
While the word of God (Scripture) is quite an expansive collection of books, Luther would tell his readers that the word of God that we can especially cling to is in the promise of life through Jesus, the incarnate, suffering, risen, and glorified through the Spirit that sanctifies.
Through this Jesus (and the word/Scripture that testifies about him), salvation is brought to all who put their faith in him: For those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead, then they shall be saved (Romans 10:9).
Faith in God is what will bring salvation, it is not about how hard you try.
How refreshing is it that all we have to do is trust in another instead of working our butt off to earn something?
For Luther, holding on to the promise of God is all that we can do. It is also through this faith that we are free yet servants to all. Freedom rooted in faith leads to a life of service to others.
(In honor of Reformation Day this month, Wisdom Wednesday will be looking into Martin Luther’s brief yet powerful work Concerning Christian Liberty)
A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone. -Martin Luther
The more I have been processing what sets Christianity apart from other world religions, the more I have become convinced that love differentiates it from the other great world religions.
Now please hear me out though, and hear what I am not saying.
I am neither saying that other religions lack an element of love in their message, nor am I saying other adherents do not love. What I am trying to say is that Christianity has sacrificial love at its core.
Luther is arguing in his work Concerning Christian Liberty that freedom is rooted in the sacrificial love of Christ. I highlighted this aspect in my Bonheoffer series previously, but for our purposes here, for those who follow Jesus, they are called to also follow Jesus by serving others.
Notice in the quote above how service flows out of identity. By being in Christ, they are most “free of all people”; yet out of this freedom they are called to serve others. Paul would phrase it that Christ knew his place, that all authority was given to him, and out of this position (which is huge!) he chose to empty himself (see Philippians 2:1-11).
I will never tire of saying this, but if you are in Christ, you are free. But if you are free, then the next step is to serve others.
Honestly, I don’t like hearing this, but Christians are called to be a different community, we are blessed to be a blessing. We are free from sin and death, oh please grasp that point.
If you are in Christ, you are free. You are free like the tree transplanted in good soil, free to flourish and produce beauty and fruit. Similarly, Christians are also planted in good soil and are free to flourish. They are free to bear fruit and bless others because they are free.
Follow Jesus and be free. Be free and serve all.
On a recent JetBlue flight, I watched a few episodes of a National Geographic program on the brain. Yes, I’m awesome like that.
One of the segments pointed out how the brain processes choices. If we walk into an ice cream shop and have the option of vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry, what would you choose?
Now if you were to go into another shop down the street and received the ice cream options of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, rocky road, cookies and cream, cookie dough, mint chocolate chip, fudge tracks, coffee, birthday cake, pistachio, chocolate cherry, french vanilla, chocolate fudge brownie, peanut butter cup, caramel, or apple pie, what would you choose?
Which store would you choose, the second one? Which one would make you happier with your selection?
Not the second, actually the first one would.
The second shop provides so many choices that you undoubtedly would want more than just one flavor. The first store, I would choose vanilla and wouldn’t feel too much remorse about the other flavors. But that second one, it would take me a lot longer to decide! Birthday cake sounds good, but then again so does peanut butter cup. And fudge tracks (remember, only one scoop). No matter what I went for, there would be a bit of buyers remorse because the second and third place flavors all looked so good too.
Imprisoned By Choices
In the face of many choices, it’s so very tough to commit. In fact, we’re often imprisoned by choice. But in life, we need to commit. We simply cannot go throughout life always trying to keep our options open. Never choosing to marry because there might be someone better out there. Never choosing to plant roots in a community because somewhere else might be calling you.
Bottom line is this: God wired us to choose and not live in a constant state fear of making a choice. He created us to commit to him and to others.
Seek Wisdom And CHOOSE
Indeed, we should make wise choices, the Book of Proverbs is filled with this counsel. We should pray, seek wisdom in God’s Word, and speak with wise Christians (not the type that counseled Rehoboam in I Kings 12).
Similarly, Barry Cooper in a Christianity Today article wrote that there comes a point when,
pausing becomes procrastination, when waiting is no longer wise. There comes a point when not to choose become idolatry. It becomes a lack of trust in the God who ordains the decisions we will make, gathers up the frayed ends, and works all things for our good and his glory.
Seek wisdom and make wise choices. Then we need to rest in the fact that God will work things out. God is good and he is sovereign, but always remember that he is good. Make a decision and trust that God will work all things for good for those who are called in his good name.
What does this abstract word even mean? If you are in Christ, no doubt, you have heard that word applied to your state before God at church many times. But I wonder if this is true, I wonder if we are free. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m free to live as a child of God. Sometimes I feel like I’m chained to sin, even though I might not want to sin (can anyone else relate?).
I read over a recent issue of Christianity Today and Roger Olson’s “The Bond of Freedom” caught my eye. He was exploring this paradox of being free while also being tied to Jesus. Yes we are free. We are free like the train that goes as fast as it possibly can on the rails. Yet, if it was free to go off the tracks, then the train would cease to be free in its purpose. Sure, it was free from the restraints of the railroad track, but now it is free to be a wreck, not a fast train at all. It ceases to function for what it was meant for.
Olson puts it this way,
“The great church father Augustine taught that true freedom is not choice or lack of constraint, but being what you are meant to be. Humans were created in the image of God. True freedom, then, is not found in moving away from that image but only in living it out. The closer we conform to the true image of God, Jesus Christ, the freer we become. The farther we drift from it, the more our freedom shrinks.”
Freedom comes when we grow closer to Christ. Freedom comes when we live our lives in obedience to his will and to his kingdom. Freedom comes when we are conformed into the image of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of the Father. Freedom comes when we learn the steps of this incredible Trinitarian dance.
Through the transformation into the image of Jesus (slowly, but surely) we are made to no longer be subject to anyone or anything. But through the transformation into the image of Jesus, we are slowly formed to desire to serve others. We will want to do good, not out of obligation, but because we genuinely want to do it, to the praise of God. As Martin Luther would phrase it, “a Christian man [or woman] is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”
I encourage you to read Olson’s piece, but regardless I want to leave your with a parting exhortation. Dear friend, stand firm in the freedom of Christ: subject to none, servant to all.