This gospel wants to entice us to faith, above all else. But no one canaccept this gracious Christ unless he believes that he is a man and adopts the opinion of him that the evangelist gives. He is presented as sheer grace, humility, and goodness…Look at him! He rides no stallion, which is a war animal, and he comes not with fearful pomp and power, but sits on a donkey, which is no war animal but which is ready for burdens of work that will help human beings. Thereby he shows that he does not come to terrify people, to drive or oppress them, but to help them, to carry their burdens and take them on himself.
It’s easy to be religious. All we have to do is count ourselves as better than others and we have it made! Well, we also have to try harder, do things better, smile a little bigger, and see how our neighbors are actually terrible people. That actually sounds pretty exhausting.
You know what’s difficult?
To hear that I am flawed and evil. That I have a heart that can conceive of vile adultery and the cruelest of hatred. It’s difficult to hear that I am remarkably judgmental of other people, but that’s the honest truth.
Tim Keller would say that the good news of the Bible is that we are more sinful, wicked, flawed, and broken than we could ever imagine. At the same time we are more loved, accepted, and desired after than we could ever hope for. I think Keller’s right. The story of Jesus is so counter to our own initial beliefs.
The story of Jesus shows us who God is. As he said in John, if you’ve seen Jesus, then you’ve seen the Father. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews would say that Jesus is the exact same as God (which is contrary to the beliefs of Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims, to name a few)— same essence while also being distinct within the Trinity.
The story of Jesus shows us how he came to bear our burdens and came to remove the pettiness of our hearts and restore life. As Paul wrote to the Romans, we are dead in our sins, and only through the work of the Holy Spirit can we be brought into life.
Jesus does not come to conquer, but he comes to remove the yoke of suffering and religion in order to replace it with something far lighter. His yoke is light and his promise to us his life. Won’t you hear him today?
(for another side to the argument, see my post It’s A Religion, Not Just A Relationship)
This is the time of year when many Christian churches throughout the U.S. bring about countercultural Harvest Parties complete with skits, games, and plenty of candy. Growing up we went to quite a few of them and certainly brought home a lot of candy. However, the many messages that come to us about Halloween, I wanted to offer up some excellent articles that I found on this topic.
Richard Mouw unpacks the power of evil during Halloween over at First Things,
Should Christians avoid Halloween? I’m ambivalent. Part of me wants to tell my fellow Christians to lighten up a little, keeping the focus on a day when kids can have some fun. Given the present cultural realities, however, it is important to use the occasion to say some things to them about how Christ has overcome the powers of evil.
For me, I enjoy Halloween (with the exceptions of the over the top gore and ridiculous costumes like sexy Big Bird). As Justin Holcomb would write in The Gospel Coalition,
For those still bothered by Halloween’s historical association with evil spirits, Martin Luther has some advice on how to respond to the Devil: “The best way to drive out the Devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” Perhaps instead of fleeing the darkness in fear, we should view Halloween as an opportunity to mock the enemy whose power over us has been broken.
Remember, Christ conquered the powers of sin and death. Even in the scary stories and frightening tales that center around today, Jesus is still greater.
Lest we forget today is Reformation Day, here is an excellent article on Luther and the important of this day.
“It is not by working, but by believing, that we glorify God, and confess Him to be true.” –Martin Luther
As we end the month of October, Halloween and All Saints Day will soon show up in the next two days. Death takes center stage in American life, with one day taking on the undead and ghoulish creatures in the exchange for Reese’s and M&M’s. The other day brings to mind those dearly departed in the faith who join the “great cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 12.
When I hear that if I place my hope in Jesus and trust in his promise of life — that I can be release from the chains of sin and death — that my friends is something to get excited about. As I wrote last week, when we are joined with Christ, then what is ours is his and his is ours. The sin that once plagued us will be swallowed up in victory, and death itself was conquered through the triumphant resurrection (I Corinthians 15:55-57). Luther would add, “for death is swallowed up in victory, not only the victory of Christ, but ours also, since by faith it becomes ours and in it we too conquer.” Through Jesus, death has been defanged and one day it will be tossed out of God’s creation.
It is my hope that by highlighting the hope of the Christian faith through the work of Martin Luther that you might might understand a little more clearly concerning this faith. I don’t want to see that this faith is a cerebral one, or a faith that will merely warm our hearts. Instead, I want him to be a Messiah for you and me both. That what “is said of him, and what he is called, may work in us.”
Christian liberty is rooted in the confession that “Jesus is Lord,” and once that has been planted in our lives, then indeed we will be free. Freest of all people, and yet servant to all.
One of the more awkward metaphors in Scripture for me to comprehend is the metaphor of marriage. Throughout the Bible (both the Old Testament and New Testament) we are given the illustration of God in a covenant/marriage with his people. Specifically in the New Testament, we are described as a bride adorned for Jesus. I don’t know about you, but as a man, that’s a bit of a stretch to get excited about!
However, Luther sees it differently. He sees it in the light that we are indeed united to Christ: what is ours is his, and his is ours. Much like my marriage with Kristen, we bring everything together into a union. But unlike my marriage, this union provides something better; all things are in common, both good and bad.
Think about that image for a moment—all that Christ has can be yours.
Sit with that for a moment.
He is full of grace, life, and salvation. He will take on all that we have in exchange for all these good things, he will take on all the sin, death, and condemnation that plagues us. Through this union, Christ provides us immeasurable benefits for his own good pleasure. He gives us his righteousness, though we don’t deserve it.
To close out this point, hear (or read) what Luther has to say when we take hold of the righteousness of Jesus by faith in him, since his life is more powerful than death:
“Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her form all her evils and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in him, and since she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, ‘If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is his, and all his is mine,’ as it is written, ‘My beloved is mine, and I am his.’”
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.
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.
If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you
must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.
I will more than likely fail miserably in the near future. Wait, scratch that. I will fail miserably in the near future. Probably within the next few hours of this post going live. You see, my friends, I screw up. I screw up a lot. Even though I have a nice watch and nice socks, I don’t have my act together.
I don’t have any imaginary sin, as Luther would suggest. I don’t have any imaginary faults. I have told lies, and I will tell lies in the future. Hatred, jealousy, lust, and pride have all been marks of my life. And those traits are just a portion of the strong sins I frequently bear.
But you know what? Christ is stronger than any of those. While my sins may be bold, the salvific grace of Jesus is bolder. He is the victor over sin, death, and the world’s spirit. Whether or not you are in Christ, you will sin. But, my dear friend, I would beg you to trust in Christ all the more.
Count on Christ, and Christ alone. Trust in him, and him alone. For he is the sole way to redemption and he is the victor over sin and death.
And that, my friends, is boldness that you can rely on.
Something I have learned this past year in seminary: Bible Study is tough work.
When Martin Luther broke from the Roman Catholic Church in the Sixteenth Century he was warned by the RCC. He was warned that if everybody was given the opportunity to read the Bible on their own, then anybody can interpret it on their own, potentially leading to many negative things. The Church no longer told the masses what to think. Now anybody could read the text in their language and come to different conclusions, no matter how wacky they might be. During the era of the Protestant Reformation, you had several factions rise up, opposing each other over different readings of Scripture. Nearly 500 years later, we see that Rome was right, if everybody could read the text in their own language, then anybody could make up any point on their own. Freedom spawned not only spiritual fervor, but also chaos.
See, studying the Bible is tough work, because anybody and everybody can have an opinion on the text. That is why I view my training in a seminary as both important and humbling, because I know teaching others is a heavy and joyous burden. There are hard passages in Scripture. There are difficult questions raised that many try to gloss over or ignore.
Who knows, it could happen to anybody. It could happen today.
What tools do you use to help you study the Bible?