She is not mine.

Image result for infant

I am a new mom.  A “FTM” (First Time Mom) as all the bloggers and texters say.  Most of my friends back home in the midwest are years ahead of me, sending their kids to preschool and gradeschool, but here in Denver we do things a little more slowly and I am 33 with a baby two weeks old today.  These last two weeks have been a whirlwind, including unexpected medical diagnoses, hospital stays, and a three week early adjustment to parenthood – but some of the most amazing moments in my and my husband’s life.  One thing, however, that is rocking my world Spiritually is the new “opportunity” to die to myself.

There are many truths out there that circulate so rapidly that they sound cliche.  “Marriage is a mirror” and such, but in two short weeks I am beginning to learn anew what it means to die to myself and to surrender my selfishness.

The Christian life, the path of salvation, is often called the fight of faith.  We are engaged in a Spiritual battle for holiness.  We are killing our sin so that it will not kill us.  We are pressing on towards the goal, we are dying to ourselves, we are fighting for sanctification.  This is Biblical.  This is right.  This is honoring to God.  And it is indeed God’s plan to sanctify us:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

Our sanctification is a process, and God reveals our sin and our depravity in bite-sized pieces.  He asks/commands/enables us to fight our sin one day at a time.  If God were to reveal the depths of our selfishness and pride as well as confronting our sinful habits all at the moment of conversion, we would become overwhelmed and give up.  But graciously He gives us the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin, empower us to fight it and when we begin to live by His strength and overcome it, He takes us to the next battle front.

My new battlefront is selfishness and possessiveness of this tiny baby girl.  Children are indeed a treasure from the Lord (Ps 123.7).  They are a blessing, a gift, and a joy.  They also provide heartache, pain and uncertainty.  But fundamentally, they are not ours.  They are God’s and He has entrusted parents as stewards of them.

We learn quite quickly, at least on a superficial level, that everything we have is God’s and that lesson is usually focused on finances:

“What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

The church at Corinth was caught up in an internal battle arguing over which teacher was the greatest and factions were forming accordingly.  Paul spoke out against this sin, encouraging even those who claimed to follow him to be humble and remember the Gospel.  Nothing that they had, no Spiritual insight or wisdom was of themselves – he said – but only a gift from God.  This reality is true about everything.  Everything in the world is God’s, and He has given of His abundance to us as stewards to care for and utilize everything unto His glory and honor.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.”

– Ps 24.1

This includes not only our physical possessions, our faith, and our Spiritual gifts and abilities – but children.  My daughter is God’s.  He has given me the remarkable privilege and responsibility to function in the role as her mother, but she is not mine, she is God’s.  He knew her before He formed her in my womb.  He has a perfect plan for her entire life.  He knit her together and He loves her more than I ever can or will.  He knows the hairs on her head, and He knows every single thing she will ever think, feel and experience.  She is His.

That is a difficult thing for a FTM to remember.  Yes, it is good and wise to set up relational and emotional boundaries.  Just because I am a steward and not an “owner” does not mean that everyone has equal say and equal access to my daughter.  I have been charged to protect and care for her, to teach her the truths of God, to love her.  But it also means I die to myself and get up in the middle of the night to feed her – even when I am exhausted – and I allow friends and family to enjoy her and be part of her life.  It means we partner with the Church to commit to raising her up in the ways of the Lord.  It means my husband has parenting rights and together we bring her before God and surrender her to Him and to His plan.  It means we trust God for today and for her future.

Fighting the battle of selfishness and control means fighting the fight of faith.  It means dying to self in order to trust God.  Martin Luther said it well:

“Faith honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard since it considers him truthful and trustworthy. There is no other honor equal to the estimate of truthfulness and righteousness with which we honor him whom we trust . . . When the soul firmly trusts God’s promises, it regards him as truthful and righteous, and whatever else should be ascribed to God. The very highest worship of God is this, that we ascribe to him truthfulness, righteousness, and whatever else should be ascribed to one who is trusted.”

– Martin Luther

What do you have today over which you boast, or on which you base your confidence?  What do you have today that you claim as your own, that you seek to control, that you hold too tightly?  Let us remember that nothing we have – no financial success, no skill or ability, no wisdom or social status, no relationship and no child – nothing we have was not given to us.  Everything is God’s, and He has given us access and ability to utilize all of those things to glorify Him and to make much of Him.  Let us therefore seek to surrender all of those things to Him.  Let us remember that He is sovereign over all of them.  Let us trust Him and His plan, and fight the fight of faith – thus laying hold of eternal life.

“Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

– 1 Tim 6.12

Advertisements

Preach the Gospel [to yourself] every day.

Jesus

One of the most influential teachers in the history of Christianity is Marin Luther.  He spearheaded the reformation of the church by defying the Pope and proclaiming the heresy of indulgences (purchasing favor with God by money).  He was born to a nominally religious family, baptized as an infant into the catholic faith, and raised with the highest education so that he could become a lawyer.  After nearly being struck by lightning, he called out for help to Saint Anna and promised to become a monk if he survived, and later felt obligated to fulfill that vow.  He thus dropped out of law school and entered an Augustinian monastery.  He was drawn to philosophy and was troubled over the afterlife and spent much of his time trying to understand and prepare Himself for eternity.  He described his time in the monastery as a time of deep spiritual despair:

“I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.”

After two years he was appointed to the priesthood, and then he began teaching theology, spending his entire career at the University of Wittenberg.  While he was there, he became convicted of the Gospel found within the Scripture – that faith is by grace alone through faith alone, and that the catholic church was not only a wrong application of the Scriptures, but that through deceiving the public with ideas like indulgences was actually a false prophet.  Luther went so far as to declare the pope the antichrist.

Luther had a passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and making the Bible accessible to everyone.  While hiding for his life in exile, he translated the entire New Testament from Greek into German so that people could read the Word on their own and know Christ personally.  He also preached the Gospel for the salvation of people, every week at church, because he perceived that his congregation was not grasping the weight of it and being transformed.  But most influentially, in contrast to today where pastors and leaders are continually falling into sin, Martin Luther lived a life devoted to Jesus Christ and wrote (as an example for us) that he needed to preach the gospel to himself every day.

Preach the gospel to yourself every day.

If you grew up in the church, the story of Jesus dying on the cross and raising again three days later might be very familiar to you.  Occasionally there are efforts made to renew the reality and grotesque nature of the cross like “The Passion of the Christ” which came out some eleven years ago.  And while we teach the story and the Gospel to our children so that they can recite the key points as toddlers, we must always remember that our eternity rests in this single historic event.  Were it not for Jesus and the cross, we would be left dead in our trespasses trying to earn our salvation and appease God through sacrifice and ritual.

The Gospel is the pivotal point in history, to which all things before it pointed and on which all things after rely.  We must never grow tired of the Gospel.

If we would follow Martin Luther’s example of preaching the Gospel to ourselves every day, we would avoid many of the temptations and sins of the flesh.  If every morning we would remind ourselves that we are sinful and worthy of death and damnation before God, we would hate our sin and run from it.  If we would wake up considering that Jesus gave His life and unity with God so that we could be forgiven, we would praise Him and worship Him with our entire being throughout the day.  If we would remember that He offered forgiveness and relationship with God by His life, death and resurrection, we would be quick to die to ourselves and to forgive one another their offenses because we would understand that no offense we have suffered is as great as our offense against Jesus.  If we would remember His resurrection and promise of eternity, we would live with a focus on eternal treasures and not for those which moth and rust destroy.

Do you believe the Gospel?  Does your hope rest fully in the person and work of Jesus Christ?  Are you dying to your flesh, and living for eternity?  If not, preach the Gospel to yourself today.  Instead of using the normal Roman’s Road or gap presentation which offers salvation to anyone who would believe, put your name in those verses and phrases.  For the wages of my sin is death.  But God so loved me that He gave His only begotten son.  If I will call upon the name of the Lord I will be saved.  Now, these promises are given to the world and all who believe – do not twist the scriptures to believe that this is primarily about you (because it is primarily about God and His glory).  But it is indeed the greatest act of love that Jesus laid down His life for you and for your eternity.  Therefore, preach the Gospel to yourself today, let it humble you and transform how you make decisions.  Let it set your focus on Jesus and eternity.

“But know that to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend.…If you do not find yourself among the needy and the poor, where the Gospel shows us Christ, then you may know that your faith is not right, and that you have not yet tasted of Christ’s benevolence and work for you.”

– Martin Luther

Why Should I Obey?

river of life

Have you bought into the lie that since we are saved by grace through faith, it makes no difference what we do?  Or are you still living with the notion that you are a pretty good person and if you are good enough God will let you into Heaven when you die?  Grace and obedience often get muddied in the fields of our hearts because we struggle to focus on God, who is outside of us, but constantly revert to focusing on ourselves.  We look in, not up.  So grace either gives us freedom to do whatever we want to do, or we want to prove ourselves and make ourselves worthy of our own salvation.

Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, grappled with this very question, and answered it quite profoundly:

Although I am an unworthy and condemned man, my God has given me in Christ all the riches of righteousness and salvation without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes that this is true. Why should I not therefore freely, joyfully, with all my heart, and with an eager will do all things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to such a Father who has overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches?

– Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian

Grace has given us salvation that we do not and cannot deserve.  We will never be good enough to earn or merit salvation by our actions, because we are wicked from the core.  All have sinned, and any sin is enough to separate us from God for eternity.  Remember Adam and Eve?  But yet, by grace God has provided a way for us to be saved, by the work of Jesus Christ and not of ourselves.  Our response to being given such a glorious gift is to freely and joyfully do those things that make Him happy.  Not out of a spirit of requirement but out of a desire to please our Heavenly father.

Jesus takes the conversation a step farther, however, to say that it is indeed the mark of the one who has been saved by grace to obey (Matt 7.15-20), and James states quite clearly that faith which has no works is dead:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

– James 2.14-17

Obedience does not save us.  But if we do not obey, we prove ourselves to have never been saved.  Obedience is the mark of those who have been saved.  Not out of obligation, but out of joyful response to a loving Father.  Does your faith have works?  Is there an outpouring of grace that has been poured into you?  Do you have a river of life flowing out of you from God and to others?

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

– John 7.38

It will be lost.

lose

Have you tried to live life in your own strength, on your own accomplishments?  Have you succeeded?  Have you failed?  We live in a unique society and time in history when people who are willing to work actually have a shot at worldly success simply by means of skill and effort.  Yes, nepotism still exists, and yes, many jobs and promotions are found by who you know, but the average Joe Shmoe does have some opportunity.

But even if you have achieved all of your earthly goals, are you satisfied?  Are you fulfilled?

For who regards you as superior?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

– 1 Cor 4.7

Everything that we have is from the Lord.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  The successes, the failures, the relationships and the loneliness.  Even so, we regularly evaluate one another by our jobs, appearance, etiquette, possessions and social class.  We forget so quickly that everything that exists on this Earth belongs to God, and He has asked us to be stewards of it and to love one another.

Scripture is clear that if we belong to God, He will do whatever it takes to achieve within us righteousness.  That is why God often warns His people “watch out”, and gives consequences for specific sins.  Everyone knows the old Proverb, “prides comes before the fall” (Prov 16.18).  Most Christians also know the terrifying warnings of Hebrews that if we continue sinning after coming to understand the Gospel, there is no hope for us (Heb 6.4-6).  Jesus also dynamically teaches that:

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

– Matt 16.25

What a dichotomy and difficult teaching:  if you want to save your life, you have to loses it for the sake of Christ.  If you try to save your life on your own strength, you will ultimately lose it.  But you have to come to peace with losing it in Christ and for Christ in order to find it!  We all want to save our lives, and that is the primary motivation in coming to Christ:  we do not want to go to Hell and suffer the punishment for our sins!  But we must mature beyond that point to loving Christ and giving up our lives for Him.  If we do not, we will lose our lives, no doubt about it.

Martin Luther said it best from his momentary experience on Earth, and found it to be eternally true in his death:

“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

– Martin Luther

Place your life, your children, your finances, your job, your everything in Christ’s hands today.  Because the reality is that He is in control and already has hold over it, and whatever you try to cling on to you will lose.  It is all His.  And do not boast in what you have, but use it to serve Him and the Church and to make much of Him.

Happy Reformation Day!

95 theses

Four hundred and ninety seven years ago today, Martin Luther forever changed Christianity.  The Catholic Church had grown increasingly corrupt and had defiled the Gospel to the point that they instructed people not to read the Scriptures on their own (the Scriptures were not even translated to a language they could understand), they were selling indulgences to the congregation promising their followers that for the right price their sins could be forgiven and the sins of their dead relatives atoned so that they could pass out of purgatory into Heaven, and that they had to observe and practice penance for salvation.

After wrestling with his own salvation, Martin Luther was convicted that these practices were unbiblical and heretical, and he wrote ninety five points dealing specifically with where and how the Church was in error and nailed this document to the front door of the All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Saxony on Oct 31, 1517.

Here, for your contemplating pleasure, is the list he so famously penned, which led to the protestant reformation and doctrine as we know it today:

  1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
  3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.
  4. The penalty, therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.
  6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.
  7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.
  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
  9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
  10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.
  11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.
  12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
  13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.
  14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.
  15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.
  17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.
  18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.
  19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.
  20. Therefore by “full remission of all penalties” the pope means not actually “of all,” but only of those imposed by himself.
  21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;
  22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.
  23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.
  24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.
  25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.
  26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.
  27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].
  28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.
  29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.
  30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.
  31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.
  32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.
  33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;
  34. For these “graces of pardon” concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.
  35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.
  36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.
  37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.
  38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.
  39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.
  40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].
  41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.
  42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.
  43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;
  44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.
  45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.
  46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.
  47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.
  48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.
  49. Christians are to be taught that the pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.
  50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.
  51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope’s wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.
  52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.
  53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.
  54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.
  55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope. grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.
  57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.
  59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
  60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ’s merit, are that treasure;
  61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.
  62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
  63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
  65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.
  66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.
  67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.
  68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.
  69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.
  70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.
  71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!
  72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!
  73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.
  74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.
  75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness.
  76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.
  77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.
  78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.
  79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.
  80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.
  81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.
  82. To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”
  83. Again: — “Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”
  84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul’s own need, free it for pure love’s sake?”
  85. Again: — “Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?”
  86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”
  87. Again: — “What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?”
  88. Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”
  89. “Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?”
  90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.
  91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.
  92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!
  93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
  94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;
  95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.

In the Thick of Foes

storm

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.  At the end all his disciples deserted him.  On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers.  For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God.  So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.  There is his commission, his work.  ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

Good Works: Who has them?

“[God] has always commanded that there be a life of obedience to vindicate the reality of faith which unites us to God as our righteousness.”

– John Piper

It’s the age-old debate: faith verses works.  The Protestant Reformation began primarily by the personal study and salvation of Martin Luther.  He knew his own sinfulness and wrestled with the doctrines being taught within the Church, primarily that of the indulgences:  forgiveness of sin that was purchasable.  He began reading the Bible, and he came to understand salvation by grace alone.  He sparked the Reformation in 1517 by nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, Saxony.   John Calvin, John Wycliffe and other forefathers of the faith also helped to spearhead the study and application of Scripture directly and individually within the Church.

Martin Luther so believed in the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone that he sought to have the book of James removed from the Bible.  Why?  Because James speaks so directly and bluntly to the necessity of obedience, using extremely bold language:

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

– James 2.24

James argues that Abraham was justified in being willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice on the altar (James 2.21).  But Paul builds the foundation of his theology on grace.  God’s working of forgiveness apart from anything that we can do:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

How can these two work together?  How can James say that a man is justified by works and Paul say that a man is justified by faith?

First we must define some terms.  Justification.  What does that mean?  Justification is the theological, judicial term that simply means our debt has been paid, our punishment is satisfied, we are forgiven.  People erroneously simplify the doctrine, and make a play on words stating that justification is making it “just as if I had never sinned”.  The reason that this is inadequate is because our sin is not erased.  Our sin is forgiven!  Jesus paid the punishment on the cross.  All sin will be or has been punished – either in Jesus on the cross, or on the offender in eternity in Hell.  No sin is wiped away without punishment.

The punishment of the sin of the believer happened when Jesus died on the cross.

So how is it, then, that one is counted just before God?  Here is where the tension arises.  Paul says through faith, James says through works.

The second factor that we need to consider is the audience and intention of each author.  Paul wrote specifically to an audience that would seek to earn their salvation through their works.  James was writing to an audience that cheapened grace by thinking that since they were covered by grace it did not matter what they did.  That is why, at face value, it appears as though the apostles contradict one another.  But if we dig in to the meat of what they are saying, we realize that they would argue the same point:  That faith is a gift and is the saving factor, but the one who is saved acts in obedience and holiness:

“But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.'”

– James 2.18

James and Paul would both never separate the two.  A person who has been justified has been set free from slavery to sin, and set free to obedience – or works.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

– Eph 2.10

Another theological term which defines part of salvation is sanctification:  The progressive growing of the believer in obedience and holiness or godliness, which is culminated at our death is glorification – that moment when we leave our sinful bodies and receive our new and perfect bodies and are made completely holy before God.

Justification always leads to sanctification.  If someone believes, cognitively, that Jesus paid the punishment for sin and offers salvation to those who would believe, this alone is not enough for salvation.  As James says, “You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2.19).  It is the transforming work of grace by which the believer has died to sin and lives to righteousness (Rom 6).  James and Paul just worded their arguments differently to impact a different audience.  But the point is the same.  Faith is the foundation.  And works are the outpouring of faith.  If you do not have works, clearly your faith is not saving faith – but of the same type that demons have.

“God has not taught, does not teach nor will He ever teach that eternal life has been based on and merited by anybody’s good needs.  Nevertheless he has always, does now and always will teach that good deeds are a necessary demonstration of the validity and authenticity of faith that unites us to Jesus our righteousness on the basis of whom we are saved.”

– John Piper

Let us acknowledge our sinfulness and inability to please God in and of ourselves through works.  Let us trust Jesus’ saving work on the cross and embrace salvation through faith alone, by grace alone.  And let us live our lives in response to that amazing gift.  Let us die to sin, live to righteousness, and seek to honor God – who would love us enough to send His son to die in our place.  Let us not continue to place Jesus on the cross through sinning, but let us love Him through obedience!

Perhaps Martin Luther, who started all of this conversation, said it best:

“We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”