Monday, April 22, 2013

Do you pray this?

I was taught by several that the answers to our questions are often found in the hymnal.  So, if you open the cover of Lutheran Service Book, you pray: ...open my heart to the preaching of Your Word so that I may repent of my sins, believe in Jesus Christ as my only Savior, and grow in grace and holiness... or again Grant me Your Holy Spirit that I may be ever watchful and live an dtrue and godly life in Your service... or again May Your Word pass from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the lip, and from the lip to the life that, as You have promised, Your Word may achieve the purpose for which you send it....

Of late the Lutheran blogosphere has erupted in conversation about sanctification. Some of the conversation has been heated.  It is related to the issue of the third use of the Law (the Law as guide to the good that we have been set free in Christ to do under the guidance and power of the Spirit).  Some Lutherans have come pretty close to denying the clear word of the Lutheran Confessions.  They seem to be saying that the Law only kills, and only the Gospel has a positive effect.  In effect, they are denying the third use of the Law (the use effective only for those whom God has already declared righteous in baptism and to whom He has imparted the Spirit working faith in their hearts).  This has created quite a stir.  On the other hand, there are those who speak of sanctification almost as the rehabilitation of the old man, the old dog, so to speak, learning new tricks in Christ.  They speak of the cooperation in this becoming holy as if there was some room to boast of our progress.

I am not intent on repeating everything here or attempting to fight anew this battle but in the venue of this arena.  What I am concerned about is that the huff has created an atmosphere in which we feel it is safe only to preach justification and to leave all the rest unsaid and up to the Spirit.  Such preaching would be clearly out of step with both our Lutheran forbearers and with the catholic and evangelical faith prior to the Reformation.  We must preach the whole counsel of God and this includes the preaching of sanctification -- NOT as the rehabilitation of the old man (for he has died in baptism) but as the birth of the new person created in Christ Jesus for good works that glorify God and show forth that faith is genuine.  There is a certain synergism here but not one in which we can credit ourselves for the progress.  We not are teaching the old dog new tricks.  We are becoming the people we have been declared to be in our baptism.  We are reaching forth with the new desire of the hearts made new for the good that is both our purpose and the fruit of Christ at work in us.  The same Jesus who justifies us sinners before God is the one who is at work in us so that we show forth His righteousness in our daily lives.  There is progress here (not one which we may chart or one for which we can take credit) but the Christian through the means of grace grows in grace and this has positive effect in our life and conversation.

To quote Luther:
This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness;
  not health, but healing;
  not being, but becoming;
  not rest, but exercise.
  We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way;
  the process is not yet finished, but it has begun;
  this is not the goal, but it is road;
  at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being purified.


To quote an Orthodox theologian (Schmemann) saying the same thing from the point of the liturgy:
"And the holiness of the Church is not our holiness, but Christ's, who loved the Church and gave Himself for her 'that He might sanctify her...that she might be holy and without blemish' (Eph 5:25-27). Likewise the holiness of the saints as well is but the revelation and the realization of that sanctification, that holiness that each of us received on the day of baptism, and in which we are called to increase. But we could not grow in it, if we did not already possess it as a gift of God, as his presence in us through the Holy Spirit." (Schmemann, Eucharist, pp. 23, 24)

It would seem that the big problem is how to talk about sanctification without talking about us, how to talk about sanctification without keeping a track record of our wins, and how to ascribe the cause and glory to Christ without letting ourselves off the hook for working to become the people God has said we are.  The answer is not a set of words or a formula but keeping the focus off ourselves and on to Christ.  There is no doubt that both justification and sanctification must be preached with the same vitality and conviction.  Love is not a job description.  The commandments have always laid forth the path of holy life.  Apart from Christ, it is the killing word that shouts our failure.  But in Christ it is the guiding word that shows us what this new life which Christ has given us is to look like.  The power and motive is not improvement of the old but the increase of the new as the old is being killed until that final day when it is fully gone and we close are eyes in this life to awaken in Christ for the life to come.

When I spoke of the single estate and of the call to holiness in this blog some days ago, I receive a number of personal emails thanking me for saying more than just "no" to the flesh.  These were from single folks who truly desired to live holy lives and yet in Church on Sunday morning they heard little of holy life (the calling of both single and married) and everything of the evils of sex apart from marriage.  It reminded me of how urgent the preaching of sanctification is.  The Christian witness cannot merely be no.  It must also be God's yes and in this respect the appeal to holiness and purity of life and conversation, to the good works we were created in Christ Jesus to do, and the new person we were raised up from the baptismal water to become.  What else are we to make of Christ's call to "Go and sin no more...?"

It would seem to me that what we have forgotten how to say from the pulpit has remained accessible to us in the hymnal.  From the cover and the prayers before and after worship to the words of the hymns themselves, we have a wonderful witness to the work of the Christ in me as well as the Christ for me.  Could it be that what preachers find hard to say in the pulpit is said with clarity and conviction in the prayers and hymns of the faith?  If so, when it is not clearly witnessed in the preaching, let us remember what is prayed and sung for this message of sanctification is no less the counsel of God and His Word than the justification we find so easy to speak...

1 O God, my faithful God,
True fountain ever flowing,
Without whom nothing is,
All perfect gifts bestowing:
Give me a healthy frame,
And may I have within
A conscience free from blame,
A soul unstained by sin.


2 Grant me the strength to do
With ready heart and willing
Whatever You command,
My calling here fulfilling;
That I do what I should
While trusting You to bless
The outcome for my good,
for You must give success.


3 Keep me from saying words
That later need recalling;
Guard me lest idle speech
May from my lips be falling;
But when within my place
I must and ought to speak,
Then to my words give grace
Lest I offend the weak.


4 Lord, let me win my foes
With kindly words and actions,
And let me find good friends
For counsel and correction.
Help me, as You have taught,
To love both great and small
And by Your Spirit's might
To live in peace with all.


5 Let me depart this life
Confiding in my Savior;
By grace receive my soul
That it may live forever;
And let my body have
A quiet resting place
Within a Christian grave;
And let it sleep in peace.


6 And on that final day
When all the dead are waking,
Stretch out Your mighty hand,
My deathly slumber breaking.
Then let me hear Your voice,
Redeem this earthly frame,
And bid me to rejoice
With those who love Your name.

You can follow some of the debate here...   and here...  and here....

10 comments:

David Gray said...

Excellent comments pastor!

infanttheology said...

Pastor Peters,

Thank you again for another wonderful post. I was thinking the same thing about the treasures within our hymnal as it relates to these questions.

If you have a bit of time, I would love for you to take a look at this new post I did and to comment on it as well.

http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/the-saint-sinner-christian-life-driving-out-the-sin-that-remains/

(a report on a conference up in Minnesota about legalism and antinomianism....)

+Nathan

Unknown said...


“…the third use of the Law (the use effective only for those whom God has already declared righteous in baptism and to whom He has imparted the Spirit working faith in their hearts).”

It continues to amaze me that we can look at clear contradictions and not notice them.

If you urge someone to pray “...open my heart to the preaching of Your Word so that I may repent of my sins, believe in Jesus Christ as my only Savior, and grow in grace and holiness...”, you have to think that person is not one of “those whom God has already declared righteous in baptism and to whom He has imparted the Spirit working faith in their hearts.”

Or would someone to whom “He has imparted the Spirit working faith in their hearts” pray “Grant me Your Holy Spirit”?

That is the real problem with Lutheranism today. We mouth pious contradictions, we do not see them when we look at them, and we deny them when faced with them.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Carl Vehse said...

Regarding the contradiction alleged in comment #3, perhaps the best construction would be to regard Rev. Peters' introduction to the LSB cover prayer, "I was taught by several that the answers to our questions are often found in the hymnal," to be referring to himself and other Christians, rather than to himself and other people, including nonChristians. This is reasonable given the title and the context of the subsequent dozen paragraphs.

However, given the same context, I would have changed the third sentence in the second paragraph to the more Lutheran assertion:

"It is related to the doctrine of the third use of the Law (the Law as guide to the good that we have been set free in Christ to do under the guidance and power of the Spirit)."

This would stand against the Lufauxran view that the third use of the Law is, at most, a pious opinon.

Unknown said...

Sorry, in my original posting, somehow the first paragraph disappeared. Here is the posting as it should have been:

“...open my heart to the preaching of Your Word so that I may repent of my sins, believe in Jesus Christ as my only Savior, and grow in grace and holiness... or again Grant me Your Holy Spirit that I may be ever watchful and live and true and godly life in Your service..”

“…the third use of the Law (the use effective only for those whom God has already declared righteous in baptism and to whom He has imparted the Spirit working faith in their hearts).”

It continues to amaze me that we can look at clear contradictions and not notice them.

If you urge someone to pray “...open my heart to the preaching of Your Word so that I may repent of my sins, believe in Jesus Christ as my only Savior, and grow in grace and holiness...”, you have to think that person is not one of “those whom God has already declared righteous in baptism and to whom He has imparted the Spirit working faith in their hearts.”

Or would someone to whom “He has imparted the Spirit working faith in their hearts” pray “Grant me Your Holy Spirit”?

That is the real problem with Lutheranism today. We mouth pious contradictions, we do not see them when we look at them, and we deny them when faced with them.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

There was no intention to question the Third Use of the Law. The question is does a baptized Christian need to pray, “…so that I may …, believe in Jesus Christ as my only Savior” and does the same baptized Christian, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells (Romans 8: 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.) need to pray, “Grant me Your Holy Spirit”?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Janis Williams said...

"I believe, help my unbelief."

That old man is in a battle to the death with the new man (in Christ). Won't be done till the old man finally expires either when we do, or on That Day.

Therefore, a Christian can truly pray "...believe in Jesus Christ as my only Savior." We cannot deny we are doubters full of 'un-faith'.

I think this is correct doctrine, but then, I've only been Lutheran (officially) five years.

Lutheran Lurker said...

Faith tested often wavers, yes, it is still saving faith but it is weak. Surely we would all agree that what is prayed for is stronger faith, able to endure trials, and able to resist temptation. The whole thing seems an apt place for the simil justus et peccator issue. We have been declared one thing by God but we are not a finished product in becoming what He said we are... I believe Pr Peters said that pretty much word for word elsewhere...

Unknown said...

Dear Janis Williams: In this case it is not a question of having one’s faith or belief strengthened but of having any faith at all. The tiniest bit of faith is saving faith, and I am not sure how we measure how great a person’s faith is. God can do it, because He is the one Who gives it to us in the first place.

The prayers to which I object make the believers sound like those who have not been regenerated at all, not like those who simply have a weak faith, as do we all. But even as God told St. Paul that He would not take away St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, so for us even our weak faith is sufficient for God’s purpose, because (2 Corinthians 12:9), “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And also (2 Cor. 5:4), “For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

Many years ago, when I took a new job in a new field, I shared my concerns about my ignorance with one of my co-workers. This very wise man told me, “It’s actually an advantage, because you will look at everything with new eyes.” In our faith, the “new eyes” are given to us by the Holy Spirit, Who is ultimately the Teacher who teaches us what Scripture means. Don’t think five years is a short time.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Susan said...

George, are you objecting to praying for things we already have? Do we not pray for what the Lord has promised? We pray for forgiveness even though we already have it. Can we not also pray for the Holy Spirit even though we already have been given Him?

Or is your objection to the Holy Spirit being given more than once? If you look at the Gospels, it seems that the Holy Spirit is given again and again. The apostles (although already believers) received the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. If you look at our liturgy, it's the same. The Spirit is given at baptism. The Spirit is given at confirmation. The Spirit is given at ordination. Really, when you think about it, the Spirit is given during every sermon, when God's Word is preached (because the Spirit and the Word always go together).

If the Spirit can't be given to those who already have Him, I'm not sure what we do with Luke 11:13, unless we resort to saying that unbelievers (in whom the Spirit has not worked faith) can pray for the Spirit.

Unknown said...

Susan: I think our Lord, when He walked this earth, was aware enough of the difficulty of the human condition that He would not charge us to pray for what He has already given us.

When our Lord taught His Disciples to pray, He said, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Now some people might think that their larders are full, so they will not have to shop for a week. But many people, including myself, have had a full larder in the morning and nothing in the evening, because of war, flood, fire and any number of other conditions. Therefore, our prayer for daily bread, even when we seem to have it, is for our Lord to preserve us and to provide for us, whatever the circumstances.

When we ask not to be led into temptation, is that for the day that has gone by, or for the day before us? The answer is obvious. It is the same with the petition between these two: God has forgiven us the sins of yesterday; we are asking to be forgiven for the sins we are going to commit “this day”. So we are not asking for something we already have.

As far as the Holy Spirit is concerned, He is not some substance which the Church gives out in bits and pieces as it deems fit. This is a Roman Catholic doctrine, which they hold in spite of the fact that they also believe in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity. He is a Person; you either have all of Him or none of Him. He comes to dwell in each one of the members of God’s Elect. Nowhere does Scripture teach that He comes to us more than once.

The Apostles did not receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They received Him on Easter Sunday when our risen Lord first appeared to them. On Pentecost he “came upon them” and gave them the power that our Lord had promised them in Acts 1:8. If you think I am just playing with words, please note how our Lord, on the evening before He began His suffering, differentiated between “with you” and “in you”, John 14: 16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

There is no single passage in Scripture that speaks of anyone receiving the Holy Spirit more than once. The only one that comes close is Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" However, different manuscripts show the following variant readings:
πνευμα αγιον (Holy Spirit) – 75, א, B, C, K, W, X, Δ, Π, Ψ, f1, f13, 28
πνευμα αγαθον (a good spirit) – L 1230 1253 1646, ℓ 4, ℓ 12, ℓ 15, ℓ 19, ℓ 69, ℓ 185, ℓ 211
δοματα αγαθα (good gifts)– Θ, ℓ 32m

The last of these variants, “good gifts” is the wording used in the parallel passage in Mathew 7:11, for which there is no record of variant readings. Therefore, this passage cannot be relied on to prove that anyone should ask to be given the Holy Spirit.

All of those passages in Acts, where it is written that they were “filled with the Holy Spirit”, do not imply that they were made full of the Holy Spirit at this time. The Greek tense makes it clear that a condition is described, not an action. Any believer can be said to be “full of the Spirit.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart