Saturday, June 5, 2010

God's YES makes possible our NO

Although I have touched upon this a thousand times in different ways in sermons across the years, I think that one of the major failings of the way we frame the Gospel is that we forget it is God's YES (the Gospel) that makes possible our NO (to sin, ungodliness, unrighteousness, and evil).  The force of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a liberating force but too often what is liberated is exactly what Christ died for -- selfishness, self-indulgence, self-will, and self-pleasure.  What God has done with His YES in the Gospel is to make possible our NO -- something apart from Jesus Christ we have no power to do.  Oh, yes, to be sure, we can say "no" but not as people who no longer want or desire what is wrong.  We say "no" as a people who fear being caught or exposed or punished for desiring what is wrong.  This is the force and power of the Law.  But the force and power of the Gospel is to create within us the desire for what is right and the desire to say "no" to the heart, mind, and will that desire what is wrong, what is evil, what is ungodly, and what is unrighteous.

The Gospel is God's YES and it is the powerful liberating force that releases sinners from their captivity, from their bondage to sin, and from the result of that sin, namely, death.  But we renounce sin not with the yes of the will to God (decision theology) but with the fruit of the Spirit who eases our resistance to the Father's will reflected in Jesus Christ.  The Spirit works in us to receive His care -- the ultimate of that care being our redemption through Him who took upon Himself all our sin, unrighteousness, punishment, and death.  This is manifest not primarily by our YES to the things of God but by our NO -- no to sin, no to self, no to evil, no to unrighteousness, and no to wrong.

If all you want to do is to reign in behavior, the commandments, the fear of being caught, and the fear of being punished are much more effective and efficient than the Gospel.  But if you want to change the desire of the heart against God and the things of God, the Law is powerless.  It can put boundaries along the side of the path to keep us on that path but it cannot make us want to get where that path is going.  Only the Gospel can do this.

The Gospel works not simply by teaching us to say yes to the things of God but to say no to the things of sin, rebellion, the devil, our flesh, and death.  The power of this NO is not to be underestimated.  I noticed that on Christmas Eve we hear the words of St. Paul from Titus 2:11-14 -- at the very time we tend to indulge ourselves we hear the call to NO... to renounce what is evil and wrong and to live self-controlled lives...  In other words, if the manger and cross and empty tomb are God's YES, the fruit of that YES in our lives, is this NO to sin, to unrighteousness, and to self-indulgence... and to live self-controlled lives. 

It is certainly something heard less among many Christian clergy and churches who more or less glorify the desires of our hearts by teaching us how to get what we want from God and from this life -- there is not much "no" in this proclamation.  We love it, though, since we would prefer a God who does what we want than to renounce our wills and trust in His.  But such a Gospel is ultimately a fake Gospel that offers us nothing at all.  Its empty promise is certain to disappoint us sooner or later but the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ will deliver to us more than our minds can imagine. 

God's YES makes possible our NO... now that is something to think about...


Anonymous said...

And I thought about it for almost three days, “Should I, or shouldn’t I respond to this?” Finally, I decided I had to. Not to would be to betray the Gospel – the Gospel with which our merciful God has fed me, when it was nowhere to be found. Having written “fed me with the Gospel,” I recognize that this is a metaphorical expression. In the same way “the force of the Gospel,” or even the “power of the Gospel,” as St. Paul writes in Romans 1:16, are metaphorical expressions, just as “the power of the cross” and “the power of the resurrection” which St. Paul also uses. Therefore, the force of the Gospel cannot be either liberating or anything else, because in reality there is no such force or power. Our Lord told His disciples that they would receive “power” (Acts 1:8), and subsequent events and arguments in the writings of the Apostles make it clear that this power comes from the Holy Spirit. So the only real, non-metaphorical power we know is the power of God. Therefore, it is not “His YES in the Gospel” that makes our “NO” possible, but the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in every one of God’s children. For, as St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”

It is not the Gospel that “releases sinners from their captivity …” neither does the Holy Spirit simply “ease(s) our resistance to the Father's will” or “works in us to receive His care;” He makes us new creatures – children of God – in the waters of Baptism. The old is drowned in these waters, and a new, living person rises out of these waters, one in whom the Lord, the Holy Spirit, lives in His fullness. About this new creature St. Paul speaks in Col. 1:13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

So often among Lutherans, the lengthy process of sanctification is interwoven with the one time event of becoming a member of the Kingdom of God. As a result we fail to understand just what our merciful Father planned for us when He sent His Son to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom, and then to pay the awful price to “open the Kingdom to all believers.”

According to Scripture and our Confessions, by being born again of water and the Spirit, God has changed the desires of our hearts. Both Scripture and our Confessions also clearly teach that this rebirth has not made us perfect with regard to our obedience to God’s will. But the new nature God’s children have received in Baptism wants them to conform their behavior to the will of God. Hearing the Gospel, loving it, and reminding ourselves of it, are part of the life long process of sanctification. One of the reasons why God has placed us in His Kingdom, in the Church, is so that from childhood to old age the servants of God, parents, nannies, siblings, teachers, pastors, friends, co-workers, supervisors, husbands and wives can edify, that is, build up one another for the doing of good works, not to speak of going to church and being literally fed by our Lord. As we “grow in the faith”, and learn the true meaning of the Gospel, we become more and more confident and joyful, knowing that God will not love us less, or judge us if we do not say “NO” to sin as often as we should. As He said in so many places in Scripture, but I chose to quote this one passage, Jeremiah 31:34, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Rev. Allen Yount said...

"Therefore, the force of the Gospel cannot be either liberating or anything else, because in reality there is no such force or power."


"For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).

Rev. Allen Yount
-+-Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio Faciunt Theologum-+