Sunday, January 15, 2012

that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom...

I would hope that every Lutheran would have more than a passing familiarity with the genius of Luther's Small Catechism (not necessarily including all the added material which supplements Luther's words).  I find his explanations growing more and more profound the more I teach the catechism and the older I get.  Nowhere is that more true than in his answers to the "What does this mean" of the Creed.

There are phrases that literally jump out at you.  "All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me..."  or "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him..." or "not with silver or gold but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death..."

It strikes me though that we are not fully comfortable with some of what Luther says.  We are less comfortable with the parts that deal with our response:  "For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him..." or "that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness..."  We are thankful for all that God does but we resist the idea that we have a duty as Christians to respond with more than thanks and praise.  It is that serve and obey part that we wrestle with.  In the same way, we are delighted in what it has cost God to make us His own but we are not so delighted in the living under Him and serving Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness part.  I speak here not to others but from the perspective of my own stubborn heart and will.

We want to be God's as long as being God's does not conflict with our lifestyle.  We want to belong to the Lord as long as belonging to the Lord does not mean we have to restrain our tongue or restrain our quick judgements of others.  We want to receive what He has to offer us -- born of His sacrificial suffering and death -- but we find it a stretch to aspire to or reach for the saintly lives that befit that identity and calling as the children of God  by baptism and faith.

I speak as a Lutheran and to Lutherans.  Holiness of life, charity in judgement, and knowing when something is neither beneficial nor helpful to say are not our strong points.  I tell myself all the time the same old tired excuses that justify all our failures -- what do you expect, I am still a sinner... I am no worse than others and better than some... we are saved by grace and not by works...

Why is it that the law under the wrong motivation is capable of getting from us more than the Gospel can get using the right motivation?  Now, don't throw all the theology at me here.  This is not a theological question.  It is a question of desire.  Some of us say in the confession "forgive us, renew us and lead us... that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name..."  I struggle with the part that follows "forgive us..."  It is the renewal and following part that is uncomfortable to me... It is the delight in His will and the walking in His ways that remains a struggle...

Paul McCain has often lamented that we are too comfortable preaching justification and not so comfortable preaching sanctification.  He gets no argument from me.  I know it not simply as a preacher but as a hearer.  Yet this is the essential weakness that often speaks more loudly than the proclamation of our lips.  We do not aspire to sainthood or, at least, not at the cost of fitting in with the world and its expectations and values.  The desire to live saintly lives and Pharisaism do not go hand in hand.  To be a sinner, forgiven by our gracious God, and content to live within the familiar ruts of our sinfulness is a hypocrisy far greater than forgiven sinners who fail in their high goals and expectations of holiness and righteous living.

While it does not surprise me that Christians divorce, abort, engage in pre- and extra-marital sex, cheat, lie, covet, and consume in equal numbers with the unbelievers, it does surprise me that we are comfortable or that we have found our miserable peace with this contradiction.  I am under no illusions about our success ratio but I also know that there will no success without desire and effort to become the people God has declared us to be.

Just a few thoughts about my own personal struggle to live out what my lips profess....


Anonymous said...

Justification is a gift from God.
Sanctification is also a gift from
our God. We can not produce the
fruit of the Spirit without a generous intake of the means of grace
through Word and Sacrament.

When Christians ignore the preaching
and teaching of the Word and avoid
the Eucharist, then the Holy Spirit
can not produce the sanctified life
in them.

Steve said...

Well put and well, um, ouch. I struggle the same way. I can't even say that my "wanter" really wants and that my "doer" just doesn't get it. They're both pretty sad.

Thanks for the post,

Anonymous said...

"While it does not surprise me that Christians divorce, abort, engage in pre- and extra-marital sex, cheat, lie, covet, and consume in equal numbers with the unbelievers, it does surprise me that we are comfortable or that we have found our miserable peace with this contradiction."

This is not true. We should not naively take the spin doctors at their word.

Consider how social science researchers come up with their statistics with regard to the behavior of Christians, atheists, etc. Pretty much all of the researchers use a massive longitudinal database called the General Social Survey (GSS). All data are self reported. The next time you read an article that claims that there is a new study in which researchers have found x, look to see if the GSS is mentioned as the data source. It often is.

When using the GSS, one can choose different variables and then check to see the way people who answer yes to question A subsequently answer other questions. Now, in this vast data set, there are several variables relating to religion. One asks whether one believes. This is the one most often used and is misleading based on the limited scope of the one variable. However, there is another variable relating to how often an adherent actually attends services. This less often used variable often shows that those who actually attend services have much better social adjustment and lower rates of social pathology.

So, my point is that while the data are there and technically researchers are not lying about the data, they also are not making a good faith effort in some cases to use the data at their immediate disposal to give a clearer picture of the behavior of adherents.

Here is the GSS website:

The GSS variable for attendance is ATTEND

The GSS variable for belief is GOD

Janis Williams said...

May I say something as a former Baptist? I grew up hearing either Law only sermons, or usually Law, Gospel, Law. Lettuce sermons (Let us go and do....) don't work either.

The rate of abortion, divorce, extramarital sex are about the same in denominations who do not rightly distinguish Law and Gospel. All the moral peccadilloes we stuggle with are the same.

The difference? I think it might be catechesis. Not just for our young people, but for our adults.

I don't know how to get adult "wanters" focused on Witness, Mercy and Life Together. Diagnosis is easy. Cure is not.