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Luther’s Ministry to His Mother

Luther is known as a bold reformer. What is often missed is his pastoral heart and compassionate approach to people. In this post, there are two letters that open a window into his love and care for his mother on her death bed.

“My dearly beloved Mother! I have received my brother James’s letter concerning your illness. Of course this grieves me deeply, especially because I cannot be with you in person, as I certainly would like to be. All your children and my Katie pray for you; some weep.”

“Dear Mother, you also know the true center and foundation of your salvation from whom you are to seek comfort in this and all troubles, namely, Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. He will not waver or fail us, nor allow us to sink or perish, for he is the Savior and is called the Savior of all poor sinners, and of all who are caught in tribulation and death, and rely on him, and call on his name. The Father and God of all consolation grant you, through his holy Word and Spirit, a steadfast, joyful, and grateful faith blessedly to overcome this and all other trouble.”

 

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Sin is like Addiction

Gerhard Forde wrote a challenging piece on sin and addiction in his book, On Being a Theologian of the Cross. The entire section below is from the book.

“As sinners we are like addicts – addicted to ourselves and our own projects. The theology of glory simply seeks to give those projects eternal legitimacy. The remedy for the theology of glory, therefore, cannot be encouragement and positive thinking, but rather the end of the addictive desire. Luther says it directly: “The remedy for curing desire does not lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it.” So we are back to the cross, the radical intervention, end of the life of the old and the beginning of the new.

Since the theology of glory is like addiction and not abstract doctrine, it is a temptation over which we have no control in and of ourselves, and from which we must be saved. As with the addict, mere exhortation and optimistic encouragement will do no good. It may be intended to build up character and self-esteem, but when the addict realizes the impossibility of quitting, self-esteem degenerates all the more. The alcoholic will only take to drinking in secret, trying to put on the facade of sobriety. As theologians of glory we do much the same. We put on a facade of religious propriety and piety and try to hide or explain away or coddle our sins….

As with the addict there has to be an intervention, an act from without. In treatment of alcoholics some would speak of the necessity of ‘bottoming out,’ reaching the absolute bottom where one can no longer escape the need for help. Then it is finally evident that the desire can never be satisfied, but must be extinguished. In matters of faith, the preaching of the cross is analogous to that intervention. It is an act of God, entirely from without. It does not come to feed the religious desires of the Old Adam and Eve but to extinguish them. They are crucified with Christ to be made new.”

― Gerhard O. FordeOn Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518

The Church is a Community of the Cross

John Stott wrote a well known book on The Cross of Christ, in it he speaks about the cross as the shape and focus of the church. The strands he pulls from in the quote below are helpful for centering our understanding of the body of believers on the cross.

“The Christian community is a community of the cross, for it has been brought into being by the cross, and the focus of its worship is the Lamb once slain, now glorified. So the community of the cross is a community of celebration, a eucharistic community, ceaselessly offering to God through Christ the sacrifice of our praise and thanksgiving. The Christian life is an unending festival. And the festival we keep, now that our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us, is a joyful celebration of his sacrifice, together with a spiritual feasting upon it.”

 

The Mechanics of Hope

Hope. Equal to faith, second only to love (1 Cor 13:13). This interior dimension to our existence is crucial. I have underestimated its importance in my experience, the lives of others and my theology. To put it another way, hopelessness is alive and well. I know its insidious power in my own soul and I see it in those around me. Hope is a need. It’s on the same footing as faith. Just as I need faith, I need hope. You do too.

There are many entry points to a discussion on hope from Scripture, I have chosen one verse that opens a window into its source and even its mechanics. The text is Romans 15:13. In the context Paul is urging both Jew and Gentile to welcome one another based upon the hospitality of God in Christ…the good news of a Savior for all, without distinction. In that flow comes this prayer for all Roman believers.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

There are a number of observations that can be made from this passage on hope…all very important for both our thinking and experience. We need hope. We know hopelessness. This is God’s word to us on the source of our hope and the means of experiencing it.

  • The God of hope is the source of all hope. The Trinity is by nature hope-giving. This is critical to any and all discussions on hope—it all ultimately flows from God himself. We would do well to think through how each person of the Trinity is committed and passionate in providing us hope.
  • Joy and peace are connected to hope as the experience that flows from the God of hope. The text makes this link clear, where there is hope there is also joy and peace.
  • Believing is the mechanism that connects us to hope. In the context, it is a believing of the gospel of hope found in Scripture that ultimately links us to the God of hope.
  • The Holy Spirit is explicitly identified as the power of hope, the one who brings the experience of hope within. He is the one who connects us to our objective hope without, that is Christ himself and the gospel we believe.
  • Abounding in hope is the result of the text, it is the aim of the God of hope for us as we believe the gospel of hope which is worked into us by the Spirit of hope.

The Divine Definition of Excellence

Andreas Kostenberger wrote a book on Excellence in scholarship. He argues that a theology of God’s excellence is the foundation of any practical theology of excellence. His thoughts are very helpful and challenging. I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on what he suggests here. A link to the first chapter of the book is included below.

God is the grounds of all true excellence. He is the one who fills any definition of excellence with meaning, and he is the reason why we cannot be content with lackluster mediocrity, halfhearted effort, or substandard scholarship. Excellence starts and ends with God and is first and foremost a hallmark and attribute of God. Without God as our starting point and continual frame of reference, our discussion of excellence would be hopelessly inadequate.

Systematic theologies generally do not list “excellence” as one of God’s attributes. For this reason it may appear at first glance that excellence is not all that important. This conclusion would be premature, however, for excellence can be viewed as an overarching divine attribute that encompasses all the others. Everything God is and does is marked by excellence. Wayne Grudem discusses God’s summary attributes of perfection, blessedness, beauty, and glory as “attributes that summarize his excellence.”

Perfection indicates that “God lacks nothing in his excellence.” Blessedness points to the fact that “God takes pleasure in everything in creation that mirrors his own excellence.” Beauty is a reflection of God’s excellence, and “God’s glory is something that belongs to him alone and is the appropriate outward expression of his own excellence.”6 Understanding excellence as an all-encompassing attribute of God also means that the concept is not exhausted by the word “excellence.” Other descriptions of the uniqueness, greatness, glory, or perfection of God are pertinent as well.

As we have seen, God truly excels in the sense that he stands out from all the rest. His excellence is evident in his unmatched superiority to everyone and everything else. Because God is the proper standard of excellence, we should not measure our achievements by comparing ourselves with others. Our pursuit of excellence should not take place in the kind of competitive spirit according to which only few can participate and where in the end there is only one winner. Since we are all created in God’s image, everyone can be truly excellent. God is unique, and we are made uniquely in his image as distinct creatures. We can each achieve excellence as we are increasingly fulfilling the potential God has built into us.

Since excellence, then, is an all-encompassing attribute of God, and since we are exhorted in Scripture to imitate God, having been made in his likeness, excellence should mark our lives as his children, extending both to who we are (our character and our relationships) and what we do (our work or vocation). Excellence should characterize every thought we have, every paper we write, every relationship we pursue, every assignment we undertake, and every word we speak (see, e.g., Matt. 12:36–37; Eph. 4:29; James 3:1–12). Excellence should describe our lives in their totality and encompass every area of our lives, no matter how large or small.

http://static.crossway.org/excerpt/excellence/excellence-download.pdf

 

The Remedy for Fear

If there is one thing that should strike fear in a heart it is the certainty of divine judgment and the potential of eternal punishment. In a sane person every other fear bows to this great terror. Accountability in the face of omniscience and holiness is a sobering reality.

The gospel of God is tremendous news as it drives to the heart of this deep concern. Judgment day is ripped out of the future and brought into the present when Christ goes to the cross in our stead. The cross is the courtroom. The verdict is condemnation for Jesus and righteousness for us. This is the gospel. He was our substitute. Judgement has happened.

Love motivated this saving work. It is God’s love that dispels all fear and replaces it with joyful confidence. Hear what John says about the matter in his first letter.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:16-19).

Fear is the prey of love. There is no peaceful co-existence between the two. Love attacks, fear runs. How mighty is the love of God! It assaults our fear and instills us with confidence for the day we fear most.

The love of God ensures that punishment is not in our future. His love is a static reality, it is fixed and unmoving. The cross stands as the objective reminder of God’s enduring love. Our grasp of that love, however, is often unstable and moving.

This is why John articulates the need to be “perfected” in our grasp of God’s love for us. The idea of perfection here is development, maturity or completion. As we grow into our grasp of God’s love in Christ our confidence also increases.

We must always distinguish between objective reality and our subjective experience. There is no condemnation present or future for those in Christ, judgement day has happened. That is a fixed reality, whether I feel like it or not.

I waiver in my faith. I doubt God’s promises. I question God’s love. My obedience is flawed. I do not always feel confident about judgement day. These are all part of my subjective experiences of faith. I waiver and how I feel about the gospel and judgement day moves. This does not change the settled reality, it simply speaks to my interaction with it.

The goal: move the subjective experience closer and closer to the objective reality. Confidence in coming day of judgement is an indicator that the objective and subjective are converging.

Locating Joy: Fellowship with God

In the previous posts on joy we looked at the Triune God as the true source of all joy and the biblical theme of joy in God’s presence. The New Testament pushes us one more step in understanding the dynamic of joy. Take a look at 1 John 1:3-4.

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

The good news that John proclaims is the message that links people to the Triune God. Gospel trust leads to Triune fellowship. This is where joy is made complete. Of note, it is fellowship with the Father and the Son that completes our joy.

In other words, joy is experienced as we know relationship with the distinct persons of the Trinity. The ultimate gift of the gospel is God himself—he gives the fulness of himself to us. That means the Father gives himself, the Son gives himself, the Spirit gives himself.

When acted upon by God we experience the grace of the entire Trinity. The relationship that God creates through our redemption is marked by communion with the entire Trinity. As we engage all three persons, joy awaits.