Showing posts from April, 2013

What’s Law Got to Do with It?

In explaining the Lutheran distinction between law and gospel last week , I made the claim that the law does not show us what we can do; it simply shows us what we ought to do. Since that is a controversial statement, further explanations are in order. It is easy, and even logical, to assume that if the law only tells us to do things we cannot do, the law is meaningless. It only mocks us and makes light of our condition. That is the stance I had for most of my life, actually. Only when exposed to the keen Biblical insights of Martin Luther did I realize the fallacy of my reasoning. The law does not mock a person who is incapable of obeying it. In fact, by commanding the impossible, the law helps him. How? To answer, let me paraphrase an argument from Luther’s Bondage of the Will : Imagine a man with his hands bound behind his back, but who clearly and fully believes he can move his hands in any direction, whenever he wished. How could you best help this person? Well, by p

Lutherans Know Something We Don’t Know

A Charismatic, a Presbyterian, and a Lutheran walk into a bar. Okay, that probably would never happen, but if those three people were to somehow enter a bar, coalesce, and emerge from the establishment as one man (who realized he wasn’t too fond of beer to begin with), that one man could possibly be me. Yes, many denominations have made an impact on my spiritual development. And while I could possibly be labeled as something of a Reformed Charismatic (which, I assure you, is not a contradiction in terms), I have also been heavily influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther. One Lutheran doctrine in particular has been especially helpful—the paradigm-shattering distinction between law and gospel. As any Lutheran worth his salt will tell you, this distinction is critical for properly understanding the Bible. The law is defined as any imperative statement—i.e, a command to do (or not do) something. The gospel, on the other hand, is an indicative statement—a promise that God ha

Finding God’s Favor without Doing Anything

Some Bible verses are almost impossible to interpret properly—on the first read-through, anyway. Take Malachi 3:18, for example: “Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.” When I read this verse, I practically can’t help but think only of intrinsic righteousness—that is, a righteousness that is mine by effort. I can only be considered righteous if I serve God—that is, if I somehow merit God’s favor. It is tempting to make this assumption when reading a plethora of Bible passages, including the stories of Noah and Mary. Both of these individuals received the Lord’s stamp of approval. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). It is easy to translate this favor as resulting from their righteous lifestyles. But in both of these cases, the words translated as “favor”—one Hebrew and the other Greek—literally mean “g

“I Need to” vs. “God Is”

When it comes to the Christian life, our minds can be filled with a myriad of “I need to” thoughts: “I need to pray more,” “I need to spend more quality time with the Lord,” “I need to grow in loving my neighbor as myself,” and so on. In many cases, this tendency can be a sign of something Scripture warns us against: thinking that we are saved by works and not faith. Saving faith isn’t anything we do . It is accepting God’s work on our behalf. Saving faith is a gift from God so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9). We may say we believe that saving faith is not a work, and that we are not saved by our works, but our inner monologue—filled with “I need to” statements—may reveal a heart that easily turns the walk of faith into a work of human effort. When we treat Christianity as moralism, we reduce it to a means by which we feel good—or bad—about ourselves based on our performance. The good works performed by the Christian reveal the fruit of Christianity—not the root of C

History-Making News

In the past several days, we have been exposed to some incredibly controversial and history-changing events. I think it’s fair to say our world has been set on a course that cannot change. Like it or not, we will never be the same again. Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases related to the issue of same-sex unions, but I’m actually referring to something that is far more controversial and life-altering. What many of us were exposed to this Easter was the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection. And yet, in hearts across America, the good news of the gospel is increasingly met with apathetic agreement or numb indifference. If we took a vote, I’d wager that our emotions were more caught up in last week’s U.S. Supreme Court cases than they were in the events celebrated during Easter. Why is this the case? Part of the answer is that we are not seeking our all in the gospel. I experienced this myself the last time I sang an old hymn: “Nothing But the Blood of J