Thursday, December 29, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Thursday, November 3, 2011
This distinction is that there are two kinds of righteousness portrayed in the Bible, and along with them two kinds of justification. This word, justification, can be used as a technical term for the forgiveness of a sinner by God as a gift, but it also has a more general meaning of validating or confirming the truthfulness of our position or actions in the eyes of other people.
The first type of righteousness acts in a vertical direction--that is between God and man. This vertical righteousness is what we normally think of as Lutherans when we hear the word, justification. This is the type of righteousness that comes from God as a gift to us, apart from any worthiness on our part.
The second type of righteousness occurs in a horizontal direction--that is between man and his fellow man. While the vertical sort of righteousness or justification is where our salvation occurs, we continue to live in relationship with other people in our everyday lives. It is within these relationships that the horizontal sort of righteousness or justification occurs, where the actions of the Christian are intended to validate or confirm the truthfulness of the claims of Christianity in the eyes of those who observe our lives
So, when James says, “You see that a person is justified by works, and not faith alone,” he is speaking of the way that our actions serve to validate or invalidate the Christian faith we claim to believe, when our actions are viewed by other people, particularly those outside of the Church. If we act in a way that reflects what we believe, it confirms the Christian faith in their eyes. If we act hypocritically or in habitual sin, it invalidates the Christian faith in their eyes. If we read James' words in context, we can see that this is the sort of thing he is speaking of with the word "justification" and that he is not discussing how we relate to God.
Just as there are two directions in which righteousness and justification occur, there are also two directions in which sin occurs. We can sin against God alone by breaking any of the first three commandments. However, when we sin against the remaining commandments, we sin not only against God, but also against our fellow man. When Peter says, “Above all, keep loving one another, since love covers over a multitude of sins,” he is speaking to those who are already Christians. So, when he talks about love covering a multitude of sins, this is what he speaks of--not that our love reduces the burden of our sins in God's eyes (because Jesus has already completely fulfilled that need), but that love covers over or abates the division and discord that are the result of our sins and separate or embitter the relationship between the sinner and the one against whom he has sinned.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
1. Who is Jesus speaking to?
2. Who is to He telling do the forgiving?
3. Who is He saying should be forgiven?
In Luke 23, Jesus is speaking to God the Father, asking Him to forgive the executioners. This is not to say that Jesus expects that God the Father will forgive them without repentance, because it is the clear elsewhere in Scripture that God does not forgive the unrepentant (Luke 13:1-5). Rather, the answer to Jesus' prayer would be that the Holy Spirit would lead them to repentance, resulting in their forgiveness. We even see this prayer answered in part when the Soldier in the Gospel of Mark confesses "Surely this man was the Son of God" after Jesus has died.
Now, when speaking of Christians forgiving Christians in general, it is safe to state that we ought to forgive all sins, even those which are not repented (See Colossians 3:13). This is not to say that we maintain the same relationship with those who have unrepentedly sinned against us, or that we reconcile with them prior to their repentance, but that we release the right to avenge their sin into God's hands.
But, in the case of Luke 17, Jesus is speaking to the disciples, the Church's first pastors, regarding how they are to forgive. In John 20, Jesus tells them, "If you forgive anyone his sins, they have already been forgiven. If you do not forgive anyone his sins, they have already been retained." The way that the pastor deals with the sins brought to Him is different than the way Christians handle sins against one another. Because the pastor is charged with announcing God's forgiveness rather than merely his own, he does not forgive all sins when acting in his authority as pastor. Instead, he announces whatever God announces regarding sin. What this means is that pastors forgive sins when the one who confesses is repentant, and they refuse to announce forgiveness for as long as the one who has committed the sin refuses to repent.
Forgiveness works in different ways based on the vocation of those involved. While Christians are to forgive one another at all times, and Jesus, as God, certainly has the right to pray for the forgiveness of whomever He chooses; when pastors are acting in their office as the spiritual shepherd of the congregation, then they are called on some occasions to forgive and on others to retain sins, based on the repentance or lack thereof displayed by the sinner before them.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Many have interpreted this chapter over the years as a command that men may not have long hair and must not wear hats in church, while women must wear their hair long and must wear either a hat to church or pin a symbolic covering on some portion of their head during services. However, such a reading is out of harmony with the character of the rest of the New Testament and ignores what is really at issue in the Church at
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Thursday, June 16, 2011
My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Law and Gospel:
Q: I have heard preachers say that a person is saved by “grace alone,” as God’s gift, but when I read the Bible, I see so many laws and instructions that tell us what God expects. If God saves as a gift, why does the Bible spend so much time saying what we should do?
These two messages in the Bible can often be an obstacle for Christians when they are reading their Bibles or attempting to understand theology. On one hand, the Bible has very clear statements such as, “By grace you have been saved, through faith, not by works…” while there are others that say such things as “Do this and you shall live.”
This is because there are really two types of teachings in the Bible. The first is called the Law. The Law tells humans what God expects them to do. The clearest example of this kind of teaching in the Bible is the Ten Commandments. The trouble with this teaching, if we look at it in isolation, is that requires perfect obedience for anyone to be saved through it. If any person would present their good deeds to God as a reason to be rewarded, they must keep God’s Law flawlessly. Since no natural human has ever accomplished this, we would be led to believe that all people will be eternally condemned.
Thankfully, the Law is not the last word in the Bible. This is where the other teaching comes into play. This teaching is called the Gospel. This teaching states that, in spite of the fact that no human can satisfy God’s demands by their good behavior, God Himself took on a body, becoming a man Himself, and fulfilled it in place of humanity. After Jesus had done this, He was abandoned by God while He was being crucified, and in that event, He also suffered punishment in place of humanity.
The Law tells us what we must do. The Gospel tells us what God has done. Anyone who trusts that Jesus has fulfilled the Law in their place and suffered punishment in their place, receives the reward earned by Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death—namely eternal life.
The Law has absolutely no power to save anyone, because no person can keep its demands. Instead, the Law works in service to the Gospel. First, it shows every person who hears or reads it how badly they have failed to please God, and forces them to seek a solution outside of themselves. When a person has been forgiven for their sins by God, through trust in Jesus, they then desire to do God-pleasing things, and the Law shows them which things are God-pleasing.
These two teachings create a balance which Christians, even preachers, often have difficulty maintaining. When one strays to one side, it is often tempting to say that one must behave according to the Law in order to be saved. In that case, our behavior, not the work of Jesus would be the cause of salvation. When one strays to the other side, it might be said that because we are saved as God’s gift, our behavior is unimportant. In this case, the Law is completely irrelevant. When the tension between these two teachings is maintained appropriately, we say that Jesus saves without any human contribution, but that the Law of God still stands, first to reveal sin and force people to look to Jesus, then to guide and inform Christians, not as a cause of salvation, but as its result.