For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (ESV)
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Peace in the World and Before God
Elizabeth of Hungary
19 November 2013
Because Lutherans proclaim the Bible's teaching that we are right in God's sight through faith in Christ alone, they are accused of suppressing good works. That accusation has been flung at Lutherans since the sixteenth century. Even Luther was spattered with that mud. There are several possible replies to this accusation. One is: preaching faith results in true good works. The Bible is quite clear that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). The necessary precondition of all good works to be truly good in the sight of God is faith in the Mediator, Jesus Christ. Good works may be good in the sight of humans without being good in God's sight. As members of society we should applaud and glorify such good works whether or not they are done in faith. Here we include the endowment of hospitals, the establishment of homeless shelters, the building of schools and educational institutions, the maintenance of public property, and the like.
However, in God's sight those things are only good and righteous when they are done in faith. Faith makes good works right in the sight of God. Thus we should never get puffed up about our good works, as though on their own basis they would be God pleasing. We are pleasing to God only for Christ's sake never on account of our own efforts. Therefore a careful distinction must be made in our daily Christian lives between those things done in human society and those things which are done in the presence of God. The things done in human society may be honored, even though they are imperfect. Those things done before God, though imperfect, are considered right in his presence only for Christ's sake.
This is a crucial distinction by which we Christians might live in peace in the world and in the presence of God. If we confuse this distinction, we are in for trouble. For example, a mother sometimes experiences a great deal of guilt because she has failed to be the "perfect" mother for her children. Parenting is a tough job. It takes courage, wisdom, love, self-sacrifice, and compassion. Today, a mother can hardly live up to all the reasonable demands that parenting puts on a mother, let alone the unreasonable expectations placed on a mother by our society. Every mother, every parent, messes up. However, we should not despair of parenting when we have failed to be perfect. In the things of this world sometimes close does get a cigar (for which I am truly grateful). Imperfect, although good, mothering is to be applauded and honored and supported. Mothers should not despair over imperfection. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.
In God's presence, imperfection is not satisfactory. So what does the imperfect mother do then? In God's presence she must live by faith in the Son of God. For His sake our heavenly father does not see our manifold imperfections, weaknesses, and failings. He sees only His Son. Thus, the Lutheran position on good works supports good works in society and keeps us from depending on our own good works in the presence of our heavenly Father. Personally, I don't know how you live in peace in the world and before God otherwise.
"Since there are many false fanatics abroad, who only distort the gospel and accuse us and say that we have nothing else to teach and preach except faith alone, that we leave out the doctrine of good works and the holy cross and suffering; and they also say that they have the true Spirit, who moves them to teach as they do, we shall at this time speak only of the example which this Passion gives to us, what kind of cross we bear and suffer, and also how we should bear and suffer it.
"Therefore we must note in the first place that Christ by his suffering not only saved us from the devil, death, and sin, but also that his suffering is an example, which we are to follow in our suffering. Though our suffering and cross should never be so exalted that we think we can be saved by it or earn the least merit through it, nevertheless we should suffer after Christ, that we may be conformed to him. For God has appointed that we should not only believe in the crucified Christ, but also be crucified with him, as he clearly shows in many places in the Gospels: 'Whoever does not take his cross and follow me,' he says, 'is not worthy of me' (Mt 10:38). And again: 'If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household' (Mt 10:25).
"Therefore each one must bear a part of the holy cross; nor can it be otherwise. St. Paul too says, 'I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church' (Col 1:24). It is as if he were saying: His whole Christendom is not fully completed. We too must follow after, in order that none of the suffering of Christ may be lacking or lost, but all brought together into one. Therefore every Christian must be aware that suffering will not fail to come. However, it should and must be the kind of suffering that is worthy of the name and honestly grips and hurts, such as some great danger of property, honor, body, and life. Such suffering as we really feel, which weighs us down. If it did not hurt us badly, it would not be suffering.
"Beyond this, it should be the kind of suffering which we have not chosen for ourselves, as the fanatics choose their own suffering. It should be the kind of suffering which, if it were possible, we would gladly be rid of, suffering visited upon us by the devil or the world.Then what is needed is to hold fast and submit oneself to it, as I have said, namely, that one know that we must suffer, in order that we may thus be conformed to Christ, and that it cannot be otherwise, that everyone must have his cross and suffering.
"When one knows this it is the more easy and bearable, and one can comfort oneself by saying: Very well, if I want to be a Christian, I must also wear the colors of the court; the dear Christ issues no others in his court. Suffering there must be."
Sermon on Cross and Suffering, 1530
Lord Christ, You have suffered for me that I might be free in Your Father's presence. Help me bear the cross that You send me, that I might wear the colors of Your court. Send Your Spirit that I might live in faith. Amen.
For the family of Diane Garner, that the Lord Jesus would be their strength and shield
For all those recovering from the tornadoes in the Midwest, that they would be strengthened and upheld in their time of recovery
For the Council of Presidents of the LCMS, that they would be faithful to their calling as overseers under the chief bishop of all souls, our Lord Jesus Christ
Art: Eyck, Jan van The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429)
© Scott R. Murray, 2013