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Psalm 78:1-8


 

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. (ESV)


 


 


 

Purely Passively

Friday of Pentecost 8

8 August 2014

When my oldest child was born we fretted over her because at a certain point in the birthing she refused to proceed down the birth canal. This puzzled the obstetrician, who struggled mightily to get her turned face down. But for some painful hours of labor we continued to talk about her refusal to be born. Of course, all of this "refusing to be born" talk is nonsense. No one either chooses nor refuses to be born. Birth just happens to us. No one chooses to be conceived, or to be born. Birth is the word that the Bible uses to describe our changed relationship with our heavenly Father through baptism. We are reborn of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5). This is God's act to perform, like the divine obstetrician, ours to receive. This reborn life, because it is only received, is described in classic theological terms as received "purely passively."

 

We get our spiritual backs up about this. The old Adam in us wants us to put in our two-cents worth (that is certainly an overestimate of value!) and claim that we have been involved in causing our own birth. Occasionally, while telling the story of her birth, my wife and I jokingly accuse our daughter of being reluctant to be born. For her that is just a laughing matter, because she realizes that her birth is entirely out of her own hands, her will had nothing to do with it. So it should be for those who have been born of God. Our rebirth is a matter of His gracious decision. We just receive it.

 

With that birth comes all the rich blessings of sonship. In estate law, even the infant in the womb can inherit his family's estate (even though, according to criminal law, he can be killed outright by an abortion). So not only is a person reborn at the instigation of a gracious God, he also receives all the inheritance of a gracious God as a total gift. This is one of the reasons we can live at peace, because the whole inheritance of the kingdom is not dependent upon us, but upon God. And what could be more certain than that receiving? 

 

Martin Luther

 

"Whoever is a son must also be an heir (Gal 4:7). For merely by being born he deserves to be the heir. No work and no merit give him the inheritance, but only his birth. Thus he obtains the inheritance in a purely passive, not in an active, way; that is, just his being born, not his producing or working or worrying, makes him an heir. He does not do anything toward his being born but merely undergoes it. Therefore we come to these eternal goods: the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, the glory of the resurrection, and eternal life, not actively but passively. Absolutely nothing interferes here. Faith alone takes hold of the offered promise. Therefore just as in human society a son becomes an heir merely by being born, so here faith alone makes sons of God, born of the Word, which is the divine womb in which we are conceived, carried, born, educated, etc. Through this birth and passivity, by which we suffer ourselves to become and to be formed into a new creation through faith in the Word, we become Christians, sons, and heirs of God through Christ. But living as heirs, we are free of death and the devil, and we have righteousness and eternal life." 

 

Martin Luther,
Lectures on Galatians, 4.7
 
Prayer

Lord Christ, Son of God, through our rebirth in You we have become sons of the same heavenly Father. Help us to rest passively in the arms of Your love, that we might ever live in Your peace. Amen.

 

For all Christians who are being persecuted by the enemies of Christ, that the Lord of the church would send His holy cross to shadow their sufferings

 

For police and other first responders, that they would be kept safe in commission of their duties

 

For all those who do not know of Christ as the God who takes away the sin of the world, that they would be led into this saving truth through the proclamation of the word of God

Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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