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Luke 5:29-39

 

Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." And they said to him, "The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink." And Jesus said to them, "Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days."

 

He also told them a parable: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" (ESV)

What Did You Say?

Monday of Pentecost 21

3 November 2014

My wife and I talk past each other a great deal. This mainly occurs because we are not talking about the same things at the same time. I am talking about one thing and she is talking about another. So, for example, I find myself answering the wrong question the right way, only because I am not on the same subject as she is. Much interpersonal communication is of this sort and that is why there is so much interpersonal miscommunication.

 

A great deal of the discussion about law and gospel is a miscommunication like this. Paul (and Luther following him) denies that the law has any role in the article of justification. People who listen to this hear both Apostle and the Reformer saying that they forbid good works and deny that the law has any place or role in the world. The next step in that thought process inevitably leads to the accusation that they are anarchists or libertines: "If the law plays no role in our salvation, people will most naturally do just whatever they want. Anarchy will break out." This is precisely what Paul is responding to when he exclaims, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!" (Rm 6:1-2). However, such arguments pivot on not listening to Paul or Luther. Neither of them is saying that the law has no function at all, only that the law cannot make righteous in the sight of God. The law still applies in the world and orders our relations within the creation, not our relationship with the Creator as He grants us salvation.

 

This is why Luther is at pains to deny any role to the law or good works in the article of justification. When we are talking about salvation, the law needs to be silent. When we are talking about life in the world, the law must then speak, that we might be right in the presence of one another. If we confuse these roles we will be talking about things that do not belong together at the same time. They aren't part of the same conversation. It is the worst miscommunication of all to confuse the law and the gospel, so that our salvation becomes in any way dependent on ourselves rather than upon Christ, the only Savior of the world. Once the law gets mixed in as a cause of salvation Christ is pushed out of the way and turned into an instrument of the law. He then becomes a new Moses, our law-giver and example. But He comes not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). He comes to offer Himself, not to demand our offering to Him.

 

Do we need to offer good works to the world? Yes. Do we need to obey the law? Yes. Do we need to give ourselves away to our neighbor in obedience to God? Yes. Do these things make us righteous in the presence of God? No. Never have. Never will. Christ has done it all, quite apart from our works and obedience. God has said it.

 

Martin Luther

 

"It is impossible for Christ and the law to dwell in the heart at the same time. Either the law or Christ must yield. But if you are of the persuasion that Christ and trust in the law can dwell together in the heart, then you should know for sure that not Christ but the devil is dwelling in your heart under the mask of Christ, and that he is the one who is accusing you, terrifying you, and demanding the law and your works for righteousness. The true Christ does not accuse you on account of your sins; nor does He command you to trust in your good deeds. True knowledge of Christ, or faith, does not discuss whether you have done good works unto righteousness or evil works unto damnation; but it states so simply: 'If you have done good works, you are not therefore justified; and if you have done evil works, you are not therefore damned.' I am not detracting from the glory of good works; nor am I praising evil works. But in the matter of justification I am saying that I must see how I am to keep Christ, so that He does not become useless to me by my desire to be justified by the law. For Christ alone justifies me, in opposition to my evil works and without my good works. If I think this way about Christ, I apprehend the true Christ. If I think that He demands of me the law and works for righteousness, then He has become useless to me and I am severed from Him.

 

"These are horrible declarations and threats against the righteousness of the law and personal righteousness. They are also most certain principles, which reinforce the article of justification. Therefore this is the final conclusion: You must give up either Christ or the righteousness of the law."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.4
 
Prayer

Lord Jesus, You are my whole salvation. Keep me from offering my own works to my heavenly Father in substitute for Your perfect righteousness. Send Your Holy Spirit to me that I might never confuse faith and works in the matter of my justification in Your presence. Amen.

 

For Pastor Kurt Hering, as he awaits a call into service proclaiming the good news of Christ, that he would patiently expect the Lord's answer

 

For the pastors and other professional church workers of the LCMS, that they might proclaim the good news in such a way as never to confuse faith and works

 

For all doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, that they might not become weary in their labors, but serve the suffering faithfully and bring them appropriate relief
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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