Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day - just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you." But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion. These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. (ESV)
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True False Doctrine
Friday of Pentecost 23
21 November 2014
Married men often struggle to say the right things to their wives. What they say may be altogether correct and truthful, but still come out entirely wrong. More than one husband has pleaded with his weeping wife, "What did I say?" Marriage is not the only relationship that can be deeply affected by saying truthful things that don't turn out to be helpful. Parish pastors are often confronted by this dilemma too.
False doctrine may be entirely truthful, just preached at the wrong time, to the wrong person, and under the wrong circumstances. Satan does his best work when he misapplies the truth. Out and out immorality or gross false doctrine are easy to spot. If your pastor begins to suggest in his sermons that sexual relations outside of marriage is good and then begins to campaign to lead retreats with teenage girls, you have a pretty good idea what the problem is. If your preacher begins to reject the divinity of Jesus by denying that Christ knows all things, the average layman can lay his finger on the predicament. It is much more difficult to spot and combat it when your preacher begins to proclaim that Jesus is the example that we are to follow in our lives, because the Bible teaches precisely this (1Ti 1:16, 1Pt 2:21). Jesus is our example of holiness, righteousness, and perfect patience.
But where does such proclamation leave us? It leaves us defeated and depressed because we recognize immediately that we do not live up to the standard set by the eternal Son of God. This is especially oppressive when we are struggling with trials in our lives, at times when we feel our faith is under attack by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. We will never stand up to the impossible standard of Christ. All of this is perfectly true. Christ is our example. We must follow His example. We fail. We are sinners. Christ damns sinners, therefore I am damned. According to the gospel this is truthful false doctrine.
The Bible also portrays Christ as the friend of sinners, who has nothing but overabundant compassion for them. This Christ must be presented in all His sweetness and mercy to sinners burdened by their sin and struggling with their personal trials. This is why dividing the word of truth is such a difficult art and why such intensive training and long practice must go into the making of a parish pastor, who has care of souls; it is so easy to say the right thing that is absolutely the wrong thing. Those who are struggling with their sin must hear of the Christ who dies as a substitute for sinners rather of the Christ who is our example. When Christ, as example, is preached to struggling sinners, such preaching is true false doctrine.
"Using a thousand sly tricks, Satan tries to overturn this [consolation of the gospel] by opposing to it the word and example of Christ, in this way: 'Christ certainly is mild, benign, etc., but he is also righteous and holy. He threatens with wrath and eternal damnation (Lk 13:27-28) and so He pronounces unbelievers to be damned (Jn 3:18). Secondly, Christ has done many good works and suffered much evil, and He commands us to imitate His example, but neither your life nor your word truly correspond to the example of Christ, because you are a sinner. In summary, you do nothing good, etc. Therefore the statements that portray Christ as judge, etc., apply to you, rather than the consoling statements concerning Christ as Savior, etc.' When this happens the one who is suffering trial ought to console himself this way: 'Scripture sets before us Christ in two ways.
"First, Christ as a gift. If I apprehend Him as a gift, I will not lack anything. In Christ 'are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.' (Col 2:3). As great as He is, He has been made by God my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1Co 1:30). Therefore even if I have committed many great sins, nevertheless, if I believe in Him, they are all swallowed up by His righteousness, etc.
"Second, Scripture presents Him as an example for us to imitate. But I will not let this Christ be presented to me as an example except on a day of rejoicing, when I am beyond trials (when I can hardly attain a thousandth part of His example), so that I may have a mirror in which to contemplate how much I am still lacking, lest I become smug. But in a time of tribulation I will not listen to or accept Christ except as a gift, as Him who died for my sins, who has bestowed His righteousness on me, and who accomplished and fulfilled what is lacking in my life. For He 'is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes' (Rm 10:4)."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.8
Lord Jesus Christ, You are our example and our righteousness. Send us physicians of the soul who will know when to apply the medicine of Your righteousness to our painful and burdened hearts. In days of joy, enable us to fulfill the promise of Your example in our lives that we might suffer gladly for You and do good to all those who are our enemies. Turn us to You when our burden becomes too great. Amen.
For Rachel Hunt, that those who seek her healing would be granted wisdom, strength, and compassion
For Luke George, that he would be strengthened in his body and soul
For all those who will be traveling to be near family and friends over the Thanksgiving break, that they would be kept safe and have joyful homecomings
Art: Crucifixes Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014