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A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust. When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too. The righteous is delivered from trouble, and the wicked walks into it instead. With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness. By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown. Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered. Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
Required, But Not by the Gospel
Thursday of Pentecost 13
27 August 2015
While she does not seek to err in the content or emphases of her preaching, if the church's servants must err in her preaching they must err on the side of the gospel. In other words, she risks the gospel being abused by those who hear the preaching of the gospel and then determine to misuse the gospel by licentious living. About this she can do nothing. The gospel is such a radical teaching that it is easily abused. Those who will live to their flesh will easily hear the gospel as giving permission to wickedness. "If Jesus has had mercy on sinners, why shouldn't I just sin as much as possible?" This objection to the gospel was not unique to the Lutheran Reformation. The Apostle Paul faced precisely this objection in the first century: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Rm 6:1-2). The gospel remains that most dangerous teaching despised by legalists and abused by those whose minds are set upon the flesh.
It is easiest to retreat from the gospel to the law on one side or the other. First, one can retreat into legalism, which looks at the gospel as powerless to command behavior. "If the gospel cannot change the person what good could it do?" Of course it cannot change the person, because the true gospel refuses to change the subject from God to man. The gospel is and remains the story of God's doing for us, not our doing for Him. Man must not be permitted to capture the verbs for his own blasphemous uses. Man must never claim that he is the subject, instead of the object, of God's work. But this is exactly what legalism claims. It brings into the presence of the holy God the works that ought to be done in the realm of this world for our fellow human and it lays them at the feet of the holy and righteous God. It points at them and claims that they are glittering, glorious, and worthy of the salvation, which the gospel wants to give us without our works. Legalism simply claims it can do what God alone can do. In this way, legalism is not just a theological mistake buried somewhere in the minutiae of a theological system, but it is a frontal attack on the first commandment.
Second, one can also retreat into lascivious living. It is a fleshly interpretation of the gospel. It fails to account for the fact that the gospel changes our standing in God's sight, but it does not absolve us of the requirement to perform our earthly duties toward other humans. We are required to do and be seen doing good works in the civil realm where the right hand ought to know what the left is doing. The gospel does not change the fact that the verbs of this realm require us to be the subject. I must feed the hungry. I must care for the sick. I must visit the jailed. God forbid that we would use the gospel as an excuse for laziness in the world. Just because I am free from the guilt, coercion, and threats of the law because of the gospel does not mean that I am free to live like a pig. On the contrary, the civil realm, created by God, needs me all the more then to live in the law if I have been freed by the gospel. This is what Jesus means when He says, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5:16). Good works are still absolutely required, just not by the gospel.


Martin Luther

"The flesh absolutely does not understand the doctrine of grace, namely, that we are not justified by works but by faith alone, and that the law has no power over us. Therefore when it hears this teaching, it transforms it into licentiousness and immediately draws the inference: 'If we are without the law, then let us live as we desire. Let us not do good, let us not give to those who are in need; much less do we have to suffer anything evil. For there is no law, which compels or binds us.'
"Thus there is a danger on both sides, although the one is more tolerable than the other. If grace or faith is not preached, no one would be saved; for faith alone justifies and saves. On the other hand, if faith is preached, as it is necessary to be preached, the majority of men understand the doctrine concerning faith in a fleshly way and transform liberty of the spirit into liberty of the flesh. This can be discerned today in all classes of society, both high and low. They all boast in being evangelicals and boast of Christian freedom. Meanwhile, however, they give in to their desires and turn to greed, sexual desire, pride, envy, etc. No one faithfully carries out his office; no one serves the other in love. This misbehavior often makes me so impatient that I would want such 'pigs that trample pearls underfoot' (Mt 7:6) still to be under the tyranny of the pope. For it is impossible for this people of Gomorrah to be ruled by the gospel of peace." 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.13
Almighty God, You have given me freedom from sin and its guilt through the gospel. Keep me from presuming upon that freedom by abusing the gospel through lascivious living. Amen.
For the guests who worshipped at Memorial Lutheran Church on Sunday, that being fed by the Word of God they may be brought to faith in Christ
For Tim Scharr, that he would experience healing and recovery
For Jason Lief, who has been diagnosed with leukemia, that doctors and other health professionals would apply the appropriate therapies and that he would recuperate fully
Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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Memorial Lutheran Church | 5800 Westheimer Rd. | Houston | TX | 77057