Mortifying Mortification
St. Peter and Paul, Apostles
29 June 2017
How easily we humans reverse the cart and the horse. For example, my youngest daughter, who long before she had her driver's license, had her car all picked out. Absent the money for the car note, insurance, and gas, she was going to have a hard time affording this major purchase. Perhaps she should have started by earning her license and getting a part-time job. She had the cart before the horse.
Martin Luther points out that we Christians often get so involved in doing right that we fail to see that the Lord is our righteousness. We fall into focusing on our own doing quite innocently. We are often offended by the seeming moral laxity of those around us. This drives us to scrutinize the holiness of our own lives. We wonder if we are mortifying the sinful flesh zealously enough. And as laudable as this personal scrutiny may seem, it does take our eyes off the saving Word of God.
In a particularly hilarious episode of "Mr. Bean," played by the elastic-faced Rowan Atkinson, Mr. Bean attempts to wash and dress while driving to work with predictably humorous results. As laudable as being properly groomed and dressed for work might be, Mr. Bean simply cannot drive properly while putting on his pants. So it is for those who attempt to keep their eyes on their own piety instead of upon the Word of God. By focusing on their own righteousness they will easily fail to see the true righteousness of God in the Word of God. As laudable as scrutinizing our own behavior may be, it will easily get us entirely off the track and with a less humorous outcome than befalls Mr. Bean.
The Bible is from cover to cover a protest against focusing on our own righteousness over the gift of righteousness from God. It decisively forbids us to return to focus on ourselves once we have been set within divine righteousness through the Word of God. God has given us His pure Word that grants us the life and death of Christ. Mortification is long ago complete in Him. Focus on self-mortification can become mortifying to us.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"Pure knowledge of Christ is indeed delicate and rare even in holy and spiritual men. The empty show of works and the evil of unmortified flesh make such an impression that even the best are moved to mortify the flesh and to do works rather than to use the Word and thus to gain faith and the Spirit, as though faith and the Spirit came through works and mortification. On the contrary, mortification and works come from the Spirit and from faith, and the Spirit and faith come from nothing except the Word of life! This, too, is a gross evil of the flesh that must be diligently mortified. It so magnifies and emphasizes works and mortification that it does not see the power of the Word, which is able through the power of God to save the believers (Rm 1:16); and it frequently deceives great men. This is enough to say about these prophets: that the godly man should beware of them and preserve the sound and pure Word of God.
"'The prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die' (Dt 18:20). It is necessary that offenses come (Mt 18:7), and false teachers are always intruding themselves upon the true and sound Word of God. Thus Peter and Paul testify: 'False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you' (2Pt 2:1), and: 'After my departure fierce wolves will come in among you' (Acts 20:29). For Satan does not sleep; but while men are sleeping, he sows weeds among the good seed (Mt 13:39). Therefore Moses also reminds us of the danger, that we may realize that ungodly teachers, inflamed by empty boasting, want to give the impression that they are teaching new and better things beyond the Word of truth, just as 'our prophets' do, of whom we have already spoken. Therefore he says here: 'He who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak;' that is, mere rashness and presumption drive them to speak without the command of God.
"He refers, however, to two kinds of prophets who rise up against sound doctrine: the one kind comes in the name of the Lord, the other in the name of strange gods. Those who come in the name of the Lord are those who use the Word of God as a text and bring up the Sacred Scriptures; for in these Scriptures God speaks, and the name of God is in them, as He Himself has given them. Such prophets were going to come among the Jews especially at the time of Christ, when they used the Sacred Scriptures as the Word of God to support the righteousness of the law against the gospel, and later among the heretics. Those who come in the name of strange gods are those who come without the Scriptures and the Word of God but use their own spirit as a pretext, like the Manichaeans and, after them, the pope and all who destroy the people through human traditions. Among them 'our prophets' are also to be counted, who continually fall down to us from heaven and want their spirit to be believed, even when it speaks without the Scriptures."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Deuteronomy, 18.20
Galatians 2:1-10

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in- who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery- to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)- those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.  (ESV)
Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified You by their martyrdom: Grant that Your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by Your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For the clergy of the LCMS, that they would not become weary in the task of defending the holy faith of the church, but defend it as a sacred trust from a gracious God
For all unborn children, that God would keep them safe in His place of nurture until He brings them forth from the womb
For President Matthew Harrison, that he would be strengthened in his holy calling to the church's ministry
Art: EL GRECO,  Sts. Peter and Paul (1605-08)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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