That I May Be His Own

Much debate in the church today centers on what it actually means to believe in Jesus Christ. Two non-Lutheran sermons I recently listened to help provide a contrast that characterizes the divide in the church.

Both preachers are relatively young, well known leaders of large congregations. One is evangelical preacher David Platt. He has become well known for his book Radical, which explores the radical demands made by the Gospel upon the believer. The other is Reformed Presbyterian Tullian Tchivdjian. He has become well known for his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, which explores the radical sufficiency of Christ for the believer. Both have many thoughtful things to say (books and preaching alike), but they do draw out some distinct differences that various segments of the church are emphasizing.

I recognize that preaching a sermon always has a context, and taking a few sentences out of a sermon runs the risk of misrepresenting what a preacher might actually be saying. Thus, I tried to select quotes from the sermons (which you can listen to at the associated links) that sought to be representative of the entire sermon theme.

The first is a quote from Platt’s 2010 sermon titled “The Gospel Demands Radical Sacrifice:”http://www.vergenetwork.org/2012/01/30/david-platt-the-gospel-demands-radical-sacrifice/

“Jesus requires superior love. Luke 14:26 is the first “If… then he cannot be my disciple” [of Jesus.] “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple.”…I want to be very careful with all the verses that we study because there is a danger that we try to soften the words of Jesus to fit the way that we live… Love for each other springs from who? From our love for God. Loving Him is supreme. It’s superior love… Biblical Christianity sees the supremacy of Christ and is so infatuated with Him, so drawn toward Him, that our love for Him drives everything that we do! It’s a superior love. So the question before you, in light of this verse is, do you love Christ?”

The second is from Tchivdjian’s sermon titled “Free at Last” and was preached at Coral Ridge Presbyterian church this past Sunday, (Feb. 5, 2012). http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/:

In all of Paul’s letters that he wrote, he gives the bottom line of the Gospel right away in two words: grace and peace… Grace being the root of the Gospel, and peace being the fruit of the Gospel. Grace involves the remission of sins; and peace involves, as Martin Luther said, “a happy conscience.” The peace of God which transcends all understanding comes only as we increasingly believe that by grace alone Christ has made peace with God, for us! In other words, we never experience the peace of God that transcends all understanding by looking in! We can only experience the peace of God that transcends all understanding by looking out, and up, at the very fact that Christ made peace with God, for us!

Again, I realize that each sermon has a context. However, I think they sum up the divided emphases within the church.

One feels that Christians are failing to properly love Jesus and therefore their unbelieving neighbor. As a result, countless calls are being made for intensely increased witnessing and superior love for our unbelieving neighbor, because that is what they feel the Gospel demands and true love for Christ requires.

The other emphasis feels that such intense demands and requirements confuse the fullness of the Gospel. It’s not that Christians shouldn’t do these things. Absolutely, they should! Rather, it’s just that they feel such demands cause people to look to themselves rather than to Christ for the meaning of the Gospel. As a result, they feel the Gospel is turned into a law to be obeyed rather than a gift to be received. That is, the 10 commandments already require Christians to intensely love God and neighbor. So the primary message of the Gospel then is not another law to be obeyed, but that it proclaims grace and peace for our miserable failures to do so.

What do you think? What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? A pastor friend of mine recently reminded me of how Luther had a knack for making it so simple. In the explanation of the Second Article in his Small Catechism, Luther beautifully summarizes what it is to believe in Jesus—“that I may be His own.” (See the full explanation below).

It’s not first about what I must do. Rather it is first about what Jesus has done. It’s not about my superior love, but His. And as my dear friend put it, “This is much happy news!” For, sinners by definition cannot meet the demands of superior love. Our wretchedness is so complete that we need the supreme and superior love of our Savior Jesus Christ. It’s how we become His. And when we are His, then there is much living and serving to do. But that comes as the fruit of this happy news. Not because it has been demanded from us, but because it has been given to us—because we have been made His own!

[Explanation of the Second Article: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.]    

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

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3 responses to “That I May Be His Own

  1. Thank you for your thoughts… I think they are right on line with where we need to be as Lutherans… What I think we often leave behind is the earthiness of the mission (and ours). Jesus healing and feeding wasn’t a bait and switch or something that he did just to get attention, but also work of the Kingdom. This should be of great comfort to us as we realize that God entrusts us with His mission and it is something that we can do… not that we are building God’s kingdom on earth by our own efforts, but rather through the power of the Holy Spirit God invites us to participate with Him in the work that He is doing.

    A question for discussion, What is the most important article of the creed?

    • Dear Pastor Hausch,

      I appreciate your reminder. And your question is one I ask to my catechumens all the time! Obviously, we realize all three articles go together and that we will run into trouble if we pit them against each other. But for the sake of the dialogue, I always make the point that the Third Article carries hypothetical predominance because it is the Holy Spirit who delivers the Gospel (Jesus) and creates the Church. This is why the Creed confesses the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, with our belief “in the Holy Spirit.”

      And I think this, perhaps, goes to your point. The Holy Spirit locates Himself in the Word (and Sacraments), and the manner in which that Word gets given is through proclamation. And the way the Word is proclaimed requires people to speak it in the earthiness of their given vocational lives. However, what has been happening as of late, and what a number of people are uncomfortable with, is the idea that the means of grace (or the marks of the church) have now been expanded (or replaced) from Word and Sacrament, to our human bodies, as people who incarnate Jesus.

      To be sure, there is something right and necessary that has to be said about incarnational living in the midst of our human vocations. But to assert that it has now become the pinnacle of the mission of the church (missional living), over against what has historically been recognized as the mission of the church (proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments), rubs people the wrong way. Though some may be just fine with it, others smell legalism and want to protect against such an encroachment. I believe the Third Article has a way of keeping us properly grounded, recognizing that it is not by our efforts that others are saved or forgiven (“not by my own reason or strength”), but by the Holy Spirit “who calls by the Gospel, enlightens with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps the whole Christian church in the one true faith.”

  2. Rev. Woodford,

    I’m curious, do you think Luther’s explanation of the two kinds of righteousness (active and passive) would be helpful in this context? In his commentary on Galatians he seems to tackle this point in a way that provides a great deal of insight on issues like this that I don’t tend to see discussed very much in Lutheran circles. What are your thoughts?

    Thanks!
    Mark Hunsaker

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