Beloved in the LordGrace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of God our Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Galatians 1:3-4)
At the core of Christian thought is the question, "How am I judged or accounted as righteous before God?" Rev. Dr. Martin Luther screamed the question, "What do you want from me?!!!" to a God whom he thought was asking for the impossible from him. In His mind God asking for both faith and complete obedience to His commands. Concerning this matter of justification and the Christian life we confess five solas (Latin for alone): Sola Scriptura, Sola Deo Gloria, Solo Christo, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide. Scripture alone in our final authority, to God alone is the glory; we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.
Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is a faith that is given to us by grace as a gift through the power of the Holy Spirit for the Glory of God alone communicated by the scripture or proclaimed Word of God and the correct administration of the sacraments. For Luther this was a foreign idea, the complete passivity of the human will in the eternal life giving event of Word and Sacrament puzzled him and begged the question, "Then what about God's commandments and my works?" The church, in Luther's time, was teaching that baptism saves you from original sin but after that it is up to you through the work of the priest in the "mass" and through confession, penance, and absolution to gain and keep your salvation. In contrast the idea of "works" accounting as nothing and "faith" accounting as everything is what the scriptures clearly teach:
"For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."
(Romans 3:28 ESV)
"yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:16 ESV)
"I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose."(Galatians 2:21 ESV)
A little considered fact is that most of the priests of Luther's day and almost all of the lay people could not read and even if they could only the "cultural elite" were allowed to read and interpret scripture. The cultural elite telling the "lower uneducated" folks how they should live is a purely Aristotelian thought resurrected by St. Thomas Aquinas in about 1000A.D. Not the thought of the first century Christians or of the apostles at all.
When Luther discovered that we are in fact "simmul eustis et peccator" (simultaneously sinner and saint) and that God thus speaks to us through two words not one, he "broke through." When someone sings monotone it is almost unbearable to hear. Thus your Lord speaks or sings to you in two tones not one. Law and gospel; if one sings only law then they are legalists and believe that God will save them through their works, if one sings only gospel then they believe that they can continue to indulge the desires of the flesh ("Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these" Galatians 5:19-21 ESV) and still be saved.
The Law can be defined as those things that are required of us. The law exists for two purposes: 1.to regulate society and 2. to make us aware that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Works of the law do not save:
"For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."(Romans 3:20 ESV)
The law of God exists to make us aware that we are in fact sinners separated from the grace of God and in desperate need of a Savior, thus sending us running from where God does not desire to be found (His wrath) to where He does desires to be found (the foot of the cross or the gospel). God is just as present in a bar with a drunkard as He is in church on Sunday morning; the difference is that in the bar God is present against the drunkard and on Sunday morning in church God is present for that person. Jesus Christ on the cross is God poured out FOR YOU!!!!!
The law is NOT God's final Word. Jesus was put to death as consequence for the sins (lawlessness) of God's people. Satan, the world, and the sinful self-righteous thought that they had delivered the knockout blow to the Savior on Good Friday but the Lord was not done speaking, He had one more Word to proclaim on Easter Sunday, the gospel!!!
When a person's conscience is in despair they are in need of hearing God's final Word on the matter, "You are forgiven on account of Christ!" St. Paul says that the letter kills but the Spirit gives live. The letter of the law puts to death the sinful flesh but the promise of the gospel brings to life the new creation in Christ. Luther says that we preach the law to secure sinners and the gospel to broken ones. This is also how one is to approach scripture. When encountering scripture we are to ask, "What is God requiring of me?" (law) as well as, "What is God promising to me?" (gospel)
You see as long as the flesh exists the law is needed to subdue it and force it to comply for the sake of the neighbor. But as the new creation comes into being it needs to hear the gospel so that it does not despair and fall away from faith. If you have done the reading that I asked of you this last month then you will see that law and gospel are not Luther's terms at all, rather they are the terms used by those God called to write His Holy Scripture.
So in answer to the question, "What does God want from me?" we can now answer first and foremost, faith for the sake of salvation and then obedience to His commands for the sake of our neighbors.
On a less theological note: Zanny, the kids, and I would like to humbly and gratefully thank each of you for your welcoming hearts, thoughts, and prayers. We are settled in and I am ready to fulfill my call to preach the Word and correctly administer the sacraments. I challenge each of you to continue with me in reading scripture this next month asking the questions, "What is God promising me and what is God requiring of me?"
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever, Amen. (Jude 24-25)
Pastor Jamie Strickler