The Engine that Couldn’t

What happens when you mix the passions of the Old Adam with Christianity? Well, these things cant really be done. You end up with either one or the other, the theology of glory or the theology of the cross. The theology of glory states that God is all about you, He has a wonderful plan for your life, He is going to prosper you, He is going to lead you through whatever challenge or difficulty that life throws at you. Many different teachings fit into this category; the prosperity gospel, seeker driven movement, etc. The theology of the cross is the true biblical theology; its Christ crucified for you. It’s really that simple its either God as a cheerleader or God as a savior. It can even be defined further than that because the theology of glory is the glorification of yourself. Your life, your will, you, become the gospel. When you hear someone tell you that God fixed up their life, that’s not the gospel. If that bothers you and you are already thinking in your mind that I’m wrong, then that’s great because in this post you are going to get the gospel.

How often in our life do we present the effect as the cause? If I drive a hammer through the wall and cause a hole to be made we don’t ever say that the hole is the hammer. Yet, that is exactly what is done with confusing sanctification with justification. The regenerated Christian life is not the gospel, its the effect but not the cause. Yet how many sermons, messages, and series will talk for an hour on Sunday preaching the Christian life? I’m not talking about the law used lawfully I’m talking about moralism. The gospel isn’t present unless its a vague mention of forgiveness or Jesus dying on the cross (which is also not the gospel, not the complete gospel anyways). The good news of these messages are so familiar its almost as if instead of the Bible, the message is presented on a children’s book ‘The Little Engine that Could‘. It’s not the theology of the cross its the theology of believing in yourself. ‘Yes, you can!‘ Some of you might be saying “No, its God powered, He is doing mighty works“. Man, that sounds so biblical right? However, What is God doing? What are these messages telling you God is doing? If its anything other than creating, redeeming, and sanctifying you then its not biblical. The phrases like ‘If He brings you to it, He will bring you through it‘ simply doesn’t line up with the suffering of the Christian nor is that type of doctrine found anywhere in Holy Scripture. Here’s something else that might help. If you can’t find it in a systematic theology book then you know you’re not even close. There are many of those and they differ on some things like the sacraments and what they do but you wont find the victorious life as a chapter or section in a book of systemized doctrine. That’s how anti-Christian this type of teaching is and yet it’s all over the place in our first world country. There can be many theories how this has happened. We can discuss ‘Deeds not Creeds‘, we can discuss how pastors have come about without proper training, we can discuss how people have fought against faithful pastors and wore them down. It boils down to all of the above. People want to have their ears tickled and will find a way to have someone tell them what they want to hear, this though, it not the biblical understanding of the church.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all, and in us all. 7 But to each one of us, the grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Therefore he says,
“When he ascended on high,
he led captivity captive,
and gave gifts to people.”
9 Now this, “He ascended”, what is it but that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
11 He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds* and teachers; 12 for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; 15 but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ, 16 from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love. [Eph 4: 1-16] (emphasis added)

There is one faith, one teaching, one doctrine, one Christ; this is biblical Christianity.

If you want to preach sanctification, fine, do so through the proper use of Law and Gospel. If you want to preach the Christian life of suffering and persecution, fine do so with the proper use of law and gospel; all pointing to Christ. You won’t find any of these catch phrases taught in scripture. None of the apostles taught that God will get you through the tough problems of your life. They proclaim Christ crucified. This life is not the last, and all of it is in God’s hands therefore love, and give your life if it is ever asked or taken from you. This isn’t going to pack the auditorium. So, what do you do to fill the seats? Prooftext! These doctrines aren’t in a systematic dogmatic textbook so, cram them into other texts and ignore the original meaning of those texts. That’s how the devil works to deceive. ‘Did God really say?‘ This is how programs like Celebrate Recovery claims to be biblical, this is how many or deceived because if someone eisegetes a new meaning into the text, forces something into it, they cant get you to believe its what the Bible says.

What then is the correct way? Is life change really that bad? Well, no. There has to be proclaimation of the Word, this is one of the means of grace (of where God gives us His grace) the other is Sacramental, and like I had said before we can disagree on sacraments without being outside the faith however having a wrong god is outside the faith. If your god helps you kick an addiction, become healthier, or help you with your finances how is your god any different than the world and the gods that it offers? This is why mixing Law and Gospel is so dangerous to the Christian faith.

Now, repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is,terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance. – Luther in Augsburg Confession Article 12

Law then Gospel. The Gospel produces fruit of all good works, not by adding more Law or mingling works in with the Gospel. The Gospel is where life is. That’s where we really find the real Jesus. Jesus is God in flesh to suffer the wrath that your sins deserve. Proper Law Gospel preaching isn’t going to pack seats; telling people that they aren’t perfect, that they are in bondage to satan, and under the wrath of God isn’t a good place to start a conversation let alone is anyone going to line up around the block and pay tons of money to hear it, but its crucial and nessasary because it’s what Christianity is. It’s the Truth and anything less, anything watered down is a lie. You cannot give the gospel without first proclaiming the law. A doctor has to give the diagnosis before the cure or the cure wont make any sense. Even a watered down symptom wont work. Why would I need chemotherapy for an ear infection? Why did God die for my misfailings? It doesn’t really make any sense and the cure is either going to be disregarded or isn’t going to really take root because its the wrong cure for the wrong disease. Only when the diagnosis is so very clear will a person be truly thankful and crave the cure. This is how repentance works, you cant have repentance without contrition. A person afraid of hell, or the punishment (attrition) isn’t going to have true repentance. That will keep them under the law.

Some of you were such, but you were washed. You were sanctified. You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God. -1 Cor: 11

If there is not a proper order of law and then gospel there will not be a life of repentance. The Gospel is not just for the moment of conversion, the gospel is the very Life given of the Holy Spirit. Without the laws condemnation the gospel isn’t the gospel, it is a false gospel. Even if the true gospel is given to convert and regenerate but then the Christian is pointed to more law, Jesus then is turned into not only a new Moses but a Jesus who is not the propitiation for your sins but is only given as a moral booster. The law and the gospel must be constantly given in the life of a Christian; a daily repentance is necessary for faith to continue in the Christian. Repentance consists of contrition and faith, without either one, you have a false repentance; you have despair or pride. Repentance brings then fruit of the Spirit and this gift is your holy living. As Luther proclaimed in the Augsburg Confession:

Furthermore, it is taught on our part that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them, but because it is the will of God. It is only by faith that forgiveness of sins is apprehended, and that, for nothing. And because through faith the Holy Ghost is received, hearts are renewed and endowed with new affections, so as to be able to bring forth good works. For Ambrose says: Faith is the mother of a good will and right doing. For man’s powers without the Holy Ghost are full of ungodly affections, and are too weak to do works which are good in God’s sight. Besides, they are in the power of the devil who impels men to divers sins, to ungodly opinions, to open crimes. This we may see in the philosophers, who, although they endeavored to live an honest life could not succeed, but were defiled with many open crimes. Such is the feebleness of man when he is without faith and without the Holy Ghost, and governs himself only by human strength.

Hence it may be readily seen that this doctrine is not to be charged with prohibiting good works, but rather the more to be commended, because it shows how we are enabled to do good works. For without faith human nature can in no wise do the works of the First or of the Second Commandment. Without faith it does not call upon God, nor expect anything from God, nor bear the cross, but seeks, and trusts in, man’s help. And thus, when there is no faith and trust in God all manner of lusts and human devices rule in the heart. Wherefore Christ said, John 15:5: Without Me ye can do nothing. – Luther in Article 20 Augsburg Confession Book of Concord. (Emphasis added)

Therefore; self help, 12 steps, motivational messages, preaching that focuses on the Christian, and anything else that is a mix of secular ways of bettering yourself, is not Christian. It’s a form of religion that has shaped Jesus to be you’re own image of Him and it’s not the Christ, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, its you-ism, therapeutic moralism, its you instead of Christ, its anti (in stead of, in place of) Christ. Mixing Law and Gospel is a recipe for disaster. As Walther said in his 5th Thesis:

The first manner of confounding Law and Gospel is the one most easily recognized —and the grossest. It is adopted, for instance, by Papists, Socinians, and Rationalists, and consists in this, that Christ is represented as a new Moses, or Lawgiver, and the Gospel turned into a doctrine of meritorious works, while at the same time those who teach that the Gospel is the message of the free grace of God in Christ are condemned and anathematized, as is done by the papists. – C.F.W. Walther

The message that we are justified by faith through grace is something that sounds great on paper to most Christian’s but the moment you point out that faith and grace are gifts, that even your faith is not your own work, then the stones get picked up from the ground and are hurled. Yet, it is true.

Τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως· καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, Θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον· οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων, ἵνα μή τις καυχήσηται (for by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is of God the gift not as a result of works, so that not anyone may boast). Grace and faith are of God given as a gift, NOT OF OURSELVES. – Eph 2:8-9.

There is nothing that is to be done that can put you in right standing with God there isn’t anything that you do at all for your justification. You are sanctified and given new life as a gift from the Holy Spirit, daily repentance is all done in that same gift of faith given in the Word and Sacrament, and your new life is not your own. If the Spirit were to leave you wouldn’t budge a millimeter. Yet it is all a gift because God loves you. He created you for Himself and though we are all, through the fall of Adam, wretched damned sinners (myself being the most horrendous), He let us kill Him so that He could pay the price that we couldn’t. He justifies you and sanctifies you so that you don’t have to work for His approval or love; He gives it to you as a gift. Why? Because He loves you.

We need not worry about our inability to produce repentance in ourselves. We must only apply to ourselves the keen Word of God. -C.F.W. Walther’s 35th Lecture.

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