Thursday, October 28, 2010

Looking Forward

Philippians 3: 13-14

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The apostle Paul's words cut through the fog bank of the difficult problems and circumstances in this earthly life, and shine as a beacon towards our future, heavenly citizenship (Col 3: 1-2). They remind us to daily put on the new life, and to die to the old, sinful nature (Eph 4:22-24) - to remember our right standing with God through Christ, and all that means for our identity as sons and daughters of God our Father.

Looking behind us, outside of Christ, at the storms of life, we can easily forget the prize as the Israelites did when faced with the lack of food and water, and turn to other idols to fulfill our earthly needs. The golden calves we create and worship are our own ingenuity and skill; our self-sufficiency and self-realisation. These idols we create in our unbelief, in our anxiety we turn aside from what God has said and promised and trust in ourselves to get the job done.

As we press on through our wilderness life, we need to remember God's provision in the meat of His Word, in the water of His Spirit, and in the living bread of His Son. Leaving behind the false idols that deceive us, and our past sins that come back to haunt us. Leaving them behind in the waters of our baptism on our exodus straining towards the promised land.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Law and Gospel: A Short Catechism

Q: What is the proper distinction between Law and Gospel?


...the law is properly a divine doctrine in which God's righteous,
unchangeable will is revealed. It shows what the quality of a person
should be in his nature, thoughts, words, and works, in order
that he may be pleasing and acceptable to God. It also threatens
its transgressors with God's wrath and temporal and eternal
punishments. For as Luther writes against the Antinomians:

Everything that reproves sin is and belongs to the Law. Its
peculiar office is to rebuke sin and to lead to the knowledge
of sins (Romans 3: 20, 7:7).

Everything that comforts, that offers God's favour and grace
to transgressors of the Law, is, and is properly called, the Gospel.
It is a good and joyful message that God will not punish sins,
but will forgive them for Christ's sake.

Q: What are the purposes of the Law?


God's law is useful because:

[1] external discipline and decency are maintained by it
against wild, disobedient people
[2] through the law people are brought to a knowledge
of their sins
[3] when people have born anew by God's Spirit,
converted to the Lord, and Moses's veil has been lifted
from them, they live and walk in the Law.

Q: What are the purposes of the Gospel?


It [the gospel] teaches that God's Son, our Lord Christ,
has taken upon Himself and borne the Law's curse
and has atoned and paid for all our sins. Through Him
alone we again enter into favour with God, receive
forgiveness of sins through faith and are delivered from
death and all the punishments of sins, and are
eternally saved.

Q: How should we teach and preach the Law and the Gospel?


They must be taught with the proper distinction of which
we have heard: (a) through the preaching of the Law
and its threats in the ministry of the New Testament the
hearts of impenitent people may be terrified, and (b)
they may be brought to a knowledge of their sins and to
repentance. This must not be done in such a way that they
lose heart and despair in this process. "So then, the law
was our guardian until Christ came,in order that we might
be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24); so that the Law
points and leads us not from Christ, but to Christ, who
"is the end of the law" (Romans 10:4).

People must be comforted and strengthened again by the
preaching of the Holy Gospel about Christ, our Lord.
In other words, to those who believe the Gospel, God
forgives all their sins through Christ, adopts them as
children for His sake, and out of pure grace - without
any merit on their part - justifies and saves them. However,
He does not do this in such a way that they may abuse God's
grace and may sin hoping for grace (Romans 6:1).

We must guard this distinction [between Law and Gospel]
with special care, so that these two doctrines may not be
mixed with each other, or a law be made out of the Gospel.
When that happens, Christ's merit is hidden and troubled
consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise
have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely
and purely. For by the Gospel they can support themselves
in their most difficult trials against the Law's terrors.

(Taken from The Book of Concord, "The Formula
of Concord", Article V)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Power Trips

Acts 1:8 (NLT) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit
comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses...

The power of the Holy Spirit is given so that we might witness
to Christ's finished work on the cross. Today many use this
charismatic power to witness to their own glory in a wave of
revivalist hype, where their signs and wonders are the main
headline. For those burned out on sensationalism, on pilgrimages
to whatever American hub happens to be the source of power that
season, the choice has to be the Giver over the Todd Bentleys of
this world.

For the church the Gospel is not a footnote but accompanies
everything we do, including signs, wonders, tongues, etc. Where
true signs and wonders touch Christians and non-Christians alike,
Christ alone is proclaimed (Acts 2:14-40, 3:12-26) for the Spirit
wants to give glory not to Himself, nor to the charismatic speaker.
JI Packer writes that "the Holy Spirit's distinctive new covenant
role is to fulfill... a floodlight ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus
Christ"(Keep in Step with the Spirit, p.57):

The Spirit's message to us is never, "look at me; listen to me;
come to me; get to know me", but always, "look at him, and see
his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him and have life;
get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace". The Spirit we
might say, is the matchmaker, the celestial marriage broker, whose
role it is to bring us and Christ together and ensure that we
stay together
(Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 57-58).

So where signs and wonders spring forth within the church, we
should not give witness to ourselves, our performance, our
charismania, or even to the witnessing Spirit, but to Christ and
Him crucified (Revelation 19:10). For as 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us,
the sign gifts and their accompanying miracles will die away.
But the effects of the Gospel, our death and resurrection in
Christ Jesus, are eternal. Though Christians in this life may
receive healing it is only temporary for everybody dies while we
still live in this body of sin (1 Cor 15:22). Our hope looks beyond the
temporary to our final glorification where death is put to death
(1 Cor 15:55) through Christ's victory which wipes away all tears.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be
no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain
anymore, for the former things have passed away.
(Revelation 21: 4 ESV).

Friday, October 1, 2010


John 18:28 (ESV) They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.

Our Passover Lamb is acknowledged by us as we recognise our defilement, and seek the forgiveness of sins. The shadow of the Cross cuts across any sense of our ethnic or moral superiority. Instead it shows us as an unholy people who daily need to be washed clean in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:13). As we take Communion each week, we make a spiritual record of this need. According to Martin Luther, we go to the Lord's Table because:

we are poor, miserable people. We go exactly because we are unworthy. This is true unless we are talking about someone who desires no grace and Absolution nor intends to change....

If, therefore you are heavy laden and feel your weakness, then go joyfully to this Sacrament and receive refreshment, comfort and strength. If you wait until you are rid of such burdens, so that you might come to the Sacrament pure and worthy, you must stay away forever. In that case Christ pronounces sentence and says, "If you are pure and godly, you have no need of Me, and I, in turn, no need of you." Therefore, the only people who are called unworthy are those who neither feel their weaknesses nor wish to be considered sinners.

(Large Catechism, "The Book of Concord", p. 631, 633)

We go to our Passover meal not on our own merits, as the Pharisees and priests did boasting in their own righteousness and outward expressions of holiness. But on the merits of Christ's body and blood which alone can raise us up to eternal life:

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. (John 6: 53-58 ESV)