Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Monday, March 19, 2018
Apology to Augsburg, Article IV. Justification, Part 5 - Role of Love (Good Works) - March 21, 2018 - Lenten Midweek 6 - Text: Apology to Augsburg Article IV
This year during the season of Lent through to Easter Sunrise and Easter morning we are continuing our celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation as we did at Advent through Christmas. During Lent through Easter we are covering what is considered the most important doctrine of the Church and the Lutheran Church, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. Article IV is the article on Justification and how we are made just and right in God’s eyes. Indeed, this article is the article on which the Church stands or falls, because we are saved either by ourselves, our good deeds, our obedience, and so forth or our salvation comes from outside of us, namely it comes from Jesus, who has earned and paid for our sins by His suffering and death and the cross and which He gives freely to us with out any merit or worthiness within us.
We believe, teach and confess that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. We are saved not by works but by grace. So, what role do works play in the life of a Christian? And what are good works? How do we define works of faith? As we have said, there are those who believe that a person is saved by faith and good works, that is that some actually state that a person must do good works in order to be saved.
On the other hand, as we have said, there are some who state that they believe that a person is saved by grace through faith but then they inadvertently, or on purpose add works as a condition when they say, “and all you gotta do is” and then fill in the blank, in order to be saved. These two beliefs are the same because anytime anyone adds anything to faith alone it is no longer the faith alone that saves. Certainly God does not do fractions nor math, indeed, He always gives the whole lot of His gifts and a whole lot more. Yet, we can use a mathematical equation to understand grace alone is zero plus anything is always the anything. Thus grace plus anything is always the anything. Grace is zero and to remain zero, nothing can be added.
The problem with either of these two belief systems is that good works are added before faith or with faith meaning that something is added that need not, should not, and cannot be added. So what is the role of faith, love and good works?
Now you just heard me equate good works and love and indeed good works are the action of love. The reformers talked about the role of love. The role of love is not necessarily an inborn response or reaction, rather it is often a learned action. Indeed, the role of love is saying “Thank you” which we know is something that we must all be taught because saying “Thank you” does not come natural to any of us. You remember how it was as a child, you would be given a gift and your mother would prod you, “What do you say?” “Thank you.”
To say “Thank you” is a response. It is not a have to because the giver does not expect or at least a true giver does not and should not expect something in return, even a “Thank you.” To expect something in return removes the gift from being gift and makes it something to be earned, merited or deserved. However, on the part of the one being given to, a response of thanks is something that is learned and spoken.
When it comes to God. God gives and what is our response? Is our response an attempt to repay Him? Is our response a condition we put on ourselves thinking we must do something to earn what God has given because we simply are not in any position to be given His favor?
When God gives our response is simply that a response, a thank you. Our “Thank You” may indeed come in the words of a prayer of thanks which wells up inside of us because we know we are undeserving and yet we rejoice in God’s great love for us and we cannot help but thank Him. Our response of thanks may indeed be a joyous response of a change of life, behavior, and love. Whatever our response is, it is just that, a response, not based on any condition, but based on an outflow of love to the one who is giving to us. Indeed, it is simply a reflection back to the One who first loves us, so we reflect His love back to Him.
As a Christian, being forgiven, being saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, faith that is given to us, in Jesus alone, our desire, moved and stirred in us by the Holy Spirit is to live a life of love. Remember, we get it right when we point to Jesus. We love God because He first loved us. It is very much like the sun and the moon. The moon has no light of its on but merely reflects the light of the sun. We have no love of our own we merely reflect the love of the Son of God. Our lives of faith and love are simply a response, a reaction, a get too and cannot help ourselves because of God’s great love for us. As God loves us so we love Him. Thus, we know that it is always from Him to us and then back to Him.
God loves us and we love God and He stirs in us to love our neighbor even to love our neighbor as ourselves. What is the greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all you mind. And the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27). We cannot love our neighbor except that God first loves us and as He loves us we reflect His love to our neighbor. Indeed, if we are not loving our neighbor perhaps it is because we are rejecting God’s love for us.
God loves us, we love God and we love our neighbor. Indeed, we love God by loving others. As we talk about the various vocation we serve in life, we know that we serve God by serving others. In the same way we love God by loving others.
What does this mean? God is the prime mover, He acts first. We do nothing except that God does first. We see God as the prime mover in that He is the one who created all things out of nothing. God created. God gives. God created us and He created us to love us. Our purpose in life is first and foremost to be loved by God. As He loves us so we cannot help but overflow and love Him and others. The opposite would also be true, that is that we do not love others and we do not love God as we refuse and reject the good gifts and blessings He has to give. Quite assuredly we may assess the lives of those around us as we look at how others live. Does one live in love toward their neighbor and God or in fits of not love toward others and God? As we understand that the desire of a person having faith is to be loved by God, to be where the gifts of God are being given out, and to love God and others we might well surmise that those who refuse and reject the gifts of God are indeed rejecting God’s love.
As we have said before, when it comes to our salvation, our justification we do nothing in and of ourselves. It is God who makes us right with Himself. And yes, even when it comes to our sanctification, to our good works, to our love, we do nothing in and of ourselves as well. It is God who loves us and stirs in us to love in return.
As always we are reminded that God gives and we are given to. God gives us life at conception, new life through the waters of Holy Baptism, forgiveness of sins through confession and absolution, strengthening of faith and forgiveness through His Holy Word and His Holy Supper. God loves us, He gives to us, He does for us.
And God stirs in us a response of faith. We love because He first loves us. We do because He first does for us. God gets the credit and the glory. When we mess up it is our fault. When we get it right it is because God gets it right in us. Thanks be to God.
The role of love, of good works is always a role of response and reaction, a role of reflection and gratitude. There are no conditions on God’s love and forgiveness. Even so, our desire, the desire stirred in us by the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace is to rejoice and give thanks and praise to God through our thoughts, our words and our actions, giving praise and glory to His Holy Name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.