Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “Being Made Holy”

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In his Large Catechism, Luther says that he “cannot give a better title” or summary to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed “Being Made Holy” (LC, 2.35). He goes on to explain that the entire third article is nothing more than an explanation of how a Christian is made holy.

This is confusing at first, because nowhere in the third article does it mention the Christian being made holy. In fact, most people, when they read the third part of the creed, perceive it as a sort of appendix to the main parts of the creed. The first part is about God the Father as creator, the second is about God the Son as redeemer, and the third adds along with the Holy Spirit a long laundry list of descriptors:

[And] I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic (Christian) church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Whenever I first became acquainted with the Creed, I thought whoever wrote the creed must’ve felt the obligation to cram the rest in.

Luther explains quite conclusively that this is not at all true. What is actually the case, is that everything included in the third article is placed underneath the Holy Spirit because those are things that properly the work of the Holy Spirit! Who makes me part of the catholic church? Who enjoins me to the communion of the saints? Who applies the forgiveness of sins? So on… The answer is quite simply: it is the Spirit who makes these things a reality in the life of the Christian.

Luther explains:

In [this article is] expressed and portrayed the Holy Spirit and his work, which is that he makes us holy… The Holy Spirit effects our being made holy through the following: the community of the saints or Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. That is, he first leads us into his holy community, placing us in the church’s lap, where he preaches to us and brings us to Christ (LC, 2.35-37)

In other words, while we might say it is the work of Christ to accomplish our salvation, it is the work of the Spirit to apply that work to us. And he does this by picking us up out of our state of sin and death, and bringing us into the community of saints and setting Christ before us in word and sacrament. He applies Christ’s work to us through the church. The common trinitarian framework is thus: the Father elects us unto salvation, the Son accomplishes our salvation, and the Spirit effects our salvation.

Luther explains it this way:

The work [of Christ] is finished and completed; Christ has acquired and won the treasure for us by his sufferings, death, and resurrection, etc. But if the work remained hidden so that no one knew of it, it would have been all in vain, all lost. In order that this treasure might not remain buried but be put to use and enjoyed, God has cause the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which he has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply to us this treasure, this redemption. Therefore being made holy is nothing else than bringing us to the Lord Christ to receive this blessing, to which we could not have come by ourselves (LC, 2.38-39)

The Holy Spirit, by way of the church in its proclamation, “brings us to Christ” and applies his blessings to us. Luther therefore calls the church

…the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which the Holy Spirit reveals and proclaims, through which he illuminates and inflames hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, persevere in it (LC, 2.42).

The church is effective in its ministry as mother principally because the Holy Spirit causes her to be effective in her preaching. The Spirit illumines, enlivens, and causes believers to accept the gospel and cling to it. Thus, Luther proclaims, “outside the Christian community,…where there is no gospel, there is also no forgiveness, and hence there can be no holiness” (LC 2.56). And why? Because the Spirit is the worker of the Christian community, making the proclamation of the gospel and effective ministry.

How might we summarize the third article then? Luther rightly says it: “being made holy”.

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The Christian Life is Nothing More than a Daily Baptism

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The Baptism of Jesus Christ (source)

One of my favorite remarks from esteemed Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson comes from his Christian Dogmatics Volume II, in the abstract of chapter 4 on baptism. He says:

We are canonically commanded to initiate into the church those whom the mission proclamation brings to penitence, by washing them in the triune name. To those who have been initiated, baptism promises the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit. (p 315)

This is obvious enough. But then he adds at the end of this abstract this interesting statement:

The task of the church at the present moment is to recover the integrity of baptism. The task of believers is always to use their baptism“. (p 315)

This is curious statement: quite obviously the church is to administer baptism, but what does it mean for the Christian to use their baptism? 

Jenson, as one might expect of a good confessional Lutheran, is borrowing from Luther’s ethic of the daily use of baptism, or, put another way, the daily return to baptism. This is most prominently outlined in Luther’s Large Catechism.

In the section on baptism, Luther first defines what it is: baptism is no normal water. Rather, it is water sanctified by God’s word and made thereby holy. He says it thus:

What is baptism?…It is not simply plain water, but water placed in the setting of God’s Word and commandment and made holy by them. It is nothing else than God’s water, not that the water itself is nobler than other water but that God’s Word and commandment are added to it…

[And again,] Baptism is a very different thing from all other water, not by virtue of the natural substance but because here something nobler is added, for God himself stakes his honor, his power, and his might on it. Therefore it is not simply a natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water… (LC, 4.14,17)

Notice that for Luther, a sacrament is something taken up into God’s Word and made holy thereby. So before the sacramental word is spoken, it is natural water; but after the Word is spoken over the elements, it is sanctified.

Next Luther asks: what does baptism give? Luther says simply: “This is the simplest way to put it: the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is that it saves” (LC 4.23). Wow! How can baptism do such a thing? For Luther, the water, when it is gathered up into the Word of God, is made holy, made to participate in and bestow God’s life. Thus, when baptism is applied, it gives what the Word names: the life of Father, Son and Spirit.

OK then, but still, how do we use this holy baptism? He answers this by asking in the third part of this section: what does baptism signify and why did God ordain it?

This act or ceremony consists of being dipped into the water, which covers us completely, and being drawn out again. These two parts, being dipped under the water and emerging from it, point to the power and effect of baptism, which is nothing else than the slaying of the old Adam and the resurrection of the new creature, both of which must continue in us our whole life (LC, 4.65)

This imagery is incredibly important to Luther. Baptism signifies and works the slaying of the old man and raising up of the new. And this work of slaying and resurrection, as Luther says, must continue “our whole life”.

Here we come to the use of baptism. Thus, says Luther,

a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after. For we must keep at it without ceasing, always purging whatever pertains to the old Adam, so that whatever belongs to the new creature may come forth (ibid)

For Luther, the Christian life is not a metaphysical improvement from being less to more holy. Rather, sanctification is living within the gift bestowed in baptism, never moving from the reality of dying and rising. Every day is a living out of the reality of baptism. There is no ascending to heaven. There is only death and resurrection.

Finally, Luther mentions the sacrament of penance, which for the medieval church was “another chance” at grace, as it were. If, after baptism, you sinned “mortally”, you could always go to the confessional and make penance. But for Luther, penance and baptism are not two different realities.

Rather,

Penance…is really nothing else than baptism. What is repentance but an earnest attack on the old creature and an entering into new life? If you live in repentance, therefore, you are walking in baptism, which not only announces this new life but also produces, begins, and exercises it. (LC 4.75)

Now we may come to what Jenson meant by “using” baptism. He meant: do not progress past it. Always live in it. For in baptism is the very life of God given; the life of Father, Son and Spirit; living out the reality of baptism. And thus, the Christian life, as Luther says, “is nothing else than a return to baptism” (LC 4.77).

Jenson I think gets to the heart of what Luther means with this daily use of baptism in his little treasure of a book, A Large Catechism. He says this:

“Sanctification,” “Christian life” after baptism, is often misunderstood as a progress, kicked off, as it were, by baptism. This has obviously to be false. Baptism initiates into the life which God’s three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, live among themselves; what would we progress to from that? Rather, sanctification is the continual return to baptism, from the errors and forgettings and perhaps plain unbelief or crime into which life after baptism will lead us. Baptism is always there as a fact in my past; I can always, as Luther said, “creep” back to it and begin anew. (p 50)

Jenson continues:

If I do become more sanctified as time goes on, if my life does less fight against communion with Christ in the church, this will be because such fresh starts come closer together and are each time more drastic. (ibid, 51)

This is at the heart of Luther’s “daily use” of baptism. What a treasure!

Luther on Prayer

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In his book Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, Oswald Bayers argues that prayer is “constitutive…for Luther’s theology” (p 346). Bayer lays out Luther’s theology of prayer from his sermon May 13, 1520, Rogate Sunday:

As nowhere else, this text documents in a pregnant way Luther’s reformational understanding of prayer; it shows very clearly not only how Luther explained the Trinity is such a way that its theological character of as promise was central, but also how his understanding of prayer itself had a trinitarian character. Whenever Luther preached in subsequent years on Rogate Sunday, he came back to the basic structure of what he articulated in this sermon (346)

Bayers quotes this sermon, which follows 5 steps that, as he says, are centered around God’s promise and his triunity. Luther says:

Every prayer consists of five [identifying characteristics]; otherwise the prayer is offered in vain.

The first is the promise of God, which is the foundation on which the entire prayer relies: if there were no promise, our prayer would be worthless; it would be unworthy of a favorable hearing, since it would rely on its own merit.

The second is that one states the specifics…so that the scattered thoughts can be focused on the godly promise, because I hope to acquire help; this is what one calls gathering one’s thoughts. Based on this, [self]-selected little prayers… are not priestly prayers, since they do not gather one’s thoughts, nor do they summarize the matter on the heart that seeks resolution

Third: faith is necessary, by means of which I believe in the God who makes promises, that I can expect that what I pray for is possible without having doubt. To be sure, God ensures that all things are guaranteed not because of you and your prayer, but because of his trustworthiness, by means of which he has promise that he will give it…

Fourth, [the prayer] is uttered with earnestness, not with a vacillating spirit and not as if one does not urgently desire the thing for which one prays… This would be a mockery to God, as if he were not willing to guarantee what he had promised… (347)

Before we move to the fifth mark, which transitions to the trinitarian structure: notice here that all of prayer is dependent not on the one who prays, but on the God who promises. God is the one who gives the riches of himself in his Son, and promises to hear and answer because of his benevolence, not because of our worthiness or lack thereof. This is why Luther says in step two not repeat selected little prayers. He has in mind not liturgical prayers (Jesus gave us a prayer to memorize!!), but rather mindless praying. Prayer must be thoughtful, filled with the content of God’s benevolence. Prayer this is not a passive enterprise; it is one that remembers and claims God’s covenant promises in Christ.  

Next, Luther ventures into the trinitarian structure of prayer in his fifth mark:

Fifth, such prayer takes place in the name of Jesus, by whose command and by whose authority we can come confidently before the Father of all things. Thus it cannot happen that the prayer goes without being heard: the Father has promised an answer through the Son, as through an instrument. And our sins hurt Christ; he prays concerning them in heaven, as if they were his own. Tell me now: what could cause a rejection here? The Son prays in heaven in my name; I pray on earth in his name. Thus the righteousness of Christ is my own, my sins are Christ’s: this is admittedly an unequal exchange. And both come to purity together: my sins vanish in Christ and his holiness washes me clean, so that I become worthy of eternal life (347-8)

Notice here that prayer is located in the Son before the Father. This is what Bayer means that Luther’s theology of prayer is trinitarian. In prayer, sinners are unequally yoked to Christ, and being in him, they come worthily before the Father. And thus it is because of that union with Christ that their prayers are heard. We may speak to the Father because Christ has latched himself to us and us to himself, and thus we are one mystical person in conversation with the Father.

Bayer expounds on this principle:

The final section [of Luther’s sermon, number 5,] answers the decisive question: How can I have any right to address the one who has power over all things, and furthermore, how can I be confident I will be heard?

Freedom from such uncertainty and from our sins comes to us only in connection with that event in which God himself comes to us and brings us to himself: in the way God comes as the triune one. For only in the differentiation and yet mutual connection between Father, Son and Spirit can we be certain concerning the speech in action of God, as those who believe and as those who pray… (348)

Bayer means to say that our prayer is heard because in salvation, we come to inhabit the “mutual connection between the Father, Son and Spirit”. We become one person with the Son in the power of the Spirit, and thus the Father hears us because we are in his Son. Put more simply, we come to the Father not in and of ourselves, but in the Son. We are, to put it sacramentally, in vital union with Christ through baptism: we die and rise with him, and ascend with and in him to the Father. We are seated with him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6).

Just as an aside as we end, it is worthy noting here that Luther did not have a merely extrinsic understanding of salvation, as many accuse. Christ is not “out there” representing us to the Father. Christ is in us, we are in him, and thus we are taken up with him to the Father. Luther famously says that “in faith itself Christ is present”. By this he means that to have faith means principally to be vitally united to Christ.

What all of this means is that prayer is effective because God donates the very person of his Son to us, and we become one person with him. We come in Christ by the Spirit to the Father. And thus our prayer is heard!

 

United to His Sacred Body: A Reformed Theology of the Lord’s Supper

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Below is a term paper I wrote on the Lord’s Supper surveying traditional stances on the presence of Christ is the elements. After surveying each of the traditional views, I critique the “local presence” view and the “memorialist” view in preference to the Reformed “receptionist” view of the Lord’s Supper.

The title of this paper comes from the Heidelberg Catechism which says this about the Lord’s Supper:

Question 76: What does it mean to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood of Christ?

It means …to be so united more and more to His sacred body by the Holy Spirit, who dwells both in Christ and in us, that, although He is in heaven and we on earth, we are nevertheless flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone, and live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul.

Feel free to read it here:

United to His Sacred Body, A Reformed Theology of the Lord’s Supper

New Perspective on Luther?

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I must admit that when I first became a Christian, Luther was a hero to me. He was my “go-to”, and I chose to read his works over really any other. Luther is one of those types of writers who is “in your face”, not afraid to call the Pope antichrist, etc. The youthful rebel in me loved that about him!

I still enjoy Luther, but as of late, he has fallen on hard times. In fact, he has seemed to come under fire by everyone: theologians, historians, etc. The critiques generally tend to view Luther’s theology of justification and salvation as too individualistic, nominalist, too legalistic in its emphasis. Historians especially have tended to place Luther’s view of salvation in the context of his overbearing father. They say Luther had “daddy issues”, and that he viewed God through that lens: God is this sort of overbearing, mean Father who demands perfect holiness. But, Jesus obeyed perfectly in our place, and by faith we get his record placed over our bad record, and thus we’re “saved”. Put another way, Dad is mad, but brother Jesus comes and gives Dad the obedience required, and he isn’t mad anymore. Because of this view of Luther, many theologians have critiqued his view of salvation as being simply too nominalist, “on paper only”, not realistic enough. Can God accept someone “on paper only”? And is God really that mad?

Certainly this picture is problematic. But is this really what Luther thought of salvation? Not really. In fact, there has been revived study of Luther which has tried to read him honestly. Lutheran Jordan Cooper explains this new reading:

In the mid-1970s a group of Finnish scholars, led by Tuomo Mannermaa, began to reevaluate Luther’s understanding of justification in the midst of an ecumenical dialogue between the Lutheran Church of Finland and the Russian Orthodox Church. Seeking to find common ground among the two theological traditions, the doctrine of theosis became a central point of discussion, especially in relation to the theology of Luther. Maannerma’s influential work, Christ Present in Faith,80 argues that Luther’s view of justification was not one of mere imputation; this was an innovation of Luther’s disciple Melanchthon. For Luther, justification includes an indwelling of the person of Christ. Christ is not outside of the believer in a law court, placing his works before the Father to satisfy the demands of divine justice. Christ, as the righteous God-man, imputes his righteousness through divine indwelling. The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul (p. 41).

What Cooper is meaning to communicate here is that for Luther, salvation is not simply this exchange of records: I’m bad, but Jesus is good and gives me his good report card. No, actually, for Luther, salvation in essence consists of union with Christ which entails death to sin and participation in his resurrection life. 

In fact, when one examines Luther’s works, especially his Freedom of the Christian and his famous Galatians commentary, there is simply no talk about extrinsic record-giving. Jesus doesnt appease the angry God by offering his perfect report card. When read carefully, Luther is found to say repeatedly that salvation is by faith alone because faith grasps the whole Christ, with everything that is his. 

Cooper illustrates from one of Luther’s early sermons called “Two Kinds of Righteousness”:

[In this sermon Luther] uses the imagery of a bride and her groom: “Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is the bride’s and she all that is his- for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh . . . so Christ and the church are one spirit.” Luther is drawing upon the common theme of his mystical heritage that the believer’s soul is united to and participates in the being of God…

Through faith, the believer is not only given Christ’s benefits, but also Christ himself: “Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all the he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours.”… Luther does not connect Christ’s righteousness to his active obedience to the law. Throughout this sermon, legal metaphors of salvation are far from dominant. He expresses his thoughts primarily with participationist language. Rather than righteousness being imputed over the believer’s own sin, Luther describes this righteousness as that which is “an infinite righteousness, one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ; [the Christian] is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he.” The believer is not condemned because he participates in Christ’s person. As one who is divine, Christ does not and cannot sin. Thus, through the Christian’s participation in divinity, sin is not imputed to him. Luther sees Christ’s righteousness not merely as a legal covering, but as that which effects sanctification: “Christ daily drives out the old Adam more and more in accordance with the extent to which faith and knowledge of Christ grow. For alien righteousness is not instilled all at once, but it begins, makes progress, and is finally perfected at the end through death.” The believer is gradually perfected in his union with Christ until his Adamic nature is no longer present. Luther sees justification as a progressive act of participation in divinity, not merely an instantaneous forensic reality. (44-46)

So then, legal categories are “far from dominant”; in fact, union with Christ is paramount in Luther’s theology. It is not Jesus giving us some detached record of righteousness. Rather, by our union with Christ, we are joined to the one who has “infinite righteousness”. Imputation is there, but not out of the context of union with Christ. Union is rather “the ontological grounding for imputation and forgiveness” (62). In fact,  Cooper goes so far as to say, “imputation and renewal are so connected that Luther is comfortable at times using progressive language in reference to justification. One’s sanctification is, in a sense, bringing about the reality of the past event of justification” (52-53).

Taking all of this into account, Cooper goes on to argue that Luther is really in line with patristic thought and much of the medieval mysticism of his day. We cannot forget that Luther was in fact a medieval theologian, unlike Calvin and the other Reformers. Cooper goes on to explain that Luther’s thought, rather than being nominalist and legalistic in its emphasis, is right in line with medieval theologians like Athanasius: “along with Athanasius, Luther can speak of salvation in participationist terms (i.e. sharing in divinity through union with Christ) as well as in forensic language (i.e. Athanasius’ language of paying the “debt of death” all men owe to God because of Adam’s transgression) (64).

I could go on here, but when one really examines Luther’s early thought, his language is much more participationist, and ontological than is really credited to him.

Born Under the Law

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One of the most profound truths of the gospel, is that Christ not only took the penalty of our law-breaking, but he also fulfilled the law on our behalf during his life on this earth.

Christ himself said as much in Matthew 3:15, that he came to “fulfill all righteousness”. Christ said this just before he was baptized. John the baptist, rightfully noticed that Jesus didn’t have to be baptized, because he was perfectly righteous. Yet, Jesus didn’t do it for himself — he did it to fulfill a righteousness that we did not have. Paul also expounds on this fact. He says in Galatians 4:4 that Jesus came at God’s predetermined time, and he was “born of a woman, [and] born under the law“. This is a profound verse. As God the Son, Jesus was the very revelation of the law. His very character helped shape the very giving of the Mosaic Law. As such, this means that Jesus was not forcibly subject to the Mosaic Law, as humans are. Mankind is part of God’s creation, being created in his image; and therefore we are held accountable to reflect his character and righteousness through obedience to him. However, Jesus is already the very radiance of the Father (Heb 1:3), being the second person of the Trinity, and therefore already contains the righteousness demanded in the law. So Jesus never had to submit to the law. Instead, Jesus willingly, voluntarily, humbly, subjected himself in the incarnation to full obedience to the Law.

And Jesus didn’t do it for no reason, or for show. Jesus subjected himself to the Law, in order that he might “redeem those who were under the law” (Gal 4:5). In other words, Jesus came to fulfill the law’s demands on behalf of sinful men, that they might be counted righteous. He took the full weight of the burden of the commandments, not for himself, but for us. And all that we might be delivered from the curse of the law (Gal 3:10-14). Jesus was perfectly obedient, as a disciple of the law, that we might be counted as righteous disciples of the law. As Paul says later in 2 Corinthians 5:21, that we might become “the righteousness of God” in him.

Martin Luther says of Galatians 4,

Christ, a divine and human person, begotten of God without beginning and born of the virgin at the appointed time, came not to make a law, but to feel and suffer the extreme terrors of the law and to overcome it, so that he might completely abolish it. He was not a teacher of the law but an obedient disciple of the law, so that by his obedience he might redeem those who were under the law. He was the one acted upon, and not an agent, in respect to the law. He bore its condemnation and delivered us from its curse.

Luther makes a helpful distinction here that many misunderstand. While Jesus did teach the law, this was not his main purpose in the incarnation. In other words, Jesus was not just “a good moral teacher”, as many say. Jesus himself denied this claim. His main mission was to deliver those who were under the law. And he did this by obeying its demands perfectly, and by dying under its curse — this was all done for us. Luther finishes his section on this verse, saying, “to teach the law and to perform miracles are particular benefits of Christ, [but are] not his main reason for coming into the world”. Christ came to to deliver us from condemnation, and he did it through representative obedience and vicarious death.

Phillip Ryken expounds on this principle further, saying,

[Christ] was born “under the law”. By his birth he was required to keep the whole Torah, which he did with total perfection. Jesus kept the whole law for his people. He was circumcised on the eighth day, as the law required. He never broke even one of the Ten Commandments. He followed the biblical pattern of worship. He went to Jerusalem to keep the feasts. He celebrated Passover. He did everything the law required.

Jesus even died under the law. For God’s Son, coming under the law included accepting the death penalty his people deserved for breaking it. This is what Paul explained in chapter 3[:13], when he said, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for  us”. When Christ came under the law, he also came under its curse. He not only kept the whole law for his people, but also suffered the punishment due to their sins.

Oddly, many believe that Jesus was opposed to religion. This isn’t really true. Grace and religion (earning God’s love through strict obedience) may be opposed. But this is only because Christ was the perfect law obeyer. He was the perfect Jew. He was the one in whom God was “well pleased” (Mt 3:17). And because of that, we are under grace. Because by virtue of faith in Christ, we receive his perfect obedience and death to the law, thereby being redeemed from the curse of the law.

Why the Gospel is Offensive

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I’ve been studying Paul’s epistle to the Galatians lately. Paul wrote this book to combat a false gospel which had broken out in the church. It was a gospel which preached salvation by works of the law as opposed to Christ alone. It was a gospel which demanded obedience to God in order to be saved. Paul wrote to correct this mindset, and free them (Gal 5:1) from the bondage of legalism. He wanted to them to get the full-orbed theology that is salvation by grace alone. Paul preached a gospel which said that salvation is free because Christ “gave himself for our sins”, and substituted himself for us (Gal 1:3-5). It was a gospel which said that Christ has done all the work, and therefore, we don’t have to do any work. Christ wins our salvation for us.

However, Paul came up with some issues when combating this false gospel. Paul’s reputation was coming under fire by people who were trying to discredit him. Some of Paul’s opponents had accused him of preaching free salvation in order to win “the approval of man” (Gal 1:10), not to serve God. In other words, they accused Paul of watering down his message in order to gain a following. They supposed that Paul made entrance into salvation easy in order to appease his crowds. He wanted them to like him, and so he made the gospel easy to obey.

However, when you think about it a bit more, the biblical gospel of grace, of free salvation, is not all that easy. Yes it is a gospel of grace. Yes, it is a salvation won by the merit of someone else. But it is also a gospel which presupposes man’s utter depravity in sin. It is a gospel which, while preaching freedom, also preaches man’s total bondage to sin (Rom 8:6). It is a gospel which despairs of all of man’s goodness. In this way, then, Paul’s gospel is not easy. It is not a crowd pleaser. And actually, Paul points that out. He asks in Galatians 5:11, if my gospel is such a crowd pleaser, “why am I still being persecuted?”. And in fact, Paul was persecuted severely for the gospel he preached.

Now why is that so? Well, I think it’s clear. It’s easy to be saved. But it is equally hard to admit your need for salvation. As Paul says, before we can be saved, we must be “found to be sinners” that need grace (Gal 2:17)! And it is hard to admit your need for grace.

As Martin Luther said, commenting on this truth:

[Paul] is saying in effect, … By my preaching I do not seek human praise or favor but rather desire to set out the benefit and glory of God…[For] we condemn human free will, strength, wisdom, and righteousness and all religion of human devising. In short, we say that nothing in us can deserve grace and the forgiveness of sins. We preach that we obtain grace only by God’s free mercy, for Christ’s sake… This is not preaching to gain human and worldly favor, for the world can abide nothing less than to hear its wisdom, righteousness, religion, and power condemned; to speak against those mighty and glorious gifts of the world is not to flatter the world but rather to provoke its hatred and indignation. If we speak against men or against anything linked to their glory, we must expect cruel hatred, persecution, excommunication, murder, and condemnation…

I show that people are sinners, unrighteous, wicked, objects or wrath, slaves of the devil, and damned, and that they are not made righteous by what they do or by circumcision, but only by the grace of Christ. Therefore I provoke people’s deadly hate, for… they would rather be praised as wise, righteous, and holy. So this is proof enough that I do not teach human doctrine

The gospel is truly offensive. But it is all the same free! What a paradox!