Simul 7: Seven Gospel Quotes to Get You Through the Week (Apr. 21)

We are a bit late with the seven quotes this week, but here they are! I sincerely hope they help you get through your week, especially if difficult things are happening. If death or suffering surround you, cling to the Word that Christ’s love is yours, forever.

1. On why Predestination is not Scary, but Priceless

This means that predestination is not a doctrine, or a thing to be believed; indeed, the point is that it cannot be believed in, but when joined with a promise from Christ the effect of predestination is priceless.
-Steven Paulson, Lutheran Theology

the-small-crucifixion

2. On Experiential Christianity

It’s not about my experience, but it’s about the Word of God. If you base your life and your faith on the Word of God, the experiences come afterward. And they are there, we have all sorts of experiences of God’s presence in our lives, not by looking around for God’s presence in our lives, but by locating ourselves in that biblical story, finding ourselves as those for whom Christ died. Saying: the story of Jesus Christ includes me, because he died for me, among all the others.
-Phillip Cary, author of Good News for Anxious Christians, (quote from this interview)

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3. On Having Ears to Hear

There is too much timidity, too much worry that the gospel is going to harm someone, too much of a tendency to buffer the message to bring it under control. It is essential to see that everything hangs in the balance here. Faith comes by hearing. Will the old persist? Will we understand ourselves to be continuously existing subjects called upon to exercise our evanescent modicum of free choice to carve out some sort of eternal destiny for ourselves? That depends. It depends on whether someone has the courage to announce to us, “You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God!” “Awake you who sleep, and arise from the dead!”
-Gerhard O. Forde, from his essay Radical Lutheranism

4. On the Death of Religion – Including Christian Religion

Since the practices of religion never achieved even a scrap of what they promised, God just ignored them and won the game unscrupulously — by the irreligious device of dying as a common criminal. There is therefore now not only no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; there isn’t a single, properly effective religious act anywhere in the world, not even in the so-called Christian religion. We pray the Lord’s Prayer, not our own. We fast to remind ourselves of his leastness, not our own heroics. In Baptism and the Eucharist, in Confession and Absolution, and in all the priestly acts of the church, we’re celebrating what Jesus has already done, not negotiating with God to get him to do it.
-Robert Farrar Capon, The Foolishness of Preaching (Pastor Tullian tipped me off to this book after his post from last week)

5. On the Law of God and its Purpose

The law of God (wherever it is found in Scripture) has one purpose for the Christian—to drive him or her to Christ whose mercy, forgiveness and love are without measure and always extant for believers. That is to bring forth praise and worship for his forgiveness when we have failed, and great praise and worship when we have succeeded.
-Steve Brown (Please read the whole article if you have time, you will be grateful)

6. On the Name of this Blog, Holy and Profane

Thus a Christian man is righteous and a sinner at the same time, holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God. None of the sophists will admit this paradox, because they do not understand the true meaning of justification. This was why they forced men to go on doing good works until they would not feel any sin at all. By this means they drove to the point of insanity many men who tried with all their might to become completely righteous in a formal sense but could not accomplish it. And innumerable persons even among the authors of this wicked dogma were driven into despair at the hour of death, which is what would have happened to me if Christ had not looked at me in mercy and liberated me from this error.
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians (Luther’s Works, Vol. 26)

7. On the Flow of Good Works

Those who want to become generous shouldn’t simply try harder to give more, or try harder to be a cheerful giver—as if the fruits of generosity and cheerfulness can be emotionally mustered up from the infertile grounds of our own naturally stingy, selfish hearts. Rather, we should listen again to God’s gracious word to you: his gift of his son Jesus, who gave you everything when you least deserved it. My bet is that, when the magnitude of the gift we have received is understood, generous and cheerful giving will come.
-Austin Gentry, from this recent post 

That is all! We hope these quotes hit home for some of our readers.

What Comes After Justification?

Once we have figured out that we are justified by God’s grace through Christ – and by nothing else – can’t we then move on to better spiritual things?

Most of the seminarians and preachers I know talk this way. We can master and understand how deeply God loves us, then we can get on to putting things into practice. Deeds not words, we holler.

Those who say, “Don’t move so quickly past justification – God’s grace in Christ that forgives you apart from your work,” have garnered a lot of flack for this kind of speaking. Indicatives then imperatives, say the haters, who get frustrated with guys who sometimes end a sermon promising that all of the work has already been done.

Luther faced the exact same resistance in his ministry. Let me be so bold as to say this is truly the core of Luther’s theology. Now listen to Luther say it:

People are not justified and do not receive life and salvation because of anything they’ve done. Rather, the only reason they receive life and salvation is because of God’s grace through Christ. There is no other way.
Many Christians are tired of hearing this teaching over and over. They think they learned it long ago. However, they barely understand how important it really is. If it continues to be taught as truth, the Christian church will remain united and pure — free from decay. This truth alone makes and sustains Christianity. You might hear immature Christians brag about how well they know that we are justified through God’s grace and not because of anything we do to earn it. But if they go on to say that this truth is easy to put into practice, then have no doubt they don’t know what they’re talking about, and probably never will. We can never learn this truth completely or brag that we understand it fully. Learning this truth is an art. We will always remain students of it, and it will always be our teacher.
The people who truly understand that they are justified by faith and put it into practice don’t brag that they have fully mastered it. Rather, they think of it as a pleasant taste or aroma that they are always pursuing. These people are astonished that they can’t comprehend it as fully as they would like. They hunger and thirst for it. They yearn for it more and more. They never get tired of hearing about this truth.
(From Faith Alone)

Luther knows that comfort comes only in the pursuit of this aroma, the pursuit of knowing deeper and deeper that Christ’s love sustains us, not our fleeting and wavering love for him. Your deeds will reflect Christ’s work in your life, but never because you have moved beyond justification. In fact, only because you have moved deeper into this truth in your life. You become better the more God’s unconditional love humbles you.

Luther also said that the preacher’s job is to get the gospel into his congregant’s head, then keep preaching it week after week until it is in her heart.

On Easter weekend, when you may be extra religious and devoted, remind yourself that our glorious savior Jesus Christ loves you even when your devotion falters, which for most of us will be Sunday afternoon when the festivities have died down. Christ’s love is for you even then.

The Law is Like an Angry Little Girl Murderer Stuck in a Well

Did you ever see the movie The Ring? It has been a long time for me, but I remember this crazy part in it where the guy thinks that he has figured out what the poor little girl ghost who has been murdering everybody really wants. She wants to be set free from the well she is stuck in, he decides. So he sets her free in this lovely moment, and you think everything is restored and fine. “It’s over now. I set her free,” he says to his love interest. “What the hell did you do that for?” the love interest replies. Suddenly, the little girl comes out of the TV and murders him.

The law is like that. We think we know what it wants (our good behavior), but then we also think that it is attainable and that some among us have attained it. Jesus speaks to the first, by saying we haven’t really a clue what it is after – indeed our whole hearts, not just modified behavior. The second, though, is where many of us will repeat the mistake of The Ring‘s protagonist.

Preachers today haunt us with the law, but then tell us that we can set it free. Try your best to follow their steps, their prescription, and it is likely that the law will stop haunting you. Just be enough like the first century Christians, up your devotion a little bit, read your bible a little deeper. Just be generally good, and support good causes, and don’t be a jerk to people. The law, like the little girl in the ring, is much greater than that. We can’t buy it out. It isn’t cheap. And it is ruthless.

It is counter-intuitive to the max, but we must stop preaching this way. We cannot set the law free, or shut it up. Only Christ can. Only by letting the law condemn us entirely can we ever be free from its haunting grasp. We need to hire someone stronger than the angry ghost, lest the ghost haunt us forever.

Haunting people with the law is not spiritual. It is a half-truth that makes us believe we can stop the haunting. But the haunting is only foreshadowing our murder. If, when you suspect you are doing something wrong you try to remedy it, you will never be completely sure that you did. If you are completely sure, stay away from the TV where it will come out and murder you. The law is not gracious – especially to those who think they figured it out.

The-Ring

The Holy Spirit is not a ghost that haunts, he is a ghost that comforts. Jesus said, in John 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” This passage is surrounded by a constant refrain of: “do not be afraid.” 

Do not be haunted by the law, instead let the Holy Ghost battle it out in your heart as he testifies to your perfect savior who secured eternal life and freedom for you. The law will and should murder you completely, forcing you to abandon all hope. Let it. Don’t try to set it free, instead let Christ set you free into love for God and others that isn’t tinged with terror and dread, but with rest and comfort.

Simul 7: Seven Gospel Quotes to Get You Through the Week (Apr. 14)

This is the second week of our new segment of seven quotes from books and around the web that will help you understand the gospel and believe that it is true for you. Here goes! Less pictures and longer quotes this week, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s all just so good though, we couldn’t help it.

1. How the impossible Law makes our Hearts Glad

For when the heart hears that Christ fulfills the law for us and takes our sin upon himself, it no longer cares that impossible things are demanded by the Law, that we must despair of rendering them, and must give up our good works. Yea, it is an excellent thing, and delectable, that the Law is so deep and high, so holy and righteous and good, and demands things so great; and it is loved and lauded for making so many and such great demands. This is because the heart now has in Christ all that the Law demands, and it would be sorry indeed if it demanded less. Behold, thus the Law is delightful now and easy which before was disagreeable, difficult and impossible; for it lives in the heart by the Spirit. Water no longer is in the pots, it has turned to wine, it is passed to the guest, it is consumed, and has made the heart glad.
-Martin Luther, The Sacred and Precious Writings, Vol. XI

pouring-wine

2. I Don’t Believe that You Love Me

When I hear the word I love you, I always doubt that it is true. I think it is being spoken not to me, but the “me” that people see, the “me” that I ampretending to be. But Jesus’ words from the cross, spoken to those who just drove nails through his hands and feet, the word “Father forgive them” is a word that knows the people, it knows what they have done. The answer to the question “Who put Jesus on the cross?” is “I did.” . . . With his dying breath, Jesus said “Father forgive them,” and in that word “forgive them” Jesus knows me and heknows you, and he loves me, and he loves you.
-Jono Linebaugh, Words from the Cross [link to Video]

3. How to Love Righteousness

Only under radical, scandalous, real grace, with the ready availability of forgiveness and acceptance when we need it, are we able to be truly virtuous because we love it. Only under grace can we truly regret our sin — a regret that occurs not through fear of punishment but through a realization of all that we have missed, such as the party and the joy that could have happened under the Spirit’s guidance and leading. We come to truly regret sin and love righteousness when we actually like righteousness better.
Jim McNeely, The Romance of Grace [Amazon link]

4. Spiritual Disciplines, meet Grace. Grace, this is Spiritual Disciplines. 

It was my whole-hearted engagement in the discipline of fasting that put me on a collision course with the revelation of my weakness and God’s grace. How can you fail if you don’t try? And how can you know God loves you unconditionally if you don’t fail?
-Erik Guzman, The Best Article Jake Read All Last Week (This title was slightly modified.) [Read this.]

5. The Hardest Thing about Preaching the Gospel

The challenge is speaking a gospel which actually puts an end to the law and brings about gospel living. When people are constantly confronted with talk about how they must become holy, how they must have the Spirit to become so, how they must show their sanctification now that they have been justified — it is no wonder that peculiar things begin to happen! The law never really ends. No matter how correct the talk of sanctification may be theologically, the gospel has been eclipsed and people fall under the law once again.
Gerhard Forde, Christian Spirituality: Five Views on Sanctification [Amazon link]

6. Relaxing(!) and Free-Will

Can you talk yourself out of fretting? Can someone else? People sometimes tell me to relax, especially when they feel a little uneasy with my unceasing activity. On the one hand, they are speaking out of their own discomfort, perhaps thinking, “If he’s so busy, maybe I’m at fault for not being like him.” More important for me, however, is the attach that the command “Relax!” conveys. If I were able to relax, don’t you think I would? I can’t relax! The more the other person tells me to relax, the more jumpy I become. If I had “free will,” I would be able to switch from high-intensity to easygoing in a heartbeat. But I cannot. I cannot.
Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice [Amazon link]

7. Don’t Forget the Application

When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better, that is what it means to get better! When we stop obsessing over our need to improve, that is what it means to improve! Jesus has done it all, he has paid it all, he has forever set things right so that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” None. Nothing can separate you from God’s love. Here are my instructions, the application, Christ has applied everything that you need to you. The application section of the sermon is: “It is finished.”
Tullian Tchividjian, Romans Part 10 [link to sermon video]

Simul 7: Seven Gospel Quotes to Get You Through the Week (Apr. 7)

Simul Blog is adding a new weekly segment. These are seven quotes about the gospel (and the preaching of the gospel) that we are convinced will help you survive the week.

1. On Pastoral Lightning Strikes

It would not be surprising if God were to hurl His lighting at every preacher who has filled his manuscript with high-flown terms, intending to shine by his oratory. Such language is not understood by the common people. It may, at best, enter their intellect, but it does not enter their hearts, where it ought to lodge.
-C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel

Lightning_STL

2. On Theology and Laughing at your Wipe-Outs

Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want. Just don’t lose your sense of humor if your theological surfboard deposits you unceremoniously in the drink.
-Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment

3. On Commandments and Slavery

Commandments do not grant freedom, they take it away. That is a hard but indispensable theological lesson to learn.
-Gerhard Forde, The Captivation of the Will

4. On Good Works or the Greatest Idolatry

If we esteem them too highly, good works can become the greatest idolatry.
-Martin Luther, (Found in Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional)

5. On How God Feels about You, yes, You

This is the thing to get straight; here is what [the gospel] is saying. He loves you. Now. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. You are the one He loves. Do you think He doesn’t know what a sinner you really are? While you were yet a sinner, He died for you. Do you get it? Forget about repentance and performance and service and evangelism and the whole world of all of it. It will come later at the right place and time. He loves you.
-Jim McNeely (original bolding), “This is your Fiery Sermon?

6. Token Tullian Quote

I’ve never met anyone who is not exhausted. I’m not talking about exhausted because we’re too busy raising children and trying to pay the bills. I’m talking about emotional exhaustion, relational exhaustion and living on a treadmill of performance to ensure that our lives are meaningful. All of those things are just our own frantic attempts at self-justification.
-Tullian Tchividjian, Love for the Weary and Heavy Laden

7. Simul Blog Quotes Themselves 

My go-to comfort becomes the resolutions that I make to myself. I silence the voice of inadequacy by puffing out my chest, not confessing my spiritual bankruptcy. I add the clanging of my resolutions to the haunting voice of the Law – noise to drown out noise.
-Deathbed Theologians

[I guess they were a bit dark this week. Jim's quote - number 5 - is the resolution to all the confessional quotes. If you let the other quotes seep in this week, make sure you understand they are all pointing to the truth that you are loved completely by God in Christ despite your work or lack of work. Christ has delivered you completely. Go in freedom. "Love God and do what you will." Augustine said that. You have been set free. Completely.]

[If you have a great law/gospel quote and would like to contribute it to the Simul 7, email simulblog@gmail.com - thanks!]

Deathbed Theologians

Death_bed_of_President_James_A._Garfield_-_From_Harper's_Weekly_-_NCP_001861

I found myself recently pondering the details of my own death. It wasn’t pretty.

Will I die alone? Will my spouse outlive me? Will I have a son or a daughter to grieve me? Will I die in my sleep, at my home, forgotten? Or in the hospital, suffering and drugged up? At a retirement home? In a car seat, bleeding and covered in glass? A freak accident? Cancer?

Let me change the subject for one second. Martin Luther, the church reformer, made a distinction between theologians of glory and theologians of the cross. Theologians of glory chase after a spirituality that focuses on our efforts as Christians, as we attempt to grow more visibly holy and righteous, more desired by God, more ‘victorious’ over sin. Glory theologians shy away from discussing deathbeds. The story of Jesus saving the thief on the cross doesn’t preach too well for them – he doesn’t really have enough time to change his life and become a glorious example of human progress. Theologians of the cross, however, are aware that the deathbed leaves everyone powerless and without hope for any more progress, so they shift their focus from our accomplishing holiness to Christ and his promises. Theologians of the cross, deathbed theologians, are aware that no matter how we live our lives, we are all eventually the thief on the cross, spiritually bankrupt, facing mortality and begging desperately for mercy.

[Sidenote: Theologians of the cross are don't despise good works, but just perspectivize good works. Do them! You will be happier and so will your friends. But when you fail, God won't be caught off guard or withhold his grace from you. It's weird, kind of. For lots of us who grew up religious, making spiritual efforts without the pressure of threats seems difficult to imagine. There is no 'sucking-up' to God. He accepts us fully and completely in our imperfection. "God doesn't need your good works, but your neighbor does." Okay, now back to deathbeds.]

Our deathbed rips control away from us, as we realize we have no decision-making power about what comes after. I am not in control of my eternity. On our deathbed, our powerlessness is magnified until it becomes our entire identity.

But wait. Is it true we really don’t have power? Are we really so out of control? We all want to say, “No!” The things we have done in this life matter greatly to what happens after we die. If that is our first thought, then we are depending on our works to save us, and not God’s promise in Christ.

Just a little bit more triage before we meet grace again. Bear with me for a second.

The Law does nothing after I die. It ends there, because my ability to “do” ends there. If I live an entire life assuming that the Law is going to save me, that my hard work for Christ is going to get me into heaven, then I’m going to be scrambling when I am forced to face my death. When I am faced with my nakedness, like Adam and Eve were, I hear the voice of the Law that says: “Don’t worry, I can resolve that if I focus more effort on that broken area of my life. I can fix that problem eventually, with enough elbow-grease. I can conquer that sin.” My go-to comfort becomes the resolutions that I make to myself. I silence the voice of inadequacy by puffing out my chest, not confessing my spiritual bankruptcy. I add the clanging of my resolutions to the haunting voice of the Law – noise to drown out noise. I try to hide my shame with fig leaves, hoping God won’t notice or will even be impressed at how much effort I put in concealing that shame (Gen. 3:7). My heart is loud with law and, its constant companion, shame.

The joy of following Christ is that my “doing” never saved me in the first place. On my deathbed I won’t be haunted by my past sins, or my current bitterness, or Satan’s accusations, or my spiritual poverty. Satan can say, “You are pathetic on your deathbed. Why should God love someone so weak, so alone, so sinful? God knows that you love to gossip. God remembers how many times you got drunk. All the times you fell asleep praying to him. All the unkindness towards your family. Those five years you went without giving any tithes. Those secret sins that you have tried to forget.” And I can confidently respond, “I am a peasant, indeed. A silly beggar, undeserving of someone else’s perfect record. But Christ’s promises are my salvation, and he doesn’t break his promises. God has forgotten my sin, on Christ’s behalf, and I am fully pardoned. Go away Satan, your accusations aren’t good here.”

God is very interested in you letting go of your own works. I know it sounds strange and even unnecessary to some of us. We have all done some things we consider impressive in the past. We all think that, compared to those around us, we are not that sinful (so did the self-deluded pharisee in Luke 18 who thanked God that he wasn’t “like this tax collector, a sinner.”). Your deathbed demands you admit your spiritual bankruptcy, because the tax collectors share the same deathbed. The thief on the cross shares that deathbed, too (remember the parables of the workers in the vineyard from Matthew 20?). So there lies you, the tax collectors, and the thieves, the pharisees and the saints, all with one choice: cling to Christ – who came to call not the righteous but sinners (Mark 2:17), or cling to your accomplishments and assert your own righteousness. Keep in mind, there is no one who is righteous (Romans 3). You have only Jesus and his works to cling to. It is impossible to hold God’s hand when your hand is so tightly wound around your own spiritual efforts.

Your academic degrees, your wealth, your generosity, your accomplishments are worth nothing as you take your final breaths. (I applaud and encourage those accomplishments for today, but those deathbed questions have me a bit skeptical of the worth of our accomplishments in 60 years). But God’s promise – that you are loved and cherished forever because of Christ’s sacrificial death – is as true at the hour of your death as it was at the hour of your baptism.

Daily Devotionals and the Scandal of Redemption

…It is a laudable and happy thing to imitate the example of Christ in His deeds, to love one’s neighbors, to do good to those who deserve evil, to pray for one’s enemies, or to bear with patience the ingratitude of those who requite good with evil. But none of this contributes to righteousness in the sight of God.

-Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians

Imagine their are two types of Christs. We have Christ the Example, and the Christ that Redeems. Which Christ is feeding the evangelical daily devotional industry? 

Redemption means justification. Redemption is the cross, the climax of the biblical story. Redemption, justification, is NOT your daily struggle to obey. Redemption and your spiritual disciplines are different things. A sermon on spiritual disciplines has a lot more punch if it intertwines these two things, though. If you leave a sermon about obedience thinking, “Oh man! I reallllly need to obey more like Jesus did, because I can make myself closer to God and more like God,” then you might subtly be focusing on the example part and missing the redemption part. If they get muddled at all, then what always happens is the Christ that Redeems gets left behind and all you think about is your own glorious striving to imitate Christ the Example.

Even the phrase Christ that Redeems seems a little boring. But instead of being boring, I think it is dreadfully exciting. If we need ‘redemption’ it means that we are not sufficient without someone acting on our behalf. Christ didn’t consult us about dying on our behalf. If we are like the disciples, we even discourage Christ from wrestling spiritual control out of our legalistic hands. Christ that Redeems excites our deepest fears that the only way up is actually down – through a bloody cross. The human part of you rejects the notion that power is made perfect in weakness, almost as much as it rejects the scandal that life is found in death. Naturally we want to quiet these fears, so we dismiss all of these spiritual matters of death and life as esoteric and boring and detached from daily experience.

Christ the Example is less offensive and intertwined with daily experience. Even business leaders and Ghandi can get behind this guy. We have Jesus Christ, CEO and Ghandi’s quote about “Give me your Christ, and to hell with your Christians” (Paraphrase). The point is, imitating a meek Jewish philosopher sounds glorious. Even imperfect imitation promises glory (try your best, forget the rest!). So your daily devotional that gives you application to imitate heroic Christians or Christ himself is wonderful and respectable.

But if the Christ that Redeems thing gets any traction, then all the glory we seek with our imitation is damned. Is damned too strong a word? Maybe. Even Luther says imitating Christ is ‘laudable and happy.’ So go for it! But without the Christ that Redeems, our imitation is reduced to law. And it is law based on the presumption that glory comes with diligence. But we can’t presume that. Christ’s point in the Sermon on the Mount is that when you evaluate the heart, all under the sun are defiled. So our imitation, and especially our failed attempts at imitation, has nothing to do with our righteousness.

Now, before anyone starts thinking I’m copping out here, trying to lower the bar for becoming/being a Christian, let me say one thing: the price is more not less. But the person who pays the price is not YOU. Luther elaborates:

For us to be righteous in the sight of God a price far higher than human righteousness or righteousness of the Law is required. Here we must have Christ to bless us and save us… Not through works but through faith.

Your daily devotion is probably fine. But don’t leave the Christ that Redeems in the dust of your obsessive imitation. When the spiritual train comes off the track in your life, Christ that Redeems will pick up the pieces, while your ambitious imitation of God’s love cowers, shielded from the flames.