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.

We are Back!

Thanks to everyone who has read SimulBlog in the past. We are coming back as early as next week.
Thanks for being patient. Unfiltered proclamations of gospel truth shall henceforth flow from SimulBlog. Tell your kids. Tell your wife.
This is an unrelated video from the 1993 animated film “We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story” starring John Goodman.

God the Ignorant, Pastor the Scrutinizer

From Steven Paulson’s Lutheran Theology:

When faith (like Abraham’s) gets a promise (like Christ) the whole world changes. Faith finally grasps the object it was made for, and in so doing takes leave of itself and clings only to Christ. Christ then becomes the sole mediateor between the sinner and God’s wrath… When trust is in the right thing, then Abraham’s sin is no longer counted; it is ignored becauase it belongs to Christ…

I was terrified the first time I believed that God ignored my sin. It must have been about two years ago, after a conversation with my pastor, as I read something by Luther. I felt like a heretic. I grew up Southern Baptist and the Baptists don’t tend to be huge fans of ignoring sin.

It was two things things that convinced me this “ignorant God” thing was not heresy, but in fact the core of the gospel. I was being told, by Luther and other theologians that God was ignoring my sin. Okay, I thought, how nice. At first it was simply another expression of the transactional ‘decision’ I made for Jesus when I was seven. But, as I was growing closer to my pastor at the time, I realized he was relating to me as if God ignored my sin. He was giving flesh to this little “God ignores your sins because of Christ” proclamation. He was more concerned about getting me to grasp the gospel (intellectually), and grasp onto the gospel (spiritually), and I could tell he was not immediately worried about inspecting and restricting my sin problem. 

If you have grown up a Christian, when a pastor relates to you as if they are firstly concerned with teaching you what Christ has done for you, it is a strange sensation. We don’t realize it, but we just expect our pastors to treat our sin problem. This is why people try not to say words in front of pastors that they would say in other contexts. This typically pisses most pastors off, but I have said curse words around enough pastor types to realize that most unconsciously respond with a disapproving attitude. They are simply doing what their congregation expects them to do.

So, when a pastor intentionally refuses to do the scrutinizing, when he imitates God’s posture of ignoring our sin because of Christ, people begin to grasp this core part of the gospel. If they are like me, for the first time ever, they will realize God is no longer their enemy.

Sympathy for Sinners?

One of my friends is getting divorced. I heard this from one of our mutual friends. His wife left him and it has been weeks since he has seen his newborn baby.

I had heard a few months ago that he got caught sending some inappropriate text messages to someone of the opposite sex. I was discussing the news of his divorce with some friends. Someone in the group brought up his adulterous texts, and followed it up with, “You can’t have sympathy for someone who does that.”

On an objective level, this guy certainly doesn’t deserve anyone’s sympathy.

One of my friend’s called me last night. She had been studying the Psalms at her small group. “How did that go?” I asked.

“I’m beginning to think David is a real asshole,” she blurted out. I laughed.  She continued, “I mean, usually there is a problem with me when I read the bible. So. It is probably me. But still. Why does he presume to be so righteous, so indignant towards his enemies, when he did what he did with Bathsheba?”

I won’t fault either of my friends simply because their first impulse was to not be sympathetic towards adulterers. In fact, if anyone pretended to be totally unaffected by sensational details about sexual indiscretion, I wouldn’t trust them.

We sometimes over-estimate our ability as humans to create sympathy for others out of nothing. This probably cheapens sympathy on a universal level. I could have dug in my heels with both these friends and challenged them: Who are you to say these things? You have sinned in your hearts, just like these people!

I just didn’t think to do that, because in the first instance I was too sad for our other friend who was losing his family. And in the second instance, I couldn’t snap because I can’t really defend David. He made some pretty scummy moves. Nonetheless, I couldn’t shake the sense that I have frequently made appeals to God to show me favor despite glaring sinfulness on my part. When you think about it, this posture is pretty absurd. There isn’t really an apologetic maneuver to ease the tension of the inherent silliness of a sinner praying to God for favor.

It is silly that God would show favor to sinners. It is absurd to be sorry for someone who squandered away their own marriage. It is ridiculous to pay the laborer who only worked the last hour of the day the same wages you paid to the worker who showed up at 8am. It is inconceivable to quiet your conscience because of someone else’s punishment on your behalf.

But it is all true. It isn’t necessary to cheapen grace – undeserving sympathy – by demanding it from everyone all the time. Of course our impulse as sinful, self-righteous people won’t be to pour out love for those who screw their lives up. But that is Christ’s impulse and promise.

So when you find yourself in the seat of the adulterer, when you haven’t seen your baby girl in weeks, Christ’s promise is as true for you as it’s ever been. Whether or not your friends are quick to offer sympathy, Christ has already poured out his grace on your behalf.