Grappling: The Two Tables of the Law 

Grappling: The Two Tables of the Law 

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The Pharisees come up and ask Jesus Which commandment is the greatest? and Jesus’ answer is interesting.  He doesn’t point to any one commandment – in fact, he doesn’t quote any single commandment at all; rather, he gives a summary of all the Commandments – love God and love people.  

His answer is instructive – the heart of the Commandments is to love; not as an emotional abstraction (“all we need is love!”) but that in the Commandments we find very specific, concrete principles of what love for God and neighbour ought to look like.  

God’s high, holy standard for us is encompassed within the Commandments as a whole.  You can’t pick out just one and elevate it above all the others – they are designed to work together as a complete ethical system, each commandment flowing out from the previous one all the way back to the first, and summarized into two tables – love for God (the first table) and love for neighbour (the second table).

Jesus also points out that our love for God and neighbour is never finished.  Love your God with ALL your heart and ALL your soul and ALL your mind.  How’s that working out for ya?  If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ll find that under the Law there is always more to do.

When we confess our sins before God, we confess this very thing – We have not loved You with our whole hearts; we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves.  We have sinned against God and neighbour in thought, word and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. 

Thanks be to God that we are covered by the blood of the Lamb, who left nothing undone; who is the beginning and end of love! His grace is sufficient and in Him all things are made complete.  

Grappling with The Ten Commandment

Grappling with The Ten Commandment

I’m gonna take a break from our discussion on “What is the Gospel?” for a bit. I’m not nearly close to done yet with it (how could one ever be done talking the Gospel!?) and our discussions back and forth here have provoked some other thoughts for me…things that I’d like to digest a bit more before I move on with part 3.

In the meantime, I thought I’d move into God’s other great Word for us – the Law!

Lutherans are often accused of not preaching the Law, or at least not preaching it often enough.  I’m chuckling a bit here, partly because I’m sure one could easily find churches with the name Lutheran on them that do exactly that, but to that all I can say is, Have you ever read our stuff??  Or heard our sermons? Lol

Seriously, we do not exclude the Law. Not even close.  We just do not preach it in such a way that it steals away the promise of the Gospel, as if our salvation depended on the keeping of it.  I mentioned before that Lutherans have a dread of mixing Law and Gospel, that is, speaking either of them in such a way that it distorts the other Word.  We want to keep the Gospel straight, but we want to keep the Law in its proper place as well. We hold the Law alongside the Gospel as God’s true will for us, a will that he wants us to believe and make manifest in our lives of service.

Lutherans, in short, love the Law as all true Christians do!

For all that Luther loved to write about the Gospel – especially Justification by grace alone, through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone – he wrote extensively on the Law as well, the fullest treatment of which he gives in the Large Catechism.

Our human tendency is to view the Ten Commandments as just that – commands to be obeyed – but with magnificent insight, Luther understood the Comandments not just as commands for us but also as gifts, promises, and virtues for us as well.  It’s really quite beautiful.

It’s a bit of a different way to look at the Commandments, all that they encompass and teach us, and how they ought to function in our Christian life.  If you’re interested, the full text is here, but be warned, it’s long and the language is a bit difficult (it was written in the 16th century, after all).  If you’re more like me (aka lazy) and prefer just a summary that hits all the high points, then I have just the thing for you!  

Come, be blessed!

Christian Definitions – The Gospel, Part 2

Christian Definitions – The Gospel, Part 2

I recently asked, What’s your definition of “the Gospel”?  

I didn’t quite know what to expect, whether any one would care to respond, or what form the response(s) would take. But I was curious, so I asked.

The first response, Patrick’s, delighted me by its honest simplicity:

Good News.  That pretty much says it all! 😀

Good News!  Yes!

Another way to say it might be the Good Announcement, or Good Pronouncement, or even Good Declaration.  The English word we use – “news” – conveys a sense of “announcing or making known” facts.  As in true facts; information that is trustworthy.  

In other words, this is not “fake news”…there is evidence for the claims it makes, if one wishes to examine it. There are facts to back it up.

The Gospel is first and foremost a declaration of truth, and in a way, the very fact that it is truth is what makes it Good!

But it’s not any old “good news”; it is in fact a very specific good news.

It is a Good News that is good for all.

It is a Good News that always remains true.

It is Good News because it is an everlasting word of promise, for me and for you.

Is there any other good news that can boast that?

If my husband came home and said, Baby, I’ve got good news!  We’re going out for lobster dinner tonight! this would be good news for me – a night off from cooking AND I get lobster??  Yes, please!!!

But it would not be such good news for my daughter-in-law, who is allergic to shellfish.  A world without shrimp would be good news to her!

But the Gospel isn’t like that – it is good news for everyone, no exclusions.

So the Gospel then, at its core, is a declaration of promise for all.  

But again, not just any promise, but a very specific promise, as Wally points out, that is centered upon Christ:

The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the message around which the Gospel is built. The whys of those fill the message out.

So as the old hymn testifies, Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

The Gospel, then, has three sure components:

1.  It is declaration. 

2.  It is for all. 

3. It is centered OUTSIDE of us, upon the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, taking all that into consideration, here’s my kick at the can at “defining” the Gospel:

The Gospel is the announcement to all that we have been made right with God and have ever-lasting life with Him, because Jesus died on the Cross in our place.

I may decide to tweak that definition as I work through it, but that would be my “30-second elevator pitch” if someone were to ask me.

Defining the Gospel accurately may seem like a purely academic exercise, but I would insist that how one defines and understands the Gospel will have profound spiritual implications for the Christian life.  The Gospel is what we centre our Christian life upon, so getting it right has implications for not just for the life to come, but for this life as well. In Christ, there isn’t a single moment of our life in which the Gospel is not brought to bear. Moment by moment, we live by faith, that the promise of the Gospel is true; that even as our natural eyes insist, “Things ain’t right here…I ain’t right here”, the Gospel remains true. That’s what faith does; it clings to the sure promises made in the Gospel – the only sure promise ever – sealed by the blood of Christ.

Perhaps the simplest articulation of the Gospel is this one drawn from the Psalms:

Our help is in the Name of the Lord.

Our – that is, all of our, belonging to all of us

Help – that is, the fulfilment of our one great need, restoration to God 

The Name of the Lord – that is, Christ, his very Person, all that He Is 

That’s a whole lot of Good News packed into one short sentence!  

Then Salvageable came along and added this:

The good news of redemption and reconciliation with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; including the spoken message about Jesus, the written Word of God, and the other means of grace that depend upon God’s Word.

His definition pretty much “checks all the boxes” (I guess we could quibble that the “for-all-ness” of the message is not explicitly stated) but I don’t think it’s absence destroys the central message; in fact, I’m not so dogmatic about it that I would say that every proclamation of the Gospel must include x, y and a or its not the Gospel.  These Gospel “components” are simply marks of the true Gospel; that when the Gospel is spoken in this way, all truth is being declared. It is the Truth that we trust, not our own formulaic expression of it. 

But then he goes and adds this part –including the spoken message about Jesus, the written Word of God, and the other means of grace that depend upon God’s Word. 

What’s up with that?? 

Well, he’s brought up a concept that is quite familiar to a Lutheran like me, the biblical concept of the means of grace.  Outside of Lutheran circles, I don’t hear it discussed much, and I’m not entirely sure if it is unique to Lutheranism…but I think it might be.

When Lutherans speak of the “means of grace” what we are getting at is our belief that the bible teaches the efficacy of the Word, by which we mean that God’s word has power, and is able to bring about that which it declares.  

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He declared, “Let there be light” and there was light.  It’s not like He simply flipped the light switch…light did not exist until God spoke it into being. That which He declared came into being by the power of God’s declarative word. When God speaks, things happen.  He promises that His Word does not return void and he wants us to believe that.  

When He took his last dying breath upon the cross and sighed, It is finished, His word did not return void – His word accomplished it.  Forgiveness for all was won at the cross, declared into being by Christ’s word.

Yet the forgiveness that was won once for all upon the Cross – bought for all, paid for all, declared finished for all – is not delivered to all at the Cross.  It is delivered, brought to us, by means; specifically the means of God’s word, through which the Spirit calls forth faith.

It wasn’t my intention when I originally started this post to get into the means of grace and the efficacy of the Word – these truths aren’t a part of the Gospel Declaration per se, but they are certainly teachings that are connected to it, teachings of comfort and assurance for troubled hearts.

They teach that we can trust that God’s word is able to do what it says it does…including saving you and me.  So in that sense, they are Good News as well.

Who would believe such a foolish thing? We would, apparently.  Thanks be to God!

That’s probably as good a place as any to end this part.  

There is one more part to come; one last aspect of “defining the Gospel” that needs to be touched on, and that is defining what the Gospel is not.  

To help us get there, I have another question for you to ponder…so here goes:

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved… 

Law or Gospel?

Let me know what you think!

Sidebar: The Time My Husband Got Excommunicated – A True Story of Church Discipline

Sidebar: The Time My Husband Got Excommunicated – A True Story of Church Discipline

Wally has a series of posts going on about church discipline.  I have a personal example of church discipline that I’d like to share, but I fear it will be a bit of a long story and I’d rather not hijack Wally’s comment section to tell it, so I’m posting here instead.  

Actually, it’s not me, personally, that faced church discipline…it was my husband…but it affected me, and it was done at least partly for my sake.

In 2010/2011, my husband had an affair with another woman.  This is not a big secret, I have a whole other blog that I wrote for about three years, pouring my heart out, trying to come to terms with it all.  I guess you can go and read all about it if you want to – just be warned that it’s raw and ugly.  I’m not really going to go into many details today though – I just want to share the part that has to do with church discipline.

So, when I first discovered that my husband had been cheating on me, I went to him with it.  I found out accidentally, I had no idea that it had been going on, suspected nothing; and yet, when I stumbled across plain evidence of it on his laptop, wasn’t my first thought So THAT’S what’s been going on!?!  Suddenly, everything clicked; all the cracks that has recently appeared in my marriage suddenly made sense.  I knew in an instant it was true.

The only thought I had in my head was, This can’t be happening.  But I knew that it was.  There was no need for me to look any further, to search his laptop and look for – what?  More proof?  Proof was right here in front of me.

I didn’t know what to do, and I guess maybe instinct and habit took over because I did what I would normally do.  I went to my husband, the guy I always go to with my troubles.  

So with maybe no more than a minute having passed, I grabbed the laptop and and went to my husband.  Inside, I was one hot mess, but I managed to say as evenly as possible, What am I looking at here?  

And so the truth came out, and he admitted his sin to me and I again I did what came naturally to me; I immediately forgave him.  Imperfectly, yes; not even very well, really…but I forgave him as best I could, as best as my wounded, confused heart would allow in that moment.

I told him, I forgive you…and maybe it was only 1% true, maybe not even that much; but I spoke the words, knowing that it was not the paucity of my act of forgiveness that made forgiveness for him true. I could confidently speak those words to him because his forgiveness is not dependant upon how much (or little) forgiveness I could muster up in my heart for him.  Christ’s promise stands ever true – your sins are forgiven.  

I forgive you, I told him, and we can get past this.  I will do whatever I have to.  Please give her up so we can move forward.  

And those words were like lightening to him.  He was deep in his sin, and my words caused him to flee.  Much, much later, he told me that it was my very words of grace and forgiveness that he didn’t know what to do with.  He KNEW he was unrepentant, he KNEW intended to continue his affair, and he KNEW he didn’t deserve any grace. Certainly not from one he had harmed so grievously.  And even though a part of him desperately wanted to take the grace being offered, he wanted his sin too.

And so he rejected grace.

This isn’t so scandalous as it seems – this is simply what struggling with sin looks like in the life of the Christian. We all do it, in big and little ways, every day…this is just an example of it, magnified to the nth degree. And, of course, I have the benefit of hindsight now.

I don’t think I did anything “wrong” in how I approached him.  I spoke Law to him – You are hurting me, please stop – and I spoke Gospel to him – I forgive you, and I want to be reconciled with you – and both were doing their work.  If they had not been, he simply wouldn’t have cared either way.  He wouldn’t have felt conflicted by it; there would have been no struggle within him.

He agreed to speak to our pastor.  I wasn’t there for that conversation and my husband has only given me a few details of what transpired, but the gist of it was, In love, be restored to your wife, whom the Lord has given you.  You are hurting her, as well as the image of Christ that you bear as her husband.  You must stop.  

The best my husband could do was promise to try, but, of course, he really did not; he made no attempt to, really didn’t want to…he only said so to get everybody off his back.  

We continued to see our pastor twice a week and my husband continued to insist that he was trying, but after 4 weeks of it, I was a nervous wreck and my husband was not showing any indications that he wanted to be reconciled.  His affair continued underground (though not so underground that I couldn’t find traces of it).  He was still living in the family home, but he was not being a husband to me, not in any meaningful sense of the word.  And I don’t know, suddenly, how badly he was sinning against me became crystal clear – this man was no longer my husband.  He had completely cast off his duties as a husband to me and had given them to another woman.  We were husband and wife in name only, a mere legal formality.  He had forsaken our true marital bond, the bond made in Name Only. (<– see what I did there?)  We were no longer husband and wife to each other, and somehow (to me anyways) I felt like by staying in the situation, I was participating in adultery as well.  

So I left him, though I made it clear that I was not leaving the marriage, I was leaving the situation that he had put me in. This was his choice, not mine.  If he would repent and turn away from her, then and only then would I be able to return.  If I was to return, it would be a return to our marriage and not whatever this sham had become.

As I mentioned earlier, I was in rough shape by then.  I was going through chemo treatment at the time as well, and I was barely hanging on mentally and emotionally.  My parents got me into the hospital where I was admitted to the mental health unit; then called my pastor for me as well.

He came immediately.  I told him.  I don’t remember all that much about that conversation.  I do remember that he asked me if I wanted him to let my husband know that I was in the hospital and I remember struggling with answering that.  I finally decided that I would have my daughter let him know.  (For the life of me, today, I can’t imagine why I thought it would be okay to burden her with such a thing… did I mention I was in the mental unit??)  In any case, my pastor then also asked me to let him know when my husband had been made aware of what was going on with me, basically for pastoral reasons, which I understood.  He would have to talk to my husband about this.

And now my pastor had to bring the full thunder of the Law upon him.  His actions, and his failure to repent of them and be restored to forgiveness had brought about a physical and spiritual rupture to the marriage.  He was not, as he insisted, “trying”.  This was simply open, unrepentant sin with dangerous spiritual consequences. This was not only about “stop sinning against your wife”, this was about “stop inviting damnation upon your soul”!

For that is what it is to reject forgiveness and restoration.  It is unbelief.  It is to say, I don’t want those things, nor do I believe that I need them.  I like things fine, just the way they are.  To choose to stay in that state, well, that is a dangerous place to be.

And so, out of love and concern for my husband, my pastor warned him that for the good of his soul, until he repented he could not be admitted to the Supper, lest in unbelief he “eat and drink damnation upon himself”.  It’s a strong warning to the sinner, to say I’m not so sure you actually believe what you profess to.  You say you believe in the forgiveness of sins, but you are rejecting it.  Something is not right and it needs to be examined.  

The Church calls this type of warning excommunication.  Ugly word, ain’t it?  I’m not all that knowledgable about it, honestly.  I know that for churches that use it, there’s often a formal process involved, but I also know that it’s a bit more than merely a bureaucratic formality, that there is a Scriptural foundation to its use and a body of theology surrounding its use.  But beyond that, I’m not really conversant enough with it to get into all that.  I “get” the concept, but not well enough to articulate it coherently 😉

So far as the formal process, what little I know, my husband related to me.

I’m holding back a chuckle because my husband, of all people, was well acquainted with the not just the process of excommunication, but also all of its theological underpinnings, LONG before he experienced it personally.  You see, he sat on our church’s board of elders – had for years.  He knew all about the process, all about the theology behind it, as part of his training and duties serving as an elder.

What happened was, after our pastor had warned him, but before he was formally excluded from the Sacrament, he was asked to meet with his fellow elders.  They sat in a room together and one by one they spoke to him Law and Gospel.  They were kind, they were gentle, but they were firm: Brother, flee from sin and unbelief.  Be reconciled to your wife and to your Lord.  Be joined again to your brothers and sisters in our common confession – Christ has died for ME.  

And STILL he did not believe. I know this because he told me (again, much, much later) but he told me straight up, he didn’t believe there was anything to be forgiven.  And not to put to fine a point on it, but that is rank unbelief.  He told me that at the time, he believed that it was God’s will for him that he should be with this other woman.  That marrying me had been a mistake and that he could see God’s hand so clearly in his new relationship.  He was supposed to be with her, he was sure if it.

Do you see what he did there?  Do you see how he shifted his trust from the clear commands – and the clear promises – of God for the promises of a different god of his own making?  I don’t know what other to call that than unbelief.  He sure wasn’t behaving like he believed it!

Now I wanna be clear here, I don’t know if my husband ever actually strayed over in to unbelief.  I don’t even think he knows.  My point is not to speculate about whether he did or he didn’t.  My point is, it doesn’t really matter – either way, he was in dangerous territory.  Yet despite this, the Lord kept a hold of him.

How do I know this?

Because the Law and the Gospel did it’s work. Though he didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to believe it, the Law convicted him – This is wrong.  It didn’t happen overnight; we were separated for 9 long months as he struggled to fully believe it.  But the Law kept doing its work and convicting him, I don’t care what your new god says, you KNOW you have abandoned the truth!  And then the Gospel swiftly moved in, Come back to Truth.  Let go of the so-called promises of your false god; return to forgiveness and life and rest.  I know you feel like you have done nothing to deserve grace and restoration – let go of that too, for it has already all been done for you.  

Back and forth he went between his two “Gods” with their two very different words for him…both insisting, “You should believe me!”

Only one of those words actually has the power to do what it says it does.  There is only One Word that declares “I save you!”…and then DOES.

My husband did eventually repent and return to me, a long and painful process for both of us.  Do not make the mistake of thinking that it was the excommunication that caused it, for it is only God’s word that has such power. Excommunication is intended to protect the one who has been excluded from bringing more harm against them, should they be eating and drinking the Supper unworthily.  Ideally, the Christian should excuse himself from the Supper should his conscience be bothering him, but sometimes the conscience malfunctions and we don’t recognize that we are unrepentently sinning.  In such a case, it is up to the Church to intervene and protect the sinner from further harm. Excommunication is not meant to be a hammer with which to crush the sinner (that’s what the Law is for) – excommunication is meant to be loving protection, a shield for the “smoldering wick” against the wind of unbelief. But it in no way has any power in and of itself.

From what I understand, it is seldom used, mainly out of concern that it be used wrongly, because to keep another from the Sacrament is serious business, and every effort must be made to bring about repentance before it must be, however reluctantly, applied.  Much discernment and pastoral care is needed in deciding when and when not to apply it.

In the end though, it is the Gospel that remains the cure; the sure and steady promise that there is life and forgiveness – for YOU – in Christ.

Anyways, that is my true story of my husband’s messy, but ultimately beautiful, reconciliaton to me, and to his Lord.  

I couldn’t change his heart.

My pastor couldn’t change his heart.

His elder brethren could not change his heart.

But Jesus could.  

And He did.

Christian Definitions: The Gospel, Part 1

Christian Definitions: The Gospel, Part 1

Anybody interested in playing along at home? 

How do YOU define “the Gospel?”

I’m curious.

Partly because…I’m just just curious 😀 And partly because I think defining terms is important to discussion and communication.  

And let’s face it – even common Christian terms like faith or grace can be squishy amongst Christians 😋  Not necessarily contradictory, but there can be nuances of meaning to these terms – when I say “the Gospel”, all that I may wish to convey by that term may not be heard and understood by the hearer (who may be hearing me use it through his own nuances understanding of it as well).  

So I’m curious, when somebody uses the term “the Gospel” what do you hear being conveyed?  What do you think the term means?

It doesn’t need to be a full theological treatise or anything, just a sentence or two.  We’re not looking for right or wrong answers here – which is NOT to say that there are no wrong answers, nobody’s saying that, ok? 👌  I’m just interested in what you think the term encompasses, what you bring to your hearing and understanding of the term. And then maybe discuss any differences, if that interests you.

I’ll give you my definition…but I wanna see what YOU have to say first 😀 Otherwise, where’s the fun?  

The Gospel, The Whole Gospel, and Nothing But The Gospel

The Gospel, The Whole Gospel, and Nothing But The Gospel

This sermon blew me away.

This is a typical “Lutheran-style” sermon insofar as it preaches Law (to show us our sin) and Gospel (to show us our Saviour, the antidote to our sin). That’s what you get (or should get) with every sermon – a healthy dose of Law to scare the pants out of your conscience, followed by an equally healthy dose of Gospel, so that we may be comforted and assured that because of Christ, we may have a clean conscience before God.  Not because we’ve kept the Law; no, no, no – because Jesus has kept it in our place. This is what we trust, therefore this is what we preach – Christ crucified.

Every week.  Sunday after Sunday. Christ crucified, for you.  

What’s unusual about this sermon is he’s not preaching from a text.  That almost never happens.  If the sermon isn’t based on one of the appointed texts for that Sunday, it will be based on an appropriately chosen alternate text for the occasion.  But regardless of what text is being preaches and expounded upon, it is always a Law/Gospel sermon. Always.  Like, no exceptions.

And I know for a lot of non-Lutheran Christians, that is gonna sound a little weird, and maybe even a little wrong.

Well, I won’t lie, I went through a period where I questioned the wisdom of it as well.  I mean, I’m a Christian, right?  I already know all this Gospel stuff.  When are we gonna get to “higher living” stuff?  Aren’t we supposed to be hearing the whole counsel of God?  When are we going to move from milk to meat?

All I can say is that my understanding of what constitutes “milk” and what constitutes “meat” got flipped upside down…but that is a story for another day.

The Gospel IS the meat.  It comes to us as water and Word, and bread, and wine. These are God’s ever present gifts to us by which He creates and sustains faith. It is Christian food for weary souls in need of nourishment.   

And so we hear the Law every week, which does it’s work, condemning our sin and crushing our consciences, causing us by the power of the Spirit to flee back to the Cross, back to our Christ, where we cling to Him as our only hope of deliverance.  

If you get a chance to listen to this sermon – it’s not terribly long, maybe 15 minutes – see if you can pick out the Law, the “problem” so to speak that the preacher presents, and how he applies the Gospel as the remedy.