First Comes Salvation

I read something this morning that struck me as something I should have seen on my own but never did.  A writer was commenting on the 10 Commandments.  Now amongst Lutherans we tend to speak of Law and Gospel as separate things, each of which has it’s own purpose in God’s design, but they are not to be confused.  Martin Luther said you weren’t a real theologian until to could rightly divide the two.

Typically we say the Law has 3 purposes.  First, it shows us God’s will.  I like to compare this to a curb in the street–it shows us where the edge is and we know if we go over it we’ve messed up.  You can’t drive on the sidewalk.  The second purpose or use of the Law is that it is a mirror.  When I look into it I see myself as a sinner for I have violated every one of God’s commandments.  And the third use of the Law is that it is a guide for our lives.  Not only do we where the edge is, we are also told how to move and live in the area between the curbs.

All of that is pretty standard stuff among Lutherans.  But this morning I learned something new about it.  God does not give the Law to the people of Israel until after He has rescued them from slavery.  First He saved them, and then He gave them the Law.  Salvation first, then duty, if you will.

For those who do not know Jesus as Lord the Law is a daunting thing.  It seems merely to tell us what we can’t do and, stubborn and self centered as we are, we recent that.  So while we might give lip service to the Commandments as good things, we actually don’t like them.  But when the Holy Spirit brings us to faith through the proclamation of the Gospel, the Law we [secretly] hated now seems beautiful to us.  Now we don’t grumble about what God wants of us, we are overjoyed that we get to follow His will.

When we apply that insight to the situation of the giving of the Law we see that God’s work in the desert foreshadowed the work of Christ for us.  First we are saved–then we love the work God prepared for us to walk in before time even began.

Without God’s antecedent work of salvation the Law is our enemy, but afterwards we can see it for what it truly is–a gift from God to His people.

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The Root of the Problem

We live in a sick culture.  Indeed, I want to say that our culture is in the process of collapsing and that process is, if anything, speeding up.  Last week we saw another example of extreme violence in the United States as a man took out his anger on people in a nightclub.  This, of course, led to the usual calls for gun control, tolerance and understanding.  In other words, politicians got a whole new set of talking points to try and get themselves either elected or re-elected.

That brings me to another example of cultural collapse–the state of our politics.  Now no one ever said that politics was like beanbag.  It’s a hardball game even in the best of times.  But today our nation is facing an election in which our choices are such that almost everyone I meet says they would rather vote for none of the above.

Let’s go to another example of our cultural collapse–the argument over who gets to use what bathroom.  Really?  Really?  I simply can’t believe we’ve come to this point where we must even have this conversation.

I could go on, and I’m tempted to because I have a lot of gripes with America these days.  But my point is that no one seems to understand the problem.  We’re like people who take more and more aspirin to hide the pain caused by their brain tumors.  In reality our culture is collapsing because we have unhitched it from what kept it functioning–faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God whose ways are perfect and just and whose mercy is ever active.

Most people in Western Civilization were never truly Christian.  The Church has  never been the majority anywhere.  But our culture was shaped by the values that underlie Christianity.  Even those who denied God accepted that what is taught in the Bible about human behavior is good for everyone.  Such things as the value of human life, the equality of men and women, concern for the least and last amongst us, caring for our neighbors–all these and many more that Western culture  accepts as true didn’t just spring up out of the earth.  These things weren’t just “instincts” that we as animals have programmed in so that the species can continue.  No–these things came from the spread of faith in Christ and shaped and molded the way we looked at the world around us.

But today we are busy tossing Christ in the garbage and trying to live as we want.  The problem is that what we want is really just sin–plain and simple.  And sin never, ever leads to anything good.  We can pass all the laws we want, we can cry and moan and leave teddy bears all over the place.  But without Christ we are becoming a society in which, as Thomas Hobbes said, life is nasty, mean, brutish and short.

But we take heart because God has promised us that He will never abandon His people.  He has promised us that no matter how hellish our culture becomes, Christ has triumphed over sin, over death and over the devil and that His people will indeed share an eternity of joy in which God’s will is lived out daily, not by a few, but by everyone.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

I Can’t Believe It

I’ve reached the age where very little can surprise me anymore.  As someone said recently, what everyone believed yesterday will probably be illegal tomorrow.  But today I came across a news story that just made my jaw drop open.  It seems that out in California some college professor types are creating–get this now–creating a human/pig hybrid fetus.  Yes, that’s right, we’re now put human and animal DNA together in the hope that we can create body parts to replace those which are diseased.

This is not simply a scientific experiment.  It is far more than that–it is a blatant attempt by men to become gods.  Why if we can create our own version of life–who needs a Creator God?  If we can create things that could never exist in nature–who needs all those natural laws and things like that?  If we can create things living beings that have never been before–who can stop us?

I try not to be an alarmist.  I try not to be always saying that we’re on our way to a hot place in a hand basket.  But the world has not seen anything like this since the Tower of Babel.  And you might have noticed that God didn’t let them get away with it then and I’m pretty sure He isn’t going to turn His head now.  Then again, maybe this is the last thing before the Lord returns in His glory.  I hope so.  But what if it isn’t?

Well, people have to stand up and scream at the top of our lungs, “you can’t do this, it isn’t just wrong, it is evil.”  Evil is a strong word but I don’t know what other I could use.  This is evil, and people of faith must be the leaders in speaking out against it.  Here there can be no middle ground between the true God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–and the spurious gods of Berkeley.