Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let these plead for you

I was searching for a good Martin Luther quote for Advent. I found a quote I liked in one of Luther's Advent sermons although the subject matter is not dealing especially with Advent. I liked it so much I decided to post it though:

Here you must with all diligence beware of taking offense. Who stumbles at Christ? All that teach you to do works, instead of teaching you to believe. Those who hold forth Christ to you as a law-maker and a judge, and refuse to let Christ be a helper and a comforter, torment you by putting works before and in the way of God in order to atone for your sins and to merit grace. Such are the teachings of the pope, priests, monks and their high schools, who with their masses and religious ceremonies cause you to open your eyes and mouth in astonishment, leading you to another Christ, and withholding from you the real Christ. For if you desire to believe rightly and to possess Christ truly, then you must reject all works that you intend to place before and in the way of God. They are only stumbling blocks, leading you away from Christ and from God. Before God no works are acceptable but Christ's own works. Let these plead for you before God, and do no other work before him than to believe that Christ is doing his works for you and is placing them before God in your behalf.

In order to keep your faith pure, do nothing else than stand still, enjoy its blessings, accept Christ's works, and let him bestow his love upon you. You must be blind, lame, deaf, dead, leprous and poor, otherwise you will stumble at Christ. That Gospel which suffers Christ to be seen and to be doing good only among the needy, will not belie you.

-Martin Luther, in his sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent in his Church Postil


Anna said...

Great post. I love that I am writing about shows in DVDs and you feature Martin Luther. Oh well. Merry Christmas! Enjoy your time off. I know you need the rest. I am preaching the next two weeks and am excited about it.

Ed said...

I still have a hard time seeing how "believing" is not in and of itself a work. Perhaps the message here would be better phrased "do this work, and not those works" with the understanding that the one is efficacious and the others are vain.

Ed said...

If believing is not a work, why tell someone to do it?

Matt Perkins said...
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Matt Perkins said...

Well Ed, Paul seems to see a distinction between faith and works where he writes in Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." I think Paul also draws this distinction in Romans ch. 4.

I tell people to believe because I think that's what the Bible tells me to do - to preach the gospel. When it comes to belief being a work, I certainly don't believe it is - I would say it's a gift from God to the one who would believe.

Matt Perkins said...
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Matt Perkins said...

just thinking about faith/works... I think faith is something you can't choose to have. You can't really decide to believe something, or at least I've never been successful at it. I've always had to have been convinced even when I wanted to believe something, like the gospel. I think when a man comes truly to believe the gospel, that belief came not from within himself but only from a sovereign act of God by His grace in that man. When it comes to "works" I can be like any pharisee and keep the law probably better than most and perform any religious ritual you ask me to. At this point though I count that obedience to laws or rituals as "rubbish" as Paul says in Philippians 3:8 about his own "righteousness" as a pharisee. If salvation could be got by any kind of work then those who were saved could boast about it. But Paul is clear that boasting is excluded by the kind of salvation that God saves us with through Christ.

Ed said...

Hi Matt,

Merry Christmas!

I didn't post that to "Protestant bash" or anything, it's actually an issue/question that I had for a long time before I became 'dox.

Perhaps you'll think me foolish, but I have tended in recent years to think St. Paul was not referring so much to faith in his Ephesians sentence as he was to salvation. That is to say that it is not a question of where the faith comes from, but where the salvation comes from. It may seem like a slight distinction, but I think it has profound implications on the meaning of the passage.

But I think that perhaps a more serious problem with popular interpretations of "not by works" from St. Paul is that it seems to contradict the Scriptures in many places. For instance, when the rich young man comes to Jesus in Matthew 19, if what the young man needs is faith but not any work, why does Jesus answer his question about how to be saved by pointing him first to the works of the Law and then, seeming to agree that he may have fulfilled these, pointing him to a work not even found in the Law, that he should give away his possessions and follow the Christ? Why, when asked explicitly how to be saved, does he fail to mention faith in explicit terms?

Perhaps compounding this issue is the fact that pistis (frequently rendered "faith" by NT translators) is a bit ambiguous, and is often better rendered faithfulness or even something like faithful obedience or devotion.

Anyway, I have to go. But one more thought: St. Peter famously admits that he has difficulty understanding Holy Paul in some places. Is it possible to prove salvation by faith alone and to prove that this faith proceeds monergistically from God from the rest of the NT without any reference to Paul? Of course, no doubt you would reject this method based on your understandings of what the Scriptures are, but it might be something worth trying once, just to see what you come up with. (I know, you're too busy to do this - I understand - my weeks come in 60 hour minimums these days. I just thought I'd suggest that for when you have more leisure time in the future.)

Matt Perkins said...

Merry Christmas to you too Ed. I was thinking you should have posted some crazy snow-storm pictures if it hit your area.

When it comes to the Ephesians passage, Paul is obviously talking about salvation and how salvation comes to one who would be saved. It is by grace and through faith and it excludes boasting. So no matter where both faith and salvation come from, as you believe the passage is concerned with, boasting is excluded which seems to me to exclude any synergistic understanding. Salvation is simply the gift of God, not by anything we could do or earn.

As for Matthew 19, the young man claims to have "kept the commandments." He may have believed that he had kept the commandments but other places in Scripture make it clear that no one has kept the commandments and that if one tries to be justified by the law, he is alienated from Christ - Galatians 5:4. Why would Christ lay before this man the law? Perhaps to convict him of sin, to show him that he is a sinner who cannot earn salvation and that he must seek that salvation elsewhere. Christ then says sell your possessions and follow me. This sounds like a call to repentance and "following Christ" could certainly be viewed as placing faith in Christ. If you are following Him, there must be a reason for it - there is salvation only in Him.

Obviously it would not be possible to "prove" salvation by faith alone without the Pauline writings as it is not possible to "prove" it to some even with those writings. But I think the idea, although not as developed, appears in many other places in one way or another in both the OT and NT. Off the top of my head I think of the Gospel of John, "for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Ed said...

I think you're too caught up on the boasting thing, personally. I've heard it from you before, and I think it is the origin of our disagreement.

I say that if you find yourself dangling off a cliff and a man comes and offers you his hand to swing you to safety, even if you cooperate with him you really have no right to boast.

You seem to believe that the man must find a way to save you without asking for your cooperation in order to exclude your possible boasting.

What, by this analogy, does the synergist boast in? Can he really boast in having grasped the saving hand, as though he has found a way up the cliff on his own? This analogy becomes even more absurd when you consider that salvation is largely about a right relationship. Can the synergist really claim that he has forced his way into right relationship with his God apart from his God's will and mercy? If he cannot do this, how can he boast at all?

I fail to see how synergism in any way gives one the ability to boast, as if salvation were not still an act of mercy.

Matt Perkins said...

Hey Ed,
I guess part of our disagreement comes from whether we can view the man outside of Christ as dangling above a chasm and able to reach out a hand to One who would save. I think that is a wrong description of one outside of Christ. The one outside of Christ has already fallen to the bottom of that chasm and is dead. "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins," Paul writes, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ" (Ephesians 2:1 & 4). The description here is of a dead man, not a wounded man or one dangling from a cliff. I think that is the most basic reason I could never be Orthodox Ed, I think you underestimate our fallen state.

And you could say that boasting would be foolish for the man who had been rescued from the edge of a cliff. But could not that man who had reached out his hand to his rescuer pray along with the pharisee in Luke 18, "God I thank you that I am not like other men..." as he compared himself to those who were to stupid or unholy to reach out their hand to their rescuer? This is what Paul is talking about when he says boasting is excluded, otherwise what would be the point of him making such a statement?

I know myself well enough to know that if I knew that I and some other sinner had been in the same state, dangling off a cliff, and God had reached down his hand to both of us and I grabbed on and the other guy didn't, I would certainly feel some pride in myself for my good decision. I would get some of the glory for my own salvation. But in the monergistic, and I think, biblical way of salvation God gets all the glory.

Ed said...

I think if the man has indeed reached out his hand, he will remember who he is and what he was saved from and what he might return to if he should abandon the grace he has received (and this third point ought to make every Christian humble).

I think your comment about being dead was just playing semantics. Oh well, you can make your own tradition, I suppose, but if you want the Church's tradition, Augustinianism is a condemned heresy just like Pelagianism. But what is obvious to me is that you want neither the Church nor her tradition. I think you should be careful, then, in citing the Pharisee, because one of his sins is the desire to be saved on his own terms.