The Gospel as the Dynamite of Salvation and Vocation as the Scaffolding of the Christian Life
A 1517 / Jagged Word Crosspost
(I will be teaching a breakout session at the forthcoming Mockingbird Conference. This blog is a foretaste of that lecture. Enjoy. Please check out the Mockingbird Conference and register. See ya there!)
Dynamite does one thing well; it blows stuff up. Dynamite is no more than an absorbent material, such as sawdust, soaked in a highly combustible chemical called nitroglycerin. The absorbent material makes the nitroglycerin much more stable. Attached to the nitroglycerin-infused sawdust is either a fuse or a blasting cap. Once lit, the fuse or cap creates a small explosion that triggers a larger explosion in the dynamite itself. Once ignited, the dynamite burns extremely rapidly and produces a large amount of hot gas in the process. The hot gas expands very quickly and applies pressure and thus blows up or explodes.
So, what on God’s green earth does dynamite, a chemical explosive, have to do with the Gospel of Christ? They only have one thing in common; they blow stuff up. When I was first in college, I encountered an interesting professor who looked like a hobbit and carried the curmudgeonly demeanor to go along with his appearance. His name is Dr. Rod Rosenbladt. One day, while teaching us about the Means of Grace, the Gospel, and the conversion of the Christian, he began to exegete Romans 1:16. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
When he got to the Greek word dynamis (δύναμις), which is commonly translated as “power of God,” he smacked his hands down loudly on the podium and said: “The Gospel is dynamite, exploding faith into the heart of the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit.” From that day on, the Gospel has been dynamite to me. It blows up the old Adam and creates the new man from the rubble who stands by faith in Christ alone.
The idea that it was the Gospel of Christ––either through the stand-alone, proclaimed Word or the Word as it is connected to water in Holy Baptism or the bread and wine, body and blood, in Holy Communion—as the Means of Grace (media gratiae), through which God brings sinners to Himself, was an idea unique to the Reformation. The idea itself is simple but carries with it immense implications. If God blows up my old Adam with the dynamite of the Gospel, then it is His work that saves from beginning to end. I do nothing to save myself; He does everything.
God has to blow that sin up and out of me with the Gospel of Christ. And He does so daily. If then, as that same professor would say, even my repentance is half-assed, what is it that I contribute? Answer: Nothing! This question vexes the Christian, especially the new Christian. If God has saved me of His accord and His work on account of Christ, what can I do now for God? How can I serve Him? How can I say thank you?
Often, the answer to this question leaves the questioner disappointed. The answer is that God doesn’t need your service. He is the almighty creator of heaven and earth. By His Word, all things were made that have been made. By His Word, He performs great miracles. By His Word, your old Adam is constantly blown up with the dynamite of the Gospel. You need Him; He doesn’t need you.
The Reformers had an answer for this one, too. They realized that it was not the monks and priests of the Church that were doing “super works” to please God. They saw that the everyday person served God in a way that had not previously been recognized. You see, the Scriptures are clear. God doesn’t need your service, but your neighbor does. And in serving your neighbor, you are serving God. This is what Christ meant in Matthew 25:40 when he said: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, 'Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'”
The Reformers called this the doctrine of vocation. We are all called to freely love and serve those whom God has called into our lives. We don’t always recognize the form that this service will take. And certainly we serve them imperfectly, often badly. Sometimes this service will look like changing a diaper. Sometimes it will be getting a cup of coffee for your spouse. Thus, some of the most common and important vocations are being a dad or a mom, a husband or a wife. Sometimes it’s telling someone that you love them or standing next to a friend as they bury a loved one. The one thing we know is that it will probably look very standard and will likely be difficult to recognize as “unique."
To quote Gerhard Forde as he tries to explain Luther’s ideas on this topic: “Whatever call there might be for more extreme action, it must be remembered that Luther’s idea is that first and foremost one serves God by taking care of his creation.” (Gerhard Forde, A More Radical Gospel)
So then, the Gospel is the dynamite that constantly blows up the old Adam in us, and then God uses the rubble to, by the work of the Holy Spirit, build up saving faith, trust, in our hearts, saving us on account of Christ alone. He then calls people into our lives, inviting us to love them and be loved in return, serve them and be served in return, all through the ordinary, everyday motions of our daily, often boring, lives. This is the Christian vocation. When we fail—and we do—he forgives once more through the dynamite of salvation, the Gospel of Christ.
This is what Luther meant when he said: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” (Martin Luther, On Christian Freedom)
Thus, the Gospel is the dynamite of salvation and vocation is the scaffolding of the Christian life.