Sinners are the Heirs of the Reformation

 
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Knowing and Trusting

I have been told many times that the future of Lutheranism lies in the hands of those who have not grown up Lutheran. Being an ex “Fundagelical” myself, I tend to smile when I hear these things, especially when new wars over a proper understanding of Law and Gospel are being waged. The reason that I (at least in part) believe that this is true is that Fundamentalist Evangelicalism and Medieval Roman Catholicism are similar in so many ways. Then, like now, we are given to eisegeting texts (isolating texts that have nothing to do with the context) to prove a specific point—like Premillennial Dispensationalism (Rapture theologies). Honestly, if we have an ax to grind and enough time on our hands, who couldn’t take a verse here and there to prove whatever we want in life? We can justify away any sin given enough time and stupidity.

When we no longer know the text of Scripture and trust that it alone is the norm and source of the Christian faith, if someone speaks with enough authority and eloquence, we will be convinced of nearly anything, and this is a ripe field to plant spiritualism and superstition. Such is the way of Christendom now, and so it was 500 years ago when Luther called us back to the Word. So we see people buying into end-time prophecies over and over again. How many doomsday scenarios must people endure before they start to call “Bovine Scat” on the whole thing?

The abuse of souls is also nothing new. People today feel as though they have heard a good sermon if they are given a list of things to do to be good Christian Soldiers. Because the Law of God is completely undoable for fallen man, the Law becomes muted, the teeth are removed and it slowly, but gently gums us to death because even with muted and lame marching orders, we still fail. There are the strident voices calling to Christian Purity with strict “methods” to follow. These send fallen man into different directions. First into self-delusional denial where individuals are Pharisaically convinced that they are keeping God’s commands down to the last dot and dash. We who are honest about sin and grace gently call these people lunatics or liars as no man can fulfill the Law of God (minus one—Christ Jesus).

Then there are those who try and try, and yet their sin continues to accuse their broken souls constantly.  These are they who are in peril of either forsaking the faith completely (as I once did) or those who finally hear and comprehend the radical, 200-proof, free and amazing life-giving words of the Gospel and the grace of Christ invades them to the innermost being.

True Reform in Humility

You see, you cannot truly understand the nature of the Reformation and the nature of the Gospel until you finally and completely despair of your own goodness and worth before a perfect, holy and righteous God. Martin Luther points out time and again in the Heidelberg Disputation that even our best works are polluted with sins because sin is not an action, but the core of our fallen being. In spite of this, the Sinner/Saint rejoices for we who stand condemned by our immeasurable sin, stand in Christ, through the life-giving waters of Holy Baptism as washed thoroughly clean and coated with Christ Himself! (Gal 3:23-29)

These teachings are the heart of the Reformation… If it is about you, it isn’t about Jesus.
— Craig Donofrio

Who receives Holy Communion worthily? Only those who confess that they have need of the Body and Blood of Christ because it is their only hope for salvation. In essence, those who confess that they are not worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ are they who receive it rightly and to the betterment of their souls. St. Paul discusses this in Romans 7, wherein, he laments with us in the idea that the good stuff I (as a Christian) want to do, I don’t because I am also a sinner and the sinful things that I do (as a sinner), I hate (as a Saint). Then he comes down to his need for a deliverer, and we get back to Jesus, Who is our deliverer. So once again, we find the theme that those who think themselves in with God because of their goodness are out and those who think themselves to be hopeless sinners receive the promise of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Lord. (Mark 2:15-17)

One cannot speak of Holy and right living properly unless they speak of the imputation (a crediting) of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner who has no righteousness of his or her own. Only in one’s gratitude of the Gospel does “He who began a good work in you complete it.” (Phil 1:6)

We also know that we are called not to look to ourselves, but to “Fix our eyes on Jesus who is the Author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” (Heb 12) St. Augustine (with whom I have a love/hate relationship) said “Diffidam mihi, fidam in te”: “I will distrust myself, I will trust in You.” We who are enamored with our inward-looking, naval-gazing, self-absorbed self-righteousness are called, by the Gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to stop looking to ourselves, but rather to look to Christ the crucified, Christ the Resurrected and Christ the Ascended to save us, to provide not only salvation but also the increase of holiness and good works—and these not in order to assist in our salvation in any way, but for the good of our neighbor.

These teachings are the heart of the Reformation… If it is about you, it isn’t about Jesus. And if it isn’t about Jesus, it just isn’t Christian. So it was in the days of Adam, the Prophets, of Christ, of Luther, so it is now and ever will be until Christ returns. Why are ex-Evangelicals the future of the Reformation? It’s not just we, but all who have come to be completely broken and helpless in the hands of an angry God, only to find out that the anger of God was meted out on Christ Jesus in our stead. He took your death so that you will have His life. How can anyone see this amazing act of kindness, and not come to despise the sin that lies within, our sin that nailed Christ to that cross in our place?

In light of all of this, the more we learn of the Gospel, the more our sin is in our face, and so we continue to return to the Word, the Baptism font and the Supper where we receive Christ’s grace, for us, the bad people who are in with God only because on the last day, we can point to Jesus and say, “I’m with Him.”

We already have been given our backstage passes to the Feast of the Lamb and His kingdom which will have no end because He alone is “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) He has taken your sins and cast them away as far as the East is from the West, to remember them no more (Ps 103).

May this Gospel of Jesus Christ continue to reform our hearts and minds until His coming in glory!

Soli Deo Gloria!
(To God Alone Be Glory)

 

 

Craig Donofrio is the husband of Paula, master of Rufus, a Lutheran Pastor, Missionary, Radio Professional, Author and Communications Director for the Eurasia Region of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s International Missions. He holds a Bachelor of Business Management from Christ College Irvine and an MDiv. from Concordia Seminary St. Louis. Craig can be heard on the God Whisperers at godwhisperers.org and he writes at 200proofgospel.com