Devotional Thought of the Day:
33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. Hebrews 11:33-40 (NLT2)
To them the Spirit was One to be loved and fellowshiped the same as the Lord Jesus Himself. They would have been lost completely in any metaphysical discussion of the nature of the Spirit, but they had no trouble in claiming the power of the Spirit for holy living and fruitful service.
This is as it should be.
While the neoorthodox theologians were diverse, the movement as a whole believed that preaching is key for people to encounter the Word of God.
Jesus awakens great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human suffering, he shows the face of God’s mercy and always bends down to heal body and soul.
As the prayer requests were called and texted into the church’s office today, my devotions were interrupted. It happens.
As I finally got around to them, the readings that I highlighted seemed even more important! It was the faith of the people I was praying for, from a 10 year old boy to a 94 year old man, described in these quotes above.
Like the saints in the scriptures and their contemporaries, it was a dependence on God that made the difference. They were in love with God, not trying to determine which member of the Trinity- they just reveled in His presence. Therefore they did things that only those who know God Almighty loves them are capable of doing. Pope Francis is right; they know God’s mercy and realize His presence, His coming into their lives because they know Jesus. I guess that is what concerns me today, as people hear sermons designed to know about the word of God, the scriptures, rather than the Word of God – that is, to know Jesus. And it is something I need to be aware of and ask myself – how did this sermon, these songs, this Bible Study help people to know Jesus.
How will it help them to someday be part of that great group of witnesses to God’s glory, who found their dependence on God fully justified? How will it encourage a Kurt or a Sam? How will it help them walk with Him, in His light, in His glory?
Weighty questions for eleven o’clock! But ones that need to start affecting me more… and more. I pray you to benefit from them – as my congregation does.
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Ronald J. Allen, Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 49.
Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 23.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” 22 After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23 (CSBBible)
Jesus, breathe Thy spirit on me,
Teach me how to breathe Thee in,
Help me pour into Thy bosom
All my life of self and sin.
Pious Exercise to acquire the Proper Disposition for making a good Confession
To prepare ourselves well for confession, we should retire from every external source of distraction, go either to a church or an oratory, place ourselves in the presence of God, and make the following act:
Act of Adoration
Supreme and adorable Majesty, God of heaven and earth, I firmly believe that Thou art present, and that Thou seest me and knowest the dispositions of my heart. I adore Thee and render Thee my humble homage, acknowledging Thee for my God, my Creator, and my Sovereign Redeemer. In testimony of this my faith, I prostrate my soul and body before the throne of Thy Infinite Majesty, and offer Thee the adoration which is due to Thee alone.
For Tillich, the realities to which the biblical and traditional symbols pointed are still present today. Over time, however, the biblical and historic language of the Christian community has lost much of its power to evoke the living experience that it had in earlier times.
O EVERLASTING, Merciful God, Heavenly Father, I beseech Thee to grant Thy Holy Spirit unto all who are entrusted to my ministry. Give them grace to know Thee and Jesus Christ, Thy Son whom Thou hast sent; enable them to remain steadfast in the true faith, to grow in grace and love, and to serve Thee with humble and penitent lives. And grant unto me, O Lord, grace to teach them Thy Word in truth, and to set before them an example of godly living.
Tillich was correct, the reality of Scripture is not lost in this time. Andyet, the arning about language is concerning. The Spirit is able to work, still cutting open people’s hearts, cleansing them out, dwelling within them, even as the Spirit did in the Apostles.
Do my words, or the way I speak them, get in the way? I pray it is not so, even as Loehe – a Lutheran pastor from the 1800’s did. There are times when I wonder if I miss this or that, and I fear that somehow I’ve missed that which revives their hearts and souls, breathing life into them.
How precious it is, to see the Holy Spirit, the Breathe of God swirl inside someone, cleansing them, as God has longed to do! To see someone’s faith come alive, to see their desire to know God, to have the same experience of God, that His word has always evoked.
That is why I love the way Ligouri teaches the Believer about returning to God, to examine one’s life, to confess sin and be forgiven. He urges us to start, not by confessing our sins, but by adoring God! Preparing to be cleansed by adoring the God who offers that, who desires to do that which we need, knowing how we will be, when healed of our sin! As Tozer says, once again pouring ourselves in Christ Jesus, assured of His love and mercy!
This is what Loehe meant about knowing God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, to grow in grace and love! To realize we are in Christ, that is the reality that we need, to understand it better than anything we can ever imagine! As Paul said, quoting Isaiah, it is more beautiful that anything we have ever seen, more wonderful than anything we can imagine, more than our hearts can ever dream up… ( 1 Cor. 2:9)
This is what our people need to see revealed to them, to be able to picture themselves so love by God, to see Him looking into their eyes iwth love that assured them all will be… so much more….
This is what I need to communicate – and I pray you hear…
 A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
 Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 61.
 Ronald J. Allen, Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 29.
 William Loehe, Liturgy for Christian Congregations of the Lutheran Faith, ed. J. Deinzer, trans. F. C. Longaker, Third Edition. (Newport, KY: n.p., 1902), 12–13.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
27 I will live there with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 When I place my Temple there to be among them forever, then the nations will know that I, the LORD, have chosen Israel to be my own people.” Ezekiel 37:27-28 (TEV)
I want you to know that God has never yet punished the world more harshly than by allowing blind and ignorant leaders to exist, who destroy us by withholding the Word of God and our bread. Let the Turks be Turks. This plague surpasses them. Woe unto us for not realizing this and praying for it to cease!
On the other hand, God has never been more gracious to the world than when he granted it well-informed and devoted spiritual leaders, who supplied this Word daily and abundantly. Christendom, and every Christian soul, is born in and through the Word of God.
The whole point of justification by faith is God’s scandalous, crazy, and wonderful gift of love.
Luther’s words are scathing, brutal, and today are as true as they ever have been.
O sure, we have more pastors with higher education perhaps, more and more of my friends are getting Doctor of Ministry and Ph.D./Th.D degrees. I am going for one myself.
So why am I saying that we are in a period where church leaders are blind and ignorant?
I think it is because we are spending most of our time on things besides the gospel. We are trying to find the answers to the declining church attendance, the aging church, how to fight the decline in morality, the sociological and political jungles out there. We hear the latest Barna report,, the latest Pew Research Study, the latest from our favorite religious blogger/vlogger/podcast and we treat our parishioners to our newfound wisdom, our conservative theological acumen, or our theory on how to get our churches to grow and be relevant while staying confessionally centered.
We might even wax eloquently on the core doctrine of Justification by Faith!
Yet we forget the point of justification is to return us to God, to cause us to walk in the presence of God. To realize, using Dr. Kreeft’s words, that God is scandalous, and crazy, as He loves us!
I don’t care if your church is growing 40 percent a year, or declining as you weed out the refuse. If pastors and church leaders aren’t revealing to people the wonderful, crazy, scandalous love of God for them, their work is a curse! Whether the church is 2000 people on Sunday morning, or 24 faithful, confessional, traditional people.
We have to get back to preaching about God’s love for us broken people. It has to be our message. We have to reveal to them that love as we preach and teach, as we give voice to God’s forgiving them (a wonderful, crazy, scandalous thing on its own,) as we give them the Body and Blood to eat and drink.
Pastors, do these things – we know they bring life to our people. People, pray for your pastors, ask them to focus on revealing God’s love for you, constantly. You are in this all together, and you are not alone. For the scandalous, crazy, wonderful God who loves you, is with you! AMEN!
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 55–56.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 25.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
6 Think, friends: If I come to you and all I do is pray privately to God in a way only he can understand, what are you going to get out of that? If I don’t address you plainly with some insight or truth or proclamation or teaching, what help am I to you? 7 If musical instruments—flutes, say, or harps—aren’t played so that each note is distinct and in tune, how will anyone be able to catch the melody and enjoy the music? 8 If the trumpet call can’t be distinguished, will anyone show up for the battle? 9 So if you speak in a way no one can understand, what’s the point of opening your mouth? 10 There are many languages in the world and they all mean something to someone. 11 But if I don’t understand the language, it’s not going to do me much good. 12 It’s no different with you. Since you’re so eager to participate in what God is doing, why don’t you concentrate on doing what helps everyone in the church? 13 So, when you pray in your private prayer language, don’t hoard the experience for yourself. Pray for the insight and ability to bring others into that intimacy. 14 If I pray in tongues, my spirit prays but my mind lies fallow, and all that intelligence is wasted. 15 So what’s the solution? The answer is simple enough. Do both. I should be spiritually free and expressive as I pray, but I should also be thoughtful and mindful as I pray. I should sing with my spirit, and sing with my mind. 16 If you give a blessing using your private prayer language, which no one else understands, how can some outsider who has just shown up and has no idea what’s going on know when to say “Amen”? 17 Your blessing might be beautiful, but you have very effectively cut that person out of it.
1 Corinthians 14:6-17 (MSG)
He (Luther) had labored hard to put the word of God into the everyday language of the German people so that hearing and reading the scriptures would inform their biblical spirituality. He considered the gospel more as an oral message (mundhaus) than as a literary text (federhaus).
I read a lot of books.
From a lot of different genre’s, from a lot of different sources.
A lot of them are novels ( I love 18th-19th-century naval historical fiction) and a lot of them are religious works. Some are written very technically, with a vocabulary that often causes me to pull out my dictionaries or a Biblical Encyclopedia (or a Greek, Hebrew, Latin lexicon) Those are more challenging, yet they have their place. But they are a different language.
Their place is not in worship, or in Bible Study with my people.
Maybe in a class or individual study, maybe in a gathering of pastors, but it is not necessary for the people of God.
We don’t need to speak in “another tongue” when we lead worship or preach, or when we teach. And yet, far too often, we do that very thing.
That is what Luther is getting at when he speaks of the gospel as more an oral message than a literary text. It is a message that is to be communicated, not just analyzed. It is something that speaks to the soul of a person, not just their intellect. It is something that gives them hope, peace, and joy, even when they are in the midst of trauma.
That is what Luther wanted to do, he wanted to make his work, trying to reveal the love and grace of God to the people he was entrusted to care for, and to those who didn’t have shepherds, or whose shepherds didn’t do their work.
So we need to examine what language we use, in our sermons, in our lessons, in our liturgies, and whether those words are in common language. Not just vocabulary, but the style in which we write. It has to be common English, words that affect and encourage their walk with God.
As St. Paul says, “Pray for the insight and ability to bring others into that intimacy.”
The intimacy to walk with God, to revel in His love, to find rest in His peace, to savor what it means to be forgiven.
This isn’t just about teaching them “our language.” This is about pastors ensuring we explain and reveal God’s love in a language they understand and giving them the ability to praise God in words that mean something, that resonates with them.
Imagine a church, where people we able to be still, to be quiet and just know that God is our God and that we are His people. That is what the prayer that Paul instructs us in has as its goal.
Not that they would be able to diagram the communication of magisterial attributes of Jesus…
But rather that they would burst into tears of joy when they hear, “The Lord is with you!”
Abba Father, Lord Jesus, help us to be so overwhelmed by Your love and mercy that we have the insight and ability and desire to bring others into a relationship with You that leaves them in awe. Help us to speak clearly, and rejoice as we see this happen. Send Your Spirit to inspire us, and guide us in this we pray. AMEN!
Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. KLrey, Trans.) (p. 119). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT2)
24 We believe and confess that these two doctrines must be urged constantly and diligently in the church of God until the end of the world, but with the due distinction, so that in the ministry of the New Testament the proclamation of the law and its threats will terrify the hearts of the unrepentant and bring them to a knowledge of their sin and to repentance, but not in such a way that they become despondent and despair therein. Rather, since “the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24), and hence points and leads not away from but toward the Christ who is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), 25 the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord Christ will once more comfort and strengthen them with the assurance that if they believe the Gospel God forgives them all their sins through Christ, accepts them for his sake as God’s children, and out of pure grace, without any merit of their own, justifies and saves them.
The method of preaching, no matter which tradition, can be simplified as telling people why they need Jesus, and how Jesus meets that need, and our lives change as we walk with Him.
In the Lutheran tradition, the method of communicating that is called preaching “Law and Gospel. It has been a focus and method of our preaching since Martin Luther was still an Augustinian monk. And the first president of the Lutheran Church gave a series of lectures which were turned into a book titled, “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel”. While this post will use the word “preaching” a lot, this rule is true for any conversation, whether from a pulpit or altar or over a pumpkin-laden coffee or a nice ale. Preaching is not just a formal sermon or homily, it is any time we take a moment to help people realize their need for God and His response to their need.
Preaching law and gospel is a method, and it is far more than just preaching the law, checking off a box, then preaching the gospel and checking off the second box. Unfortunately, we can often get in that mindset, settling for that simplistic understanding of the method.
Even worse, we often preach against sin with a bias. Some sins may be more repugnant to a pastor, or to an individual, and they may try to eradicate that particular sin with more force. We might even come across as trying to purify the church from sinners who have committed that particular sin, driving those who are guilty of it into despair, into hopelessness, further into the guilt and shame which already haunts them. ANd some would applaud this, saying we really crucified that sin, that we nailed it to the cross. They might see the role of the preacher, or the evangelist as the drill instructor, yelling at his recruits, trying to help them save their lives.
But that denies the purpose of preaching and in fact is contrary to the concept of preaching law and gospel. Reading the quote from the Formula of Concord above, preaching the law so that people fall become despondent and despair, is not appropriate. For doing so drives them away from where they could find hope, and the goal of preaching the law is such that realizing their brokenness, we can bring them to Jesus, we can help them see the cross and its blessed meaning in their lives.
What a challenge, to help them see their brokenness, to help them see their need for Jesus, rather than just making them feel guilty and ashamed! Helping them to seek a source for the transformation, a source that is provided by the Spirit, as He draws them to Jesus, and then in Christ to the Father.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he describes the purpose of preaching, the purpose of evangelism, which is far more than the method of preaching law and gospel. The purpose is to reconcile people to God. To help them realize that Jesus was the offering for the sin they are haunted by, that causes them to feel so ashamed, so full of guilt.
Proper preaching acknowledges its mission, to reconcile people to Father, by drawing them back to Jesus. The method can be the preaching of Law and Gospel, holding them in tension, but that tension is for the purpose of becoming the people of God, the people who know His mercy and feel compelled to explore the dimensions of His love for them.
And again, preaching is not just the formal presentation of a sermon, it is as we comfort those who are anxious, as we cry with those who weep, as we listen ot those burdened, helping them see God take care of their burdens.
This is our mission, it is our apostolate, why we are sent where we walk in this world, as we walk with the God who pours out His love and mercy on us, and through us. So remember this purpose as you are with family and friends, and even those who antagonize you. Remember these words as you sit in your study, crafting your messages, listing to the Holy Spirit. And rejoice, for you know GOD is with you!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 562–563). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. (Formula of Concordia: Solid Declaration: V. Law and Gospel
Devotional Thought of the Day:
23 God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. 24 Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity. Psalm 139:23-24 (NJB)
Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy. 2 For the person who speaks in another •language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him; however, he speaks •mysteries in the Spirit. l 3 But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation. 4 The person who speaks in another language builds himself up, but he who prophesies builds up the church. 1 Cor 14:1-4 HCSB
771 God exalts those who carry out his will in the very same things in which he humbled them.
There is a joke about being cautious as you pray for things like patience and faith, because surely God will hear those prayers, and give you the opportunity to see your growth. Of course, the only way to see growth in those things is when you have to demonstrate them.
Even though the idea of having to be patient is scary, the idea of praying the psalmist pray this morning is even scarier. To give God permission, to beg God to investigate every nook and cranny of our heart, our soul, our very being, and to make sure I am not doing anything offensive, anything evil, anything that would lead me to ruin.
God knows our right and our wrong, our acts of rebellion, our sin, but to invite Him in to purge them from us? That is a hard prayer, that is one that scares me, for somehow I think that what I hide from him, what I deny to myself, somehow doesn’t count, it doesn’t affect me and others, it just was a passing moment, something I barely remember.
And yet, it is only after I pray that, only after letting Jesus carefully circumcise my heart, that I can begin to understand how great His love his and be in awe of His mercy. It is only then that I can begin to realize what it means to be the one He loves, and adore God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is only then that life begins.
A focus on such love, pursuing such love is essential for those of us who preach, who prophesy, who teach. Whether it is to a parish of thousands, or to two or three in a elementary sunday school class. I believe there is a distinct impact on preaching and teaching that comes from knowing we are loved. Not just knowing it as a fact, but living in the midst of that love, knowing that love so well that we easily trust Him, even with the darkest parts of our lives.
It is as we are rescued from that darkness we can speak of it in a way that edifies the church, that lifts them up, that convinces them of the love of God. THat allow them to realize that God loves them as well, that they can trust Him to transform them.
That when God humbles us, it is so that, cleansed of all that has damaged us, we can be lifted up, healed, and in awe, knowing He loves us.
Such is our calling, such is our relationship with HIm… and though this prayer still scares me, can we pray it together?
Heavenly Father, we count on our love, we acknowledge the need of the Spirit to come through our lives, cleansing us from our sin, our brokenness, our pursuit of things we know distress you. Lord, help us to pursue the love you told us you have, and counting on that love, search our hearts our souls and minds, Find the things that displease You and take them away, so that you may guide us on this way of everlasting life.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1785-1786). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the day:
5 For you can have 10,000 instructors in Christ, but you can’t have many fathers. For I became your father r in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 This is why I have sent Timothy to you. He is my dearly loved and faithful t son in the Lord. He will remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach everywhere in every church. 1 Cor. 4:15-17 HCSB
How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus, how much tenderness is in there!
Brothers and sisters let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God!
But what is it to pray that his name may become holy? Is it not already holy? Answer: Yes, in itself it is holy, but not our use of it. God’s name was given to us when we became Christians at Baptism, and so we are called children of God and enjoy the sacraments, through which he so incorporates us with himself that all that is God’s must serve for our use.
As I was working through my readings this morning, the first, the reading from Paul’s letter to a church he loved (and struggled to love) kept coming back to mind. And then as I read Pope Francis, and Pastor Martin Luther’s words, I saw great examples of what Paul was teaching.
Anyone can deliver a lesson, a sermon that is exegetical and explains the Bible passage more completely than someone can see at first glance. To be honest, you don’t even need a good preacher to do so, for we have 2,000 years of commentators like John Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Lenski, Matthew Henry and William Barclay who will do that for you.
Someone whose primary goal is preaching can do the studies, or borrow them from someone else, and lecture you, mailing you on what you did wrong, showing you how you must behave, and reminding you of who God is, helping you explore the incredible knowledge we have in scripture. They are instructors, and we need that kind of information.
But a sermon, a real sermon, is something a pastor crafts and delivers. It is a pastor, someone who acts as a spiritual father. Someone who has learned from their errors, and cares enough to help you when you are in error, guiding you back to the way that is “in Christ”.
The pastor brings you to see God in all His glory, the glory that comes from our love and our mercy. He wants you to experience the healing that happens when seeing Christ, you respond to His love being poured out upon you. When you realize as Luther said, that God through His word and sacraments, just doesn’t teach you, but see you incorporated into Christ that our thoughts turn to Him, depending on Him to care for us.
A pastor shepherds you to the place where you realize what a treasure it is to know God as your Father, when you realize the difference that makes in your daily life, no matter how challenged, no matter how boring, no matter how broken.
you see this in the words of Pope Francis, and Fr. Martin Luther. You see them not just wanting to impart knowledge of God, but helping people experience the love.
Imagine a boy learning to teach. The instructor tells him all about the bait, all about the rods and reels, all about the way to study the river or the lake. The pastor father takes the young man fishing, watching him learn, urging him to be patient, applauding him when he catches something, consoling him when the big one gets away. This is the father-pastor at work, and that care needs to occur in the midst of the sermon, in the midst of the worship service. Helping people “catch” God, who is never far away….reading to be caught, ready to be devoured, ready to be incorporated i our lives, as we are incorporated in His.
This is a pastor’s calling… to help people experience the love of Christ, even though it is too great ot understand fully (see Ephesians 3:19) while being made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 216). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 425). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press
Devotional Thought of the Day:
5 You welcome those who gladly do good, who follow godly ways. But you have been very angry with us, for we are not godly. We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved? 6 We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. 7 Yet no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins. Isaiah 64:5-7 (NLT)
193 To disparage works like the confession of doctrine, afflictions, works of charity, and the mortification of the flesh would be to disparage the outward administration of Christ’s rule among men. Let us add a word here about reward and merit.
194 We teach that rewards have been offered and promised to the works of the faithful. We teach that good works are meritorious—not for the forgiveness of sins, grace, or justification (for we obtain these only by faith) but for other physical and spiritual rewards in this life and in that which is to come, as Paul says (1 Cor. 3:8), “Each shall receive his wages according to his labor.” Therefore there will be different rewards for different labors.
In the middle of the quote from Isaiah I underlined and italicized a “popular” verse.
Popular for those who abuse it, as they use it to call people to convert, or to repent. Some will wax on with great eloquence about how wrong EVERYTHING we do is, how even our best words are nothing more than filthy rags, or as the ESV says, “polluted garments”, those things made unclean because of blood or other bodily fluids. SOme, trying to get the gut check factor in, will assume that the blood is from a female’s menstrual cycle. But the idea is that everything we do is horrid, unclean, unable to please God.
I have heard this used as well, by good meaning pastors who are trying to properly distinguish between law and gospel, saying that all our works, even after God has baptized and cleansed us, are still nothing more than filthy rags, that we will never be able to fulfill the “Law”, and therefore we shouldn’t encourage people to try and keep the Law, or even try to apply it to our lives, lived in Christ Jesus. (In Lutheran theology, we would refer to this as denying the Third Use of the Law)
Theologically, that isn’t the Lutheran position, as you can see in the quote in green above, from the Lutheran confessional document known as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. It clearly states there that we cannot disparage works of man that demonstrate Christ’s rule, His benevolent work in and through men and women. It even talks there of mortification of the flesh, the work that Paul talked of in 1 Corinthians 9. The confessions do quickly remind us that these works don’t merit salvation, but they do merit a reward from God, Even if that reward is simply hearing Him say, “well done. my good and faithful servant!” (that comment alone would bring me joy that would last an eternity, as I assume it would for any Christian!)
I would draw your attention to the very passage the quote about filthy rags comes from in the first place. This is not a theological passage by literary style. It is a narrative, the words of the prophet, repentant and contrite, pleading with God. Pleading with God to rip open the divide between heaven and earth, to come into our midst, and save us. To come and mold is, to do the very work Paul will describe in Phil. 2:10 – where we are described as God’s poiema – His masterpiece, as we are led to do the works God has prepared for us. Isaiah’s pleading is one of repentance, one of praying that God would reconcile and restore us. That God would come and save us, bearing our sin, and suffering that we would be healed and restored. This section about filthy rags was hoping for Jesus to come and die on the cross, and for us to be reborn with Him.
And that my dear friend, has surely happened.
No wonder the Lutheran first generation talked of denigrating the work of God’s people as denigrating the very work, the very ministry of God!
So be careful how you fling around this passage, and the doctrines you create or try to sustain it. For teaching, those things to people will give them the wrong idea, and you will liable for trying to paralyze the people of God.
Know that God works through His people, all His people, as He walks with them, and will do amazing things! And proclaim this and encourage it, as God renews and revitalizes the church!
G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.