“It is certain that whoever does not rightly believe one article or refuses to accept it (after he has been admonished and instructed), certainly believes none sincerely and in true faith. And whoever is so presumptuous as to dare to contradict God or call Him a liar in one word [of Scripture], and does this willfully, persisting in it, though he has been admonished and instructed once or twice, he is ready (and he does it, too) to deny God and accuse Him of lying in all His words. There are no two ways about it: either all and everything is believed, truly and fully, or nothing is believed.” (Luther, quoted in F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol I, 147)
“The theologian is dealing with a fixed and unchangeable fact, the Word of God which Christ gave His Church through His Apostles and Prophets. God’s Word is constant, as the laws of nature are constants. As little as we can change those laws, but accept them as they are, so little can we alter the Word of Christ; the Church and its teachers must receive it as it is. It is the business of the scientist to ‘observe the data.’ and the ‘datum’ which the theologian ’observes’ is the Word of Christ. There are no other ‘data.’” (F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol I, 143)
Concerning the sign of the Rainbow, Luther says:
“This sign should remind us to give thanks to God. For as often as the rainbow appears, it preaches to the entire world with a loud voice about the wrath which once moved God to destroy the whole world. It also gives comfort, that we may have the conviction that God is kindly inclined toward us again and will never again make use of so horrible a punishment. Thus it teaches the fear of God and faith at the same time, the greatest virtues… Let us, therefore, be reminded by this sign to fear God and to trust Him, in order that, just as we have escaped the punishment of the Flood, we may also be able to escape the punishment by fire.” [Luther's Works, Vol. 2: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14, (Genesis 9:20)]
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)
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FC, SD, XI. Eternal Foreknowledge and Divine Election
4 At the very outset we must carefully note the difference between God’s eternal foreknowledge and the eternal election of his children to eternal salvation. For the fact that God sees and knows everything before it happens — what we call God’s foreknowledge — extends to all creatures, good or evil. He sees and knows in advance all that is or shall be, all that happens or will happen, both good and evil, since all things, present or future, are manifest and present to God, as it is written, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will” (Matt. 10:29). Again, “Thine eyes beheld my unformed substance, in thy book were written every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16). And again, “I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in, and your raging against me” (Isa. 37:28).
5 On the other hand, the eternal election of God or God’s predestination to salvation does not extend over both the godly and the ungodly, but only over the children of God, who have been elected and predestined to eternal life “before the foundation of the world was laid,” as St. Paul says, “Even as he chose us in him, he destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4, 5).
6 God’s foreknowledge ( praescientia ) sees and knows in advance the evil as well, but not in such a way as though it were God’s gracious will that it should happen. To be sure, he sees and knows beforehand whatever the perverse and wicked will of the devil and of men will attempt and do. But even in wicked acts and works God’s foreknowledge operates in such a way that God sets a limit and measure for the evil which he does not will — how far it is to go, how long it is to endure, and when and how he will interfere with it and punish it. For the Lord God governs everything in such a way that it must redound to the glory of his divine name and the salvation of his elect, and thereby the ungodly are confounded.
7 The source and cause of evil is not God’s foreknowledge (since God neither creates nor works evil, nor does he help it along and promote it), but rather the wicked and perverse will of the devil and of men, as it is written, “Israel, thou hast plunged thyself into misfortune, but in me alone is thy salvation” (Hos. 13:9). Likewise, “Thou art not a God who delights in wickedness” (Ps. 5:4).
8 God’s eternal election, however, not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but by God’s gracious will and pleasure in Christ Jesus it is also a cause which creates, effects, helps, and furthers our salvation and whatever pertains to it. Our salvation is based on it in such a way that “the gates of Hades” are not able to do anything against it (Matt. 16:18), as it is written, “No one shall snatch my sheep out of my hand” (John 10:28), and again, “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
The comfort of such doctrine
45 This doctrine also affords the beautiful and glorious comfort that God was so deeply concerned about every individual Christian’s conversion, righteousness, and salvation and so faithfully minded about it that “even before the foundation of the world was laid” he held counsel and ordained “according to his purpose”how he would bring me thereto and keep me therein. 46 Furthermore, God wanted to insure my salvation so firmly and certainly — for due to the weakness and wickedness of our flesh it could easily slip from our fingers, and through the deceit and power of the devil and the world it could easily be snatched and taken from our hands — that he ordained my salvation in his eternal purpose, which cannot fail or be overthrown, and put it for safekeeping into the almighty hand of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, out of which no one can pluck us (John 10:28). 47 For this reason, too, Paul asks, Since we are called according to the purpose of God, “who will separate us from the love of God in Christ?” (Rom. 8:35).
48 This doctrine will also give us the glorious comfort, in times of trial and affliction, that in his counsel before the foundation of the world God has determined and decreed that he will assist us in all our necessities, grant us patience, give us comfort, create hope, and bring everything to such an issue that we shall be saved. 49 Again, Paul presents this in a most comforting manner when he points out that before the world began God ordained in his counsel through which specific cross and affliction he would conform each of his elect to “the image of his Son,” and that in each case the afflictions should and must “work together for good” since they are “called according to his purpose.” From this Paul draws the certain and indubitable conclusion that neither “tribulation nor anguish, neither death nor life, etc. can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:28, 29, 35, 38, 39).
50 This article also gives a glorious testimony that the church of God shall exist and remain against all the “gates of Hades.” At the same time it teaches us what the true church is, lest we be offended by the outward prestige of the false church (Rom. 9:8ff.).
Strength is made perfect in weakness? How could such be? The world works by way of what it determines as strong, mighty, glorious, wise, prestigious, recognizable, etc. God, however, works far differently than the way the world does. He works through weakness, through foolishness, through the lowly. Thus do we see Christ, who through the weakness and shame of the cross, saves us from our sins. Also through our own crosses, our own weaknesses, and our own thorns, we see God at work in us, humbling us to be His blessed people, strengthening us in the faith of His Holy Word, and crucifying our sinful flesh that we deny ourselves and follow Him. God grant this unto us all. Amen.
34When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
44“‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’?
45If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. Matthew 22:34-46
With these words, Jesus sums up the entire Law of God. Indeed, as noted elsewhere in the Bible, Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). Love God and Love neighbor are the two tables of the Law. This is what is taught in our confirmation classes. The First Table, Love for God, has to do with Commandments 1-3, Having no other god before the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Not misusing God’s Name, and not despising the preached Word. The Second Table, Love for Neighbor, has to do with Commandments 4-10, Honoring Father and Mother, Not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness, and not coveting.
But by keeping these commandments of God, summed up with that word, Love, we are not saved. So St. Paul writes, The law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them’ (Galatians 3:12). He also says, As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:10-11).
To be saved by the law, you would have to be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Such you are not. And neither am I. By the law is not salvation, but condemnation. By the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). Salvation must come another way. It comes by way of Christ. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13-14). By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Law shows us our sin. And just by those few words of our Lord from our text, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And You shall love your neighbor as yourself, our Lord convicts us all, even the Pharisees to whom He was speaking (Matthew 22:37, 39). If it was just a matter of outwardly doing what God says, that would be one thing. This is what the Jews of Jesus’ day and the Sons of Israel thought. They believed that just going through the motions of sacrifice and giving lip service that they were doing their good works to God. It was as Isaiah the prophet writes, These people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men (Isaiah 29:13).
There is such a thing called ‘civil righteousness’, which all are able to do. By civil righteousness, I mean the ability to follow the outward doings of human law, like keeping the ordinances, statutes, and laws of the local, state, and federal governments. But by these we are not saved. Doing them is a good thing and serves our own interests of not being punished for doing what the law requires, as well as serving society and keeping order. But before God, just ‘doing the doing’ is not sufficient for eternal life.
To some extent, too, we are able to keep God’s law, at least the external side of side of it. A number of years ago, surveys revealed that most people believed that they would be going to heaven because they’ve done just that, that is, kept the law outwardly; they haven’t murdered, they have stolen, and they haven’t committed adultery. But by this way of thinking, they were greatly mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the nature of God’s law. It is true that they might not have done those things outwardly, but it is not true that those people have done those things inwardly.
Not committing adultery also means having chaste and decent thoughts. Not murdering also means not hating. Not stealing also means not wanting something that is not yours. When God says, Love your neighbor as yourself, He means love others as you would like to be loved. This includes the heart, not only the show of love. God even goes further and tells us to love our enemies. He says, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44). It’s easier to love someone who loves you back. But here, God would have us love even those who don’t love us.
By ourselves, this is impossible, but as we look to Christ, we see Him loving us, even as fear, love, and trust in Him above all things on our part be lacking because of our sinfulness. But even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It is of God who shows mercy, not because of any merit or worthiness in us, but because of who He is (Romans 9:16). Our God is a God a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth (Psalm 86:15).
Because our God is these things towards us, though we deserve them not, so His Word also takes root in our hearts, and thus we are so towards others, in Christ, even as St. John writes in his first epistle (letter), Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)
Love others we begin to do because of God’s love towards us. And though our love be imperfect, God’s love towards us is not. In Christ, full forgiveness is ours. He paid the penalty for all of our sinfulness. No sin is left remaining against us on account of Christ. Though we don’t love our neighbor, all who around us, even within our own family, as we should, on account of Christ, these sins are not held against us as we cling to God’s Son in faith. This is not, however, reason to forsake God’s law. We should not keep on sinning because we are forgiven. Nor are we to continue in sin that grace may abound (Romans 6:1).
God’s Law, summed up by the Word, Love, is not an option, nor does the Gospel mean that God’s law can be set aside. This might be the understanding of many within Christendom, but it is not God’s way. Just because God is love doesn’t mean that He accepts sinful behavior. Nor does it mean that tolerance is to be the watchword in the church towards couples living together before marriage, homosexuality, and the dumbing down of God’s doctrine for the sake of mission. Our God is a God of love, but He is not a permissive God who lets anything and everything go. This is not forgiveness. Forgiveness has to do with Christ on the cross. On Mt. Calvary is where God meeted out just punishment for the sin of the world. By our works and according to our own inclinations we have God’s mercy not. Only in Christ we do.
God’s Word still stands. Being God’s people doesn’t mean that we do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want. Being God’s people means that, baptized into the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we live according to His Word, not our own. This we do by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s purpose for our life doesn’t have to be figured out or searched out, as is the popular thing to do among many in Christendom. God’s purpose for you is to be found in His Word. Christ’s words of Loving God and loving neighbor are all encompassing. There’s nothing left for us to figure out according to these words. Here, Christ is crystal clear. All the books in the world, as popular as they might be, add nothing to the summation of God’s law with the word Love.
By love, I do not mean that we get right with God by us doing. God’s commands still stand. His Word we are to keep regardless of what we think or feel. But loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbors as ourselves won’t save us. Only Christ does. By Him are our sins not counted against us. And thank God that this is the case. If it wasn’t, all would lost and for naught.
To God, we have faith and are saved. But while we live in the world, God would have us live in love towards Him in our hearts and by what we say and do. He would also have us love our neighbors as ourselves, even our neighbors that we believe not to deserve it. As God loves us, so also are we to love others. Loving God above all things has to do with loving His Christ, believing in Him alone for salvation, for there is salvation in none other (Acts 4:12). Loving God also means keeping His Word, His doctrine, pure and undefiled. Loving neighbor means not only letting the little things go that trouble us, but also speaking the truth in love. Loving neighbor also means bearing one another’s burdens, looking out for the interests of others, giving respect to whom respect is due and giving honor to whom honor is due (Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4; Romans 13:7).
With love towards others, we live in the world. But by our love, eternal life is not ours. We confess our sins for this very reason, for we have not done as we ought. But God’s love in Christ covers our lovelessness, and by Him, do we begin to love others, even as He loves us. Amen.
The peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
I said, “LORD, be merciful to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.”
The Psalmist speaks what is true. David, when confronted with his sin of adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11-12) likewise spoke when he said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13; see also Psalm 51:4).
It is the humble of heart that trembles at the Lord’s word and acknowledges that any goodness and righteousness does not at all belong to self. This is not an easy word to swallow, as all of us have the innate tendency to justify ourselves, even against God Himself. To not do so is to go against our human nature.
Yet this is exactly what Christians do. They struggle with their sinful flesh, with the world, and with Satan himself. They despair of themselves, however weakly, and look to Another for help.
Again, the Psalmist cries out, “Give us help from trouble, For the help of man is useless” (Psalm 108:12). There is none other that can deliver but the Lord.
We, however, want the quick fix, the immediate “recovery,” the cessation of struggle, and the trials to end, esp. with ourselves. We devise ways of helping ourselves to ease the pain. We try to escape, if even for a bit, from the cold hard reality in which we live (i.e. movies, books, food, etc.). We deny that we are that bad off or that there is nothing that we can do. Yet deliverance does not come by avoiding the truth, but facing it—head on.
Yes, it is true, our words and our actions, our silence and our inactions, these demonstrate our disobedience to the God of gods and Lord of Lords (Deuteronomy 10:17). Out of our own hearts come “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).
It matters not if we consider our sins to be small or large. Before God, sin is sin, regardless of our “interpretation” of them. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) the Bible says. And “The Scripture has confined all under sin…” (Galatians 3:22). Being confined under sin, whether thought of as large or small, or grand or minute, judgment is our lot before God.
But Scripture has confined all under sin “that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” In other words, confined under our sin and not able to save ourselves, it is God who does the saving—through faith in Jesus Christ—of those who believe. Thus is salvation of faith, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
And what does this mean? This means that yes, your sins are damnable before God. But Jesus Christ bore your sins and became damnable before God for you. This is nothing but Gospel. And it shows God’s abounding love for you. Because of Jesus, the Father’s condemnation has been placed on Jesus, no longer yours to bear.
Jesus’ death does indeed save you. It also shows you the enormity of your sin. But seeing your sin more clearly, as it is in truth, against God Almighty, you also see Christ more clearly. Because of Jesus, you are no longer in your sin. Because of Jesus, you have nothing but peace with God (Romans 5:1). Thus do you, as God’s people, acknowledge the greatness of your sin before the Holy and sinless God, and rejoice in His abiding mercy unto you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
“The main knowledge and true wisdom of Christians, then, is this: to regard as very serious and true these words of Paul, that Christ was given over to death, not for our righteousness or holiness but for our sins, which are real sins—great, many, in fact, infinite and invincible. Therefore you must not think of them as minor or suppose that your own works can remove them. Nor must you despair on account of their gravity if you feel them oppressing you either in life or in death. But you must learn from Paul here to believe that Christ was given, not for sham or counterfeit sins, nor yet for small sins, but for great and huge sins; not for one or two sins but for all sins; not for sins that have been overcome—for neither man nor angel is able to overcome even the tiniest sin—but for invincible sins. And unless you are part of the company of those who say “our sins,” that is, who have this doctrine of faith and who teach, hear, learn, love, and believe it, there is no salvation for you.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p35).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for looking at and interpreting Your Holy Word through my eyes that I justify myself before You. With the prophet, I also cry, “I am undone” (Isaiah 6:5). Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). For Christ’s sake, grant me your unmerited forgiveness and help me to hold on to nothing but Your righteous Word of deliverance. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Holy Baptism is a washing of water and the Word of God, a “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5), a “being born again” (John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23). Through the water applied with the Word of God, “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), God gives new life and even salvation (1 Peter 3:21). Just as no one “chooses” or “decides” to be born into this world, so in baptism, one does not “choose” or “decide” to be born again. The new birth is the free gift of God, not of man (John 1:12-13; 1 John 5:1). And that means that it is certain and sure, as is the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through faith in Christ!
The Bible teaches that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son” (1 John 4:10; see also John 3:16; Romans 4:7-8; 5:8). God’s love extends to everyone, yet God’s love is not to be equated with tolerance as popularly defined today (i.e. acceptance of idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, false doctrine, etc.) God does indeed condemn all sin, but there is salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 1:3-5), for Jesus came to save sinners by means of His death on the cross. Sinners who love the Lord seek to please God and not the world (Galatians 1:10; Colossians 3:22; 1 John 2:15; see John 14:21-24).