Luther, Erasmus, and Weird Things Done With Grace

The next book on my pile is a book that’s been there a long time: The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. I haven’t read much of it, I’m still in the Introduction. The Introduction is long. I’m going to be reading this book for a long time!

Luther’s Bondage of the Will is him responding to the ideas of Erasmus, a theologian type who didn’t like stuffy theologians. Erasmus was more of a mystic than an academic. Luther represents academic theology. They liked each other but had disagreements about grace and free will.

The Introduction says:

Erasmus followed Jerome in interpreting the justification by works against which Paul writes as merely justification by outward ceremonial observance. Luther, believing that any kind of effort or any contribution man may attempt to make toward his own salvation is works-righteousness, and therefore under condemnation, preferred the thorough-going exegesis of Augustine, who magnifies the grace of God.

Let me just pause to let you know how much I’d like to puke now.

This is going to be a long book.

I’m no scholar on Erasmus, I imagine I will learn more about what he taught by reading this book. I am not defending him since I don’t know what he said.

I would like to point out the trend I’ve noted in my time in Christianity that is plainly evident in the above quote.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace.

That’s the underlying assumption of the quote. Therefore, the more you emphasize grace; the less you’ll emphasize human effort.

This is a handy way to promote sloth and laziness as spiritual virtue.

This has been my experience in the church. I’ve seen Grace-Happy people try to outdo one another in how little they do. Their complete absence of any virtuous effort proves how much they love God and His grace.

In fact, some even go so far as to say that sinning is better than doing good works. Sin requires grace; good works make grace unnecessary and lead to self-sufficient pride.

“Should we sin that grace may abound?” Paul asked. His answer was no. Much of Christianity’s answer has been, “Yeah, actually, that sounds reasonable.”

It is clearly true we are not saved by works. It is also equally clearly true that good works always come out of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 are always followed by an Ephesians 2:10.

“Faith without works is dead” is how James put it.

Luther wanted to throw the Book of James in the furnace.

Faith without obedience and works is not faith. It just isn’t. By faith people do what God says. If you don’t do what God says, then you’re not exercising faith.

The Bible is clear on this point.

People who like to sin muddy the clearness of the issue. We like to think that what we do doesn’t matter. God tells us what we do matters quite a bit; every judgment in the Bible is based on works. There are no exceptions.

But the popular belief in Christianity is that you doing stuff means you hate grace and are trying to merit your own salvation.

People need to read their Bibles more.

God provided the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means by which we can be saved. It’s the just way to justify the ungodly. We give ourselves to Him, to His grace, to save us, to deliver us from sin. One of the main reasons you come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be freed from sin. Upon receiving His grace and the new birth, becoming a partaker of the divine nature, you can now use all that God has given you to pursue Christlikeness and spiritual growth.

If there is no change in character, if righteousness doesn’t show up, then you didn’t get God’s grace. If there’s no new life, you’ve not become a servant of righteousness, there’s no sanctification and progress in faith, then grace didn’t show up.

You don’t prove you have God’s grace by how little you do; you prove you have God’s grace because you are able to do, and desire to do, what God says.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work
–2 Corinthians 9:8

Cain and Abel and Who Can You Listen To?

The point of Cain and Abel is that we don’t like people who make us look bad. Instead of reforming our ways, we’ll eliminate those who look better. People who look better than you, show that it’s possible to be better. How annoying.

Therefore, humanity decides not to listen to people who are better than us.

Here’s the funny thing though: we don’t listen to people who are worse than us either!

Why would I listen to someone beneath me? Humans ignore people who are beneath us.

This leaves humanity in an odd place of only listening to people who we deem to be on our level, which is about four people. Maybe. Depends on what day it is. Probably only two on average.

Humans don’t listen. That’s why faith is hard. Faith comes by hearing. We don’t hear.

God is infinitely better than us. When God became flesh and dwelt among us; we killed Him.

At the same time, people constantly judge God for all His wrath and why He does things the way He does and “if I were God” I would certainly run things differently.

God is simultaneously above us and beneath us, bottom line then is that we don’t listen to Him. Not a chance. We can’t figure out what level He’s on, but we know it aint ours.

Learn to listen. This doesn’t mean you agree with everything, but be careful of dismissing people. If they annoy you with their smarts, chill. You can learn from people who are smarter than you. If they annoy you with their lack of hygiene and mental insight, chill. Knowledge puffs up, there are a lot of dumb smart people out there. Sometimes getting a fresh, uneducated opinion is refreshing and insightful.

Don’t cross people off your list because of how they look, think, or smell.

This is very difficult. I’m not saying I’m the expert at this, but I do think it’s true. As Paul said, “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.”

Doing that is hard. It takes study and thought. That’s why your brain makes assumptions about people based on their appearance and intellectual attainments. It’s easier to dismiss someone for who they are than it is to think about what they are saying.

In the end, listening is the backbone of faith. Faith is a big deal in Christianity. Learn to listen, and above all, learn to listen to God. He has the words of eternal life. Everything God says is good, you can let down your guard with Him.

For people, test the spirits. Hold fast to that which is good. Every person says stupid stuff. Be discerning, do the work and be gentle with those you deem are wrong, cuz it might be you.

Converting To What?

Christianity is divided into multiple doctrinal camps. Division reigns supreme. Many people wonder why this is the case. Many conclude it’s because the Bible is too hard to understand.

I agree there is too much division, I do not wonder why though, I think I know. And it’s not the Bible’s fault for being too confusing.

The main cause of division is that few are using the Bible anymore as an authority. Sure, they have verses and favorite passages, but few comprehensively use the Bible and fewer submit to what it says.

Today’s doctrine is largely based on what other guys said. When people argue you into their theological camps, it’s generally not out of a concern for your soul but it is 1) a defense of their doctrinal camp and leaders and 2) an attempt to get you into their camp to make their camp look bigger and better.

As we know (from reading the Bible), there is nothing new under the sun. People have long been more interested in defending and building their group than in the eternal state of your soul. Here are two biblical examples:

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.  For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.
–Galatians 6:12-13

The main reason most stayed away from the Gospel is because it would cause them problems. They wanted to appease those who would persecute them for following the Gospel. Best way to do that is to defend the old camp.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
–Matthew 23:15

Pharisees of Jesus’ day are acting the same as those messing with the Galatian church. They would rather count you in their camp than get you right with God. In order to escape hell, you have to first escape the bad teaching and then embrace the good teaching, that’s my interpretation of “twofold child of hell.” You have to be saved from bad teaching and then saved by good teaching, as it were.

People, in general, don’t care about your stand before God; they care about their stats. Better stats means playing a people-pleasing game, winning people to our side so we win. The more we win the more we feel like we are right.

Surround yourself with your camp and you’ll never have to face reality. Unless, of course, you find a camp that deals with reality, by which I mean, the reality God explains in the Bible.

There are no shortcuts and avoid anyone who offers you one. Use zeal, effort, energy, work, toil, labor, and get this right. Beware of theological camps and doctrines named after people. Read the Word so much you know when you’re hearing false teaching.

Having the Spirit teach you the Word through His means (which can be other people with the Spirit; I’m not throwing away all people or churches here) is the only safeguard we have against false teaching and division. Pray for wisdom, then do the work to get it. Be sober, watch and pray.

Ditching Morals

I am reading a book about the history and psychology of technology. Pretty exciting stuff. I actually started the book more than a year ago. Only on page 100. It has some good points, and also a lot of words.

Technology is invented and developed by necessity. We have needs and we find more efficient ways of meeting them.

When technology started there was an art to it, a craftsmanship and a precision that required effort, time, and skill.

As our tools got better, craftsmanship declined. We didn’t need artistry and skill, we just needed the right machine to make the product. People just pushed buttons and finished items came out.

As we progressed, we ditched artistry and craftsmanship for productivity and efficiency. Our products got uglier while becoming more functional.

The same thing is happening with morals. Morality is getting in the way of getting results. We shove aside such inconvenient niceties for better outcomes.

Take a look at our politics for example. Each party is determined to win at any cost. Morality is out the window. Our side must win. If we have to beat people up or call people names or smear character; so be it! We must win!

The way of the world is toward function over form. Toward quick results over time consuming care.

I don’t really care that our can openers are ugly, gotta be honest that I just want the can open, but it is troubling that we’re willing to throw out morals in order to win and get more stuff.

This is yet another example of the Gospel-life being at odds with worldliness. The Gospel says to slow down and love people. Cross the road to the guy beat up in the ditch and care for him.

Yeah, it’ll slow you down and destroy your efficiency, but it’s the right thing to do. Go the extra mile. Turn the other cheek. Give your shirt too when someone asks for a coat.

This makes no sense to the worldly mind, but makes perfect sense in light of the cross of Christ. Grace is beautiful. The world has no time for grace; they just want to win and get stuff.

Grace loses. Grace cares. Grace takes its time, listens, and helps. Come out from among them and be gracious.

Accepting Or Fighting The Gospel

The Gospel is a life-altering force. Seriously. It is.

In our day the Gospel has become a cute story we believe about this thing this guy did 2,000 years ago.

But the Bible speaks of the Gospel as something you enter into by faith. You are identified with Christ, placed in His Body. His body which was born to suffer and be broken.

As a believer in the Gospel, identified with Christ by faith, don’t be surprised if you suffer and are broken. That’s what He did; if you follow Him, that’s what you’ll do.

Your flesh will hate every minute of following Christ. Your flesh will fight against this. The world will mock you and fight against you. Satan will throw things in your way to defeat you.

Fight the fight of faith.

Faith is a fight.

War a good warfare.

People would rather have a happy Gospel with happiness upon happiness followed by an eternity of happiness.

You can find that Gospel out there, but it’s not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When it comes to the Gospel, either way you’ll be fighting something.

You can either accept the Gospel and fight against yourself

or

You can accept yourself and fight against the Gospel.

The lengths people go to in defending their sin and staying away from the Gospel is ridiculous.

You’ll be fighting either way. Just give up the fight against God’s Word. Stop chasing false gospels. Stop twisting Scripture to make you feel better about your sin.

Just give up. Humbly come to the Gospel and receive grace that will strengthen you to fight the real battle.

Christ died to free you from you. Be freed and enter the fight. The victory is assured and the spoils are eternal.

Fight the fight of faith. Lay hold on eternal life.

Calling People Names for Jesus

Everyone and their mother is upset right now over being called names, or being labeled and stereotyped.

Sticks and stones break people’s bones, names didn’t use to. Now, apparently they do.

In response to the hyper-sensitivity, we now come down on anyone who ever says anything the slightest judgmental about what someone else is doing.

As much as I agree we need to guard our mouths and be careful not to do unfair, self-righteous judging of others, I would also like to point out that there is a time and a place for labeling people for what they are.

Allow me to illustrate be quoting our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
–Matthew 12:34

But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
–Matthew 12:39

Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
–Matthew 12:45

A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.
–Matthew 16:4

Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?
–Matthew 17:17

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
–Matthew 23:33

And that’s just Matthew!

Jesus is talking about a large group of people, a generation. Certainly He’s stereotyping and labeling with His generalizations.

Now, I’m not for you going out calling people names or stereotyping people.

I am for a call to reasonableness. At least for calling a spade a spade, rather than calling a spade a “garden implement useful for turning soil.”

Words mean things and need to be used carefully, wisely, and righteously.

We still live in the midst of a crooked, perverse, faithless, and wicked generation of vipers.

We should admit that. We should also admit we are part of that generation and are therefore implicated for our own part.

Sin is sin. Evil is evil. Call it what it is. Sinners sin. Speak the truth and call things what they are. This will protect you and also potentially help others.

BUT, proceed with love, grace, and compassion. Love rejoices in the truth. Don’t fear truth.

Blinded By The Fight

The Catholic Church took a big hit last week. The largest child abuse case was detailed in Pennsylvania. The offending priests were shuffled around, no one took action to stop the abuse.

Willow Creek Church is falling apart as board members and clergy resign after founding pastor Bill Hybels was accused by multiple women of adulterous relations. No one took the allegations seriously as they were going on.

Ohio State football is going through a similar ordeal. Which reminds us of the disgusting revelations of the Joe Paterno Penn State program.

The president and other politicians can say and do all manner of ridiculous things and yet their party continues to back them.

There is a pattern here!

Institutions take on a life of their own. Members of the institution feel that their institution is doing great work, they must be preserved so their work can carry on.

If a bad apple gets in the bunch, cover it up! The institution is bigger, and the work is too important for one person to bring it down.

Everyone is guilty of this fault. We are a communal people and we’ll defend our communities to the death.

Of course, if the other side does an equally bad thing, that’s the worstest thing ever! Hitler!

Human institutions appear important, but they are like all earthly things: temporal.

But our eyes get clouded. We start looking to the things of this earth and defending them. We will compromise our values, our morality, and our witness to maintain the important work of our institution.

People get hurt when institutions become too big. The poor kids whose lives will forever be scarred, it boggles the mind how such sickness can take place, let alone be covered up.

The power of institutions is a scary thing. What institutions carry too much weight for you? Your political party? Your football team? Your denomination? Your theological camp?

We each have at least one institution we defend. Be careful. No matter how big or how important you think your institution is, it’s not bigger than the Gospel and the simple truth that we are to love our neighbor and do righteousness.

Don’t be blinded by the fight for your institution. The only fight to fight is the fight of faith.