Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wretched man...

Ah.... wretched man that I am.  Overboard?  Over-wrought?  Get over it?  The words of Paul sound so out of sync with today's mindset of boosting self-esteem at all costs by eschewing things too difficult to chew on...

Yet, I think the term "wretched" is not only appropriate in certain contexts describing man, but is also a necessary and Biblical concept.  Why would one refer to himself as "wretched'?  Not because we are trash, or worth nothing (or less than nothing when feeling depressed).  The Christian can own this adjective in light of the fact that he was created in the image of God.  He has imprinted on his soul the knowledge of God and his righteousness (Rom. 2:14-15).  He is a member of the human race originally created pure and sinless.  But now he is no longer pure but a sinner, both by birth (going back to Adam) and by thought, word, and deed.  He, by nature, loves the darkness and not the light (John 3:19-21).  

Having then been graced by God with the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and having sins forgiven, the term is still an apt description of a Christian in the context of Rom. 7.  Though now justified by the blood of Christ, all too often I willingly sin and resist the grace of God.  The law of sin in my "members' is still alive and warring with the law in my new heart and mind (born of His Spirit) that agrees with God's righteousness.  As a recipient of the salvation of God in Christ, I am now even more aware of how far I had fallen... and how "in my flesh" I still rebelliously embrace sin.  Especially in light of God's lavish love and forgiveness, when I sin and turn from his wonderful and freely given grace - I am most wretched.  

Interestingly, Paul's awareness of his "wretchedness" in Romans 7 didn't lead to despair but to rejoicing and blessing:

24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
next verse beginning of Chapter 8:
1There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

So at the same time we can say, as Christians, we are both "wretched" and "blessed"... sinner and saint... far from holy - yet wholly justified by Christ's sacrifice and merit... presently being conformed to Christ's righteous image by his Spirit through the ministry of his Word and Sacrament in the Church.

Related thoughts were touched upon in this post from last September.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dr. Godfrey on Faith Alone...

I want to recommend the book Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry edited by R.S. Clark of Westminster Seminary of California.  The book is comprised of a number of essays by various authors on the doctrine of justification and covenant theology, "two of the most basic and yet most misunderstood doctrines in the contemporary Reformed world".  And my referral is given heartily in the spirit of C.S. Lewis' words, "For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await others.  I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand."

As an introduction and a foretaste, here are some notes and quotes from Dr. Robert Godfrey's contribution, Faith Formed by Love or Faith Alone?:

... Medieval understanding of faith was, in its essence, implicitly a mental category to which the believer must assent... 
Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Faith is a habit of the mind, whereby eternal life is begun in us, and which causes the intellect to assent to things not seen..."  Charity is not the intrinsic form of faith, but that which brings faith to its form.
Godfrey:  "A faith that is 'formed by love' is that infused into man and makes him capable of producing good works."... The Reformers understood"faith alone" not as "doctrinal assent alone."  Trent rightly understood the Reformational understanding of "faith alone" and condemned it in Trent Session 6, Canon 12.
Calvin:  "Faith is the principle work of the Holy Spirit."
Godfrey:  "The union that the Holy Spirit creates with Christ for us is through the gift of faith."
Trent understood the Reformer's doctrine of faith alone and anathematized it clearly...
But for Calvin - faith is knowledge-not just historical facts, but God's attitude toward us in Christ and for Christ's sake.  Faith knows about Christ and his reconciling work on our behalf.  "Christianity is knowing what Christ has done for us and how God now sees us in Christ."

In Calvin's basic definition of faith, knowledge is central:  "Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit."
Godfrey:  Thus "faith is a trusting, confident knowledge."... Not that we don't struggle with our own unbelief... Yet faith ultimately triumphs over our unbelief and the tumults of this life.
Calvin:  "For faith does not certainly promise itself either length of years or honor or riches in this life, since the Lord willed that none of these things be appointed for us.  But is is content with this certainty:  that, however many things fail us that have to do with the maintenance of this life, God will never fail.  Rather, the chief assurance of faith rests in the expectation of the life to come, which has been placed beyond doubt through the word of God." 
Godfrey:  Faith rests in the promise of mercy, and that freely given.  Faith is a gift of God's grace...  We cannot come to Christ unless drawn by the Holy Spirit - coming to know and trust what they never could have known and trusted if left to themselves apart from the Spirit of God...  Reconciliation proceeds sanctification - by a faith that looks away from itself, connected to the perfect righteousness of Christ...
*Faith, the only instrument of receiving the work of Christ.
Calvin:  "Faith rests not on ignorance but on knowledge"...  
Godfrey:  We need to know the gospel promise...  "Faith looks away from self to rest in Christ for justification.  Therefore, even a weak and imperfect faith still connects with Christ and his perfection when it is genuine."
... So faith working through love does not depend on the virtues of that love for its power of efficacy - for our acts of love are always insufficient, falling short of the requirements of God's judgment.  No faith's efficacy is in the perfection of Christ - his obedience, sacrifice, and full satisfaction for sin - faith's object!

Calvin:  "Therefore, we cannot come to Christ unless we be drawn by the Spirit of God, so when we are drawn we are lifted up in mind and heart above our understanding."

What Calvin taught on faith and love Luther taught.
Luther:  "To preach as follows (as some have formerly done, and some mad spirits are still doing: would be wrong and intolerable:  Although you do not keep the commandments of God, do not love God and your neighbor, aye, although you are an adulterer, this does not matter: if you believe, you will be saved."... Luther totally rejected that view!  "No my good man, this will not do!  You will not possess the kingdom of heaven."
Calvin and Luther agreed:  True faith that justifies is a faith that leads to sanctification... a total lack of sanctification means no true saving faith.

Godfrey:  "For the Reformation, reconciliation precedes sanctification... Calvin insists that reconciliation means that the Christian is connected to the perfect righteousness of Christ by that faith that looks away from itself, which is only and instrument of receiving the work of Christ."  Faith is the vessel in which the riches of Christ's work are brought to us - reconciling us to God...  Faith alone, which looks to Christ alone, has its works, but its works, its fruits, or its outcome are in no way part of justification."

Godfrey:  To say that one is saved by "grace alone" is not enough.  The medieval theologians taught that - that grace alone worked to so transform and sanctify one as to be the basis for final justification.  Yet such improved life is still imperfect.  What one needs to stand in the judgment is a perfect righteousness!

"Paul indeed taught that faith stands alone in receiving justification from the work of Christ (Rom. 3:24-26).  Justification is not received or maintained by any kind of working, and kind of moral improvement, or any kind of sanctifying moral improvement."

Peace with God comes only through faith in Christ alone - His merit, His sacrifice and satisfaction for sin.... As Luther wrote, "A man is justified, not by the works of the law, by by faith alone."