Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What is Sin? Martin Luther: Not Having Faith in Jesus.

In an earlier post, Steve provided these helpful Luther quotations about the nature of the work of Christ and sin.  

As though Christ wished to say: “Whoever believes, does not go to hell; whoever does not believe, already has the sentence of death pronounced on him.” Why? Well, because he does not believe in Christ. This is the judgment: that such an ineffably comforting doctrine of God’s grace, procured for the world through Christ, is proclaimed, but that the world still wants to believe the devil rather than God and His beloved Son. And this despite the fact that God assures us: “Sin, hell, judgment, and God’s wrath have all been terminated by the Son.” 

Luther continues:

Now what is still lacking? 
Why the judgment if all sin has been removed by the Son? The answer is that the judgment is incurred by man’s refusal to accept Christ, the Son of God. Of course, man’s sin, both that inherited from Adam and that committed by man himself, is deserving of death. But this judgment results from man’s unwillingness to hear, to tolerate, and to accept the Savior, who removed sin, bore it on His shoulders, and locked up the portals of hell. (Luther's Works 22:382-383)


Notice what Luther is saying here.  God in Christ has redeemed us all and completely erased sin.  Consequently, the only sin left over is not to have faith in the forgiveness worked in Christ.

Now, let's explore this a little bit.  

First we've got to be very, very careful to understand this statement properly.  Some of the people in Seminex cited this passage (notably Ed Schroeder) and distorted it.  They made it seem as if one could do whatever they liked and there would be no problem because you held faith in Jesus.  This probably one of the reason why the AELC, although it represented 10% of the initial group that joined the ELCA accounted for a third of its cases of sexual misconduct (no joke!).

So, that we can just do whatever we want because we have some sort of intellectual belief in Jesus and his work is not what Luther means (as the Catechism should make clear!).

Therefore, first, let's explore what the essence of sin is.  Paul tell us in Romans 12 "That which is not of faith is sin."  Sin is therefore fundamentally unbelief.  

In the original creation, God told Adam and Eve that they and the rest of creation were "very good."  He also promised them "dominion on the earth" and guaranteed that they would be "fruitful and multiply."  This was the promise of life and freedom and they only broke with it by losing faith in God's Word by breaking the commandment of not eating of the tree.

Now, not eating of the tree, as Luther shows in the Genesis commentary, was only an expression of their faith in God.  Eating of it, was merely an expression of their unbelief.

When God promises them the Messiah in Gen. 3:15, they are instantly forgiven.  Furthermore, he gives them a new promise of life and freedom.  Since Messiah would reverse work of Satan, he would undo the condemnation of the law and death.  Consequently, he would gives them a new promise of life and freedom- the same promise as before, just in a different form.

From then on, sin is in its essence to not have faith in the Messiah.  In other words, any action that I engage in against the commandments is a rejection of the work of Christ and the forgiveness which he actualizes.  If he has born all sins (whether for Adam and Eve in the future or for myself in the past), then there can't be any other sins except ones directed against his grace.  In engaging in unbelief, we place ourselves outside of his grace.  We continue to be sinners insofar as by our acts of disobedience against the commandments, we act in ingratitude towards what he has done for us.  

In this sense Christ has fundamentally changed the structure of reality.  Whereas in the original creation, sin was sin against the promises of God to Adam and Eve regarding their place in creation, after Gen. 3:15, they are all sins against the promise to take away sin and death in Christ.

Jesus himself offers this explanation of the situation: "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come." (Mt 12:31-33).

In other words, those who resists the work of the Spirit and thereby sins against the grace of Christ are guilty of sin.  All other sins are forgiven, insofar as one has faith in Christ.  Those who sin against the commandments of God thereby express their rejection of and unbelief in the grace of Christ, and therefore guilty.  One is of course never completely faithful to Christ in this life and therefore one remains a sinner until temporal death.  Nevertheless, there is difference between willfully rejecting the grace and lordship of Christ and sinning out of weakness.  Nevertheless, this weakness is a weakness in our trust in Christ's grace.

The Epistle to the Hebrews makes similar remarks: "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:26-31)

Now, of course this is referring to those also converted, but it assumes that all sin is sin against the Son of God.  Sinning willfully kills faith and therefore is automatically rejection of the grace of Christ.  This presumably would also go for the deliberate sins of non-Christian who are also rejecting the grace of Christ.  Sin thereby is defined as "trampling" the grace of Christ.

Lastly, this is born out by the description of judgment in Revelation.  

Remember that the Lamb (Christ) opens in the book sealed with seven seals (Rev. 4-5).  In the first century a book sealed with seven seals was the book of a testament.  Christ is worthy to receive it because he has died and risen.  This book is the Word of the gospel.  Remember, according to Paul, faith in Christ makes us receive what he has received.  He has actualized and therefore received his active and passive righteousness before the Father.  He gives his to us in his new "Testament" (diatheke) of the Lord's Supper, the visible form of the gospel.

This is therefore the book of the gospel.  Notice the effect of the Lamb opening it.

On the one hand, it destroys the wicked, on the other hand it redeems the Church.  In other words, the wicked who reject his promise are crushed by the gospel for sinning against it, where those who receive it in faith rejoice at the destruction wrought by the opening of each seal.  The opening of each seal means the destruction of the work of the Devil and his earthly dominion.  It therefore means redemption for the Church.  

The Word of the cross therefore function as a Word that is both law and gospel.  Showing sin of revolting against God's grace and at the same pardoning it.  

22 comments:

  1. One of the responses I will receive when I preach the Gospel is that people infer that you are forgiven until you reject and that consequently those who have not heard the Gospel are all saved. This inference has disasterous implications for the mission of the Church. It puts us in a similar postion to the baptists who believe in an age of accountability where reaching that magical age(12) is a curse because before 12 you were saved after 12 you will probably be damned. Before the missionaries brought the Gospel you were saved after you hard the good news about Jesus you were damned. Now this inference must be false everything screems against it being true yet many arrive at this inference. Any suggestions as to how I can respond and gaurd against such inferences?

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  2. Another question I have since I have recently had this discussion with a young philosopher with whom I meet weekly for lunch and conversation. He is rather concerned with the concept of a double payment for sin being inherently unjust. In otherwords if Christ paid for our sins it would be unjust for us to pay for them again in Hell. His solution to this is that our sins are not transfered to Christ untill we have faith so that their is only a single payment of sin and the unbelievers do not have their sin atoned for by Christ. As a Lutheran Pastor I am uncomfortable with this rendition of the ordo salutis. I have countered with this same argument that you laid out in this post. Christ paid for our sins and yet determined that it would be unjust for us to benefit from that payment if we reject His payment in unbelief. My philsopher dining companion then sugests that Christ paid for all sins except unbelief or at least final unbelief. I am of course unhappy with this alternative also. Any advice as to how I should procede with this discussion?

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  3. Greg,

    Question 1: First, if it was true that we were off the hook for not knowing or not specifically rejecting Christ, then what's up with Romans 1, where we are told that humans because they naturally know God the creator, they have no excuse?

    Even if they were ignorant (which as Paul says, deep down inside they are not) not knowing of the existence of a law is not an excuse for not obeying it. Actually this is true in civil courts as well.

    In any case, in the same way, humans are rejecting Christ even if they don't know it when they sin. That they don't and yet are held responsible for it has to do with the mysterious workings of election.

    Lastly, this all assumes a wrong doctrine of grace and original sin. They're assuming that they have the ability to reject or accept it. Perhaps they think (as has wrongly been taught at some LCMS churches I've been to) that the work of humans is to "not-not resist" the work of grace. But then our preaching would be "Ok, guys, work within yourselves not to resist grace and then you'll be saved" which makes the gospel into demand.

    Question 2: Greg- I agree that this is a problematic formulation. Here's how I would formulate it. The NT says that Jesus has born all sins, because he was "made sin" not just took on the sins of believers. He is a "sacrifice not only for our sins, but the sins of the whole world" (1 John).

    If that's the case, then it shows that all sins are forgiven. Jesus says this in the quote that I noted above. Every sin against God will be forgiven, period, because it's been paid for.

    What won't be forgiven? Rejection of the work of the Spirit, that is, the rejection of the grace of Christ as it is preached in the gospel.

    Now, this doesn't mean that people can't sin against the other commandments and that you can just do whatever you want if you at least believe.

    What it means is that because all sins have been forgiven and grace offered, that every time we sin from moment of God's promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15 we are sinning against Christ and his grace. Because if we were truly grateful in a perfect sense, then we would never sin again and we would do everything at every moment to praise Christ by obeying God's commandments.

    It means that we are sinners and under the law insofar as we have parts of us that still resist the gospel. That's true of God's wrath throughout the world as well. Every act of divine judgment is predicated on resistence to the gospel.

    So then does this mean that Christians don't need to repent of their sins, because as long as they don't commit mortal, faith-destroying sin, then they're good?

    No, because to have faith is to be believe "You're sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus." If I believe that, then my whole life will be repentance, as Luther puts it, because I believe that I am a sinner who needs forgiveness. Otherwise, if I had no sin, why what would there be to forgive?

    How does that sound?

    The point is, that all sin is sin against the grace of Christ, since he's forgiven everyone already. The only sin remaining is unbelief in Christ, which can manifest itself in the breaking of all commandments.

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  4. Jack states, If that's the case, then it shows that all sins are forgiven. Jesus says this in the quote that I noted above. Every sin against God will be forgiven, period, because it's been paid for.

    What won't be forgiven? Rejection of the work of the Spirit, that is, the rejection of the grace of Christ as it is preached in the gospel.

    The point is, that all sin is sin against the grace of Christ, since he's forgiven everyone already. The only sin remaining is unbelief in Christ,

    June 16, 2010 5:30 AM

    Jack, you're saying that the only sin Christ didn't pay for and wipe away - forgive - is the sin of unbelief? (All this per the doctrine of UOJ)

    Was Christ's sacrifice unable to pay for the worlds sin of unbelief or that He paid for it but chose not to forgive it when he forgave the world of all their other sins?

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  5. It works for me. The whole focus on faith being the end not only the law but of sin beautifully puts to end antinomianism. I know what the young philosopher would say though he would ask is this sin of rejection also paid for in the atonement. I am not comfortable in saying it is not. I am not comfortable in saying that Christ did not make atonement even for blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. So my friends problem with double payment remains. How can Christ punish us for rejecting the Gospel when He made atonement for our very rejection of Christ's grace. Unless when you said that rejection of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven you meant that Christ made no atonement for that sin. That it was not objectively forgiven at the cross. Is this what you are saying?

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  6. Good question both of you. I need to clarify that a bit more.

    Greg- You're correct that faith puts an end not only to law but sin. Sin and law go hand-in-hand. Luther states in the Antinomian disputations "law only persists as long as sin does."

    But that's just an aside.

    To answer the question, note in the Luther quotation that he says not that unbelief isn't paid for, but rather that it's blame-worthy. In other words, it's not that Christ doesn't pay for the sin of unbelief. Obviously when people fall away from the faith and then they return they sinned by falling away and Christ forgives them for it.

    The point is that unbelief, because it disconnects you from Christ and his merit is the only sin that makes you worthy of condemnation before God. God forgives all the other sins commits which the person of faith is in a perpetual state of repentance for. If you reject Christ though and cease to be viewed by God as justified.

    Am I making sense?

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  7. If you reject Christ though and [did you intend to write 'you' instead of and?] cease to be viewed by God as justified.

    So anyone in a state of unbelief is not viewed by God as justified.

    and since unbelief, because it disconnects you from Christ and his merit causes you not to be viewed by God as justified and since the whole unbelieving world has to this point never left a state of unbelief and as such are disconnected from Christ and His merit they to this point have never been viewed by God as justified.

    Yes?

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  8. Jack says: "The point is that unbelief, because it disconnects you from Christ and his merit is the only sin that makes you worthy of condemnation before God." Sorry, Jack this does not make sense to me. I don't think unbelief is the only sin that makes you worthy of condemnation. It may be the supreme sins and the mother of all sins but it does not damn because it is the only sin that makes us worthy of condemnation.
    Jack says:"God forgives all the other sins commits which the person of faith is in a perpetual state of repentance for. If you reject Christ though and cease to be viewed by God as justified." If by justified you are speaking of subjective justification then that makes a lot of sense. Even those who reject Christ are objectively justified. I think you and I are in agreement on that.

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  9. Back to this again.

    Brett, haven't you ever forgiven someone and then they said to you "I don't accept your forgiveness?"

    Does it change that you're forgiven them? Certainly not.

    Is there personal reconciliation between the two of you? No, absolutely not.

    Again, does it change that you forgave them? No, absolutely not.

    What I mean is that they cease to be justified subjectively, since (I can't believe I'm saying this again) although God in Christ forgives everyone, not every one receives that forgiveness.

    Forgiveness needs to be received subjectively via faith in Word and Sacrament. I say this, again, and again and again.

    I'm not a universalist and never claimed to be. No one (and you've admitted this yourself) who believes in UOJ is a universalist.

    AGAIN, your critique would work if your opponents were universalists, but we're not, so it doesn't work. In fact, basically nothing you say about us makes much sense in light of the fact that we're not universalists.

    Just read my second installment of "Theological Terminology." I think that this will explain your linguistic hang up.

    Also, if you don't accept this explanation as theologically cogent, I invite you to continue to regard me as one of the UOJ demons.

    But seriously, I'm not going to debate this anymore.

    I mean, don't you have any other theological topics that interest you? Aren't you perhaps interested in Christology or the Trinity? Or perhaps the doctrine of creation? Is UOJ it?

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  10. "Jack says: "The point is that unbelief, because it disconnects you from Christ and his merit is the only sin that makes you worthy of condemnation before God." Sorry, Jack this does not make sense to me. I don't think unbelief is the only sin that makes you worthy of condemnation. It may be the supreme sins and the mother of all sins but it does not damn because it is the only sin that makes us worthy of condemnation."

    I think you misunderstand. I don't mean that there aren't other sins you can commit in an empirical sense. But if you do other sins empirically (other than unbelief), then you're always sinning against the grace of Christ. Because Christ did forgive the whole world, the only sin you can ever commit is to reject that grace. In other words, if I believe that Christ died for me, then I will be grateful in my faith in him and obey the law. If I'm not thankful, then I'll willfully not obey the law and therefore I'll place myself under the condemnation for rejecting his grace.

    So, what about murder, for example? In murdering a person, I am saying that I don't care about what Christ did for me. Therefore, in ingratitude, I decide to live my life the way I want to. So, I take someone else's life and thereby say "I don't trust in you."

    So, every sin then boils down to the one sin of rejecting grace and being ungrateful. When I do that, then I step outside the grace of Christ and make myself worthy of condemnation.

    This goes for justificaiton and sanctification. Sanctification is to obey God in greater and greater degrees out of gratitude- therefore it is to be receptive to God's grace. Justification, is to have Christ's forgiveness be imputed to me. So, by receiving the imputation of righteousness by faith, I receive grace and become receptive. I am justified and sanctified by the same act.

    Is that clearer?

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  11. Jack,

    Just a aside comment (and not to argue)

    I mean, don't you have any other theological topics that interest you? Aren't you perhaps interested in Christology or the Trinity? Or perhaps the doctrine of creation? Is UOJ it?

    I for one am in love with the Doctrine of Justification by Faith. I love it and enjoy talking about it. I don't know why, I just savor it.

    I like discussing it and I agree with Luther. I paraphrase "you may get all things in the Bible right but if you don't get this (justification) you are toast".


    LPC

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  12. LPC, Point well taken. To clarify, I was merely referring to the fixation of Mr. Meyer on this particular theological controversy. It seems that around the Lutheran blogosphere he's well know for this particular fixation.

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  13. Jack, I apologize if I gave you the impression I didn't think you were a Universalist. I do.

    You're a Universalist in all the areas that matter (Grace, Christ, Christ's righteousness, the righteousness of faith, what it means to be justified by Christ, forgiveness of sins, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Word) it's just that you pervert their significance and thus only seem to be something other that what you really are.

    My restatement of your comments at June 16, 2010 3:19 PM show how close you got to Scriptural and Confessional doctrinal confession but alas you pervert God's Word with your human reason.

    Dr. Jack Kilcrease said in the UOJ discussion...
    It is not a red herring. You ignore the context of my argument. You are reasoning from the perspective of God. Here's the deal. For me to take your arguments seriously you need to stop appealing to specific language and start talking about conceptualities.

    You are reasoning from the perspective of God. Yes, that's what happens when I quote Scripture which you pervert in order to build your conceptualities. I quote the BOC but that is equally upsetting to you. You are writting your own confessions as though the Confessional explanations of the Chief Articles of Christian faith didn't grasp the 'concepts' well enough.

    I mean, don't you have any other theological topics that interest you? Aren't you perhaps interested in Christology or the Trinity? Or perhaps the doctrine of creation? Is UOJ it?

    Yes I do. I enjoy discussing all doctrines grounded in Scripture and the Confessions. As LPC said, Justification is the central doctrine. Die confessing a perversion of the central doctrine and you will suffer in Hell for eternity. Why iron the undies of a dead man? Let's work on resuscitation using God's Word while there is still time.

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  14. Jack says: "So, every sin then boils down to the one sin of rejecting grace and being ungrateful. When I do that, then I step outside the grace of Christ and make myself worthy of condemnation." If I am understanding you correctly you are saying that 1. All sin has been objectively forgiven and all sinners have been objectively justified. 2. Since the protoeuangelian people do not respond to this glorious promise with faith and gratitude therefore they are subjectively condemned and are subjectively under God's wrath and judgement. 3. God in His love has caused the forgiveness of sins (UOJ) to be preached to us. 4. The Holy Spirit working through this preachment creates within us the faith that we are in fact forgiven for the sake of Christ. 6. God subjectively justifies us through faith and we pass from subjective condemnation and wrath to a state of subjective forgivenss. 7. Those who God declares righteous in subjective justification He makes righteous with His sanctifying grace. I hope I am understanding you. This has been a really enlightening discussion. It has made the relationship between Objective Justification and the ongoing subjective wrath of God and condemnation of sinners clear. This doctrine is such pure, sweet joy. I have been moved by both your explanations and those blessed Luther quotes. If I am still misunderstanding you please let me know.

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  15. Greg- Yes, that's right. Good summary. I'm happy I could be helpful.

    Brett- I'm going over this again and I'm not debating anymore.

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  16. " Die confessing a perversion of the central doctrine and you will suffer in Hell for eternity. Why iron the undies of a dead man? Let's work on resuscitation using God's Word while there is still time."

    So, Brett, you're saying that I'm going to hell?

    Just checking.

    Also, there seems to be a buzz in the Lutheran blogosphere that there's really no such person as "Brett Meyer" and that you're just Dr. Greg Jackson incognito.

    So, if it were true, you probably wouldn't tell me. But I thought I would at least try. So, who are you?

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  17. I am....Brett Meyer

    ~ insert swooshing sounds~

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  18. So, am I going to hell? Or were you just joking about that?

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  19. Greg,

    Universalism would be a great comfort, if it were true.

    Sorry, I cannot help myself, temptation is not something I am good at resisting.

    Just think, when does a man get declared righteous, at point of faith or at the Cross/Resurrection?

    LPC

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  20. LPC says:"Universalism would be a great comfort, if it were true." Would it? I am not so sure. Implicit in most forms of Universalism is a denial of the Holiness of God. A heaven populated by those who refuse to repent would soon be a hell. A god who saves the impenitant would be unholy, would be a lessor god offering a diminished lessor salvation. No, thanks. I will stick with the gracioius God I have in Jesus Christ and leave universalists to their fantasies.

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  21. LPC asks: "Just think, when does a man get declared righteous, at point of faith or at the Cross/Resurrection?" As if God were bound to time. He is not and I suspect there is a sense that faith partakes of God's timelessness. Maybe the cross/resurection and the point of faith are contemporaneous. Paul did say that we are crucified and risen with Christ.
    There is something about the Gospel that breaks down these petty temporal concerns.

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