Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Freedom to be Insincere.

I've been reading the Albrecht Peters Luther Catechism commentaries from Concordia.  Great stuff!  I'm currently working on the Ten Commandments.  At the beginning of the section on the actual commandments themselves, Peters discusses Luther's use of the formula "fear and love God."  What he ultimately concludes is that the "fear and love" formula expresses the simul of Christian existence.  The Apostle John of course does tell us that perfect love drives out fear, but we are not yet perfect.  Insofar as Christ is risen within us, we obey God out of love for his grace in creation and redemption.  Insofar as we remain sinners, we fear God, and do his will because although we often times do not want to do so in our hearts, we nevertheless fear his wrath.

Now, this fear aspect has a bad name among many modern Christians.  Whenever I bring it up, people will dispute with me as to whether this is really a good thing.  Shouldn't we tell people that they should only do God's will out of sincerity?  I hear this a lot and so here's a couple of thoughts on the question:

First, sincerity tends to be more of a modern concern than a pre-modern one.  It is very culturally specific to us.  I personally think it's overrated.  We are obsessed with the inner life of humans and therefore we do not consider anything to be authentic that is not directly from the heart.  Christians can't take this position for a number of reasons.  For one thing, Jesus tells us that heart is the seat of all wickedness and therefore just because we have a sincere feeling, it does mean it's a good feeling.  In fact, in light of original sin, it pretty much never is.  This has had horrible consequences for our society, not least in the area of divorce.  People don't feel the spark in their marriage any more and so in order to be sincere and authentic, they end up putting their kids through hell.  One could name any number of social maladies that have arise from this non-sense, but you get my point.

Secondly, I think that the recognition that we will not always do good things for the right reason is liberating.  People forget that Luther's problem was not merely how he could find a gracious God, but how his obedience to God could be pure.  What he concluded was that he could only love God if God took away the demand for his love.  Nevertheless, sin still clings to our flesh until we die and therefore we will not always feel this gratitude and desire to do God's will perfectly in this life.  We should therefore look at God's commands and force ourselves to do God's will, trusting that in spite of our sinful attitude we are still loved by God.  This imputation of Christ's perfect righteousness frees us from the burden of having to be sincere.

What most people don't realize therefore, is how incredibly liberating this is.  Luther believed that he had to every work in the monastery with sincerity, otherwise it was no good.  But once one has the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, one can be honest with one's self about the falsehood of one's own heart.  One need not torture themselves about the fact that they are only doing certain duties out of compulsion.  In my own life, I do many things which I don't particularly like, but I know are God's will.  How much more odious they would be if I had to deal with the endlessly struggle of having to make myself really want to do them!  Therefore, although our hearts are in conflict with God's law, we are loved and accepted in spite of it for the sake of Christ.

13 comments:

  1. Great article. Enjoyed your presentation in Ft. Wayne.

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  2. What I've often heard a minimizing of "fearing" God with Luther's "we should fear and love God." People forget what he wrote in the close of the commandments, "therefore, we should fear his wrath ..." Where there's a denial of the continuing manifestation of original sin in the life of the believer, "fear" is minimized or eliminated.

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  3. Phil- Thanks! Glad your reading the blog!

    Terry- Also an excellent point!

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  4. Excellent. Luther's Small Catechism is such an awesome little book. I learn something new everytime I read it. Just started a transalation of an old Bavarian/ franconian version with explenation I plan to make available for use for free on the Internet. So far just working the introduction. Seeing the thoughts of a past generation, not bound by the same concerns as yours, is refreshing. Thanks for this article.

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  5. Wonderful article! Bror, will you be letting your facebook friends know when you have finished that project? I would be most interested to see it.

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  6. Great piece. Needs an editorial update in the second sentence of the last paragraph, I believe. Otherwise, great!

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  7. Andrew, of course! Going to let the whole world know. Actually jack, the last sentence needs a relook, but I am the last to tell anyone of franker and spelling mistakes unsolicited.

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  8. I think another place where this comes into play is doctrine. There are doctrines of the Christian faith which I don't like... but I believe because that is what the Scriptures teach. I may not like the idea of Hell, but it is taught, therefore I believe. This is liberating from the self-control and arbitrary choosing that permeates modern theology.

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  9. Well, this is precisely why some Lutherans do not believe in the 3rd use of the Law! The civil use of the Law plays an essential, integral and inescapable role in ensuring that the Christian lives his/ her life in accordance with the will of God ... lessons in teachability, humility, patience, obedience, etc. all in the real world ...

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  10. In other words, the Christian who has the Spirit and lives his /her life out of the Gospel (as from another world/ aeon) is also under the Law as the non-Christian ... like it or not, doing the will of the God Who hides in, with and under the masks of creation ...

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  11. The paradox of the simul is this:

    Ever striving to be sincere (= love) coram mundo, but never trusting in one's sincerity (faith) coram Deo ...

    Freed to trust God whilst at the same time freed to love the neighbour ...

    As Luther once said:

    "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none ... A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all."

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  12. A great post. Thank you for this. It is good to know that my half-hearted diaper changing is nonetheless good for my tiny neighbor.. and also the selfish attitude in it is covered by the blood of Christ.

    I also look forward to that day when my half-heartedness is made whole. :)

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