Posts tagged Grace Alone

Sinners Welcome?

Are sinners really welcome in our churches? Well, of course! Lutherans know this instinctively. Our Divine Service almost always begins with a clear confession of sin followed by absolution. If we ask if some are better off than others, we know the Scriptures:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

In other words, we know that when we say the creed, we can believe the “holy Christian Church” is “the communion of saints” only because of the next phrase in the creed: we believe in “the forgiveness of sins.” So… there’s only one kind of people: those who every day need the forgiveness of sins.

Is there any class of sinner excluded? Well, no. We take the Gospel everywhere we can. We go with Jesus into prisons, into hospitals, wherever there are broken people (since we are all at some point broken). We take the Gospel to the streets, wherever the Lord leads. Are we always good at doing so? If we’re honest, no we’re not. But theoretically, at least, we know that if any class of sinner were to be excluded, then we might someday also be excluded.

All sinners are welcome. That’s why with our mercy work we care for people, all people in need. We cannot ask first – do you have faith? – before we extend care. We seek to help PEOPLE with the church’s work of mercy. That’s how some are drawn to Christ, because someone cared when they were hurt or broken.

What about becoming part of the church? A full professing member of the body of Christ? Are sinners welcome? Of course! Every member of the church is a member of the body of Christ for one reason. The Spirit of God is leading them to repentance and faith in Jesus. When Peter finished his sermon on Pentecost, his hearers were cut to the heart and were asking, “Men, brothers, what shall we do?” To that Peter responded,

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:37-39).

That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the one way in. Repentance and faith in Jesus!

So we welcome sinners. But we do not welcome or condone sin. We cannot excuse sin, for if we do, we miss out on forgiveness. We can never minimize sin, for living in unrepented sin can separate us from God forever. The Scriptures say,

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of The Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Our hope is only in Christ. So there are two sides to our answer. The church welcomes sinners – always! The church cannot welcome sin – not ever.

For if we minimize sin, or if we say that something God has called sin really is not sin, we are saying that Jesus is not really needed for that part of life. I don’t need Jesus to be Lord there, but I can be in control of that aspect of life myself. Minimizing sin, we minimize Jesus, the Savior from sin.

Whoever we are, whatever we have done or not done, there is only one way to stand before God, and that is by faith in the shed blood of Jesus. Anything we put forward ourselves will be swept away as tainted by sin. Only in Jesus, God in our flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us can we stand. Again, here’s the Scripture in Romans 3:

“There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (3:22-25).

Propitiation means Jesus stood in our place, took our punishment, suffered our death. That’s why it’s all gift, all grace, and it’s all for you. It covers every sin.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

So yes, sinners are welcome! All of them! Even you. Even me. Every day through repentance and forgiveness in Jesus. It is just as Jesus said to a woman caught in sin,

“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

Every day, we live by God’s grace alone in Jesus. Every day, the Word of God leads us to repent of sin. But even more, every day His grace abounds.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Now go revel in that grace – it’s for you!

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS

 

The Beating Heart of Our Theology

“There’s something wrong with his heart. We’ve got to investigate this right away.” Those are fearful words because when there’s something wrong with your heart, you know it’s life threatening, or worse.

But if the doctor tells you, “He’s got a strong heart, this should be no lasting problem,” you have a good sign for hope, at least physically speaking.

So when we say something is at the heart and core of an issue, we’re talking about an absolute essential.

What is the “beating heart” of Christian teaching on the basis of Scripture? Simply this: “[W]e cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but… we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us” (Augsburg Confession, Art. IV, Kolb and Wengert, pp. 38, 40).

Lutheran Biblical theology is more than a list of positions we take on the basis of Scripture, positions that one can take or leave separately. Our theology is of one piece, an organic whole and justification by faith and the forgiveness of sins in Christ are the beating heart of that organism.

What does that mean for us? How do we receive all this?

The Bible has many ways of showing this (to cover all of them would take a book), but here are some of the most common:

+ God declares us righteous, by grace for Christ’s sake.
+ Christ redeems us (buys us back) from sin and death by His blood and His innocent death for us.
+ Christ covers our sin with His goodness.
+ God forgives our sin for the sake of Christ, thatis, He removes the sin so that it no longer gets in the way of our relationship with Him.
+ “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
+ God declares us “not guilty” by reason of the death and resurrection of Christ for us.
+ Christ has defeated our enemies, sin, death and hell, rescuing us for His kingdom.

There are many more ways of describing what Christ has done, though they are all part of the teaching of “Justification” described in Article IV of the Augsburg Confession. In every instance, however, the benefits described are never earned by our action, but are always given by God’s action. We simply receive them through faith in Jesus Christ.

In short, we are saved by God’s grace alone, for the sake of Christ alone and this is received through faith alone. That’s how we can say, “faith alone saves.” Not because faith is so great a work, but because faith receives Christ and all Christ has done for us.

Here you have the “beating heart” of our teaching and of the life of the Church.

If anything else is allowed to crowd this teaching, there’s something wrong at the heart. For instance, should anyone say or imply, “Yes, Christ is our savior, but to be saved (or to know that you’re saved) you’ve also got to___,” it doesn’t matter what you put in the blank. You’ve got doctrinal heart trouble. And it’s serious.

Why? Whenever we are told to find comfort in anything or anyone other than Christ and His work for us, we can never be sure. Only Christ saves, only in Him are we sure of God’s favor. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 NIV). 

It’s never our due, but always God’s gift, and the gift is given through faith in Jesus. “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8). Everything in our teaching revolves around and comes back to this.

+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President, LCMS

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