Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mark's thoughts: Take the Jesus quiz!

Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:36-38 ESV)

Sometimes God’s Word doesn’t allow us to avoid questions.  This is part of the Gospel lesson in the one year lectionary for Trinity 4.  So take the Jesus quiz.

Does Jesus speak these words because:
A. He wants to show believers that they can’t possibly do this and that they are sinners.

B. He wants believer to know that they should and can do this.

If you answered A. you are a good modern Lutheran.  You believe that the Law only does one thing when it accuses.  Statements like this in Scripture are meant to drive us to the one true reality of the Christian life that Paul expresses in Romans 7: we can’t do anything but fail and sin.  Yet in magnifying our failure and sin, words like this also create a contrast with the Gospel that in turn exalts God’s grace.

If you answered B. you are a good exegete and a good Lutheran who confesses what the Book of Concord actually teaches. You realize that this sermon begins with the words, “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’” (Luke 6:20 ESV).  You understand that Jesus speaks about the life of those who have received the saving reign of God that is present in him.  As Jesus will say in 11:20, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Jesus speaks these words because something new and dramatic has happened, and this changes things. The saving reign of God has reached its culmination in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Through the work of the Spirit this has changed us and so not only should we live this way, but we also can live this way.

Now answering B. does not mean that you must believe Christians will always do this.  The very fact that Jesus has to say these things (and in imperative forms no less) indicates that there is more to the story.  Rom 7:14-25 is set within the bracketing texts of Rom 6:1-11, 7:4-6 and 8:1-17 that state how the Christian who lives in the Spirit has been freed from sin (see especially 6:2, 4, 6; 7:4, 6; 8:2, 4, 5-9, 13).  Yet like Luke 6, the fact that Paul has to say in Rom 6:12-13, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (ESV), tells us that there is more to the story.  We learn in Rom 7:14-25 that Christian life is not completely free from the old man. There is a tension.

Answering B also does not mean that the Spirit is going to use these words in only one way. Jesus wants believers to know what they should and can do because of the reign of God.  The Spirit may use these words to show the believers that often this is not what they are doing (see previous paragraph!).  He will use these word to convict believers of sin – what we call the second use of the law.

The Spirit may also use these words to repress the old man who in fact wants to judge and condemn and does not want to forgive and give. The Spirit does this so that the old man does not determine the behavior of the individual.  In accusing the old man of what he wants to do, the Spirit may be teaching what is the true will of God (notice that when the law always accuses it is not only doing one thing).  Both of these are included in what we call the third use of the Law. And in fact because of the complexity of the believer who is new man and old man, the Spirit may be using these words to do all of these things at the same time.

What must not be lost in this discussion is the fact that Jesus Christ has really brought the reign of God and that the Spirit has given rebirth to the individual as a new creation in Christ.  The new man hears these words and rejoices because they are exactly what he wants to do.  When the Spirit uses these words to repress the old man it is part of the process by which God enables the new man to guide the behavior that actually takes place (though of course the new man’s ability to do anything is provided by the Spirit).

When B. is the answer, the reality of the believer’s interaction with this text is more complex than answer A.  But this does not change the fact that answer B. is the true answer. Answer B. takes seriously what it means for the reign of God to have arrived in Jesus Christ. It takes seriously the work of the Spirit in the believer.  The complexity is a reflection of the believer is who is new man in Christ, and yet is still also old man in a fallen world.

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