De-scription…not Pre-scription

I recently received a sermon by a Lutheran pastor from someone that was trying to turn ’round my way of thinking about the law and it’s realtionship to me.

It was a very good sermon. It highlighted the problem (my sin) and handed ov er Christ to me, the complete forgiveness of my sins and total justification before God.

So far, so good.

Then the preacher made crystal clear that now that Christ has done this for you that you just can’t live anyway you want. You ought present yourself as a living sacrifice, sins and all. That’s great. That is a description of the life of the believer.

This happens as a result of the Spirit of God working in the life of that believer.

This will not happen as a result of anyone telling you that you must do it, or how you can do it, or even that you should do it. The Holy Spirit will sanctify the chosen and called one. “He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies me as He does the whole Christian Church on earth.” Was there anything there about what you have to do?

‘Well…but you just can’t live anyway you want!’ says the well meaning (we hope) law wielder. And to that I say, “Well, you seem to be doing a very fine job at living anyway that you want to. In fact from the looks of it, following you around for a couple of days, it appears that you might not even be a believer at all. How ’bout them apples?!”

For the preacher to let you know that you are free to live out your Christian lives in service for the neighbor is fine (as if the Holy Spirit needs to be reminded of it), but for the preacher to tell you that your effort is required to make sure that all this happens is semi-Pelagian baloney.

I do know this, you can mess up a great Christ filled sermon and take Christ away from the sinner, and have the sinner start to fall back on his own performance if you go to this (wrongheaded) synergistic aspect of the life of the Christian.

The law always accuses. Anything that we should, ought or must be doing is the law.The law says’do’.  The law is the method by which God accuses, then kills us.  The gospel on the other hand is God’s Word of forgiveness. It says ‘done’. The gospel is the force of God that brings us life and creates in us a clean heart, totally apart from what we do.

The Roman Catholic way of thinking is that if you do good things you will eventually become ‘good’. That’s wrong, and one of the reasons that I am not a Roman Catholic.

The Southern Baptists believe that there is a little spark of ‘good’ inside of you and that you can choose to do good and obey God. That’s wrong, and that’s one of the reasons that I am not a Southern Baptist.

Those that feel there is somehow a little spark within us that we might cooperate with God (even a little bit) towards our sanctification are just plain wrong and all they would have to do is look in the mirror to see it.

But it has always been that men love to tell other men what they need to do in order to be acceptable, all the while living anyway they darn well please (themselves).

The law is written upon our hearts…is it not?

There is no excuse for not living the way God wants us to. There is no excuse for ignoring the plight of our neighbors (except to pay lip service to them). There is no excuse for being a hypocritical Pharisee…other than we just want to. We enjoy being bound to sin. At heart, we are basically unbelievers who do not want God.

But Jesus Christ enjoys forgiving us and creating repentance in us. 

What in the world could we possibly add to that? (before you answer, let me don my protective ‘yeah-but’ suit) 

21 Responses

  1. “But it has always been that men love to tell other men what they need to do in order to be acceptable, all the while living anyway they darn well please (themselves).”

    I think a lot of people who claim to be Christian find it very hard to trust the Gospel. The ancient world persecuted the early church for, among other things, believing that sins could be forgiven. The idea that one will be more prone to sin if he thinks his sins can be forgiven or are forgiven has been usurped from those heathens by large swaths of the church. The minute you tell people they have nothing to do for their salvation, neither can the add to it, the old adam’s fear comes to the surface. If some one were to set him free from the law he would reek havoc. So Christ drowns him instead, and sets us free to live.
    But Steve, you really need to clean up your act and stop sinning so much. No more getting up out of bed at the last minute to go pick up a stranded pastor at the airport an hour away. That is not very christian of you, and people might start getting you mixed up with one who believes in works. Because you couldn’t possibly do that out of genuine love for your neighbor. There has to be a carrot there for you, maybe salvation? Could you get to heaven for doing such things?

  2. Bror,

    Are you at the airport right now?

    I really do plan on doing more service (tomorrow).

    Your comments remind me of what was asked of Luther regarding this “new” idea of having freed believers in Christ.
    Someone said, if you preach total freedom in Christ, won’t the floodgates of iniquity be wide open?’
    Luther replied, “Let ’em open!”

    It is better that people know the completness of Christ’s sacrafice for them, than for them to be held in some limbo between their own efforts and Christ’s.

    I’m leaving right now…I’ll be there in 45 minutes (as long as I can keep myself unstained and go the speedlimit).

  3. No, not at the airport right now, but we’ll catch up in two weeks.
    And remember speed limits are for your safety. You do yourself a favor by following them. ha!

  4. Your post reminds me of this saying:

    “‘Can a man take fire into his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?’ (Prov. 6:27) says the wise Solomon. And I say: can he, who has in his heart the Divine fire of the Holy Spirit burning naked, not be set on fire, not shine and glitter and not take on the radiance of the Deity in the degree of his purification and penetration by fire? For penetration by fire follows upon purification of the heart, and again purification of the heart follows upon penetration by fire, that is, inasmuch as the heart is purified, so it receives Divine grace, and again inasmuch as it receives grace, so it is purified. When this is completed (that is, purification of heart and acquisition of grace have attained their fullness and perfection), through grace a man becomes wholly a god.” St. Simeon the New Theologian

  5. “through grace a man becomes wholly a god”.

    Hmmm… that sounds a familiar aim –
    hasn’t that been the ambition that’s been screwing us up all along?
    (See Genesis 3 for a reminder).

    Irenaeus is far more in tune…
    It is when we truly become human (a state provided in and through the nature of Christ) that we reach our proper destination, and God’s essential decree for the core condition of creation is achieved.

    That is the goal – to conform all things to the work and glory of God, through Jesus Christ,

  6. Amen Howard!
    I just love it every time Christ is mentioned and championed for us. He has done so much for me.. undeservedly so, that I often ruminate about that day when I shall see Him. I can’t wait to shake His hand and personally thank Him for noticing me and including me in His Kingdom…..what a day that will be…

  7. Hey Howard. That’s my bad for leaving a quotation without being very clear about its meaning. If I may quote an an article from my blog:

    “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…'” The Church Fathers understood that as human beings, we bear God’s image, and that His purpose in creating humankind is for humanity to continually grow after His likeness, to become more like Him and to be drawn by His grace into the loving community of the Trinity to participate in its divine fellowship. Human beings will never become God. That’s simply absurd, so please do not be confused about what I’m saying here. What I’m saying is that God’s plan is for mankind to become like Him, to become “little gods” (which happens when God makes us into “little Christs”), and through this process of deification, to become blameless and able to participate in the divine fellowship of the Holy Trinity. “…he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…”[2 Pet 1:4] In other words, mankind’s ultimate reason for existing and highest purpose is theosis, becoming more like God and growing into ever closer fellowship with God.


    Adam’s original sin was not that he desired to be like God. That was God’s plan all along- though it’s a shocking to hear stated so plainly, if we search the Scriptures, we find that the purpose of man’s life is deification. Adam’s sin was not that he desired to be like God, but that rather than trusting to God’s grace to fulfill His promises, Adam tried to seize it by his own striving. He began to rely on works rather than grace (and ever since, humanity is still faced with those two choices, to follow Adam and strive for salvation, or to follow Christ and trust to God’s grace). To quote the article again: “Adam’s sin was to achieve God’s will for him without God. Instead Adam tries to use a part of God’s creation to usurp His perfect plan for humankind and to seize by his own striving what has already been promised to him as a gift of God’s love. Adam’s sin was a failure to trust in the love of God and rely on the grace of God, relying on himself and his own striving instead, thereby damaging his fellowship with God- indeed making himself an enemy of God by his rebellion.”

    Thank God that His love abounds even in the face of such rebellion! I hope that clears things up a little.

  8. “what I’m saying here. What I’m saying is that God’s plan is for mankind to become like Him, to become “little gods” (which happens when God makes us into “little Christs”), and through this process of deification, to become blameless and able to participate in the divine fellowship of the Holy Trinity. “

    Hmmm…The ‘little gods’ theology is a non-starter in my book as well – pick up a copy of Mike Horton’s excellent ‘The Agony of Deceit’ to learn why. Redemption is about restoring the created order, plain and simple, and the can only happen when Christ becomes the one “‘above all and in all’ – in other words, when every created thing truly conveys and expresses the Lordship of Jesus Christ in its nature and purpose (Ephesians 1:7-14, Colossians 1:16-20).

    “Adam’s sin was not that he desired to be like God, but that rather than trusting to God’s grace to fulfill His promises, Adam tried to seize it by his own striving”.

    Adam’s sin was disobedience, plain and simple – God said ‘ do not’ and he did – he rebelled. Eve, notes Paul, was deceived by the serpent (i.e. his ‘promise’ that she would become ‘like God, knowing good and evil – 1 Timothy 2:14, Genesis 3:4). Because of Adam’s willful act, I am now less than human (less than ‘alive’ in the manner that Adam knew prior to his fall), but because of the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and actions, I will be healed by God’s mercy from this miserable condition through the life given to me in Christ.

    “we find that the purpose of man’s life is deification”

    I’m pretty sure the actual purpose for us is to know Christ – some thing of what Paul expresses as ‘the fellowship of His sufferings’ that we might share the joy of the resurrection – the day when we are properly clothed again in a humanity that fully expresses the love and faithfulness of God amidst the creation.

    Sola Christos,


  9. Other than your disagreement with deification as God’s purpose for man’s life, I agree with everything you said.

    I’d say that to know Christ, not just intellectually, but to know him as Christians know him, sharing in his sufferings as you note above and also in his crown of glory, becoming one with him together with all Christians, means that we share in his divinity. When we come to Christ, we are not simply restored to Adam’s unfallen state, who while perfect, was still merely human. Rather, we are lifted to Christ’s state, who in his one person joined two natures, the human and the divine.

    So goes the ancient baptismal hymn “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, Hallelujah!”

  10. “we are not simply restored to Adam’s unfallen state, who while perfect, was still merely human”.

    Adam, before becoming fallen, was a true ‘child’ of God, and became so again, I believe, when he and Eve believed the promise of the coming redemption given in Genesis 3:15. I have become renewed in the ‘second Adam’, that my humanity will one day reflect something of His, and thereby I may know peace with God and His unmerited gift of everlasting life. I am clothed by the righteousness and the resurrection life of Christ, and these shall be my treasure through every age, but in every age that is to come, I shall only be what God purposed and created me to be when the world was first made good – a man that exists to reflect in some small way the glory of the one who is Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient, the one and only true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is no other God but Him, and creation will so say as much forever.

    Men may seek to ‘make’ themselves gods (as do the Mormons) or demean this truth (as do other cults), but the new creation will affirm this glory in all the days to come.

    Sola Deo Gloria,


  11. Once again in Love, Howard, I agree with everything you’ve said just stopping short of your disagreement with deification as the purpose of man’s life. I heartily affirm and agree with every word of the entire middle paragraph in your most recent post. This makes me think that we really believe the same things, and that I’m not doing a good job of communicating it to you in an acceptable form.

    Let me say again that I do not at all believe that Christians are going to become God. That’s absurd. God is ineffable and Uncreated, we are contingent, finite, and created beings. I do not believe either, that we will become Gods as the Mormons do. Their understanding makes our God a merely created thing and we will become exactly like Him if we are good enough, and will create our own worlds populated with beings like ourselves. How short this falls of the faith passed down by the apostles in Scripture!

    I’m so sorry for the misunderstanding, because I can tell you are a very Scripturally sound Christian and that you have a zeal for protecting solid, Biblical teaching from error. I share that zeal with you. I think you strike to the heart of the matter when you say that man exists to reflect God’s glory. That is all I mean when I say that deification is the purpose of man’s life.

    I am in no way saying that man has any glory of His own that he can somehow produce or learn to produce. Men like all created things only exist to reflect God’s glory. I say deification is the purpose for man’s life because bearing God’s image, he is unique in all Creation, reflecting God’s glory more closely and more brightly than all other created things (that is if he trusts to God’s grace to conform his entire being to Christ).

    Please let me know if that is acceptable to you, because I love to strive towards agreement with other Christians when I can (according to reason and Scripture, not for the sake of consensus as an end in itself), especially in cases like this when I believe two people really do believe the same thing.

    Sola Deo Gloria,

    Caritas. W. E. Messamore

  12. “Men like all created things only exist to reflect God’s glory. I say deification is the purpose for man’s life because bearing God’s image, he is unique in all Creation, reflecting God’s glory more closely and more brightly than all other created things”

    Whilst I understand the desire for commonality in what is believed, I cannot use the term ‘deify’ in relation to us. In my dictionary it means ‘to make a god of’ that person or subject, and whilst we certainly do this easily in our current condition ( I believe it was Calvin who spoke of the fallen mind being an idol factory), there is one one person to whom the term ‘deity’ or ‘God’ can properly be addressed – The Lord revealed in Creation, History and Scripture.

    We are indeed created to reflect something of the awesome significance of the Godhead, and yes, it’s clear that this is in a very special fashion, but it certainly isn’t by becoming deified – it’s by truly becoming the creatures God wants us to be; a body and a bride which will express the riches made theirs in the Lamb of God.

    Living stones are ‘living’ because they reflect a light and beauty derived from a source with a glory much greater and brighter than their own – the glory of the light which is so bright it blinds our eyes if we seek to gaze upon it – so the relationship between the Son of Righteousness and those He calls to know Him.

    In His Imputed righteousness and the hope of His certain promises,


  13. W.E. Messamore,

    Thanks for dropping by the old Adam and contributing ideas to talk about and debate.

    I liked where the quote from St. Simeon the New Theologian was headed at first, but then the turn toward divinity turned me cold.

    I agree with Howard that this is where all the trouble started with to begin with and this is where the trouble is today. We want to be our own gods.

    Everytime I sin I am telling God that I really know what is best. My ways are the most important ways and I will follow my heart, and my mind, against God’s will. I will in essence, become a god unto myself.

    I’m not so sure God wants us to be elevated to that status, even with Him doing the elevating. I think He wants us to live with Him and to enjoy all the benefits of being His called and chosen children…but I don’t think that He wants us to rise above that.

    One God, three persons, and that’s enough.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents worth.

    Thanks for bringing up a subject that I have rarely thought about. It’s good for my brain cells (all 6 of them) to be stimulated with new ideas every now and then.

  14. We shy away from the term “deification” because it has been man’s fall to want to be like God. As it has been described as the “fall upwards”.

    Hence we would say that it is our original humanity that is being recovered in Christ. It was “good” to start with. This is what we are growing in.

  15. Brigitte,

    “As it has been described as the “fall upwards”. ”

    Right! We get upity with our desire to be like God.

  16. “We shy away from the term “deification” because it has been man’s fall to want to be like God. As it has been described as the “fall upwards”.

    And there are lots of terms which really do define what’s occurring –
    renewal, reform and best of all – Redemption.
    It is CHRIST that is the hope of significance, the one who makes all things new.
    The focus of the new creation for all eternity will be the throne in the heart of the city, where the Father and the Lamb will reside and feed us through the living waters and the tree of life. For eternity, then, all our moments as a living people shall flow from their kindness and care.

  17. Howard,

    I think you have it exactly right.

    Keeping Christ and His work central ( ALWAYS ) is putting the emphasis where it belongs.

    This is not a matter to be taken for granted, for it is precisely the middle letter in S-I-N (‘I’) that is just where the old Adam wants to go… and stay.

    Jesus Christ is The First,TheLast,The Everything.

  18. Howard, I can live with your last response to me. As indicated earlier, other than our skirmish over the term “deification” I agree firmly with everything you are saying and with your view of mankind’s proper relationship to God.

    Brigitte, to make a clarification, I don’t think it’s man’s fall to want to be like God. Scripture exhorts us over and over again to be like God. The sin is for man to want to become his own God. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s what you meant is man’s fall. And believe me when I say that I’m with the rest of you: man setting himself up as his own God or even as godlike is a disaster every time.

    He needs to humble himself completely as Christ did and rely on God’s grace, recognizing that without God he is literally nothing. When he does this, as the scriptures promise, he will be exalted and share in Christ’s glory, reflecting God’s light to his fellow man and to all creation, living blessedly and walking in God’s grace for eternity. The reason I use the term deification, is not because I’m an oddball or would like to exalt man, who needs most of all to be humbled.

    Rather it is because this was the term that the Church Fathers universally used (actually they used the Greek version, theosis) to describe the purpose of man’s life as revealed by Scripture. It did not lead them to make gods of themselves, but rather they were some of the humblest Christians to ever live, renouncing themselves and their bodies, serving others, crying out to God for mercy for their sins, and often suffering martyrdom for their faith. It was these champions of the faith who convened councils to defend it from heresies of all kind and who zealously protected the Scriptural faith from corruption.

    My point isn’t to cause discord, and as I’ve repeated, I think you folks are very right about everything we’ve discussed. I think I’m just saying things a little differently, perhaps more boldly than you believe is prudent or Scriptural. I also appreciate all of you being “cool.” I’ve seen too many discussions like this turn ugly.

    Steve, thanks for letting us have this long discussion in a comment thread on your blog! I’ve added you to my blogroll.

    In Love,

  19. W.E. Messamore,

    Someone once said that “theology is the art of making distinctions.”

    Discussing these distinctions and ultimately putting Christ forward and in the center are exactly the reasons that the old Adam is here.

    I think we need to get to the bottom of the problem and then talk about the solution.

    We don’t always agree on everything here. That’s ok by me. I wouldn’t expect to always agree on everything with the closet of friends or my family.

    There are some terrific contributors to the discussions here and I count you amongst them.

    We are pretty good about keeping a civil tongue and staying cool (for the most part).

    I’m glad that you have put us on your blogroll!
    ‘Slaying Dragons’ now has a link on our blogroll.

    Happy to have you aboard!

    – Steve Martin (the old Adam)

  20. Steve,
    What do you think the purpose of Luther’s exposition of the 10C in the LC was/is?

  21. John,

    That is a great question! I’ll take a stab at it.

    I think that Luther believed that there was nothing besisdes God’s law that could put to death the old Adam.

    That we might have it imprinted on our hearts and minds is to know the total futility of our own efforts to keep it for righteousness sake.

    Since the old Adam keeps sticking his nose where it shouldn’t belong all the way to our grave, we are in constant need of the law to kill him off that we might repent.

    ( In 11), Luther goes on to speak of Rom. 1:16 and the gospel and how it is the “power of God” and how this is what the devil really cannot stomach.

    In the civil arena and for the life lived, the law is the mechanism that God has chosen for our good and the good of the neighbor, so it too is of great value to keep us within God’s boundries (to the extent that it does).

    For civil righteousness…Yes…for the righteousness of God…No.

    The gospel always trumps the law in the arena of God’s righteousness.

    That’s what I think. I hope I’m right…otherwise I might be in big trouble!

    Thanks John!

    – Steve

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