My apologies to Martin Luther

I will never recover from the injustice of my childhood. My life was driven by a pair of tyrannical hypocrites who said that they loved me, then forced me to go to bed, get up, go to school, do my homework, eat bad-tasting food, work in the yard, apologize to chumps, and on and on and on. They had all the money. They had the car. They could do whatever they wanted.

But I had hope. Someday I would be free of their tyrannical oppression. Someday I would have the money and the car.

We all know that this scenario quickly flips on its head with a simple change of perspective. Parents have a vision for their children, one that should result in responsible, well-adjusted, well-educated adults. A child’s vision is limited by a lack of experience and an existence that revolves around emotion and immediacy. A conflict of vision can make love look like tyranny.

Can this explain how God can claim to be loving and gracious, then seem to act like an unreasonable, violent dictator at times? Maybe we should consider that our vision for humanity is limited, almost childish.

When it comes to life with God, we all know what we want—salvation from hell, salvation from sin, salvation from poverty, sickness, stress, rebellious children, traffic and that lady at the post office. Oh, and world peace. But what does God want?

I think God wants most of these things as well, just like parents want to protect their children, keep them healthy and make them as happy as possible, even spoil them a little bit. But what else is God looking for?

God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 poses an interesting consideration:

I will bless you,
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, 
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. 

Simply put: God’s people are blessed, but they are also supposed to be a blessing to others.

Think about where God planted his people: Israel is a strip of land between Egypt and Assyria, forming a natural trade route. In biblical times, people from every known country would pass through Israel on a regular basis. What an opportunity to show the world what it means to be a part of a community that embodies the life and holiness of God.

But Israel was not exactly an island paradise. Nations like Egypt, Assyria and Babylon would be looking for any opportunity to take that little strip of land in order to control and tax the trade routes. That made Israel a dangerous place to live, a place that required constant obedience and faith.

So what did they do? Ultimately, they stiff-armed those pagans, taking solace in their circumcision, seeing the Gentiles as something to avoid rather than approach. One could argue that God wanted them to steer clear of Gentiles, but in truth, they were only supposed to steer clear of their lifestyle. Why else would God tell Isaiah that Israel was meant to be “a light to the nations, that salvation might reach to the ends of the earth” (49:6)? Why else would he send Jonah to preach in the capital of Assyria?

When Jesus arrived, he stripped away the Jew’s false securities, claiming that he could call sons of Abraham from the very stones at their feet, calling them “children of the devil” because of their pride and murderous thoughts. They had never engaged with the second half of Abraham’s promise. The salt had lost its saltiness, the lamp was securely under a basket, the branches had refused to abide in the vine. Tragically, according to Romans 11, the Jews were grafted out, and the Gentiles were grafted in.

Do Christians make the same mistake? Are we so secure in our salvation experience that we consider any form of ministry or spiritual growth as a bonus, just jewels in a crown? Will God smile when we show him our “Not Perfect, Just Forgiven” bumper stickers, as if sanctification holds a backseat to justification?

In Romans 11, Paul warns the new believers that they should not get arrogant in their salvation, because the unnatural branches (Gentiles) are easier to remove from the vine than the natural (Jews). We should be concerned that the separation of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 was about what they did, not just what they said at youth camp that one night. Sorry, Martin Luther. I know you’d like to add a word of caution here.

There is much more to life than being born and being blessed. Just ask a parent.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

11 thoughts on “My apologies to Martin Luther

  1. REVELATION 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give honor to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready.” 8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

    How is righteousness attained? Pray “the prayer”? Go to church? Do a mission trip every year? Sponsor a World Vision kid?

    You mention arrogance. I think we are potentially as guilty of being lazy, as arrogant. Probably both… in equal measures. I am bothered sometimes that we approach God so easily and informally. God wants us to come to Him, right? Access through the Son. So, we come in sandals, feet on the chairs, with iPhones for Bibles, with an abundance of cleavage at both ends (men and women). We as Protestants bash Catholics for being too religious. It’s a relationship, not a religion, right?!?! I’m not sure the Bible even speaks of that.

    James talks about religion…

    James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

    This last part must be where the fine white linen comes in.

    Perhaps we/many are lacking in religion AND relationship. Are we so better than the Jews? This is a fair question. We have access to the Creator of the Universe through the Christ. It seems Godly reverent fear, humility, respect, and love should be evident as a response to such a gift. AND do what James says above.

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    • Good stuff, Mike. Did you know Martin Luther wanted to throw James out of the Bible? It makes sense. Too works-oriented. His beef was with a works-oriented salvation that benefitted a corrupt, greedy Roman Catholic Church. It is no wonder he laid such a heavy emphasis on grace. And I’m very glad he did.

      But a couple centuries later, John Wesley came along and asked the question: “Saved for what?” His society was full of Christians, but it was also corrupt at the deepest levels. Their salvation had not penetrated deep enough to affect their souls, their activity in the earth.

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  2. When we bite into our knowledge of good and evil, we tend to be critical of the way that God runs things. The temptation to Eve was “…you will be like God…”(Genisis 3:5) Lucifer sought to “…exalt my throne above the stars of God.”(Isaiah 14:13) So, we are east of Eden, wondering why things are messy? Yes, our children remind us of how God feels about His children.

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    • Great point. It’s hard to imagine that our perspective can be childish. We want to take our contemporary ideals and demand that God respect them. That he loves the way we want him to love. That he accepts what we want him to accept. We don’t see where we stand, East of Eden, our minds and spirits dulled, our arrogance in full bloom. We need the Holy Spirit to train us up in the way we should go.

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      • The OT is about God’s attempts to train us up in the way we should go. The new covenant is about God’s mercy in forgiving us for being sinners. While James boarders on the idea that salvation must be earned, Paul’s letter to the Romans suggests that God will frustrate attempts to earn salvation on our own. The story about the prodigal son tells us that it is not about good and evil, but about asking God for blessing and forgiveness. As parents we may double down on the bet by thinking we must salvage our children as well as ourselves.

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