Martin Luther: What does it mean to have a god?

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People talking today about the 10 commandments often loosely quote* the reformer Martin Luther saying, breaking any of the commandments is always a result of breaking the first – i.e. in other words, idolatry – or trusting in and worshiping someone or something other than the personal God who gave Israel the 10 commandments.

Background to the 10 Commandments

The first time the 10 commandments appear in the Bible is when God gave them to Moses. Israel had just dramatically escaped 400 years of slavery in Egypt. The introduction to the first commandment mentions this, even though it is often left out.

Continue reading “Martin Luther: What does it mean to have a god?”

A Heritage Conferred by Adoption

Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. Psalm 119:111 NIV

Heritage is a word that has a broad scope of meaning about history, culture, identity, legacy, tradition and as the word itself might imply, inheritance. We have heritage listed buildings and heritage foundations which seek to preserve the landscape of architecture and landmarks, which due to age, unique structure or social background reflect something of history or significance in a locality. Our own Church building in Kogarah is heritage listed by the local municipality, as such there are strict guidelines governing the appearance and maintenance of the property.

God’s heritage for us is not limited to grass and dirt or bricks and mortar. This is vividly explained in the New Testament after Jesus arrives. We are given an inheritance in heavenly places that consists of a spiritual heritage conferred upon us through adoption. God chose us and set his love upon us, not because of any merit on our part and not because of anything in us or done by us, but because of his grace. He did this so that we could display his praise and his glory. This is made possible by the presence of his Holy Spirit who not only enables us to have faith and hope but also to enjoy our inheritance by displaying God’s praise and glory. However, in our sincere desire to provide a heritage for our children, that will see them financially secure and capable of independently supporting themselves, we, like Israel, value material possessions above faith. By our example, we teach salvation by University, that heaven is having a mortgage and God’s blessing equates to a 6-figure income. None of these things, in and of themselves are sinful or evil, but we make the mistake of worshiping created things instead of the creator. We make sacrifices to acquire or retain them, exclusively spend time on them, and grieve the loss of things given to us by God to enjoy and enable us to serve him.

The word “heritage” in Psalm 119:111 (nachal) used 59 times in the Old Testament, relates to an inheritance, allotment, assignment, possession or acquisition. Most often it is used in reference to land or property designated to an individual, family or tribe. It is also used to refer back to the original promise to Abraham regarding the Promised Land (Exodus 32:13). The Psalmist’s use of the word though, focuses on the ultimate spiritual inheritance we are invited to celebrate as God’s children. Whilst land was part of Israel’s inheritance they became materialistic and repeatedly ignored the legacy of Abraham’s faith. This greater inheritance, (their history, culture, identity and tradition) consisted in being a nation of God’s representatives (priests), taking delight in Him, serving Him and providing an example of his goodness, was a means to demonstrate His unconditional generosity.

In the 1500’s a priest called Tetzel raised the ire of Martin Luther due to the unethical manner in which he raised money for the construction of St Peter’s Basilica. He sold indulgences (credits alleged to cancel out sin). “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs” was his marketing hook. In doing this Tetzel encouraged materialism which taught that money was a functional saviour that rendered Jesus and faith in him impotent. Luther protested to Tetzel’s superior and posted a copy of his protest on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg. That protest, in turn, sparked the Protestant Reformation, which recovered for Christians an emphasis on the rich heritage we have in the scriptures of God’s provision of salvation and blessing through the merits of faith alone in Christ alone, through grace alone, according to the Bible alone all to the glory of God alone.

What heritage do you value? What would your children/friends say is your heritage? Creator or creation?

This is a re-post from Oct 28, 2009 and was originally part of a series on Psalm 119.

Shrewd about Shrove

Outside the UK and USA you probably didn’t know that Tuesday March 8 was “Shrove Tuesday”. Others might not even be aware that today, Wednesday March 9 is “Ash Wednesday”. What are these all about and what if anything might it benefit you and I to know this?

Ash Wednesday marks a 40 day count down to Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is 1 week before East Sunday. Still fuzzy? If you weren’t raised in Church then these terms mean very little to you. To add to the confusion some groups say the 40 day count down doesn’t include Sundays so the end day is actually the Saturday before Easter. Ahh, “Easter” – there’s something a few people will understand. That’s when the Bunny visits to give chocolate eggs! Right? Perhaps not. Lets start with the end date with which some of us will be aware:

  • Easter Sunday is the day that celebrates the Resurrection of Christ.
  • Palm Sunday is the day that celebrates Jesus’ “triumphal entry to Jerusalem”. Riding on a colt or foal he entered Jerusalem and was received with celebration and singing. Those that welcomed him waved palm leaves as part of the traditional accolade afforded to a visiting dignitary. As an aside this event was an exact fulfillment of a prophecy in the Old Testament by Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9:9)

  • Ash Wednesday is 40 days before Palm Sunday or 46 days before Easter Sunday.

Traditionally, mainly in Catholic, Anglican and some formal denominations, it marks the start of a period called “Lent”. There is a lot disagreement about the origin, meaning, significance and correct way to observe Lent. “Lent” is a transliteration of a term with Germanic and Latin roots that means “lengthen” and was synonymous with the Spring season, as in, ‘the days begin to lengthen in Spring’. Thus the name, “Lent”. That’s all well and good if you’re in the Northern hemisphere, if not, it’s just nonsense! What it has come to mean and is now practiced all over the world, is a period of sacrifice or partial fasting in the lead up to celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Some go to all sorts of weird and wonderful extremes in drawing parallels with the various 40 day events mentioned throughout the Bible and try to draw some application. At best, that is clever numerology, at worst it is twisting and distorting scripture.

For those that observe Lent, it involves giving something up for the 40 day period. Sanctified weight loss programs exploit the vulnerable, as do anti-cigarette campaigners, alcohol prohibitionists seize the opportunity to get people to quit drinking and all manner of well meaning propaganda finds it’s way into our life. Yet for all the value of having a healthy body free of toxins and chemical addictions, this equates to promoting and exchanging physical health with spiritual well being. The basic message is, “If you stop smoking, you’ll be closer to God” or something similar. Last year, one Church leader tried the same angle with iPods. Exactly how not using your iPod for 40 days is going to make you closer to God or improve the planet is a bit foggy to me. But there you have it. Yet another external, superficial, “sacrifice” that is purported to help achieve self-improvement and salvation.

The inadequacy of Lent is amplified by it’s preceding “holy day”, Shrove Tuesday. This is also called, ‘Pancake Day’ or ‘Fat Tuesday’. The idea being that you have one last indulgence before commencing your fast. Which is an absurd perversion of the concept of biblical repentance. Imagine Jesus saying to the extortionist tax collectors of his day, “Before you follow me, go out and rip off as many people as possible for 24 hours, then come back and serve me”.

Martin Luther, has perhaps summarised the alternative to this in the 1st of his 95 Theses as follows:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

When you repent, you abandon all self attempts at reform, improvement, and ultimately salvation with a realisation that God alone is the agent and author of our rescue. To acknowledge that, you first need to agree that you need such rescue. Giving up chocolate or iPods for a few days belies that you don’t consider yourself in need of anything at all. Instead you pit yourself as above and beyond all others and, in your arrogance, a model of virtue and perfection. Not all that different to the religious hierarchy of Jesus’ day. They were full of corruption, likened to white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones. Only a creator who brings life out of death as demonstrated in raising Jesus can resolve your condition, and mine.

Take a break from your iPod if you must, leave off the chocolate and lose a kilo or a belt notch. But don’t pretend that anything less than Jesus can save you, give you God’s forgiveness and assurance that your heavenly Father loves you enough to send his unique Son to die in your place. In 46 days when Christians celebrate Easter Sunday, it’s not because they get to eat chocolate again. It is because Jesus has put an end to Satan, sin and death and is our sovereign and almighty Lord.

Granted the Permission of Sins

When God, through His grace, grants us forgiveness of sins without our merit, so that we need not purchase it or earn it ourselves, we are at once inclined to draw this reassuring conclusion and to say: Well, so we need no longer do good!—Therefore, in addition to teaching the doctrine of faith in His grace, God must constantly combat this notion and show that this is not at all His meaning. Sins are assuredly not forgiven in order that they should be committed, but in order that they should stop; otherwise it should more justly be called the permission of sins, not the remission of sins. (Luther, Sermon on Romans, Chapter 8, WA 22, p. 132; WLS I, p. 520 in Oden, T. C. 1989. Ministry Through Word and Sacrament (149–150). Crossroad: New York)

I confess it is hard to confess

All people are so minded that they do not want themselves and their dealings to become publicly known. All can bear to have us say that God is benevolent, and who in the world would deny that God is just and always right when we judge Him? Yet people cannot bear to be rebuked. No one wants to be a homicide, thief, or miser before the world, not be stained with gross vices. Who, then, is the man who hates the light? All of us! For not one of you would want his story written on his forehead. All of us still gladly hear people praise and honor us. No one thinks: Ah, God be gracious to me; for if the sins of which I am conscious in my heart were evident to the world, I should deserve to be hanged. To be sure, the world honors me; but if it knew who I am, it would spit at me.—But if we realized this, it would serve to humble us before God.… The proverbial saying is not meaningless: More souls go to heaven from the gallows than from the cemetery.—For those hanged on the gallows are forced to confess their sins and say: Lord, I am a wicked fellow, Thou art just.—Another man, however, dies on his bed but covers up his sin … Everyone is so constituted that he does not want the sin he commits to be considered sin. He wants it to be called righteousness before the world and before God. However, it is also true that no one should betray and expose himself before the world, but everyone should cover his sins and ask God to forgive them; and you should be reconciled with those whom you have injured.

(Luther, “Sermons on the Gospel of John Chapters Three and Four, 1529,” WA 47, pp. 122f., WLS 1, pp. 327–328; cf. LW 22, pp. 403–404 in Oden, T. C. 1989. Ministry Through Word and Sacrament (140–141). Crossroad: New York)