“No great saint lived without errors.”
You can’t be a student of the Bible without realizing the truth of this quote. Think back at some of the people we consider heroes of the Bible. Abraham lied and told the Pharaoh Sarah was his sister. Jacob was a deceiver; David committed adultery and murder; Joseph boasted; Martha was self righteous; Peter denied Christ. I’m not sure where we got the idea that “saint” meant “perfect.”
As Martha said in her post at the beginning of the month, we don’t have to live up to some impossibly high standard of Christian behavior to be a saint; as believers, we are all saints — and we are all sinners. In fact, the Lutheran definition of saint is just this : forgiven sinner. Our sainthood does not depend upon our works, it is completely and simply God’s grace. In fact, Martin Luther is quoted as saying “sin boldly” — although he doesn’t mean we should be proud of our sinful status, or seek to sin more. Here is the original quote in a letter he wrote to Philip Melanchthon:
“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”
In other words, our relationship with Christ is the crucial element: we are saved saints because of His mercy and sacrifice, not our behavior. And all God’s children said: thanks be to God!
Some people have a spiritual gift of Wisdom. This gift is such that they have inhaled the Word breathed out by God and can use it to direct and assist others in their spiritual lives. All of God’s people have gifts, gifts which differ from person to person. This is only one of them. But it is important for us to be able to recognize such people for they are folks to whom the rest of us should cling tightly. I know I’ve known several people with the gift of wisdom and their advice and counsel has made my life better. Those who can use God’s Word to bring righteousness into the lives of others are a true gift to the Church.
Most of us, however, do not have this particular and special spiritual gift of wisdom. But that does not mean that we cannot become wise in a biblical sense. There really is no excuse for the people of God not to live wisely before the world; for all that we need to do so is right in front of us, it’s no great secret requiring special learning or greater than usual brain power. That was the heresy of the Gnostics. Rather it’s right here in front of us, right here in the Bible. We don’t have to devise a new way of life or seek out some guru on a mountain top. We don’t have to attend college or get some self help book off a shelf. We won’t find out how to live wisely on television. We will find it here in the Word of God that David so praised. Pick up your Bibles and read, that’s it.
We will sometimes hear someone referred to as a theologian and we think of a specially trained individual who has deep knowledge in the ways of God. But that’s not necessarily true. Theology simply means the study of God, and it is a study in which each and every one of us can engage. All of God’s people are, or at least ought to be, theologians. We ought to be people who dedicate our lives to studying what has been revealed to us about the nature of God and about His will for us on this side of eternity.
One of the great gifts handed down to us by the Reformers such as Luther and Calvin is the concept of the priesthood of all believers. The Reformers didn’t make this doctrine up, but they recovered it after centuries in which the concept had receded and the idea that a special group of people called priests were necessary for salvation had grown. Simply put, the priesthood of all believers means that you and I do not need someone else to bring us into relationship with God, Christ has already accomplished that at Calvary We can go directly to Him because He has come directly to us through the Holy Spirit who indwells us even as we indwell Christ. The chosen people of God need neither priest nor saint in heaven to intercede for us for Christ does all the intercession necessary.
But the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, like all benefits from above, requires something from us—it requires that we be diligent both in seeking wisdom and in living wisely based upon that hagia sophia, that Holy Wisdom that comes down from above and makes us to be full and living witnesses of the truth that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father unto all eternity.
As sinners our natural response to biblical instructions is to say “no”. It is our default position if you will. God tells us how to behave, and we say no. God says that our thoughts are to be about Him and our goal is to be His glory. And we say no. God says we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And we say no. We must repent of that behavior. We must repent of those thoughts. We must repent of those emotional responses. And we must repent of those times when we say “yes” but live no.
Repentance is a necessary part of the Christian life. When Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the town church in Wittenberg he wrote this, “When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” And true repentance has to be more than simply saying some words on Sunday morning. It must be heartfelt and life changing.
True repentance is a willingness to let God change us in any way He so chooses—no limits and no exceptions. And maybe that’s why we resist so hard. It’s scary, isn’t it? It’s scary to think that God would take me and make me something other than I am when I’m perfectly comfortable this way. Most of you know the difficulties Joan and I have been going through with our home. It is not easy to be constantly moving about from one place to another—sleeping here, eating there. Wondering when we’ll be able to return to our place and get back that sense of normal life. Believe me, we’re so looking forward to that day.
That day will come fairly soon and things Joan and Terry will return to normal. But when you and I repent of our sins, truly and completely, when we let God change us, there will be no going back. There will be a new normal and a new level of comfort. Things which we have long clutched to our chests will no longer be there for us. Instead we will be Kingdom people—which is what we are meant to be. Mark tells us that when Jesus began His earthly ministry He went into Galilee preaching Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. And citizens of the Kingdom are different.
But friends, what a great day that will be for us because we do indeed bear a burden when we sin. We know what our sin is and it weighs us down, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves. But that burden will be lifted when you truly repent and allow God to do as He wills with you. Instead of the yoke of sin we will bear the yoke of Christ, and it is light and easy. Instead of the dimness of our natural vision we will see with a new light, the light of Christ Himself. Instead of the confusion which so often rules our lives, we will have complete clarity, because it is God’s clarity, His gracious giving of His wisdom to the people of His calling.
I borrowed this film from our local library and watched it last night with my husband and some friends. I may be going a little off topic for the month with this review, but if you know anything about Martin Luther, you’re aware that he was well acquainted with the concept of repentance! He spent so much time confessing that he was told to go away and come back when he had something worthwhile to report! Released in 2017, this movie depicts the major events in Luther’s life, interspersed with comments by theologians and historians. Every word spoken by Luther was taken verbatim from his writings. It was well done and gave a good, basic chronological account of the history of the Protestant Reformation. Even if you’re well versed in this history, there were any number of interesting facts you may not know. For example:
- Luther wrote about 25% of the materials printed during his life
- He was not paid for any of his writing
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s name was originally Michael King. His father changed both of their names to Martin Luther out of admiration for the great reformer
- Luther stated that his reason for marrying his wife Katie, was to please his father and spite the pope
Lutherans and history buffs will enjoy this PBS production, and I would certainly recommend it for confirmands. I give it five stars!
Have any readers seen this film? If so, I’d welcome some other comments.
In a previous post, I wrote about the talk by Pastor Lynn Downing our Fanning the Flame team listened to together. In that talk, Pastor Downing stated that true repentance means allowing God to change us in accordance with His will –NO LIMITS ATTACHED. That reminded me of a quote by Henri Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest, professor and author of many book on spirituality. Here’s Henri’s confession about that:
“I love Jesus, but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus, but want to hold onto my own independence even when it brings me no real freedom. I love Jesus, but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues even when their respect does not make me grow spiritually. I love Jesus, but do not want to give up my writing, travel, and speaking plans even when they are often more to my glory than God’s.”
I suspect we all have a list like this; I know I do. I love Jesus, but don’t want to give so much of my income to the needy that I can’t buy what I want, go out to dinner or take vacations. I love Jesus, but I don’t want to give up all or even part of my secular reading and tv shows in order to spend more time in prayer and study. I love Jesus, but I still like to impress others with my accomplishments — and so on. My point? I’m still pretty far from that “no limits attached” ideal of repentance. I guess this is what Luther meant in his first thesis — living a life of repentance is a life-long project.
In later life, Henri Nouwen did grow closer to NO LIMITS ATTACHED. He went to work at a facility for the disabled, became a chaplain and caregiver, and always took one of the residents with him on speaking engagements. He repented of his pride and neediness and He did allow God to change him. With God’s help you and I can do the same.
“The Reformation inspired a mood of anti-authoritarianism, which led to backlash against the feudal system and, by extension, to the democratic movement around the world. In the centuries following the Reformation, movements like women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery traced their roots back to Reformation-era principles.”
I wonder what our world environment would be like today if Martin Luther had not been inspired by God to take a stand? He influenced his environment, rather than allowing the environment influence him. Any thoughts, readers?
This book was published in 2017 amid a plethora of Luther books due to 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Unlike many books that focus on Luther’s legacy, life and theology, this one takes a different approach: what can we learn from Martin Luther’s leadership style?
Nobody can deny that great change came as a result of Luther’s convictions and his life. Here is a quote from the book:
The legacy of any leader can be measured by the positive change he cements
in his own organization, nation, or culture. While many leaders
across the millennia have created change in their society, few have caused such
broad-based change as Martin Luther. Someone surveying Europe in 1600
would have found a cultural milieu that was markedly different than what
was present just a hundred years before, in 1500. For a society that had not
changed markedly in a thousand years, the seismic shift that Luther brought
in the span of a few decades was remarkable. From the church, to government,
law, education, and economics, the hue of society was drastically different because
of the leadership of Martin Luther and his fellow Reformers.
What was it that made Luther such an effective leader? This is the question the book sets out to answer.
The first section does review Luther’s life and legacy. For the Lutherans among our readers, this may be a review of facts they already know. The second deals with different modern models of leadership, comparing Luther to these models. Each section is written by a different author. Topics covered include:
- Luther as a change agent
- Luther as an adaptive leader
- Luther as a transformational leader
- Luther as a pastoral leader
- Luther as a servant leader
I found this book interesting and readable. It is well written, clear and while referring to many academic models of leadership does not bog down in academic terms that lose the average lay person. I came away with a better sense of Luther as a leader we can learn from today. While his circumstances and personality were unique, all church leaders can learn from his dedication to Biblical truth as well as his ability to communicate his vision to followers and energize them for God’s work.
Verdict: I was given a pdf copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a blog review. I give it five stars. Ask your Pastor to add it to the church library! For ordering information follow the link below: