Wednesday, December 07, 2011

This is why I am a Lutheran

I am currently up in Montana at my parent's house.  On the flight up here yesterday I started reading some of the collected works of Martin Luther.  Delving a little more deeply into Lutheran theology was one of my projects for this holiday break.  I have read quite a bit of Luther's writings, but that was way back during my sophomore and junior years of college, and a lot has happened in the intervening years.  

As I was reading the Heidelberg Disputation, I was struck by two theses in particular.

Number 16 in the Heidelberg Disputation is as follows: "The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty."

Luther's commentary on this assertion is what is most interesting to me.  Luther states that left to our own devices, we will only be motivated by our own purposes and see ourselves in everything.  A big part of Lutheran theology is the concept of law vs. gospel.  According to the law (or works-based righteousness, etc) we think that salvation is assured if we do good works.  That is sanctification.  Gospel is grace.  The message of salvation through grace and faith alone is known as justification.  Which is Luther's message.

However, while Luther asserts that grace trumps law, the law is necessary to experience the true power of grace.  The law humbles while grace exalts.  Through law we realize that our own efforts to save ourselves are utterly futile.

Luther states "For this reason the law makes us aware of sin so that, having recognized our sin we may seek and receive grace...through knowledge of sin comes humility and through humility grace is acquired."

The 18th thesis of the Heidelberg Disputation is my favorite.  It states "It is certain that a man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the Grace of Christ."  Being a Lutheran at a Methodist seminary has required that I learn to articulate my deeply held convictions.  While both mainline protestant denominations, Methodism and Lutheranism have some distinct differences.  I will be exploring them in further blog posts.

There is a tremendous amount of freedom in realizing that we are both simultaneously sinner and saint.  Realizing that our own efforts will get us no where, but that God good and offers us grace, and through that, we are made holy.

God does not love you because you are good; God loves you because God is good. God does not love you because you are good; you are good because God loves you.
-Richard Rohr

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