Thursday, June 5, 2008

Answering Satan's Attacks

One of the great hymns of the Lutheran Church is "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." Here are the words:

"A Mighty Fortress is Our God"
by Dr. Martin Luther, 1483-1546
Composite Translation from the Pennsylvania Lutheran CHURCH BOOK of 1868
1. A mighty Fortress is our God,

A trusty Shield and Weapon;
He helps us free from every need
That hath us now o'ertaken.
The old evil Foe Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight; On Earth is not his equal.

2. With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is. Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there's none other God;
He holds the field forever.

3. Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world's prince may still Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He's judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

4. The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He's by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife, Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.

Hymn #262 The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Psalm 46
Author: Martin Luther, 1529
Translated by: composite
Titled: "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott"
Composer: Martin Luther, 1529
Tune: "Ein' feste Burg"
1st Published in: Klug's Gesangbuch
Town: Wittenberg, 1529


So, what does the hymn reveal about Lutherans? Well, that we recognize that the devil is a big threat to our souls. Oh, not because the devil is so powerful - remember that Christ has defeated him! - but because of his lies (John 8:44), his deceptions, (2 Cor. 11:14), and his accusations ("Satan" means "accuser").


The below is from an email exchange with a college student who is a member of my congregation. No names, of course, but it occurs to me that the exchange might be useful to someone who decides to read my blog. So . . . read on . . .


POST ONE:
Hi Pastor,
So, I email to a list of friends these little devotions from a book called God Grant It: Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther. I had a church worker to be friend of mine reply to one of them and I'm hoping that you may have some insights that I can use when I talk to my friend. Please reference the two emails below. The first is the devotion...the latter is the response. Thank you for any advice and wisdom you might have! In Christ, { NAME }

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"But when He heard it, He said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." -- Matthew 9:12-13

The first and most earnest truth in the words "Jesus receives sinners" is that Christ does not want to have anything to do with people who do not recognize themselves to be sinners. This does not mean, of course, that He takes no pleasure in the company of the truly pious and just and derives satisfaction from evil and godless people. As the psalmist says, 'For You are not a God who delights in wickedness, evil may not dwell with You" (Psalm 5:4). If we were as pious and just as when God first created man, we would still be dear and pleasing to the Son of God. (But in that case, He would not have become man and entered the world since there would have been no need of a Savior and Redeemer.)

Jesus came to earth because, as Saint Paul said, all men are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. We were sick in our souls, fatally and eternally sick; and Christ came as a physician to restore us to health. By nature, we are great, lost, and condemned sinners, and neither we nor any other creature under heaven has the power to heal us. As long as we pretend to be self-righteous, Christ does not concern us. What does our going to church avail if we do not call out from depth of our heart, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner' (Luke 18:13)? What good is Baptism or the Gospel or the Holy Meal if we do not embrace it as sinners? To those who continue to think they can cleanse themselves and do not need to be washed pure by Christ, the word He spoke to Peter applies: 'If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me" (John 13:8).

In short, if we are unwilling to acknowledge that we are poor, lost sinners, we renounce Christ. The truth that 'Jesus receives sinners' remains for us, as it did for the Pharisees and scribes, a stumbling block and a hindrance to salvation. It remains a thunderbolt of the Law from Sinai underscoring our judgment to eternal damnation. How good it is, then, when we admit our sinful state and draw inexpressible comfort from the words 'Jesus receives sinners.'

When the Pharisees and scribes called those who approached Jesus 'sinners,' they were absolutely right. Some of them were great sinners. Tax collectors, for example, were manifest deceivers of the people. The woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair was a notorious prostitute. The only thing that distinguished the sinners who drew near to Christ from those who did not was not that their sins were less significant than others, but that they vividly recognized themselves as sinners and sought forgiveness from Jesus.

What a great comfort, then, lies in the words 'Jesus receives sinners'! No matter how great the sins you have committed, do not harden your heart but recognize your sins and go to Jesus. He will receive you. Do not hesitate because you have sinned for a long time or because you believe your sins are so great that you are beyond forgiveness. Remember Peter, who denied his Lord three times. Remember Saul, who persecuted the Church of God and ridiculed His Word. Remember the thief on the cross, who was a robber and a murderer. Jesus received each of them graciously and so will He receive you. Even if your sins are as many as the hairs on your head and as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach, you can find forgiveness in Christ.'

Jesus receives sinners.' May these words comfort us at all times, even until the hour of our death. He is always ready to receive us and to help us enter His heavenly kingdom.Though great our sins and sore our woes, His grace much more aboundeth;His helping love no limit knows,Our utmost need it soundeth.Our Shepherd good and true is He,Who will at last His Israel freeFrom all their sin and sorrow, Amen. (TLH 329:5)

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My Friend's Response:
"Hey { NAME },
Thanks for the devotion. Something I've been struggling with lately is that I always hear people say, "You've never done anything that Jesus can't forgive". That's very comforting, I wholeheartedly believe it, and I use it in witnessing situations sometimes myself. Like this study points to Paul and the thief on the cross and Peter's denials of Christ, those things should be comforting as well. But for me they have become more troubling than anything.

What these three had in common is that they committed their sins before committing their life to Christ. Paul persecuted the church, but after his conversion never committed those sins again; the thief on the cross (granted he didn't have the opportunity) was the same; and Peter did deny Christ while he was a disciple, but after the resurrection there was a transformaion in his heart and he never again denied Jesus as Lord.

The sins that I have struggled with, and the ones that I still do, are all things that have surfaced while being a baptized and confirmed Christian. I feel that my sins are worse than any of the examples listed above, because I knew Christ as my Savior at the time. And now I am studying to become a leader in the Church, how can I struggle with an addiction and justify that? Although I have taken numerous steps to rid myself of this, like I found out yesterday, I'm beginning to wonder if it will ever completely go away. It is no longer a habitual sin, but nevertheless it still finds ways of creeping back into my life. I know that Christ will and has forgiven me for this and all my sins. But that doesn't mean that I should be working in ministry.

So I guess this is one example of how I can see only law in what is meant as Gospel. I cannot find anything in Scripture that makes me feel more at ease about studying for ministry while dealing with this particular addiction. All I find are more reasons for me to not be in ministry. Ok... I'm done... sorry to have dumped all of that on you. You really probably didn't need it. God bless."




MY REPLY:

Hello, { NAME }: Those are wonderful devotions. Whenever I see someone using these as their devotions, I find myself thinking that they are surely pretty mature Christians who seek to be more mature in Christ. Keep using them. Please consider just giving this to your friend and having him sit down to read what I write here. Your friend needs to get honest with the doctrine of original sin. Original sin is not what we do. It is what we are. And, original sin causes us to commit other sins - sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. Original sin does not care whether we have been brought to Christ already or not (and this whole business of thinking that our "commitment" to Christ will somehow make us exempt from sin and its effects is simply wrong).

I liken it to the child born of a crack-addicted mom. As soon as the umbilical cord is cut that poor kid is in deep trouble. He needs a fix. He doesn't know what's wrong - and it is certainly not his fault - but he knows that something's wrong. The best way to help that kid is to admit that he is most certainly a crack addict -- then he can be treated and maybe even saved. But until the doctors, et al. recognize and diagnose the problem they cannot help him. As that kid gets older, he does well to own the fact that he is a crack addict. He will remain thus his whole life. Sometimes he will fall. Because he is a crack addict.

Your friend does not like the fact - and in fact is troubled by the fact - that he sins. The deeper problem is the original sin which causes him to sin. Even when he doesn't want to sin. Romans 7:7ff. MUST be studied. It is written by Paul AFTER he has been brought to faith. But he still sees himself as a wicked sinner ("who will deliver me from this body of death" is a phrase rich and deep in meaning - loaded with nuance - ask me about it sometime soon). Paul is stuck with sin. It's in him. He can't root it out. It causes him to sin. he despises sin. He hates his sins. But he has Christ.

We in the Lutheran Church have, for far too long, discouraged individual confession and absolution. Huge mistake! Lutherans full well understand that we, though we are saved by grace through faith for Christ's sake, still have sin in us. Mom and Dad passed it on to us. It eventually results in death. It always leads us into other sins. When the troubled sinner confesses his sins to his pastor and his pastor speaks to him (sometimes even touches him in blessing!) and absolves him in Christ's name and for Christ's sake, the sin has been dealt with. The cure is given. The sin no longer has to control and accuse. Christ has paid for all sins.

But I also recognize the devil's ploys - there is nothing new in what your friend has written. It is exactly what Luther felt (go watch the movie "Luther" again - do this right away - and see when he was taught to pray, "I am Yours! Save me!"). Did you know that the name "Satan" means "accuser?" One of his chief ploys is to constantly accuse us! He accuses your friend of not repenting good enough. He accuses your friend of not being "good enough" for ministry (is he planning to go into the Pastoral Ministry?). The devil is not the least bit creative. I've been watching his b.s. for 29+ years of pastoral ministry now. It's what the devil does to every Christian, and also to unbelievers. If he can get us to think that we are "too bad," then he can get us to despair and thus deny the Gospel itself (and Christ!). That is why we must keep getting the Gospel in proper preaching every week AND rejoice to taste our Lord Jesus Christ in His Meal to sustain us -- then we can preach the Gospel to ourselves every time the "old evil foe" attacks us!

But Christ died for every sin! And for every sinner! We are saved by grace, through faith, for the sake of what Christ has done! We poor, miserable sinners (see? even the common confession on Sunday morning - unless you participate in that stupid contemporary worship - admits that, though we are saved, we are still poor, miserable sinners!) humbly fall before the cross and pray: "I am Yours! Save me!"

Please feel free to invite your friend to write to me. Please also direct him to my blog: http://lutheran-101.blogspot.com/ . Also please mention my page (with audio's of our Sunday worship services!) on the Wittenberg Trail: http://wittenbergtrail.ning.com/profile/PastorAlanWollenburg .

OK, that's about it for now. Pax tecum! - Pastor ajw



HOW IT CAME OUT:

Hi Pastor,

I sent your words, with a couple grammatical revisions to my friend. I had to email them because the person is back in { CITY } and I'm in { CITY }. Regardless, I thought you would appreciate reading the response.

In Christ, { NAME }

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Hey,



Thank you so much for that reply. God spoke volumes through you, more than you know. That was, for many reasons, the first time in a while I have been able to hear gospel in anything, which makes me realize what a serious predicament I had actually put myself in. I have heard Satan being called the Accuser, but never had I looked at that as his primary role. I have always considered his worst work to be done in tempting. However, the events of the past few days, now that I look back at them, have shown me that he is most destructive when he is accusing.

I have not been able to stop praising God since I read your email. A tremendous burden was lifted from me last night, and I am so glad that you were willing to let God work through you. I'm really not sure what else to say; I don't think I can actually explain what a blessing you and your words were. I guess that is one of God's wise ways, not to let us actually know what awesome and great work that He is doing through us. But I hope I can at least give you a glimpse of how much that meant to me. Thanks for being there, and for caring. God bless



WHAT DID WE LEARN HERE?

That the devil accuses. That we feel the burden of our sins. That we need Christ! That Christ sets us free! Look for other blogs, ok

4 comments:

saxoniae said...

God Grant It is a fine book! I've had it for going on a couple of years now.

This book gets more interesting every day.

Excerpt:

Many upright Lutherans have an aversion to private confession and absolution. This is because, first of all, they regard its institution partly as something new and partly as a return to papal instructions. But this is not true. Private confession was in use long before the rise of the papacy, and until the eighteenth century, it existed in all Lutheran congregations in all countries. Only a few enthusiasts openly rejected it, and only after the Rationalists (that is, the preachers of reason of the new age) had increased in the Lutheran churches was private confession abolished and the general confession introduced in its place.

Pastor Alan Wollenburg said...

Thanks for your comment, saxoniae. Yes, it is a great book. That student has also recently studied Koehler's A Summary of Christian Doctrine. I am glad that it is taught in some of the LCMS's universities. It was taught to me in Lutheran High School back in the '60's, and I taught it for 3 or 4 years at Saxony Lutheran High School in Jackson, MO. Now, alas, it is no longer taught there - a huge disservice to the students, in my opinion.

saxoniae said...

Now you can do a commentary on Paul Speratus' Salvation Unto Us Has Come.

Tim

Pastor Alan Wollenburg said...

Hi, Saxoniae - I don't have a copy of it yet but i've heard that it's wayy good!