Living under the law

3619878820_a375c3f2ca_mMore from David Zahl., who distinguishes between the big-L “Law” (of God) and the little-l “law” that people today try, futilely, to live by. . . .

The latter too is a sign of how people today are obsessed with justifying themselves, even though they can’t.   We need to point them to the justification they can have, freely, through Christ.

I would add that those of us who have that justification should remember it more and should apply it when we ourselves fall into these syndromes of perfectionism and the busyness that Zahl analyzes.

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Justification and contemporary culture

15692653361_7e7cf1101b_zLuther-influenced Anglican David Zahl has a brilliant article in the latest Christianity Today about Luther’s distinction between Law and Gospel and his understanding of justification by faith.  These teachings, Zahl shows, go to the very heart of what people are most struggling with today in contemporary culture:  perfectionism, the need for approval, and the futility of self-justification.

These are all symptoms of living under the law–if not God’s law, the other laws that we try to replace it with–and the new high-tech information environment only makes the symptoms worse.  (Zahl quotes a friend saying, “The internet is like the real world, only with all the forgiveness vacuumed out.”)

Luther’s breakthrough, that we do not have to justify ourselves–that is, attain perfection, or try to convince ourselves and other people that we are right and good–but that Christ justifies us, is as liberating today as it was 500 years ago.

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“Everything is groundless and gratuitous”

More from Oswald Bayer, who shows the connection between justification and creation, as underscored in Luther’s Small Catechism:

The world was called into being without any worldly condition, in pure freedom and pure goodness.  Creation out of nothing means that everything that is exists out of sheer gratuity, out of pure goodness.  “All this is done out of pure, fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all!”  That is how Luther puts it when explaining the first article of the creed in the Small Catechism.  The terms “merit” and “worthiness” both belong directly to the language of the theology of justification.  Yet they do not occur in the exposition of the second and third articles of the creed, only in the exposition of the first.  This is a striking feature, and it indicates the breadth and depth of the justifying Word.  This Word concerns not just my history but world history and the history of nature.  It concerns all things.

Those who live in the dispute of “justifications,” asking about the ground of their own lives within this world, are told that everything is groundless and gratuitous, and they need not ground or justify themselves; it is grounded and justified only by God’s free and ungrounded Word of love.  Under no obligation and without any condition, God promises communion, communion through and beyond death.  The justification of the ungodly, the resurrection of the dead, and creation out of nothing all happen through this promise and pledge alone.  The promise of God lets us live by faith.  (Living by Faith , Chapter 6)

 

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Note on the “justifying” series

I’ve been doing a series of posts about what I am getting from a book I am reading:  Living by Faith by Oswald Bayer. (For earlier posts on the subject, see this and this. and this.)  He makes the point that the term “justification” is not just a theological term.  Rather, it is a word and a concept that we use all the time, and that, in fact, is a major preoccupation, going deep into the human psychology:  We keep being accused and condemned,  so we continually have to “justify” ourselves, proving that we are right, insisting how good we are, getting defensive, accusing and condemning our critics in retaliation.  We want approval.  We want to be accepted.  We want to be considered good, including when we aren’t.

I think the comments have showed some misunderstanding.  I wanted to draw your attention to a comment I just made to that first post:  “It isn’t that this is a bad thing. We HAVE to do it, given who and what we are. The point is that this necessity of justifying points to our underlying need for what Christ does: Justify us freely.” [Read more…]

Justification by faith and the physical world

More from Living by Faith by Oswald Bayer. (For earlier posts on the subject, see this  and this.)

When we no longer have to justify ourselves, observes Bayer, but know the “passive righteousness” of faith that comes from being justified by Christ, we are reconciled to ourselves (no longer having to justify ourselves); we are reconciled to God (no longer having to justify Him); we are reconciled to others (no longer having to justify them); and we are reconciled to the world (no longer having to justify existence).  This latter point is because, he says with great Lutheranness, God uses the physical world of His creation to bring to us our justification:  water, bread, wine, language, pastors.

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The Faith & Work movement

The doctrine of vocation, in its different versions, seems to have come back to Christendom.  In fact, people are now speaking of a Faith and Work movement!   Recently, a whole channel on the topic was started here at Patheos.  You should check out the blogs on that channel that are devoted exclusively to this topic, though they approach vocation from different perspectives, not always as Lutherans would recognize the term.  (At some point, I might do some posting there  to bring in the Cranach perspective.)

A leader in the Faith and Work movement is Greg Forster, who has recently made the important point that those concerned with “Faith and Work” must keep it grounded in our justification by Christ. [Read more…]