Who “chose” whom?

The WORD

65And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 6:65). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 
For with the words “No one can come to Me” Christ intends to say that faith is God’s gift. And He is willing to give it, if only we request it of Him. To come to Him means to believe in Christ. But he who does not believe is far from Him. You assume that faith is your doing, your power, your work; and thereby you interfere with God’s work. It is the gift of God, so that He alone may be accorded the honor and no man may boast of his strength. It is the Father who draws us and gives us the Word, and the Holy Spirit and faith by the Word. It is His gift, not our work or power. St. Paul also tells us that in Eph. 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved; and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, lest any man should boast.”

This is the essence of true Christianity, against which the world has always contended madly and foolishly and against which it still rages. Here there is no boasting of any work but only of the Father’s drawing. Furthermore, my flesh, blood, spirit, and all that pertains thereto is His, not ours, if I am to have life. Consequently, all the other works we do are entirely excluded.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 23, p. 181). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

The devil’s lure

The WORD

8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 3:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 
It is the devil’s scheme to elevate some people; then, as soon as they believe, they will be lured away from the faith and will seize upon matters not recorded in God’s Word. They will take issue with God and brood over the question why God does not bring the entire world to faith and salvation. They will speculate on the wondrous works of God, on His government of the world and on His judgments. But here is where we should be smart enough to rebuff the devil and say: “I will be content with the wind spoken of here, that is, with faith. If I am content with the sound of this wind, I shall fare well. Then I am safe, and I stand on solid ground. But I do not want to know what God has not revealed in His Word; that I will leave to the angels.”

Some things, on the other hand—for example, God’s way of judging and ruling the world—have not been revealed to me. Earthly knowledge is too little for me, and heavenly knowledge is too much. Nicodemus is concerned about worldly affairs, about this life, and about other things that are directly contrary to the Ten Commandments; Annas and Caiaphas were preoccupied with similar shams. Others want to be too smart and try to know too much. But we must walk straight ahead, swerving neither to the right nor to the left. We must remain on the royal way, following the sound of the Word and without prying into the wisdom of the angels. If I cling to what has been revealed to me by the sound of the wind—for I am not to discard everything on the left side—I cannot stray. As for the rest, whatever I am not intended to know I leave to God.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, pp. 306–307). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Saved by the Same Savior

The WORD

25 Now a discussion arose between John’s disciples and the Jews over purifying.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (John 3:25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 
Since the beginning of the world the question has been raised and hotly debated whether salvation is attained by God’s grace or by works. The chief purification must precede, for “grace and truth come through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Furthermore, “from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). After that we do not forbid good works. However, we do preach that good works can neither constitute nor bring about this purification. But Christ must purify us with His blood; then the other purification will follow from grace, Thus we come away from the Jordan and the Dead Sea.

Now John introduces a new mode of purification, one hitherto unknown to the Jews. In addition, he proclaimed the message that the people must desist from their evil deeds and life and await the coming Messiah. Such testimony implied that he himself was not the one who could purify them, and that his Baptism was not the purification. He says: “I purify with water. I do not claim that you are cleansed thereby. No, you are cleansed by Him who comes after me, who will purify you with the Holy Spirit.” At the same time those who had died before this were saved by accepting John’s Baptism and being purified through their faith in the advent of Christ, to whom John pointed as the true Purifier. In this way all the patriarchs and prophets were purified. Circumcision and all purification were associated with, and related to, the coming Messiah. Circumcision helped them inasmuch as it was linked to the coming Messiah; they were circumcised on their faith in Him, and thus they were saved. Otherwise they would not have been saved. And Cain, who presumed to be everything, is nothing; for his faith does not rely on the future Seed of the woman. It is Abel who is purified, not Cain.

About this a horrible quarrel ensued, so that in the end he who wanted to be everything slew Abel. This has always been the course of history. Just read the records, and see how all the patriarchs and fathers sacrificed and how the fire consumed their offerings. Then the ungodly Jews remarked: “God regards the gift and the sacrifice!” Now Cain had offered nothing but chaff. However, God is not interested in oxen, sheep, and sacrifices; as is evident from Ps. 50:8–9 and from Is. 1:11. God says: “Who commanded you to sacrifice?”

The trouble is, as we see from the books of all the prophets, that the ungodly assume they are purified because of their generous sacrifices; but God is of a different mind. Because of the assumption of the ungodly all the prophets were tortured and slain, and all the great kings dethroned. But whoever bore in mind during his sacrifice that the true Lamb, Christ, was to be slaughtered for the sins of the world, was saved by and in that faith in the advent of Christ. And whoever failed to do so was not saved. Even if such a person were willing to sacrifice a thousand oxen, it would be regarded by God as little as a fly. In the case of the godly, however, what availed was their reliance on the future Seed for their salvation. Thus from Adam and Abel down to our day there is but one way to salvation, for the promise of Christ and the Christian faith began with the promise that the woman’s Seed should crush the serpent’s head. This promise endured until He Himself appeared. And now faith no longer applies to the future Christ but to the present Christ, the Christ who has come. And what was formerly observed in the Law has validity no longer, whether it be Law or circumcision. Christ Himself is present now, and everything pointed to Him.


Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, pp. 426–428). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Why the tree?

The WORD

17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Gen 2:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 
All of chapter 2 speaks of what God did to make his children happy, and this special tree was no exception.

God never designed humans to be puppets or robots whom he regulates by pulling strings or pressing buttons. By placing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, God was giving Adam the opportunity to obey God of his own free will. In so doing, God realized the risk involved, that Adam might choose to disobey him. When Adam came from the hand of his Creator, he was in a state of created innocence. By giving Adam the command not to eat, God was offering him the opportunity to progress from created innocence to conscious holiness. God wanted his highest creature to be holy by choice, not just by accident.

Martin Luther used an illustration that makes God’s intent clear. “This tree of the knowledge of good and evil was Adam’s church, his altar, his pulpit. Here he was to yield to God the obedience he owed, to give recognition to the word and will of God, to give thanks to God, and to call upon God for aid against temptation.” That tree in the middle of the garden was Adam’s place to worship God. There he was reminded of God’s goodness to him; there he could thank God for his mercy; there he could respond by giving God glad obedience.

The Creator had endowed Adam with a free will, an inborn freedom to do what pleased God. God wanted him now to exercise that free will. If Adam had, the experience would have produced a knowledge of good and evil similar to that which God himself has. Adam’s intellect would have become more keenly aware of what God wanted and what he didn’t want. His emotions would have found joy in the Creator’s will and would have convinced him of what a dreadful thing it would be to rebel against God. And Adam’s will would have consciously chosen to follow God’s command to have nothing to do with the forbidden fruit.1

1 Jeske, J. C. (2001). Genesis (2nd ed., pp. 38–39). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.

The Greatest Commandment

The WORD

37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 22:37–39). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

Therefore, this is what the law requires and says: You owe nothing except to love Christ and your neighbor; otherwise you are eternally condemned. But then afterwards Christ comes and says: I suffered, died, and rose again in order that I might fill you with the riches and grace of my Holy Spirit and thus strengthen you. So if you have the Spirit, then you are not an outward spirit; no, you have salvation. Then a person thinks this way: Now, Lord Jesus, I will serve you, die and live for you, and patiently suffer all that is disagreeable from you and from men; do with me as you will. That person will be washed of his sins by the blood of Christ.

Hence, if I have the Holy Spirit, I have faith, by which I cling to God. And if I believe in God, then I also have his love and I love God, foe, and friend. That is why Paul says: I can do all things through the Spirit of God [Phil. 4:13]. The Spirit does not come through fasting, praying, pilgrimages, running to and fro around the country; no, only through faith. So Christ bestows his gifts upon you without any merit whatsoever and what he did for him [i.e., Paul], he does for you also. Here, of course, you must guard against thinking that you are capable of faith; God must give it to you.

Therefore, this is what we say about the law; this is what it is and nothing else: The law kills; your God saves you. And he who does not believe is condemned. In short: Help us, O God, to this faith. Amen. Therefore, guard yourselves against the fool preachers who say: Yes, good works will do it. No, first faith must be present in a man. So he who does not follow Christ and also does not love him is condemned.

As for us, we shall call upon God. Amen.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 51: Sermons I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 51, pp. 109–111). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

our righteousness comes by faith alone

The WORD

4Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ga 2:4–5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

The truth of the Gospel is this, that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the Law. The falsification or corruption of the Gospel is this, that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the Law. The false apostles preached the Gospel, but they did so with this condition attached to it. The scholastics do the same thing in our day. They say that we must believe in Christ and that faith is the foundation of salvation, but they say that this faith does not justify unless it is “formed by love.” This is not the truth of the Gospel; it is falsehood and pretense. The true Gospel, however, is this: Works or love are not the ornament or perfection of faith; but faith itself is a gift of God, a work of God in our hearts, which justifies us because it takes hold of Christ as the Savior. Human reason has the Law as its object. It says to itself: “This I have done; this I have not done.” But faith in its proper function has no other object than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was put to death for the sins of the world. It does not look at its love and say: “What have I done? Where have I sinned? What have I deserved?” But it says: “What has Christ done? What has He deserved?” And here the truth of the Gospel gives you the answer: “He has redeemed you from sin, from the devil, and from eternal death.” Therefore faith acknowledges that in this one Person, Jesus Christ, it has the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Whoever diverts his gaze from this object does not have true faith; he has a phantasy and a vain opinion. He looks away from the promise and at the Law, which terrifies him and drives him to despair.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 26, p. 88). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Word of the Heart

The WORD

1“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 1:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

When a man has a thought, a word, or a conversation within himself, he speaks to himself incessantly and is full of words that suggest counsel as to what to do or not to do. He continually converses and deliberates on this within himself. And particularly when something is close to his heart and makes him angry or happy, his heart is so full of anger and so full of happiness that his emotions involuntarily spill over into his mouth. For a word is not merely the utterance of the mouth; rather it is the thought of the heart. Without this thought the external word is not spoken; or if it is spoken, it has substance only when the word of the mouth is in accord with the word of the heart. Only then is the external word meaningful; otherwise it is worthless. Thus God, too, from all eternity has a Word, a speech, a thought, or a conversation with Himself in His divine heart, unknown to angels and men. This is called His Word. From eternity He was within God’s paternal heart, and through Him God resolved to create heaven and earth. But no man was aware of such a resolve until the Word became flesh and proclaimed this to us. This we shall see later in the words (John 1:18): “The Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed it to us.”

But just as God, the Lord and Creator of all creatures, is immeasurably superior to poor, miserable man, who is earth and dust, so there is no analogy between the word of mortal man and the Word of the eternal and almighty God. There is a wide gulf between the thoughts, discussions, and words of the human heart and those of God. For God is not created or made as we human beings are; He is from all eternity. No one has given Him His speech, His Word, or His conversation. What He is, He is of Himself from eternity. But whatever we are, we received from Him and not from ourselves. He alone has everything from Himself.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, p. 9). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

The Way to God

The WORD

16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 3:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

But if you want to find God, then inscribe these words in your heart. Don’t sleep, but be vigilant, Learn and ponder these words diligently: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Let him who can write, write these words. Furthermore, read them, discuss them, meditate and reflect on them in the morning and in the evening, whether awake or asleep! For the devil will sorely assail your faith in an effort to make you doubt that Christ is the Son of God and that your faith is pleasing to God. He will torture you with thoughts of predestination, with the wrath and the judgment of God. Then you must say: “I don’t want to hear or know anything else about God than that He loves me. I don’t want to know anything about a wrathful God, about His judgment and anger, about hell, about death, and about damnation. But if I do see God’s wrath, I know that this drives me to the Son, where I find refuge; and if I come to the Son, I also have a merciful Father.” For St. John tells us in his epistle that the Father loved me before I ever loved Him or knew Him, that He remitted my sin and gave me salvation (1 John 4:10).

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, p. 368). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

How Do We Pray?

The WORD

7“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 6:7–8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

But the Christian’s prayer is easy, and it does not cause hard work. For it proceeds in faith on the basis of the promise of God, and it presents its need from the heart. Faith quickly gets through telling what it wants; indeed, it does so with a sigh that the heart utters and that words can neither attain nor express. As Paul says (Rom. 8:26), “the Spirit prays.” And because He knows that God is listening to Him, He has no need of such everlasting twaddle. That is how the saints prayed in the Scriptures, like Elijah, Elisha, David, and others—with brief but strong and powerful words. This is evident in the Psalter, where there is hardly a single psalm that has a prayer more than five or six verses long. Therefore the ancient fathers have said correctly that many long prayers are not the way. They recommend short, fervent prayers, where one sighs toward heaven with a word or two, as is often quite possible in the midst of reading, writing, or doing some other task.

But the others, who make it nothing but a work of drudgery, can never pray with gladness or with devotion. They are glad when they are finally through with their babbling. And so it must be. Where there is no faith and no feeling of need in a petition, there the heart cannot be involved either. But where the heart is not involved and the body has to do all the work, there it becomes difficult drudgery. This is evident even in physical work. How difficult and dreary it is for the person who is doing something unwillingly! But on the other hand, if the heart is cheerful and willing, then it does not even notice the work. So it is here, too: the man who is serious in his intentions and takes pleasure in prayer neither knows nor feels any toil and trouble; he simply looks at his need, and he has finished singing or praying the words before he has a chance to turn around. In other words, prayers ought to be brief, frequent, and intense. For God does not ask how much and how long you have prayed, but how good the prayer is and whether it proceeds from the heart.

Therefore Christ says now: “Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask for it.” It is as if He would say: “What are you up to? Do you suppose that you will talk Him down with your long babbling and make Him give you what you need? There is no need for you to persuade Him with your words or to give Him detailed instructions; for He knows beforehand what you need, even better than you do yourself.” If you came before a prince or a judge who knew your case better than you could describe it to him and tried to give him a long-winded account of it, he would have a perfect right to laugh at you or, more likely, to become displeased with you. Indeed, as St. Paul says (Rom. 8:26), “We do not know how we are to pray.” Therefore when He hears us, whatever He gives us is something in excess of our understanding or our hopes. Sometimes He lets us go on asking for something which He does not give right away, or perhaps does not give at all, knowing very well what is necessary and useful for us and what is not. We ourselves do not see this, but finally we have to admit that it would not have been good for us if He had done His giving on the basis of our petition. Therefore we must not go into a long harangue to give Him instructions or prescriptions about what He should do for us and how He should do it. He intends to give in such a way that His name might be hallowed, His kingdom extended, and His will advanced.

But you may say: “Since He knows and sees all our needs better than we do ourselves, why does He let us bring our petitions and present our need, instead of giving it to us without our petitioning? After all, He freely gives the whole world so much good every day, like the sun, the rain, crops and money, body and life, for which no one asks Him or thanks Him. He knows that no one can get along for a single day without light, food, and drink. Then why does He tell us to ask for these things?”

The reason He commands it is, of course, not in order to have us make our prayers an instruction to Him as to what He ought to give us, but in order to have us acknowledge and confess that He is already bestowing many blessings upon us and that He can and will give us still more. By our praying, therefore, we are instructing ourselves more than we are Him. It makes me turn around so that I do not proceed as do the ungodly, neither acknowledging this nor thanking Him for it. When my heart is turned to Him and awakened this way, then I praise Him, thank Him, take refuge with Him in my need, and expect help from Him. As a consequence of all this, I learn more and more to acknowledge what kind of God He is. Because I seek and knock at His door (Matt. 7:7), He takes pleasure in giving me ever more generous gifts. You see, that is how a genuine petitioner proceeds. He is not like those other useless babblers, who prattle a great deal but who never recognize all this. He knows that what he has is a gift of God, and from his heart he says: “Lord, I know that of myself I can neither produce nor preserve a piece of my daily bread; nor can I defend myself against any kind of need or misfortune. Therefore I shall look to Thee for it and request it from Thee, since Thou dost command me this way and dost promise to give it to me, Thou who dost anticipate my every thought and sympathize with my every need.”

You see, a prayer that acknowledges this truly pleases God. It is the truest, highest, and most precious worship which we can render to Him; for it gives Him the glory that is due Him. The others do not do this. Like pigs, they grab all the gifts of God and devour them. They take over one country or city or house after another. They never consider whether they should be paying attention to God. Meanwhile they lay claim to holiness, with their many loud tones and noises in church. But a Christian heart is one that learns from the Word of God that everything we have is from God and nothing is from ourselves. Such a heart accepts all this in faith and practices it, learning to look to Him for everything and to expect it from Him. In this way praying teaches us to recognize who we are and who God is, and to learn what we need and where we are to look for it and find it. The result of this is an excellent, perfect, and sensible man, one who can maintain the right relationship to all things.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 21, pp. 143–145). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.