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Category: Faith

Gird up your minds,
be sober

The WORD
13“Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

 

This is an exhortation to faith. It means: Since things in which even the angels rejoice and which they are delighted to see have been proclaimed and given to you through the Gospel, cling to them and place full confidence in them, so that it is a genuine faith and not a colored or fictitious delusion and dream.

Gird up your minds.

Here Peter is speaking about a spiritual girding of the mind, just as one girds a sword physically to one’s loins. Christ also touched on girding when He said: “Let your loins be girded” (Luke 12:35). In several places in Scripture the loins denote physical unchastity. But here St. Peter is speaking of spiritual loins. In a physical sense Scripture calls the loins the source of the natural descent from the father. Thus we read in Gen. 49:10 that Christ is to come from the loins of Judah. Thus the physical girding of the loins is nothing else than chastity, as Is. 11:5 states: “Righteousness shall be the girdle of His waist, and faithfulness the girdle of His loins.” That is, one suppresses and overcomes evil lust only through faith.

But the spiritual girding—of which the apostle is speaking here—takes place as follows: Just as a virgin is physically pure and blameless, so the soul is spiritually blameless because of faith, through which it becomes the bride of Christ. But if it falls from faith into false doctrine, it must go to ruin. For this reason Scripture consistently calls idolatry and unbelief adultery and whoring, that is, if the soul clings to the teachings of men and thus surrenders faith and Christ. St. Peter forbids this here when he tells us to gird the loins of the mind. It is as if he were saying: You have now heard the Gospel and have come to faith. Therefore see to it that you remain in faith and not be moved by false doctrine, that you do not waver and run hither and thither with works.

Here St. Peter adopts a peculiar expression—different from that of St. Paul—when he speaks of “the loins of your mind.” He uses the word “mind” for what we mean when we speak of being minded, as if I said: “I regard this as right,” or, as St. Paul expresses himself (Rom. 3:28), “We hold that”; that is, “So we are minded.” With this he actually means faith and wants to say: “You have come to the proper understanding, namely, that one is justified by faith alone. Now cling to this understanding. Gird it well. Hold fast to it, and do not let anyone wrest it from you. Then all is well with you. For many false teachers will appear and will set up human doctrines, to take away your understanding and loosen the girdle of faith. Therefore be warned, and give careful thought to this.” The hypocrites, who rely on their works and lead a fine moral life, think that God must take them to heaven because of their works. They become puffed up and arrogant. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11–12, they insist on their understanding and opinion. Mary speaks about them in the Magnificat, where she uses the same little word Peter employs here. She says: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (Luke 1:51), that is, in their understanding.

Be sober.

Sobriety serves the body externally and is the chief work of faith. For even though man has become righteous, he is not yet completely rid of evil lusts. To be sure, faith has begun to subdue the flesh; but the flesh continues to bestir itself and rages nevertheless in all sorts of lusts that would like to assert themselves again and do what they want. Therefore the spirit must busy itself daily to tame the flesh and to bring it into subjection, must wrestle with it incessantly, and must take care that it does not repel faith. Therefore those who say that they have faith, think that this is enough, and, in addition, live as they please, are deceiving themselves. Where faith is genuine, it must attack the body and hold it in check, lest the body do what it pleases.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, pp. 25–27). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Without Christ life light, and mercy are unattainable

The WORD
16“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace…”

 

The holy evangelist (John) informed us earlier that without Christ life, light, and mercy are unattainable. Only the believer in Christ’s name enjoys the power and the prerogative to become a child of God. This places all men, including all saints, whatever their name, into one category and labels all as sinners and liars devoid of grace as long as they rely on themselves and have not Christ. For all the descendants of Adam were born in sin and in disfavor with God, with nothing good in them, but imbued with falseness, hypocrisy, lies, and deceit. It avails nothing that they feign piety and saintliness, that they point to their good works, that they want to be regarded as humble and spiritual; all this is useless unless they become children of God through faith in Christ.

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. 131). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

John 14:21 – In Me you have all

The WORD

21“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). ([reftagger title=””]John 14:21[/reftagger]). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

Christ gave His disciples the sublime comfort that they would be in Him and He in them. This is the chief doctrine of Christianity. From it we are to understand that we are not justified and saved in and through ourselves but in and through Christ, who did everything for us, who fulfilled the Law and defeated sin, death, and the devil. “This you will have in Me,” says Christ; “but subsequently I will be praised in you, and you will have to confess and to preach this in all the world. When you have received this from Me, when My blessings have become your own, and when, in turn, your evils, sin, and failings become Mine—just as all that is My Father’s is Mine, and that which is Mine is also My Father’s—then you will come forward. You will administer My Word and commandments, be Christ’s apostles and preachers, and be baptized. You will hear and confess the Word publicly, in order that the world may see and hear that you are My Christians and adhere to My Word and commandments. When you do all this, you will surely experience that the devil and the world, as well as your own evil conscience and false brethren and schismatic spirits, will harass you, and that you will be surrounded by all sorts of trials, terror, anxiety, and distress.

“Then it will be learned for sure whether you are truly in Me and I in you, that is, whether your faith is firmly established, whether you have received Baptism and the Sacrament in earnest, whether you have preached and heard the Gospel and let yourselves be called Christians.” The great danger and distress will chasten them and demonstrate what each one is and is not. Talk is cheap. Even the pope and his crowd boast: “We are baptized Christians. Christ is in us, and we are in Him.” But when life is in jeopardy, yes, even when less vital things are at stake, such as temporal goods, or when shame and disgrace or other grief and woe are inflicted by the devil, then one says: “I really do not know what to do!” For it hurts to be cast into prison, to be put in the stocks and tortured, to abandon everything, to be everybody’s door mat, to be so maltreated that there is no more wretched creature on earth than a Christian. In such circumstances the flesh is weak and fearful, the heart pounds, and the devil adds fuel to the fire by making the heart ever more afraid and timid.

“Therefore,” says Christ, “I will give you a sure sign by which the true Christians, who are in Me and in whom I am, can be recognized, namely, the observance of My commandments. You already have all that I am to accomplish in you and all that I am to do for you. I have given you all, have conquered death for you, delivered you from sin, reconciled the Father, and fulfilled the Law. You need nothing else. For there is no more wrath, no death, no hell, no sin; all are overcome and destroyed, and you really lead a heavenly life. But whether you truly believe this and earnestly adhere to it—this will be seen if you live accordingly here on earth; if you preach and profess freely and intrepidly; if you hazard property and honor, life and limb, for this; and if you love one another as heartily as I have taught and commanded you. This will be the test and proof of true faith in Me.” But, as Christ said earlier, it all depends on whether you feel and find that you love this Man. For if you truly believe this, then love will be there, and your heart will be moved to say: “Christ, my dear Lord, has done so much for me. He has reconciled the Father to me and shed His blood for me. He has fought and defeated my death and given me all His possessions. Should I not requite this love? Should I not thank and praise, honor and serve Him with my life and my goods? If not, I should be ashamed that I am a human being.”

Therefore Christ declares: “Sincere love for Me is part of a true Christian. Otherwise he will never be able to carry on.” The heart must cleave solely to Christ and neither love nor fear anything else. If you are threatened with imprisonment, with loss of life and goods, you must be able to declare undauntedly: “This I will gladly suffer in defiance of the devil, out of love for my dear Lord and to His glory and honor.” Then no suffering will be too burdensome for you, but everything will be tolerable and light. This we see in many examples of the martyrs, how out of love for Christ they scorned all torment and pain. We read in particular about a rich citizen of Rome who lost much property, house and home, wife and child; but his heart retained its trust in Christ and said: “Even if they have robbed me of everything, they will not take my Christ from me.” Thus, you see, his heart was inflamed with love for Christ and clung to Him in heaven above. Therefore he did not care that he had to forfeit everything on earth. He surely could not have done this if love for Christ had not impelled him.

Therefore when Christ was entrusting the ministry to Peter, He asked him three times whether he loved Him (John 21:15–17). For He knew and saw that no one can be a true preacher or a Christian unless he loves Christ with heart and soul. But how can a person have such love for Christ unless he first believes firmly that he has everything in Him, unless he is convinced beyond a doubt that Christ is his Treasure and Savior, his Life and Comfort? When this conviction is rooted in the heart, love will flow and follow in its wake. And where there is that love, it cannot rest or be idle. It goes forth, preaches to, and teaches everyone. It is eager to plant Christ in every heart and to bring everybody to Him. On this it wagers and stakes whatever it can and must. Christ seeks to impress such love into the hearts of the disciples by means of these kind words. Therefore He says: “Well, as My farewell gift I leave you forgiveness of sins, heaven, and the Father’s favor and grace. In Me you have all you desire. Just see that you believe this sincerely. Then you will indeed love Me and observe everything I have told you.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, pp. 145–148). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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John 14:20 Part 2 – I am in you

The WORD

20“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). ([reftagger title=””]John 14:20[/reftagger]). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

You see, you must understand that when He says in this verse: “You will know that I am in My Father, and the Father in Me,” He means: “Do not look only at My flesh and blood—this you see right now, as the Jews also do—or at My substance and essence as God and man. No, you must consider what I say, do, and work, in other words, My office and the reason for My presence here on earth. If you do this, then you see and hear that I am conveying to you the Father’s pure consolation, love, grace, and compassion. Furthermore, I prove this by My deeds, by My death and resurrection. If you see this in Me, you see the Father in Me and Me in the Father. For this is truly the Father’s plan, heart, and will.”

The first and foremost point about Christ’s being in the Father is this, that we do not doubt that everything this Man says and does stands and must stand in heaven before all the angels, in the world before all tyrants, in hell before all devils, in the heart before every evil conscience and one’s own thoughts. For if we are sure that everything He thinks, says, and wants reflects the will of the Father, I am able to defy anyone who would be wroth and angry with me. In Christ I have the Father’s will and heart. And if God is for us and with us, then, as St. Paul declares (Rom. 8:31), what is there to harm us? Therefore it is all-important for us to look solely to Him, to disregard whatever any other god says, and to reject any other preaching or doctrine regarding ways and means, angels, saints, death, and life. In brief, if you comprehend and see this, then you comprehend and see Christ in the Father and the Father in Christ; then you see no anger, death, or hell, but sheer grace, compassion, heaven, and life.

“Furthermore, if you know that and believe this, then you will also go on to recognize that I am in you and you are in Me. Then you will realize that I am your Savior. You will acknowledge Me in the capacity in which the Father sent Me, and you will prove and show by this that you are in Me, namely, thus: that whatever you are, your failings and shortcomings, your sins, your damnation, your death, are all in Me. That is its proper place. And now I am in the Father; and what is in Me is also in the Father, whether it is called death or life, sin or righteousness. But whatever is in Me must necessarily be perfect righteousness, life, and salvation.

“By faith you also come to be in Me with your death, sin, and every trouble. If you are sinful in yourselves, you are justified in Me; if you feel death in you, you have life in Me; if you have strife in you, you have peace in Me; if you stand condemned on your own account, you are blessed and saved in Me.” For, my dear man, where am I if I am a Christian? Nowhere else than where Christ is. But where else is He but in heaven, in eternal life, joy, and bliss? And He, of course, will not be condemned to death as a sinner any longer. Since no sin can accuse Him, no devil can damn Him, no death can consume Him, no hell can devour Him, I must remain undamned and undevoured; for I am in Him. “Consequently, sin, death, and every trouble in you are gone. For all this I destroy in Myself.” It cannot abide in Him, since He is and remains in the Father. And it can have no power in us either, because we are in Him.

This is indeed an excellent sermon. “But you do not yet understand and know this,” says Christ. “This calls for greater insight and understanding than anyone is able to have out of himself. But later, when I am glorified by My resurrection and when the Holy Spirit comes, you will be well aware of this and will experience in your hearts that by being in the Father I have devoured everything deadly in Me. You will also feel this in yourselves, you who are in Me. For since all the power of sin, death, and the devil is dead in the Father, it shall also be dead in Me, and likewise in you, since you are in Me.

“Finally you will also learn that I shall be in you. For through Me you will not only acquire comforting confidence and assurance, an intrepid heart, and undaunted courage toward the Father, the conviction that He is gracious toward you and is no angrier with you than He is with Me; but if you know this and make it your own, you will also be certain that whatever you say, preach, live, and do will be right and good, yes, will be, and will be called, My own Word and work. For I am the One who speaks, preaches, baptizes, and works everything in or through you, just as the Father does everything in Me and through Me.”

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, pp. 140–142). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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John 14:17 Where true courage comes from

The WORD

17“Even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). ([reftagger title=””]John 14:17[/reftagger]). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

The Holy Spirit is not only a Comforter, who makes Christians defiant and courageous in the face of all kinds of terror; He is also a Spirit of truth, that is, He is a true and reliable Spirit, who does not deceive you or fail you. It is also part of a Christian’s character to become bold and intrepid. I do not mean that he should be imbued with a foolhardy courage, boldness, and defiance such as reckless soldiers and daredevils display when they charge fearlessly into swords, spears, and guns. To be sure, this may also be termed fearlessness; but it is a false comfort and defiance, for such a man either relies on his own strength or is actuated by vainglory. Thus there may be a spirit there, but it is not the proper and true spirit.

For the evil spirit can also puff people up and make them bold and brave, as is evidenced by his tyrants and schismatic spirits, who are far too rash and defiant, though not with the valor and the defiance approved by God. Christ, on the other hand, promises a Spirit who fills us with a courage that is called a divine, holy, and bold defiance. Therefore this must be called a genuine, true comfort, a courage that is not false or futile; for it does not rely on anything uncertain but is thoroughly reliable and puts its trust in things that do not fail or deceive.

Christians have nothing to rely on but Christ, their Lord and God. They willingly surrender all things for His sake and say: “Before I deny or forsake my Christ, I will bid farewell to neck and belly, honor and goods, house and home, wife and child, and everything!” Therefore this courage cannot be a sham or a delusion; it must be genuine and real. Its comfort is not rooted in earth’s temporal or transient things, for the sake of which it would be willing to suffer this. No, it pins its hopes solely on the Lord Christ, who was crucified and died for us. In keeping with His promise Christ certainly must say: “Since you confess Me, you enjoy this advantage and comfort; and you can boast that your defiance and courage will not mislead you. For He is called a Spirit of truth.” All other defiance and pride stems from a spirit of lies or a pseudo spirit, which cannot be pleasing to God. But whatever a Christian does and suffers in faith in the Lord Christ is absolute truth, proper, and right; and he can boast truthfully and joyfully that it is approved by God and all the angels. A Christian is sure of his position and fears neither the devil nor the world; neither is he intimidated by any threat or terror.

Therefore let this be no small comfort for you, for there is nothing else on earth that can comfort you as much in the hour of need as a confident heart. As long as it harbors doubt and is uncertain, it is incapable of defiant courage. But here the consolation is sure; whatever I suffer is not due to my misdeeds or to any worldly things from which I hoped to derive goods or honor or praise. The only charge against me is that I believe in the Lord Christ and am determined to confess His Word.

Therefore I cannot fear these people, but I must despise them and say: “Go ahead and rage if you will. If you do not choose to smile in God’s name, then be angry in the name of all your masters. And the more you fume and rage in your ire and malice, the happier I shall be, and the more I shall laugh.” For I am convinced—also from their own admission—that they are attacking us for no other reason than this, that we preach the Gospel. Since all this befalls us for Christ’s sake, He also gives us the Spirit—as He has promised—who does not deceive but is sincere and abides forever before God and everyone.

Thus we have the comforting promise and the firm confidence that whatever we speak, do, and suffer as Christians must be the truth and proceed from the Spirit of truth. Conversely, all that is done, spoken, preached, and undertaken in opposition to this must be falsehood and lies before God, though it may seem ever so fine and be proclaimed as the pure truth, the greatest holiness and intellectuality, and though the world may contend for it with all its might and blaspheme and rage against us most violently. For, after all, our doctrine and our actions are not based on ourselves, nor are we involved in this; but all this has to do with this Christ, from whom we have everything and for whom we preach, live, and suffer. And since all this is done on His behalf, we also let Him worry about it. He says that He will see it through and will give the spirit and the courage for it to endure; and whatever He does through His Christians is to be completely true and certain.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, p. 120). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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Galatians 2:16

The WORD

16“yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). ([reftagger title=””]Gal 2:16[/reftagger]). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

Now the true meaning of Christianity is this: that a man first acknowledge, through the Law, that he is a sinner, for whom it is impossible to perform any good work. For the Law says: “You are an evil tree. Therefore everything you think, speak, or do is opposed to God. Hence you cannot deserve grace by your works. But if you try to do so, you make the bad even worse; for since you are an evil tree, you cannot produce anything except evil fruits, that is, sins. ‘For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin’ ([reftagger title=””]Rom. 14:23[/reftagger]).” Trying to merit grace by preceding works, therefore, is trying to placate God with sins, which is nothing but heaping sins upon sins, making fun of God, and provoking His wrath. When a man is taught this way by the Law, he is frightened and humbled. Then he really sees the greatness of his sin and finds in himself not one spark of the love of God; thus he justifies God in His Word and confesses that he deserves death and eternal damnation. Thus the first step in Christianity is the preaching of repentance and the knowledge of oneself.

The second step is this: If you want to be saved, your salvation does not come by works; but God has sent His only Son into the world that we might live through Him. He was crucified and died for you and bore your sins in His own body ([reftagger title=””]1 Peter 2:24[/reftagger]). Here there is no “congruity” or work performed before grace, but only wrath, sin, terror, and death. Therefore the Law only shows sin, terrifies, and humbles; thus it prepares us for justification and drives us to Christ. For by His Word God has revealed to us that He wants to be a merciful Father to us. Without our merit—since, after all, we cannot merit anything—He wants to give us forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life for the sake of Christ. For God is He who dispenses His gifts freely to all, and this is the praise of His deity. But He cannot defend this deity of His against the selfrighteous people who are unwilling to accept grace and eternal life from Him freely but want to earn it by their own works. They simply want to rob Him of the glory of His deity. In order to retain it, He is compelled to send forth His Law, to terrify and crush those very hard rocks as though it were thunder and lightning.

This, in summary, is our theology about Christian righteousness, in opposition to the abominations and monstrosities of the sophists about “merit of congruity and of condignity” or about works before grace and after grace. Smug people, who have never struggled with any temptations or true terrors of sin and death, were the ones who made up these empty dreams out of their own heads; therefore they do not understand what they are saying or what they are talking about, for they cannot supply any examples of such works done either before grace or after grace. Therefore these are useless fables, with which the papists delude both themselves and others.

………………

Therefore Christian faith is not an idle quality or an empty husk in the heart, which may exist in a state of mortal sin until love comes along to make it alive. But if it is true faith, it is a sure trust and firm acceptance in the heart. It takes hold of Christ in such a way that Christ is the object of faith, or rather not the object but, so to speak, the One who is present in the faith itself. Thus faith is a sort of knowledge or darkness that nothing can see. Yet the Christ of whom faith takes hold is sitting in this darkness as God sat in the midst of darkness on Sinai and in the temple. Therefore our “formal righteousness” is not a love that informs faith; but it is faith itself, a cloud in our hearts, that is, trust in a thing we do not see, in Christ, who is present especially when He cannot be seen.

Therefore faith justifies because it takes hold of and possesses this treasure, the present Christ. But how He is present—this is beyond our thought; for there is darkness, as I have said. Where the confidence of the heart is present, therefore, there Christ is present, in that very cloud and faith. This is the formal righteousness on account of which a man is justified; it is not on account of love, as the sophists say. In short, just as the sophists say that love forms and trains faith, so we say that it is Christ who forms and trains faith or who is the form of faith. Therefore the Christ who is grasped by faith and who lives in the heart is the true Christian righteousness, on account of which God counts us righteous and grants us eternal life. Here there is no work of the Law, no love; but there is an entirely different kind of righteousness, a new world above and beyond the Law. For Christ or faith is neither the Law nor the work of the Law

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, pp. 129–130). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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John 14:13-14

The WORD

13“Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son;14 if you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 14:13-14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

By telling His disciples to pray Christ wants to point out that of and among themselves they do not have the power to do such great things—things which He calls greater works than those He Himself has done. They will experience weakness, all sorts of trouble and want, opposition and hindrances in their calling, life, and acts. He lets this happen to them to forestall pride, presumption, and self-reliance, as though they now had everything and no longer needed Him. They should remain humble and continue to be aware of their own impotence. Then they will exercise their faith in Christ all the more by prayer and petition, and will experience His power in weakness and in suffering the more surely, because they will be impelled to call upon Him and implore Him. Thus He said to St. Paul in [reftagger title=””]2 Cor. 12:9[/reftagger] : “My power is made perfect in weakness.

With these and the following words Christ also demonstrates what constitutes a Christian’s true office and function, and how necessary the exercise of this is in Christendom. The prophet Zechariah refers to this when he says ([reftagger title=””]Zech 12:10[/reftagger] ) that Christ will pour out and grant the spirit which is called “a spirit of compassion and supplication.” For in all Christians He will effect and produce these two things: First, He will convince and assure their hearts that they have a compassionate God; secondly, He will enable them to help others by their supplication. The result of the first is that they are reconciled to God and have all they need for themselves. Then, when they have this, they will become gods and will be saviors of the world by their supplication. Through the spirit of compassion they themselves will become children of God; and then, as children of God, they will mediate between God and their neighbor, and will serve others and help them attain this estate too.

For once a Christian begins to know Christ as his Lord and Savior, through whom he is redeemed from death and brought into His dominion and inheritance, God completely permeates his heart. Now he is eager to help everyone acquire the same benefits. For his greatest delight is in this treasure, the knowledge of Christ. Therefore he steps forth boldly, teaches and admonishes others, praises and confesses his treasure before everybody, prays and yearns that they, too, may obtain such mercy. There is a spirit of restlessness amid the greatest calm, that is, in Gods grace and peace. A Christian cannot be still or idle. He constantly strives and struggles with all his might, as one who has no other object in life than to disseminate God’s honor and glory among the people, that others may also receive such a spirit of grace and through this spirit also help him pray. For wherever the spirit of grace resides, there we can and dare, yes, must begin to pray.

Therefore Christ wants to say here: “When you believe in Me and have received the spirit by which the heart is assured of the grace of God (Christ had said above: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father”), then you will certainly be constrained to pray.” For prayer is the true work characteristic only of Christians. Before we become Christians and believe, we do not know how or what to pray. And even if a man prays most fervently, the spirit of grace is not yet present. Then the heart is still disposed to say: “Dear Lord, I ask you to regard my life, my intense suffering, or the merit of this or of that saint, the intercession and the good works of pious people.” This is not faith in divine grace and mercy through Christ. Moreover, the heart always remains in doubt and cannot conclude that its prayer has certainly been heard. It insists on dealing with God on the basis of its own holiness or that of others, and without Christ, as though God had to humble Himself before it, have His grace or assistance wrested from Him, and thus become our debtor and servant. This means deserving wrath, not grace; this means mocking God, not praying to Him.

A genuinely Christian prayer must issue from the spirit of grace, which says: “I have lived my best; therefore I implore Thee not to regard my life and my conduct, but Thy mercy and compassion promised me in Christ, and because of this to grant me the fulfillment of my prayer.” Thus our prayer must, in real and sincere humility, take no account of ourselves; it must rely solely and confidently on the promise of grace, in the firm trust that God will hear us, as He has commanded us to pray and has promised to hear us.

Therefore Christ distinctly adds the words “in My name.” He wants to teach us that no real prayer is possible without faith and that without Christ no one is able to utter a single word of prayer that is valid before God and acceptable to Him.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, pp. 87-89). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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The Truth and the Life

The WORD

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). ([reftagger title=””]Jn 14:6–7)[/reftagger]. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

These words, too, we shall discuss very simply, and we shall dispense with any sharp-witted speculation. To say much the same thing in German and in a blunt manner, these terms are synonymous. It is only that different names are used for the practical application, namely, for the passage or crossing. For all these terms refer to the one Christ. Yet they are various names, to reflect the various ways one feels when clinging to Him and finally making one’s way across. As has already been said, to our perception and understanding this seems, first of all, anything but the way that leads to the Father in heaven; for we must walk through nothing but cross and death, seeing neither path nor bridge, neither counsel nor help for our souls. Yes, everybody shuns the crossing and is frightened by it, not knowing how to bring it off. It is like a person who faces a wide ditch or a body of deep water which he must cross, and yet he sees no path and no bridge. Thus the Children of Israel were terrified by the vast and turbulent waters of the Red Sea when they heard that they could not cross anywhere but must either go through or remain in the hands of the enemy. They may have been tempted to say: “Is this what you call escape from death and dungeon, hedged in on all sides as we are by high mountains and with nothing but waves and water before us? Yes, it would be different if we were birds or fish and could fly over or swim across the sea!” Still a way had to be found, for the sake of the Word of God. The sea had to part and let them walk through without getting wet.

Here, too, there is nothing visible or evident to indicate that this is the way that leads to eternal life, since man feels only terror and the fear of death. But over against this Christ stands with His words, as He says: “I am the Way.” He changes that which is no way but is actually perdition into a way and a bridge on which man can set foot and walk across undauntedly and unhesitatingly, just as the Children of Israel passed through the sea physically, dry-footed and unhindered, in answer to God’s Word. They had no other way. This is the first point.

Secondly, after we have set foot on the way, have ventured forth and begun to believe, then it is necessary that we become sure, keep our feet on the ground, and not be drawn back or be frightened away. For here again the devil tries to conjure up his phantoms, to cause heartache, and to cast all sorts of stumbling blocks into our way, in order to lead us beside and off the right way, to keep us from pursuing the right course. First he employs all his craft and cunning to beguile the people. This he does with the very words of Holy Writ and under the guise of the name of Christ. Thus all schismatic spirits and heretics come clad in sheep’s clothing; they use the same words, manner, and mien, as though they were the true teachers of this way. They exalt nothing but Christ’s honor and faith in Christ. In this way they deceive the people who want to follow Christ and would like to find the right way.

The situation is similar to that of a person who takes the right road when he leaves the city gate and then comes to a place where two or three roads branch off. Now some knave comes up to him and directs him to take the wrong way. Then the principle applies: “Proof and perseverance in the faith.” Investigate; make sure that you are on the right road, and then stay on it. That, in my opinion, is the simplest way to express the second part: veritas, the truth. Christ is not only the Way on which we must begin our journey, but He is also the right and the safe Way we must walk to the end. We dare not be deflected from this to the wrong ways which misdirect us to seek something, besides Christ to help us gain salvation. Take, for instance, those who first learn to know Christ through faith and then relapse into the doctrine of works, as has happened up to this time in the papacy. Furthermore, we must not be retarded or repelled in our progress by such obstacles as stumps and stones we encounter on the way, when the devil obtrudes so many false doctrines, factious, schisms, offensive and evil examples—also persecution, peril, and temptation—that we either begin to despair on the way or at least grow fatigued and weary.

When one begins to preach the Gospel, the multitude comes rushing, and everyone wants to hear the sweet and comforting message of the forgiveness of sin through Christ. But they do not continue to do so. For, as Christ says, most of the seed falls on stony and thorny soil ([reftagger title=””]Matt. 13:5–7[/reftagger] ). The grain—that is, the proclamation of the Gospel—is properly sown, but it lacks the soil in which to take root and gain strength. Thus many people have a fine and good faith in the beginning; but when they find themselves well on the way and should now continue on their course, they let themselves be confused and diverted from the way, because they are not sure of their ground or are frightened and then relapse into their former ideas.

When the sea had parted and formed a way for the Jews, who now stood there and saw that the water was high above their heads to the right and to the left, they probably thought: “Alas, what have we done? Are we not the greatest fools, to venture into this wild flood? We surely see that the water is very close to us. What if it were to close over us and drown us all in a moment?” (This actually happened to Pharaoh and his entire host a little later.) This would have happened to them too if they had given way to such thoughts and permitted doubt and unbelief to gain the upper hand. Either they would have become distraught and have run back into the midst of the enemy, or they would have become so frightened as to fall all over themselves and perish in the water after all. This was the fate of many of them later on in the wilderness, when they murmured and despaired of crossing it, when they yearned to return to Egypt. But since at the time the Jews accepted the way through the sea in obedience to God’s command, continued on it, and did not doubt, the water had to stand still. Not a drop could fall, and the sea had to let them pass through dry-footed, although there was no cause for this, although this was, in the judgment of reason, a perilous, horrible, and impassable way.

Here Christ wants to say: “When you have apprehended Me in faith, you are on the right way, which is reliable and does not mislead you. But only see that you remain and continue on it; for you will encounter many an obstacle and obstruction, both to the right and to the left. Therefore you must be prepared to hold firmly to Me and not to be troubled, no matter what shocking and terrible things may confront you, either to frighten you away from Me or to lure and entice you aside with beautiful deception. You must know that all this is the devil’s lie and deceit, whereby he leads you to perdition. But you can rely on Me. I will guide you through this wide sea, from death into eternal life, from the world and the devil’s realm to the Father. Therefore I Myself want to be, and to be called, not only the Way but also the Truth and the Life.”

This, then, is my simple understanding of this verse, that all of it applies uniformly to the one Christ. With a view to the beginning He is called the Way; He is the Truth with regard to the means and the continuation; He is the Life by reason of the end, For He must be all—the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation. He must be the first stone, the stone on which the other stones are placed and on which the entire vault or roof is constructed. He is the first, the middle, and the last rung of the ladder to heaven ([reftagger title=””]Gen. 28:12[/reftagger]). For through Him we must make the beginning, continue, and conclude our journey into yonder life. Thus it is all one and the same thing, and one and the same Christ, save that He assumes different aspects in our experience.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, pp. 45–48). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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John 14:6-7

The WORD

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 14:6–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

This is again something extraordinary; but it is the very theme which the evangelist St. John is wont to write about and emphasize, namely, that all our teaching and faith must revolve about Christ and be centered in this one Person. We must discard all other knowledge and wisdom and know absolutely no one else than “Christ crucified,” as St. Paul states, [reftagger title=””]1 Cor. 2:2[/reftagger].

Thus the devil always interferes when he enters heads that are somewhat intelligent and venture to dabble in Scripture to display their smartness. In their conceit they presume to comprehend it all with their mind, to be so profound that no one can fathom them, and to know everything better than they can be told. And yet they never learn that all depends on their knowing the Lord Christ aright.

Here and everywhere the evangelist John wants to warn all who would be Christians and would do what is right how to proceed in divine matters and to know what to seek and learn, namely, that in the eyes of God it is the highest wisdom and knowledge, above all knowledge and wisdom, even if this were angelic, to come to the right knowledge of Christ, to know what one has in Him and that one comes to God only through Him.

For here there are two kinds of sight and of hearing. The one is performed with physical eyes and ears, entirely without the Spirit. This is the way all the Jews looked at Christ—only with their five senses. Thus they ascertained that He hailed from Nazareth and was Mary’s Son. I look at you this way and establish that you were born of a father and a mother, that you are a man or a woman, that you live and act so or so. This is a purely natural and physical sight. But Christ cannot be recognized in this way (nor, for that matter, can His Christians), even if we saw Him every hour before our eyes and heard Him. The second is a spiritual sight, which only Christians have and which takes place by means of faith in the heart. With this—if we are Christians—we must also view and recognize one another. For I do not recognize a Christian by his external appearance and mien, by how he acts and lives, but by the fact that he is baptized and has God’s Word. This makes him a child of God, a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and an heir of eternal life. I do not see this inscribed on his nose or his forehead, nor do I discern it with my physical eye. I see it with the spiritual vision of the heart.

In that manner you must also look at Christ if you want to recognize Him and know who He is, not as your eyes and senses prescribe, but as His Word shows and portrays Him—as born of the Virgin, as the One who died and rose again for you and now sits enthroned as Lord over all things. Then you see not only His form, as your physical eyes do, but also the power and the might of His death and His resurrection. Then you do not call Him a son of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth, as the Jews did, but our only Savior and Lord over all. This position He acquired solely through His ascent into yonder life by way of His suffering and death, by His resurrection and transfiguration. To Him, therefore, everything in heaven and on earth must be subject; and He rules with power in all those who believe in Him, and protects them against all their adversaries.

Therefore we dare go no farther or fix our thoughts on anything but Christ, as though there were any other road or way we should or might travel, as the false saints and reason persistently seek to do. For example, those who are known as Carthusians build themselves a special bridge to heaven by vowing and observing poverty and obedience, by abstaining from meat, from wearing linen garments, from resting at one place longer than a night, ere. In this delusion they suppose that they are on the right road to heaven. But this is a bridge and a stairway made of spider web; the higher they ascend on it, the deeper and the more shamefully they fall into the abyss of hell. For this is not the way; it is sheer delusion, because there is no Christ there to be believed and acknowledged. A barefoot friar with his rope and his wooden shoes belongs in the same category. He fasts much, babbles and gabbles, observes his monastic rules, does not lie down without his cowl, lets the lice devour him, and imagines that he will go straight to heaven—and not he alone; but he presumes that by virtue of his good works and the merits of his order he can draw others up with him.

But this is not traveling the way to heaven. No, it is hastening straight to hell in sheer blindness and in the devil’s deception. This is senseless. Build, make, and seek what you will—when the hour comes for you to leave this life and enter a different one, then you must either take this way alone or be eternally lost. For Christ says: “I am the Way by which one comes to the Father; there is no other way. I and no one else am the Truth and the Life.” You must take this road in order to hold to this Man and to persevere in this faith and confession. You must travel it in suffering and death, saying: “I know no other help or counsel, no salvation or comfort, no way or path, except Christ my Lord alone, who suffered, died, rose, and ascended to heaven for me. I will stay on this road all the way, even though nothing but devil, death, and hell were under and before me. For this is surely the right road and bridge; it is firmer and safer than any stone or iron structure. And heaven and earth would have to collapse before this road would ever deceive me or lead me astray.”

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, p. 36). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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