In Christ Alone — John Calvin

When we see salvation whole, its every single part is found in Christ, And so we must beware lest we derive the smallest drop from somewhere else.

For if we seek salvation, the very name of Jesus teaches us that he possesses it.

If other Spirit given gifts are sought-in his anointing they are found; strength-in his reign; and purity-in his conception; and tenderness-expressed in his nativity, in which in all respects like us he was, that he might learn to feel our pain:

Redemption when we seek it, is in his passion found; acquittal-in his condemnation lies; and freedom from the curse-in his own cross is given.

If satisfaction for our sins we seek-we’ll find it in his sacrifice; and cleansing in his blood.

If reconciliation now we need, for this he entered Hades.

To overcome our sins we need to know that in his tomb they’re laid.

Then newness of our life-his resurrection brings and immortality as well comes also with that gift.

And if we also long to find inheritance in heaven’s reign, his entry there secures it now with our protection, safety, too, and blessings that abound -all flowing from his royal throne.

The sum of all is this: For those who seek this treasure-trove of blessings of all kinds, in no one else can they be found than him, for all are given in Christ alone.

John Calvin, as quoted by Sinclair Ferguson in In Christ Alone, Location 93 Kindle.


Jack Miller: Adoption and Union With Christ in the Context of Honesty/Lying In Prayer

“[B]eing in Christ, being adopted, the whole point of it is that your adoption is firm, it’s beyond repealing, and so, you have a right to pray no matter how you feel about it.

That would mean you could even go to God and tell Him, “I don’t feel like praying. Will you help me? I really don’t feel like repenting, I’m enjoying my rebellion today. My heart is hard.”

In other words, it takes honesty, integrity, and truth-telling in the packaging of your prayers. Maybe you don’t put one label on the package, and you have something else in the heart. It’s this kind of honesty that is pleasing to the Father because I don’t think He approves of our lying while we pray.

A lot of lying is done in praying. I would suspect that much of the lying that is done in this country happens Sunday mornings when people pray. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Let my will be done on earth, as I hope, someday, it will be done in heaven (emphasis added).”

That would really be what would be an honest prayer for many people, but they pray sweetly and glibly “thy will be done” when they have no heart for that at all. That would be the last thing they would want to happen in their lives.”

Jack Miller, Prayer Part II, page 3, Miller Archives

Note for those interested in Jack Miller’s understanding of the relationship between union with Christ and adoption:

Apart from the above being another great and convicting quote by Jack Miller, in this context on honesty in praying, you may have noticed that Miller uses adoption in apposition to union with Christ.

If you are like me and need help with apposition, without being complicated (e.g., using Google’s dictionary), to be in apposition is technically “the positioning of things or the condition of being side by side or close together.”

Grammatically, it is “a relationship between two or more words or phrases in which the two units are grammatically parallel and have the same referent (e.g., my friend Sue ; the first US president, George Washington).

Apposition is derived from the Latin apponere meaning “to apply.”

To briefly interpret Miller’s usage of adoption in apposition to union with Christ, it would be a grammatical fallacy, an overstatement, to say that adoption is here synonymous to union with Christ.

By example, an overstatement is in apposition to a grammatical fallacy, but they are not completely synonymous.

It would be more appropriate to recognize that Jack Miller’s normal usage of union with Christ and adoption is that the two are  closely related to one another, parallel and almost interchangeable, in a way comparable to what research has shown to be John Calvin ‘s usage of these two great doctrines.

This conclusion is generally supported elsewhere in Miller’s writings beyond this isolated appositional usage. However, a distinction between the two can also be detected in some of Miller’s writings, but that nuance is for another day of research.

For our immediate purposes, to further contradict a remaining straw man argument mentioned in my previous post, what Miller’s usage does mean is that he does not follow the Reformed Scholastics by subsuming adoption under justification (see Joel Beeke’s misplaced summary critique of Sonship, uncontested yet without reference, on this particular issue in his Heirs With Christ)

Furthermore, this same point is patently obvious in both the organization of the Sonship Course itself and Miller’s overarching emphasis on hospitality and the welcoming heart of God (e.g., contrary to being overly forensic should Miller have subsumed adoption under justification).

I do understand why one would want to marginalize Jack Miller’s influence. When he first put a thumb on my life, I wanted to run as fast as I could. He made my comfortable Christianity extremely uncomfortable by his vulnerability and directness.

And because he applied what he preached first to himself in order to lead us to Christ, I could hardly accuse him of being harsh or judgmental to escape conviction. 

It actually makes sense to me why some of the misdirected criticism leveled at Jack Miller and Sonship would better be directed at followers, like myself, who have been influenced by Miller/Sonship (e.g., overly therapeutic, antinomian, etc).

I for one, have accepted and confessed this charge personally of abusing and idolizing Sonship, not to mention the learning curve associated with living under the reign of omnipotent grace.

Personally, I was completely overwhelmed by the Gospel and didn’t know what to do with it.

Since I wanted to maintain some modicum of control and have a natural inclination to make an idol out of anything, I didn’t realize at the time I was assigning more weight to the Sonship program rather than having the King wreck my heart affections.

Unfortunately, Sonship became the new affection rather than Jesus Christ himself. Sadly, I turned the gospel into the law and hurt others with it.

Though it is inexcusable, it is also typical of the blinding nature of the sin of idolatry. 

It has not been historically atypical for those who have been influenced by a particular person to have this tendency to idolize them. But then let’s not forget that there is the person of the Holy Spirit who will not allow such sharing of affections.

Nonetheless, considering Jack Miller’s extensive influence and the rapid growth of Sonship, should it really have been unexpected or even surprising that abuses would occur?

What is hard for me to figure out is why informed Christian scholars and leaders would resort to building unsound theological arguments based on caricature and misrepresentation?

These misplaced caricatures and misrepresentations too are neither unexpected nor surprising, though they should not be left unchallenged. In the end, “abuse does not negate proper use.”

So if the problem should be directed more toward those following and abusing Miller/Sonship, like myself, let that be the case. I accept and agree to this criticism and ask for your forgiveness if you experienced this from me.

From Jack Miller and Sonship, I also learned a good healthy skepticism (not cynicism) so that, ironically, one could say I learned to repent of making an idol out of Sonship from Sonship. 

Unless, perhaps there is another reason for the proliferation of caricatures and misrepresentations of Jack Miller/Sonship?

In a somewhat prophetic way, could Miller’s above quote provide some additional explanation?

If it does, can you not also still hear his hearty laugh as he reminds you, “Cheer up! You are worse than you think you are” followed by “Cheer up! God’s grace is so much greater than you ever dared imagine.”


Oh The Melting, Conquering Power Of The Gospel!

images-4Thank you for your prayers and partnership in the gospel.

Your partnership with Harvest Prison Ministry (HPM) makes amazing stories like the one Richard Jennings read to me this morning possible.

So I wanted to make sure and share that joy with you, and ask you to pray with us for HPM, and the men and guards with whom they work.

Sometimes it is just so hard to believe what God is doing you just have to hear it for yourself and be astonished by his omnipotent grace.

This letter, dated July 27, 2014, was written from a medium security facility near Nashville that only recently has started opening its doors to HPM for special events which hopefully soon will be expanded access.

Rick Allen met this Korean inmate (I say that because his english is a bit broken) while he was at Charles Bass Correctional before being transferred, and has maintained contact with him. 

The name of the prisoner and prison is intentionally redacted.

“Dear Pastors Rick Allen and Richard Jennings: God bless you, your family and your ministries — Amen!

Thank you very much for what you’ve done for us in Christ — Amen!

We/I thank God and thank you in Christ — Amen!

It is a blessing from God. Allelujah! Amen!

What you did this time was really incredible in this compound. In history, during the 22 years in this compound, there never been like this event — the Christians, the Muslims, the gangs came together this time. 

The gangsters disciples were with us as the crips. And the Aryan-[N]ations were with us as the Vice-Lord. The Mexican gangs were with us as the BG&D and BGOS.

They never been together! Period!

However, at this time, they came together and praised the Lord together, worship God in one accord and eat food together. Amen!

After 2 years struggle in this compound, finally God opened their [Gang-Boss'] heart for the Church, regardless their preference toward the Muslim! Amen!

Food was little short because, whether the caterers sent us short or some kitchen workers stole some. However, at least we feed all! Praise the Lord! Amen! I will take more attention in securing food during our service, or I will use the dining room service. Then I can prevent stealing food. 

Please forgive my immaturity securing the food (smiley face).

Now, I’m preparing for next week Bible Study which will be a Bible-quiz. I saved more than a hundred stamps for Bible-quiz (smiley face). 

I just want to motivate brothers to read Bible. I’ve got 25 questions and I will give away 4 or 5 stamps for one [correct] answer. Please pray for us, thank you. 

I’m planning the 2014 Christmas Banquet in December 2014. Please would you come in? It would be December 20 or 21, 2014. Upon your situation I will be setting the date. And I will prepare more food this time.

The Gang-Boss came to me last night and this morning saying thank me and thanks to you two. 

And the Mexican gangs made food for me last night because I did not eat at the banquet.

The Crip [Gang] Boss sent me a pint of wine for appreciation which I did not drink (I just tasted it — Really!).

Many of them promised me not to “Ban” their members coming to church.

And they said they will come to church.

And they asked me to pray for their family — Amen.

(Tomorrow, I will make a copy for their name and number and I will sent to you).

Please pray for them, Sir.

Okay, Sir. I gotta go. I will write you soon.

God bless you, your family and your family members in Christ — Amen!

Sincerely, ………………….”


Processing Jack Miller’s Reflections on Justification and Sanctification in Union with Christ

Sonship Tongue Exercise

 

Discovering Jack Miller’s own reflections on the relationship of justification and sanctification which was posted last week (here) should be an important contribution to contemporary discussions surrounding these two beautiful and complementary doctrines of salvation.

Hopefully, In light of Jack Miller’s treatment of justification and sanctification in union with Christ, negative caricatures and misrepresentations of Jack Miller (and Sonship) can now stop.

These include:

1. Caricatures/misrepresentations that Jack Miller stressed justification in a way that deemphasized sanctification, the third use of the law, and human effort. That is not true!

2. Caricatures/misrepresentations that Miller’s emphasis on justification, adoption and sanctification is overly linear and not grounded in union with Christ. That also is not true!

3. Caricatures/misrepresentations that Jack Miller subsumed adoption under justification are also not true.

In the above referenced post, Jack Miller honestly interacts with the relationship of justification and sanctification in union with Christ as applied to discipleship.

As Jack Miller has done so well, he leads in repentance, allowing readers into his thoughts, though at times his openness/authenticity has provided the ammunition used against him for disingenuous purposes.

Miller discusses how he almost erred on this important relationship, including what changed his mind and approximately when this change occurred (e.g,, early in his ministry).

Over the past two decades, for my own reasons, I’ve read and reread every critique obtainable with respect to Miller and Sonship including their subsequent variations (e.g., Jay Adams, Chad Van Dixhoorn, Terry Johnson, session position papers, blogs, articles, somewhere I even have all the postings from that Byfaithonline discussion group in the late 90’s, etc.)

Jay Adam’s critique, though uncharacteristic of Adams, was more damaging to him than Miller.

Chad Van Dixhoorn’s critique is actually an unintended complement though his misinformed label “Sonship Theology” seems to have been uncritically accepted.

And while Terry’s Johnson’s questions/assertions concerning the “Grace Boys” (a label I actually like with the nuance of “Throne of Grace Boys”) were insightful, his conclusions are problematic.

More recently, I’ve read a more irenic and helpful critique by Timothy Trumper that gets much closer to the heart of the whole matter and actually offers a positive way forward.

My critique of Trumper’s When History Teaches Us Nothing, which was communicated to him directly, surrounds decontextualizing Sonship from its missional purposes.

A strength of the book is Trumper’s attempt to recast the so-called”Sonship Controversy” articulated in negative terms into a more positive approach. In doing so, however, he did not dismiss the negative label “Sonship Theology.” 

The categorizing label “Sonship Theology” seems to inevitably skew Sonship, negatively aligning it with new theologies and neo-orthodoxies, something Reformed-minded people have historically had a natural aversion to.

The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as a “Sonship Theology.” Rather, this is an artificial “burning man” built in a desert of theological cynicism for the purpose of burning it down.

If a label is necessary to describe the movement surrounding Sonship, then perhaps a “Sonship Missiology” would more accurately reflect the course’s creation and intention, since Sonship is essentially a leadership training program for missions, church planting and revitalization which Trumper does acknowledge.

Criticisms to what have been negatively termed a “Sonship Controversy” and “Sonship Theology” can themselves be critiqued as anti-Edwardsian, a critique again more damaging to the critic than to Miller or Sonship. 

What was and is happening through Jack Miller’s legacy is an extraordinary movement of the Spirit through the magnification of the ordinary means of grace — prayer (especially corporate prayer), Scripture, the sacraments, repentance, renewal, expectant faith, evangelism, discipleship, missions, church planting and revitalization of both leaders and churches in North America and abroad. 

In another unpublished article in the Jack Miller Collection, I found an explanation in Miller’s own words about the origins of the Sonship Course.

While recovering from an acute battle with Cancer in the mid 80’s, Miller was confessing a natural tendency in leaders toward being “messianic pastors.” His illness was forcing him to learn to work smarter and partner with others. In this context of “learning about limits”, Miller writes:

“Working smart begins when a pastor like this one sees that if you invest more time at the beginning of an undertaking you may be able to save loads of it later. For example, a few years ago I was being overwhelmed by requests from men in our church who wanted either counseling, fellowship, or leadership training. Since it was clearly not possible for me to meet with each one separately, I began to form them into small groups, ranging in size from six to twelve. My wife Rose Marie did the same with women in our church.

This approach has been a great time saver. Eventually my teaching and Rose Marie’s teaching women began to merge. Some of the leaders who had been fully exposed to our small group instruction selected some of my letters, pamphlets, materials on meditation and lectures on sonship and organized them into a leadership training course known as “Sonship.” Today this program is managed entirely by others and now includes other teachers and counselors. It has multiplied leaders for our church and mission and other pastors have adapted the program to their churches.” (See Learning About Limits, The Jack Miller Collection, PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, Mo., p. 11)

Notwithstanding that one isolated critique of Trumper, his important thesis remains. Trumper offers a way forward in the ongoing discussion between justification and sanctification while providing a possible explanation behind Sonship’s unique impact — the recovery of the historically neglected doctrine of adoption.

After reading so many books over the last three years on church planting, revitalization, and missions, it is my contention that Jack Miller has actually done for the church what the great missiologist Leslie Newbiggin talked and dreamed about happening.

Secondly, a contemporary descendant of the so-called “Sonship Controvery” goes by the new name of “Tullian Tchividjian Controversy.”

Though it may be unrealized, Southern Baptist, Acts 29, and Gospel Coalition proponents are using much of the same language so that it can sometimes feels like a form of evangelical reincarnation generating similar cyclical disagreements with respect to justification and sanctification.

Here, Dr. Tim Trumper makes his most important contribution to this discussion in his The Doctrine Of Adoption In The Calvinistic Tradition.

In When History Teaches Us Nothing, Trumper encourages us to grasp this important opportunity to recover the biblical doctrine of adoption. In The Doctrine of Adoption In The Calvinistic Tradition, he actually provides the theological and historical reasoning and framework for doing so.

While debates continue on the fronts of justification and sanctification, the real issue may be more related to imbalances caused by neglecting related doctrines of adoption and union with Christ thereby forcing justification and sanctification to bear too much theological weight.

This is not to suggest that adoption or union with Christ need be the new center of theology. Nor do we have to sacrifice a reformation understanding of justification or deemphasize either definitive or progressive sanctification.

Instead, we have the unique opportunity to embrace, better yet to be embraced by, the richness and beauty of the whole of God’s eternal salvation in Christ as well as all its constituent parts.

At this pivotal moment, how shall we proceed?

At the end of his monograph, Trumper offers suggestions for further research on the applied theology of adoption’s recovery.

I had intended exploring the applied theology of the recovery of adoption in my dissertation (should I get there). Recently, my research interest has shifted slightly.

Again Jack Miller is immensely helpful.

Miller seems to intuitively recognize that the most immediate and necessary applied theology issuing from the recovery of adoption is corporate kingdom prayer. To his credit, Jack Miller’s emphasis on adoption and corporate prayer is unparalleled in contemporary scholarship, life and practice. 

Biblical adoption is not that lost magnificent jewel of salvation now recovered, only to be guarded and gazed upon from a distance through meditation and contemplation in the way we may quietly gaze in awe at the magnificence of the crown jewels safely secured behind its protective glass.

Rather, biblical adoption is about the frontline of missions. It is messy, and real, and it is ours by God’s promise.

By the grace of adoption we are freed from bondage as slaves to sin and death and called into the freedom of sons in partnership with the Son participating in His mission, a mission empowered by missional corporate prayer as we cry out together “Abba! Father!” especially claiming that climactic promise of the Holy Spirit.

After fairly extensive research, I’m not so sure which came first for Jack Miller – adoption or corporate prayer.

But It seems certain that for Miller, adoption and corporate prayer are inseparable. The two are beautifully interwoven when Miller defines prayer simply as “a son meeting with his heavenly Father.”

It is my contention, then, that Jack Miller should receive a double recognition: 1) For helping the church recover the neglected doctrine of adoption, and 2) For casting a theological vision and practice of applying this first and primary application of adoption: corporate kingdom prayer.

Further, it seems patent that if we start with this specific application of adoption, one immediate benefit will be our heavenly Father revealing to us his intended relationship between justification and sanctification.

I wonder what would happen in the “Tullian Tchividjian Controvery” if the Gospel Coalition coalesced in a concert of corporate prayer around this specific need, confessing mutual incapacity, crying out together to the Father, claiming the promise of adoption, and refusing to let go of God until there was mutual understanding, or differences were noted but subordinated at the foot of the Cross?

(Author’s note: This attached blog was posted and removed last week for two reasons. 1) Discovering Jack Miller’s interaction was far more important that my processing his interaction. So I wanted time and space to avoid adulterating his contribution by my words to an important and contemporary discussion. 2) It gave me time to pray and repent so I could be more constructive rather than overly critical toward those leaders who have caricatured and misrepresented Jack Miller and should have known better. It should be noted this is my personal reflection derived from original research in the Jack Miller Collection and other reading.The reflections in this blog are my own and should not be attributed to other persons or organizations affiliated with Jack Miller.)


Jack Miller Reflecting on the Relationship of Justification and Sanctification in Union with Christ in the Context of Discipleship

Dr. C. John (Jack) Miller[T]he theological leadership of the conservative church has done a poor job in establishing the necessary link between justification by faith and discipleship. 

For example, an able teacher like [Dwight] Pentecost takes the following strange position: “We affirm again that it is possible for a man to be saved without being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (p. 29, Design For Discipleship).

Among the Reformed as well as the Arminian forgiveness and acceptance with God has somehow come across to men as the end of the road and not the beginning. Discipleship has been misconstrued far too often as a second-step addition to salvation, the option reserved for the elite and the ascetic.

Since no human power can overcome these obstacles, you need to have God put his weapons in your hands. The first weapon is the promises of God. You will find that the promises of God will do more for you than any other resource. 

In the summer of 1970, I studied a number of the life-and-power promises of the Old Testament and began to see how they came to focus on our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Stimulated by these Christ-centered promises, I began to see the present age as a time of fulfillment and harvest (Lk. 10:1-2), an age of spiritual power associated with unceasing prayer and continued repentance (Zech. 12:10). This is the hour of crisis opportunity and the Spirit of Christ calling for the bold confrontation of the lost with the gospel (Acts 2:22-39). 

From these same promises I began to grow in understanding of Christ as Sanctifier as well as Justifier. In particular, I began to see a splendid harmony between justification by faith and the call to discipleship in the gospels and the Epistle to James.

I had toned down the radical demands placed upon disciples by the Lord. I had almost said that justification by faith cancelled out the cost and necessity of discipleship. But suddenly it dawned upon me that these were the two sides of Christ’s great ongoing kingdom work. 

By justification and the sanctification of discipleship [Christ] destroys all self-righteousness and all self-effort in order to give all glory to God.

In Justification by faith the sinner abandons his own righteousness and humbly submits in faith to the righteousness of God earned by the Lord Jesus Christ. And in becoming a disciple the sinner at the same time abandons his own self-control, his self-rule, and humbly submits in faith to the Sovereign lordship of the Redeemer. 

Once this fundamental understanding came to me, once I grasped the work of discipling as a grand prophetic design set forth in the promises, my faith was quickened, my boldness increased, and it seemed most natural to see evangelism as an integral part of discipleship. 

Evangelism is phase one in the process of God’s making disciples. He uses Christian men as instruments but the Holy Spirit acts as the primary means. For the Spirit is the promise; He is Christ’s chief executive on earth (Matt.28:20, Acts 2:33).

Left to ourselves, duties end obligations in a small group would overwhelm us. And how would we ever be able to disciple “the nations”? But if the key is that God is at work discipling through the Spirit of Christ, then everything takes on a different color.

Christ has come as the great Dawning. As the Son of righteousness, He has risen with healing in His wings and God’s people have joy like that of well-fed calves bursting forth from the stall (Mal. 4:2).

Discipling depends on the reality of Christ’s present existence and lordship. A disciple is a person committed to a living Lord, a learner ever submitting himself more completely to the will of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must view the cost of discipleship in this light. The disciple is called to renounce everything (Lk. 14:33), but by faith he also knows that he now owns all things in Christ (I Cor. 3:21-23).

Christ’s kingdom is the pearl of great price which is so valuable that the shrewd trader gives all in order to obtain it (Mt 13:45-46). The trader had not been rich and healthy before he met Christ.  No indeed, he was bankrupt both in respect to righteousness and in respect to spiritual strength and life. By faith he took hold of the only true riches found in Christ – forgiveness, acceptance with God, eternal life, joy, peace, and love.

In being a disciple and discipling others, the leader must be a wealthy man in Christ. He must be pre-eminently a man of faith seeming to rest his whole life on the promises of God. Faith then is the material from which disciples are built.

Jack Miller, How To Overcome Introversion In The Small Church, 44-45, in the context of Part VII, Leadership Through Small Groups, The Jack Miller Collection, PCA Historical Center at Covenant Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., n.d.


The Biblical Basis For Radical Hospitality

Learning to make Chinese dumplings with Phemie and Bridge International.

Learning to make Chinese dumplings with Phemie and Bridge International.

Christianity has been referred to as the religion of attitude. Its morals, ethics and ceremonies are unacceptable to God apart from the proper heart condition which, together with the former elements, makes one’s life and actions approved in His sight. …

It is my conviction that many of the challenges made … to protect the rights of privacy, to guard the nuclear family and to keep the home secure and sacred rather than opening one’s home to meet the needs of outsiders or to work with a problem youth are quite contrary to that attitude which the people of God were directed to have toward those in need. 

The need for a degree of privacy, the significance of the family as a unique corporate building block in the economy of God, and the home as the environment for the family to grow and flourish all have great importance, but the motivations often behind these challenges must be questioned. 

Are the attitudes selfish, fleshly and non-Biblical which have caused many to build protective walls around themselves, and consequently to urge others to support their biases? …

The earthly reality of a godly home makes for an easier transition to a heavenly one. 

In the modern church it seems that there has been a great separation between family and evangelism: the family was to be developed in the home, while evangelism took a venture out into the world. 

However, with the Old Testament model of the alien and the stranger, it has been shown that family and evangelism were closely tied together. 

The alien was brought into the home where he experienced hospitality from a family governed by God’s laws and principles. The stranger aligned himself with an Israelite family for protection and provision and was eventually assimilated into Israel by the ministry of that family to him. 

The church must rediscover and then develop this important connection of family and evangelism by generating an attitude of sensitivity toward those who are our modern day aliens and strangers, who do not know what a godly home and family are. 

These must see the hospitality of the heavenly Father as the people of God emulate the family of God before them, and in so doing draw them into genuine family experience, pointing the way to God’s extended family, the kingdom. 

The church’s attitudes toward those outside must be changed from attitudes of fear and separation to those of love and care. 

In order for this to occur, many of the arguments used to protect rights and privacy must give way to the challenges of faith which God calls His people to in the Christian walk. 

Excerpt taken from The Biblical Basis For Radical Hospitality by Jack Miller, p. 1, 12, located at PCA Historical Center Archives at Covenant Seminary Library, St. Louis, MO, unpublished, n.d.


What is it to have a god?

My atheist friends are almost correct, except that there is in fact one empty tomb.

My atheist friends are almost correct, except that there is in fact one empty tomb.

What is it to have a god? Or, what is one’s god?

Answer: To whatever we look for any good thing and for refuge in every need, that is what is meant by “god.” It is the trust and faith of the heart, nothing else, that make both God and an idol.

To whatever you give your heart and entrust your being, that…is really your god.

Many a person imagines that he has God and everything he needs, provided he has money and property. He relies upon these, boasts about them, and feels immovably secure.

But look, he too has a god, named mammon, that is the money and property to which he has given his whole heart.

Mammon is the world’s favorite idol. One who has money and property has a sense of security and feels…happy and fearless. On the other hand, one who has nothing is as insecure and anxiety-ridden as if he had never heard of God….

Similarly, one who congratulates himself on his great learning, intelligence, power, special advantages, family connections, and honor and trusts in them also has a god, only not the one true God.

The evidence for this appears when people are arrogant, secure, and proud because of such possessions, but desperate when they lack them or lose them.

I repeat, to have a god means to have something on which one’s heart depends entirely.

So now you can easily understand what it is and how much it is that this [first] commandment requires. It requires that man’s whole heart and all his confidence be given to God alone and no one else.

The true worship and service of God, the kind that pleases Him and which He also commands on pain of everlasting wrath takes place when your heart directs all its trust and confidence only toward God and does not let itself be torn away from Him; it consists in risking everything on earth for Him and abandoning it all for His sake.

You can easily judge how, in contrast to this, the world practices nothing but false worship and idolatry.

Everyone has set up for himself some particular god to which he looks for benefits, help, and comfort. For idolatry does not consist simply in setting up an image and worshiping it; it takes place primarily in the heart, which looks elsewhere than to the one God, seeks help and comfort in created things.

Besides this there is also that false worship, that height of idolatry, which involves those who seek comfort and salvation in their own works and presume to capture heaven by putting God under the pressure of an obligation, they wish to earn everything themselves or merit it by works.

What is this but turning God into an idol, into a plaster image, while the worshiper actually is setting himself up as his own god.

However: We are to trust in God alone, look to Him, and expect to receive nothing but good things from Him.

Question and explore your own heart thoroughly, and you will find out if it embraces God alone or not. Do you have it in your heart to expect nothing but good things from God, especially when you are in trouble and in need? And does your heart in addition give up and forsake everything that is not God? Then you have the one true God.

On the other hand, is your heart attached to and does it rely on something else, from which you hope to receive more good and more help than from God? And when things go wrong, do you, instead of fleeing to Him, flee from Him? Then you have another god, a false god, [an idol].

From Martin Luther’s Larger Catechism, translated by F. Samuel Janzow (St. Louis, MO.: Concordia, 1978), 13–17, as paraphrased in New City Catechism, Question 17, Commentary at http://www.newcitycatechism.com.


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