"Over against all that reason suggests or would measure and fathom, yes, all that our senses feel and perceive, we must learn to cling to the Word and simply judge according to it."

- Martin Luther

Luther's Rose

I wish most importantly to state a case for Christ and His Cross for the unbeliever, but I also wish to make the case for both the unbeliever and the "blessedly inconsistent" towards the true apostolic and catholic teachings of the blessed and orthodox Lutheran Church.


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Reason's Indigestion~Day 5

Today we will examine thesis 3 of the Heidelberg Disputation:

Thesis 3 states that:

Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.

Alright, at this moment I believe I've heard a "ker-plunk" in the reasoning portion of the blogosphere's collective mind. I can imagine people (even Christians mind you) saying that, "This isn't true, what could Luther possibly mean by this? Surely he's a fool!"

Well, Luther did refer to himself as "God's fool" many times, but he did so within the context of 1 Cor. 1:25 where it says:

"...the foolishness of God is wiser than men, ..."

So, as to the foolishness of God, let us all pray that we partake of God's unique and very different wisdom, trusting in nothing but what His Word tells us about us, Himself, and our relation to Him wholeheartedly, even if it's in spite of our reason.

Now, regarding what exactly Luther is saying here, it's very important to keep perspective. And, what's most important is that we, as much as humanly possible, try to lose our perspective and attempt to see things through God's eyes.

Mankind has made for himself a system of justice based almost in whole part upon a conglomeration of different philosophies and sciences from throughout the ages. This system is hardly a settled issue in any sense, for the pock-marked surface of human laws are hammered out each day in courts all over the world. Nor do mans laws agree in every land, and subsequently, confrontations have naturally occur based on what one tribe considers legal and what another one doesn't. Yet, man indeed does have a moral intuition given him by God (i.e. conscience), and from this moral intuition he sees the necessity in deeming certain acts good and other acts evil.

For example, when we saw the firemen that ran into burning buildings to save lives on the morning of 9/11, while recognizing that many of them payed the ultimate price in doing so, we easily understand this as a good, morally upright, and heroic act. And also, in another instance a little closer to home, a co-worker of mine recently received a badly needed kidney from his brother. Now, the owner of the company I work for-a Roman Catholic-has called my co-worker's brother, based solely upon his good work, a saint. Believe me, I'm not exaggerating in the least bit by saying that my boss believes his action has earned this man heaven itself. Although, I as a Lutheran do not agree with my boss or believe God's knighted him in sainthood based on his deed, I still do nevertheless naturally see virtue in his selfless act.

However, this is the very problem. I'm trusting in
my nature and in the judgment of what I see, and if I were to let that carry me away beyond the safe harbors of sound Lutheran doctrine, then there's no doubt I'd stand in solidarity with my boss by thinking these great deeds have indeed earned all the men who performed them God's salvation.

You see, this is man's natural religion; if you do good deeds then you get rewarded, you do bad deeds you get punished, plain and simple! Anybody who questions this common sense notion is perceived to be silly, foolish, or even perhaps evil. However, and unfortunately, we don't see things as they really are.

This is how Luther describes our works in his proof for thesis 4, he states:

Human works appear attractive outwardly, but within they are filthy, as Christ says concerning the Pharisees in Matt. 23[:27]. For they appear to the doer and others good and beautiful, yet God does not judge according to appearances but searches "the minds and hearts" [Ps. 7:9]. For without grace and faith it is impossible to have a pure heart. Acts 15[:9]: "He cleansed their hearts by faith." The thesis is proven in the following way: If the works of righteous men are sins, as Thesis 7 of this disputation states, this is much more the case concerning the works of those who are not righteous. But the just speak in behalf of their works in the following way: "Do not enter into judgment with thy servant, Lord, for no man living is righteous before thee" [Ps. 143:2].

The Apostle speaks likewise in Gal. 3 [:10], "All who rely on the works of the law are under the curse." But the works of men are the works of the law, and the curse will not be placed upon venial sins. Therefore they are mortal sins.

In the third place, Rom. 2[:21] states, "You who teach others not to steal, do you steal?" St. Augustine interprets this to mean that men are thieves according to their guilty consciences even if they publicly judge or reprimand other thieves.

You see, since the time our first parents fell, we are by nature bound unto sin, and we can do nothing other. So, even when we do something we would otherwise judge as good, in God's eyes it is nothing but sin, for, that's all we're capable of doing. Yet, when we receive Christ's righteousness, when his virtuous works done here during his time on earth are applied to us, we are thus covered by it in everything we do, yes, even our sins, and this is what causes us to be righteous in the sight of God. And so, it basically boils down to this: if there is any good that comes about by the works we do, then God be praised; if there is any evil, whether great or small, intentional or unintentional, then we in whole part solely possess it.

Now, on earth we may act as judge and deliver sentences upon our fellow brothers to the very best of our ability, but we are unable to judge the hearts and minds of the defendants before us. This task solely belongs to God, and to God alone. He has given us the very scale upon which he has weighed what we consider our righteousness, namely by His Law, and He has found us severely wanting. Yes, even the firemen of 9/11 and my co-workers brother's works are nothing but wretched and vile sins, and yes, to make it abundantly clear, even these most heroic and life saving acts are but rubbish before God's eyes. However, the only reason they'd be rubbish, is when and if these men ever wore their works as feathers in a fancy cap, flouting them before God and thinking He was impressed by their pious attire.

You see, unless we fear that even our best works are mortal sins, salvation can never be granted us by God. Whatever good we believe we do, the praise really belongs to the one who has hidden our sin, by covering us in His righteousness. For, without God there is no good, and without Jesus we share no communion in God's goodness. He is what makes us good; we, left to ourselves, really have nothing to do with it at all. It's Christ who is our righteousness, and for God and His perfect judgment no other supposed pseudo, self-assured "righteousness" will suffice. We can now rest in the fact that all is done in Christ, and that we no longer need to labor under the torture of the Law. Jesus' sinless life has been imputed to us for all eternity, and not even Satan can take that away from us. Let us now steadfastly cling to out great Savior, our only assurance in this perishing world, and stand with confidence before God our Father, pointing to nothing but Christ and His cross.