Monday, January 2, 2017

Extra nos

The Reformers emphasized that in times of doubt and fear one should not look inward at the uncertainty of one's own heart or despair at the darkness of one's own soul, but rather outside of ourselves- "extra nos-" to Christ.

I highly recommend Edward Gene Veith's  The Spirituality of the Cross, which ought to be subtitled, "Christianity 101."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"The evidence of things unseen"

The Reformers said that faith consisted of 1) knowledge; 2) assent, and 3) trust. The first two aren't usually the problem for people with OCD. The problem is with trust.

OCD is called "the doubting disease" for a reason. Typically we don't tolerate uncertainty, even the unavoidable uncertainty which springs from the nature of humanity and our own inability to control everything.  There is nothing we know for absolutely certain.  I don't know that the building I live in won't collapse tonight; buildings have collapsed before. Of course, I have no reason to think that it will, or that the chances of it happening are more than microscopic.  But I don't know for absolutely certain that it won't.

But I trust the Building Code. I trust that this building would not have been opened for occupancy if it hadn't been examined and found to be sound, and if proper procedures hadn't been followed by the builders and supervised by the city. So while I don't know that the building won't collapse, I do know that the chances of it happening are remote. The risk is small enough that it's not worth worrying about.

But the stakes are so high when it comes to our salvation and our relationship with God that it's hard to settle for that kind of certainty for those of us whose basal ganglia are askew and who have problems processing serotonin. OCD, after all, always attacks us at the point where we're most vulnerable. It always threatens what we hold most dear. We have trouble seeing that the very fact that we hold our salvation and our relationship with God so dear means that we probably don't have anything to worry about. We have the knowledge. We have the assent. But the trust can be hard to come by if our brains don't cooperate!

Yet faith, as Hebrews 11 tells us, is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen." In Morris West's book The Clowns of God, Jesus tells a strange group of flawed and broken believers gathered together on what might be the last night before a nuclear holocaust that there is one thing they can do that He cannot. They can believe. "I can't believe," He tells them, "because I know."

The knowledge, the certainty, we hunger for doesn't simply make faith unnecessary, It makes faith impossible. To believe is to trust God with our relationship with Him, and with our very salvation.

That's why it's so important to keep our eyes off of ourselves and how we're doing and keep them on Jesus. As Pastor Fisk pointed out in the video I posted the other day, we can lose our salvation. But Jesus can't lose it. It's much, much safer in His hands than in our own. So why not leave it there?

Finally to keep one's eyes trustingly on Jesus instead of fearing that we might mess up- to leave what we treasure most in His hands rather than hold onto them for dear life- is the safest thing we can do. As Martin Luther once observed, "All the things I've held onto myself, I've lost. All the things I've let God hold onto, I still have."

Here, Dr. Ian Oasborn- one of the foremost experts on the treatment of religious OCD- discusses the kind of faith that we have trouble with, the kind that not only keeps what we treasure safe but helps us to overcome our obsessions.   In it lies the safety we crave, because God can neither lie nor fail. In it also lies the very peace we so crave, but find so elusive everywhere else.

You can lose your salvation. But Jesus can't- and won't. In trusting Him and keeping our eyes on His promises rather than our own fears lies not only our peace but our only certainty.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sanctification as self-improvement

A concept foreign to American Christianity: The Gospel

Pr. Fisk once more sets us straight on the way- contrary to the heresies of contemporary American "Evangelicalism-" God deals with us.

This time, he explains why the Gospel is Gospel, not Law. In other words, why there are never any "if's" in the authentic Gospel, and why it calls upon you do do absolutely nothing.

The Gospel is always a proclamation of what God has done. It is never a call for action on our part. Not even a tiny, teensy-weensy bit of action.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas. Here's a present.

The present is named Jesus.

The guy in the video isn't him. He's Pastor Jonathan Fisk. But Pastor Fisk explains in the video what the gift of Jesus means for people with scrupulosity.

He helps you unwrap the present, if you will.

So let's get that package open, eh?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Hammer blows of freedom

Today is Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. The incident is generally regarded as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Within the Church we remain threatened by the idea that salvation can be bought- not with money, as a rule (though there are TV evangelists who still seem mired in Tetzel's heresy)  but by the very kind of human merit whose rejection was the entire basis of Paul's letters to the Romans and Galatians. American Protestantism, in particular, is fond of the "pull yourselves up by your bootstraps" approach to life which confuses justification (God's declaration that we are righteous before Him by His unmerited love alone, received by trust in that love) with sanctification (the growth in holiness and holy living which is the result of justification). Even salvation by grace through faith, which biblically is God's doing from beginning to end, is turned into a "decision" or a "commitment" on our part.

But as Luther pointed out in his Theses, God cannot be bought. We owe him everything we have and everything we are- and more. As Paul points out in Romans 3:24-25, "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." Jesus has paid the full price of our sin and made a gift of His righteousness to us, who can never measure up by our own efforts or merits.

By faith in the promise of forgiveness, rebirth, and eternal life He makes to each of us individually in baptism, we receive the benefit of His all-sufficient payment on our behalf of all the debt we will ever owe to God. There is no more debt to be paid. There are no more works to be done And it's from the gratitude that wells up in our heart as we live by that reality that we begin to literally overflow with the very good works we could never produce on our own, flowing not from guilt or fear-induced striving but from a heart changed by love and gratitude wrought by the indwelling Holy Spirit. As we live our lives in the new identity Christ bought for us with His blood, Christ Himself is formed in us, and we are conformed to Hia image.

All of this is ruined and short-circuited when we try to buy our own salvation, whether by money (as Tetzel effectively taught- a heresy even by the standards of the Roman church of his day) or by our own striving.  As Jesus says in John 5, it is the branch that abides in the vine that bears fruit; if it tries to bear its own fruit apart from the branch, it withers and dies.

Reformation Day is a celebration of our dependence on God- and a rejection of the self-willed independence that is so beloved of our increasingly pagan society and of our own fallen natures. At the same time, it is a celebration of the infinite value God places on each and every one of us, who in the last analysis must derive our value and our dignity- as we have our very being- from God's gracious Hand, and from His hand alone. Jesus is your righteousness.

He is the only righteousness you will ever need. He does not grant permission to sin, as another contemporary heresy implies, but freedom from it- freedom not from the struggle against it, but from any possibility of losing that struggle as long as it continues. It is a celebration of our dependence on God, but also of our independence from everything we eve need to fear, including our own selfishness and weakness.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. --Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV

"Salvation unto Us has Come"
by Paul Speratus, 1484-1551

1. Salvation unto us has come
By God's free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.

2. What God did in His Law demand
And none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.

3. It was a false, misleading dream
That God His Law had given
That sinners should themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.

4. From sin our flesh could not abstain,
Sin held its sway unceasing;
The task was useless and in vain,
Our gilt was e'er increasing.
None can remove sin's poisoned dart
Or purify our guileful heart,-
So deep is our corruption.

5. Yet as the Law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and hath God's anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He hath for us the Law obeyed
And thus the Father's vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

6. Since Christ hath full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Thy grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Thy death is now my life indeed,
For Thou hast paid my ransom.

7. Let me not doubt, but trust in Thee,
Thy Word cannot be broken;
Thy call rings out, "Come unto Me!"
No falsehood hast Thou spoken.
Baptized into Thy precious name,
My faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.

8. The Law reveals the guilt of sin
And makes men conscience-stricken;
The Gospel then doth enter in
The sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;
The Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.

9. Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
Yet faith alone doth justify,
Works serve thy neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.

10. All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God that saved us by His grace,-
All glory to His merit!
O Triune God in heaven above,
Who hast revealed Thy saving love,
Thy blessed name be hallowed.

Hymn 377
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Rom. 3: 5
Author: Paul Speratus, 1523, cento
Translated by: composite
Titled: "Es ist das Heil uns kommen her"
Tune: "Es ist das Heil"
German melody, c. 1400

Monday, August 8, 2016


Christians who are constantly measuring and testing their spiritual state are Christians in an unhealthy theology. The focus is in the wrong place - on themselves, their works, their thoughts, their obedience, their nearness or distance from God. This, sadly, is the condition of American Christianity.

--Has American Christianity Failed?, Bryan Wolfmueller

It ought to be where God intends it to be and where it has to be if we are going to make progress against the sin and unbelief in our lives: on Jesus and what He has accomplished and promised and declares us in Him to be: perfect as He is perfect. When we believe that, Christ is formed in us.

But for that to happen we have to keep our eyes on Him and on His grace, and not on ourselves. Only the proudest and most depraved of human beings will be pleased and will not be discouraged at what they see when they look at themselves. But no one who keeps His eyes on Jesus and what He has done and promises can fail to grow and thrive and live spiritually. It can't be otherwise because it is by keeping our eyes on Jesus rather than on ourselves and living by His grace rather than by our performance, that Christ is formed in us and His obedience becomes our own before the world as by grace it already is before God's throne of justice.