Doubting like Luther, and trying to test like a Berean, this is where I think aloud about Christian belief and practice. It is also where I share resources of interest to other struggling believers.

Baptized and confirmed in the American Lutheran Church, I explored New Age spirituality for a time but have since worshiped the Trinitarian God of Christianity in many different churches, my denominational preference being Lutheran. I believe in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. My greatest struggle is prayer. My greatest annoyance is legalism and the notion that blind obedience to the Law will bring sanctification. My greatest fear is that I don't believe correctly. Yet, my greatest hope is that as I grow in my understanding of the grace that God extends to me daily, I will grow in my ability to walk in and demonstrate that grace to others.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Sacrament of Penance (Part 2)

Repentant Peter by El Greco
A while ago, I started posting my notes from "The Sacrament of Penance" by Martin Luther, written in 1519.  Not too far into this essay, the famous theologian says the following:
Everything, then, depends on faith, which alone makes the sacraments accomplish that which they signify, and everything that the priest says come true.  For as you believe, so it is done for you.  Without this faith all absolution and all sacraments are in vain and indeed do more harm than good.  There is a common saying among the teachers that goes like this:  Not the sacraments, but the faith that believes the sacrament is what removes sin.  St. Augustine says this:  The sacrament removes sin, not because it takes place, but because it is believed.  For this reason in the sacrament one must studiously discern faith...
What I am exploring with these notes is the question:  what is this faith?  In looking at this question, it is important to remember two things:  1) for Luther, the comfort and consolation of the believer is paramount, and 2) a key passage relating to penance is Matthew 16:19:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loos on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

In Part 1, I only looked at the first two paragraphs of "The Sacrament of Penance."  This time, I will be furnishing my notes on paragraphs three and four.

3.  SUMMARY.  At the end of paragraph two, Luther states the following about the joy that should overcome the believer at the realization that his sins are forgiven:
And this is what true forgiveness of sins really means, that a person's sins no longer bite him or make him uneasy, but rather that the joyful conscience overcomes him that God has forgiven him his sins forever.
Here, Luther says that if the believer does not experience such joy over God's grace, no amount of making amends will help because the believer is missing the forgiveness of guilt.  He then issues a reminder to practice the forgiveness of guilt "first and foremost every day."

My thoughts.  In this paragraph, Luther also strongly states the following:
No one can be saved, however, without a joyful conscience and a glad heart toward God (that is, the forgiveness of guilt).
Does this mean, then, that the forgiveness of guilt is part and parcel of repentance?  Are the forgiveness of guilt and true repentance one and the same?  It seems to me to be so.  Logically, that would follow, especially since he admonishes the believer to practice it daily.

4.  SUMMARY.  The forgiveness of sin and the forgiveness of guilt can only be accomplished by God.  Neither good works nor, as in Luther's day, the purchase of indulgences can deliver absolution or peace.  Good works flow out of the forgiveness of guilt, that joyful heart that believers have toward God because Christ has made amends for them.

My thoughts.  So, there is an order to this.  First, by faith, I believe that the death and resurrection of Christ makes amends for my sins.  The result of my understanding that is a joyful heart and a glad conscience, two conditions that then motivate me to perform good works.  Sins must be forgiven before works can be produced.

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