What’s the difference?

In the comments on my post about Bonhoeffer and hyper-Lutheranism, the question came up of how (or even whether) we should expect the moral behaviour of Christians to differ from that of non-Christians.

Now, as was pointed out in that discussion, it is certainly the case that not every non-Christian is “a total immoral swine”. Many non-Christians put many Christians to shame in their concern to live a good life and to help others in a sacrificial way. On the other hand, even if we don’t expect all Christians to behave better than all non-Christians, we should certainly expect individual Christians to behave better than if they were not Christians.

Not “expect” as in “require as a legalistic obligation”, please note, but simply “expect” as in “expect that to be the normal and ‘natural’ consequence of faith in Christ”. If someone has faith in Christ and their behaviour and attitudes show no apparent consequences of that, then that is a problem, not simply material for a weekly law/gospel dynamic when they go to church.

But what is the nature of the difference which faith in Christ should make in our attitudes and behaviour, if it is not one of new (or renewed) “legal” requirements upon us? I hope to look at how Bonhoeffer answers that question in my next post, for which this post is really just an extended introduction.

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7 Responses to What’s the difference?

  1. Just like a tree, I believe faith in Christ WILL bring forth fruits of of love & mercy (obedience), to say it won’t would be unscriptural, however:

    1. That doesn’t mean that the tree is filled with bountiful fruits, because sanctification is never perfect, and yet because we are in Christ we are already sanctified. I could pull scripture out, but I have a feeling you agree.

    2. Just because we are in Christ and bring forth the benefits of that intrinsic fellowship doesn’t mean we are to use it as “proof” or “assurance” that we are of the elect or even “Born again”. One of the older Lutheran theologians Johann Gerhard (16th or 17th century) has a book of prayers, called “Meditations on Divine Mercy” and one of the prayers illustrates this point:

    “You are the Life of my life. You are the Soul of my soul. Therefore, I leave my life and soul in Your hands and cling to You completely with a humble heart. May Your eminence regard my lowliness. May Your highness regard my worthlessness. Why do I desire to be praised by the world? Nothing in it is pure. Why do I GLORIFY myself so much? The yoke of sin oppressively weighs me down. May a holy fear pierce my heart like a spike so it will not be puffed up with the most dangerous illness–spiritual pride. *May my Countless sins always be before my eyes, but may my good works, whatever sort they are, be FORGOTTEN*. I am troubled by the memory of my sins more than I am pleased by the glory of any impure or imperfect good work that I have done. In You alone do I rejoice and glory. You are my joy and glory for eterntity. Amen”

    And even Luther clarifies this point when he says, “Whether I’ve done a good work or not, I leave that for God to decide. But as for me, I have no other hope or comfort than in the mercy seat of Christ.”

    Christ ties it all together when he said, “Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.”

    So how than are we to know with 100% certainty that we are saved? (And I know you know this, I visit your blog quite frequently, but I’ll say it anyways) I know for sure that I am saved, because I am baptized, and since I am baptized, I know that everything Christ Jesus did in actively obeying the Law & passively suffering condemnation in my place is for me because it was given to me in the Water & the Word. That is where we must draw from for proof that we are saved, baptism. To do anything else like looking for proof through fruit or obedience to God’s law, is nothing but idolatry, it’s honoring the gifts over the giver.

    3. We must remember, when we live out our day to day vocation through faith in Jesus Christ we are doing a pleasing work before God. It’s so simple that I think people stumble over the simplicity, but here it is: trust in Christ, go about your business, and you will be surprised at the last day when you are one of the sheep, and you’ll say, “Lord when did I do anything for you?” The key to all of this, I think, is living in humility….thinking less of yourself and more and more of Christ Jesus, like the pharasee and the Tax Collector. One spat on and on about the good works he was producing, and the other saw himself for he what he was, a sinner, so he beat his breast, and looked to God for mercy. Only one went home justified, and it wasn’t the pharasee.

    In the end, our attitude should be like that of the unworthy servant Christ tells us about. He did everything required by his master, but in the end, he didn’t pat himself on the back, but rather he said, “I am an unworthy servant, I am only doing what I am supposed to”. And yet, I have read the Cost of Discipleship and I don’t see anything I said that falls under Bonhoeffer’s definition of ‘Cheap Grace’ – the justification of the sin and not the sinner.

  2. John H says:

    I have read the Cost of Discipleship and I don’t see anything I said that falls under Bonhoeffer’s definition of ‘Cheap Grace’ – the justification of the sin and not the sinner.

    Indeed not. But that’s because from what you say it is clear that you are looking to Christ and your baptism for assurance in the context of following Christ – trusting in Christ and going about your business – not as a substitute for doing so.

  3. “From what you say it is clear that you are looking to Christ and your baptism for assurance in the context of following Christ – not as a substitute for doing so”. I agree with you, and I think that is the heart of our Lutheran Confessions, which is the life bestowed to us in Christ Jesus.

    And on another note, I think if we took a microscope and examined the source behind legalism & lawlessness we would discover something shocking. That they are two different shades of the same vile sin, the sin of spiritual pride, the sin that says, “You know what, I’m doing just fine without Christ and his sacrifice”, this is of course, the unforgivable sin. The legalists have no need for the cross and Christ’s grace. The practicers of lawlessness have no need for the cross and Christ’s grace either.

  4. I didn’t mean to cut my thoughts so shortly I was going to add this:

    I think there is an underlying theme in the Lutheran confessions and that is the art of making distinctions. One disinction that I think we forget about is that there are two kinds of sinners. There are the sinners who realize their own sinfulness, and are contrite, who find their only hope in Christ; and there are the other sinners who do not see the consequences of their sin, who judge themselves on the basis of a relative righteousness and not God’s scale, and in doing so they have no need for Christ. Saved sinners are well aware of their spiritual poverty, they know they are blind, so they seek refuge in Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness. Unsaved sinners, think of themselves as rich, they think they are not blind, so they see no need for Christ. The irony is of course, that those who are spiritually poor are truly the most spiritually rich, and those who think of themselves as spiritual juggernauts are the most to be pitied. Those who know they are blind, can truly see, and those who think they can see are the most blind.

  5. steve martin says:

    When someone is in Christ, their lives will change.

    Will they all change in the same ways? Of course not. Or to the same degree? Of course not.

    Is it for us to judge what is real change and what is not? Of course not.

    “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completetion.” – St. Paul

    It doesn’t even say there, that we will even co-operate.

    Who knows the heart?
    Could a person who is in church twice on Sunday and in every bible study and works at the soup kitchen and visits the elderly sick and dying, not even really be a Christian? Sure. We don’t know who the Christians are. We do know who the baptised are, and those that profess Christ.

    The trouble here is one of focus. This Jesus shaped spirituality stuff puts the focus exactly where it does not belong…on us.

    One starts to look at himself in light of the other and the other’s performance (or lack thereof) in comparison to some standards of behavior that Jesus modeled. What a waste of time. It is not even necessary.

    We are free in Christ. Free to live. To love others and help them…or not!

    The heroin addict dying in the alley might have a much stronger faith in Christ than the preacher in the pulpit.

    I say proclaim God’s strong, uncompromising law…and then hand over His gift of forgiveness…freely…with no strings attached.

    This emphasis on performance is ridiculous. People are being led astray from Christ..right into the arms of Moses…and the law.

    What a huge waste of time and energy.

    Thanks for the opportunity.

    – Steve Martin A Lutheran who’s spirituality is shaped by Jesus in His Word and sacrament…alone!

  6. Josh S says:

    Could a person who is in church twice on Sunday and in every bible study and works at the soup kitchen and visits the elderly sick and dying, not even really be a Christian? Sure. We don’t know who the Christians are. We do know who the baptised are, and those that profess Christ.

    Where is this taught in Scripture?

  7. Steven G. says:

    We are free in Christ. Free to live. To love others and help them…or not!

    This is not even close to what St. Paul means or Lutheran means when they discuss freedom of the Christian. We are free to love our neighbors and not free to gratify the lusts of the flesh. Remember that Lutheran said that we are not only free lords over all but also dutiful servants to all.

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