Martin Luther for many years early in his life was tormented in mind and soul, constantly sensing his sin before God and yet seeing only the heavy hand of a righteous God who must judge sin and execute justice.
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Because Luther percieved that his own situation before God was utterly dire and its indictments inescapable, of being condemned under God's judgment against sin, and in fact due to his biblical realization of sin, he actually hated God for many years since he knew that he stood condemned. He discovered, to his great dismay, that it was actually impossible to confess every little sin; especially when sometimes our sins are imperceptible to our undiscerning mind (the Bible refers to these as "hidden faults" Psalm 19:12).
Luther was almost driven mad by a pressing urgency to confess his sins immediately - at all times throughout the day - and in entirety to his mentor Johann von Staupitz. After he had confessed and gone away he would think of yet another sin that he had forgotten to repent of and would turn back around, retrace his steps, and go to confess again. Martin had a conscience that constantly pricked him and it seemed sometimes that he didn't know why God wouldn't just leave him (and his conscience) alone.
He joined a strict monastic order and subjected himself to bodily injury and deprivation, as many monks at that time did in the hope of expunging the fleshly desires from one's self. And yet Martin at that time did not realize what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, "These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Colossians 2:23). But he knew something was missing and kept pressing on.
Dr. Timothy George (Dean of Beeson Divinity School, Samford University) gave an excellent lecture at Dallas Theological Seminary on this topic of how Luther's theology developed over time, which is recorded in the following video:
Dr. George speaks about the story regarding Luther's constant repenting between 11:00-14:15 in the video. He also points out elsewhere in the lecture that Luther had a realization from Scripture, long before Carl Jung, that the human psyche has depths and layers - things that are even unconscious to us - and that all of it needs to be redeemed. Luther realized that it is not enough to just confess the sins that we are conscious of but that everything must be forgiven us else we are still in sin. As Luther learned, if redemption is based on our own confession and penitence alone it is impossible to attain it.
Luther eventually came to the knowledge that we are utterly sinful and cannot be made right apart from the grace and work of God. But Luther did not see God as gracious at first, or how he could be reconciled to a just God, as Dr. George explains. It was not until Luther had his monumental breakthrough in his understanding of how we are justified in Jesus through faith alone that he saw that God's atonement for sins is all-sufficient toward those who have true faith in Him. But in the course of his journey to discovering that truth the burden of the seriousness of sin and the biblical certainty of final judgment had sunk in with Luther.
We, I think, should all take sin just as seriously and make sure that we act in accordance with what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about our coming judgment before Christ: "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Corinthians 5:11). Hence we should "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Philipians 2:12). If we don't take the responsibility of departing from sin seriously then we are not doing our duty as a Christian. As it says in the Scripture: "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity" (2 Timothy 2:18).
Let us put all of our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior to save us from the consequences of our sin, since He is the only remedy. And thereafter let us make sure to apply the mortifying power of the Holy Spirit against the flesh and walk in His life-giving power in our lives, so that we walk in sanctification and diligently ensure that we do not "receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1). Yet, as even Martin Luther realized, we are at the mercy of our loving Father to supply us with the grace that we need to accomplish all those things as those who are "poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3) and needy of God's kindness - which Luther confessed in his last words before dying: Wir sind Bettler, das ist Wahr. ("We are beggars, this is true".)
Praise be to Yeshua ben David whose star has risen upon mankind: The dayspring whose light has been cast upon the vale of deathshade. Seated Zebulun and Naphtali – beholding a great light – jubilantly cried, Rising when the dawn of brilliance to industrious Capernaum was made.
He came a child – raised as a horn of salvation in the house of David. By so ennobled an epithet he was known as the salvation of Yah. At mercy's visitation, Israel's Redeemer their bondage for freedom traded; His oil-smeared head bespoke to Greeks the Christos – to Jews, Meshiach.
Because God's beloved creation hurled itself without hope beyond the pale, In Satan's clutches by accusing adversary they found themselves ensnared. Yet for oath's sake to Abraham the dayspring descended to lowest vale: So appeared the kindness of God to ransom the flock for whom he cared.
Sheol's welcoming depths against covenanted people could have never prevailed, Since vanquished is death for those who in the promised christchild do believe. And by consequence of Yeshua's life, death, and resurrection it faintingly quailed, That now the believing he may into everlasting fellowship with himself receive.
Blessed be Yeshua ben David! May forever his name be magnified: His great deeds forever to be confessed upon the lips of the nations. Even seated at the Father's right hand, by surrounding angels his fame is cried, And 'Holiness unto Yahweh' shall be the heart-brand of his people brought salvation.
The Dayspring of Salvation
Praise be to Yeshua ben David whose star has risen upon mankind: The dayspring whose light has been cast upon the vale of deathshade.
Seated Zebulun and Naphtali – beholding a great light – jubilantly cried,
Rising when the dawn of brilliance to industrious Capernaum was made.
He came a child – raised as a horn of salvation in the house of David. By so ennobled an epithet he was known as the salvation of Yah.
At mercy's visitation, Israel's Redeemer their bondage for freedom traded; His oil-smeared head bespoke to Greeks the Christos – to Jews, Messiah.
Because God's beloved creation hurled itself without hope beyond the pale,
In Satan's clutches by accusing adversary they found themselves ensnared.
Yet for oath's sake to Abraham the dayspring descended to lowest vale:
So appeared the kindness of God to ransom the flock for whom he cared.
Sheol's welcoming depths against covenanted people could have never prevailed,
Since vanquished is death for creatures who in the promised christchild do believe. And in consequence of Yeshua's life, death, and resurrection it faintingly quailed, So that now for all may he into everlasting fellowship with himself receive.
Blessed be Yeshua ben David! May forever his name be magnified:
His great deeds forever confessed upon the lips of the nations.
Even seated at the the Father's right hand, by surrounding angels his fame is cried, And 'Holiness unto Yahweh' shall be the heart-brand upon his people brought salvation.
Have you ever seen a Christian and a non-Christian get in a debate where they are getting exactly zero miles from nowhere, and they both are throwing out bad arguments left and right while the spectators who may be viewing the whole fracas just shake their heads in disapproval? Such debates often devolve into petty, or at the very least impotent, wastes of time, and people end up leaving confused, frustrated, or thinking that the other is rather crazy - glancing at them with a raised eyebrow. Kind of like the "self-defense" techniques shown in the following video:
(No one is paying me to post this video, I promise. I just think it is funny).
So what can we learn from that video? Let's analogize it and perhaps have some fun along the way. Well if we take the "frozen yogurt" to mean one's closely held belief and someone assails you while indulging in said belief (even in a sneaky way from behind when you weren't expecting it) then we can see the common origin of such silly debates. A lot of these debates can just be avoided by taking a right approach to begin with, by not using sneaky or underhanded ways to pounce on one's opponent. But let's move on to the reactions. The natural (perhaps visceral) reaction to the untrained and unprepared person is to lash out in defense of your belief when it is assailed, often striking out forcefully with a blunt instrument - as it were - and to "defend" blindly from a position of ignorance. The other participant, if also untrained, will react back in the same manner and thus the "slap fight" ensues.
I've seen atheists do that. I've seen Christians do that. I've seen Muslims do that. I've seen Mormons do that. I've seen Republicans do that. I've seen Democrats do that. It doesn't take much imagination to say that representatives from all world views and inclinations do that at one time or another. That is because it's easy to do that. We may potentially take the message on the sign outside of the building, "Self-defense classes: For Le$$!" to stand for sloppy defense training which results from engaging in "less" effort. The reason that anyone can get into a slap fight is because it is effortless. It doesn't require thinking, and often it rather evidently demonstrates of its own accord that thinking is not much involved.
Eventually one of the two slap mates will tire of the ridiculous sparring and leave the conversation (or perhaps run away), as does the assailant of the man who was (supposedly) eating frozen yogurt in the video. Either way, in this scenario, one of the two - if not both - will probably raise their hands in victory and claim that they won the argument fair and square, despite there not having really been any good points made. Now let's up the stakes a bit, and let's further suppose that this slap fight, the limp and ineffectual verbal sparring of two individuals, was on a public stage with many spectators, say in a formal debate setting. The would-be victor claims to have a "powerful technique" after engaging in a slap fest, and the uncritical spectators then split up into their own debate circles sometime later and spar with the same ineffectual techniques (as in the video). Thus bad techniques are not only occuring occasionally, but are even proliferating systemically. This happens often when people repeat bad arguments and (re)use poor techniques in presenting their positions.
Some people see debates like this and choose to simply not engage at all and just write off the debate as hopeless, as if it were the subject matter that was irrelevant and not rather the techniques of the people who were discussing it poorly. But that is not a right way to address and react to discussions about important issues. The way to stop the silliness, the ineffectualness, and the madness is to step into the midst of the fray and to start talking some sense in a respectful manner. However, I have seen some self-styled "non-argumentative" Christians who say they just don't want to cause a fight, by which they mean that they don't want to have to really take a stand on a biblical belief in the face of real opposition, and therefore they retreat and end up yielding important ground to unbelievers. Yet we cannot be timid as Christians! We must put on our armor in preparation for the evil or challenging day, "and having done all, to stand" (Ephesians 6:13). This does not mean that you are to come off as crass or haughty, but rather you should possess a sincere and calm confidence and conviction in the face of opposition, keeping in mind that you are endeavoring to defend the actual truth (and not just a subjective proposition) of God to someone.
As Christians, what we rather need to do is engage our mind and our heart together in seeking God's truth, to partner thinking with faith and reasoning with conviction, so that we may first be built up in our own understanding in order that we may then go on to share it with others. Engaging in what we call "apologetics" is in fact a biblical command. We take the word from 1 Peter 3:15 which says, "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (NASB). The word "defense" (sometimes also translated "answer" or "reason") is from the Greek word apologia, from which we get the word apologetics. It has absolutely nothing to do with apologizing in the sense of saying that you are sorry. That is actually a stock joke among those who know what the term really means, but the joke can get old after a while (though we retain our good humor about it).
The New Defenders Study Bible takes note on this verse (in part):
3:15 answer. “Answer” is the Greek apologia, from which we get our word “apologetics,” meaning the careful, logical defense of the Christian faith against the attacks of its adversaries and showing its validity as the true saving gospel of God, our Creator and Savior. In effect, Peter is admonishing believers to be always prepared to give an apologetic for the faith, especially when confronted by those who deny it and would destroy it if they could. This surely means that there is an effective apologetic that can be given, and it is each Christian’s responsibility to study (II Timothy 2:15) and be ready to give it when needed.
Notice also how the command in Scripture ends with "yet with gentleness and reverence". As I said before our defense does not need to be crass, haughty, or disrespectful. We should genuinely care about a person, even an enemy, so much that we would put forth careful and sincere effort to correctly represent the truth to them. Understanding that the other person who you are speaking with is made in the image of God like you are, and also shares in the same common need of humanity for a savior along with you, is a good starting point. In that way, even when another disagrees with us it is not due to us coming at them with wildly flung arguments, as with slapping hands, but with inviting and ready hands eager to engage another sincerely and intelligently; knowing what we believe, speaking with conviction, and most importantly speaking from the authority of Scripture. That is why we must study to show ourselves approved, so that in all things we may glorify God. Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (NASB).
So how can you develop better techniques to be able, and indeed ready, to give an answer/reason/defense for the hope that is in you? Firstly, read God's Word, which is His revelation to us, and communicate back to God in prayer. Be firmly rooted in God and His Word. Then also take advantage of as many tools and opportunities as you can to build up your faith. Find someone who can sharpen your mind as iron sharpens iron. Listen to talks or debates with strong Christian representatives in them who are engaged in apologetics in the public sphere, such as people like William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Frank Turek, John Lennox, Alvin Plantinga, Alister McGrath, Michael Brown, and James White to name just a few. Read books on apologetics. Discuss apologetics in online forums or social media. Discuss apologetics with your friends and family. Check out organizations like Stand to Reason, Ratio Christi, Tactical Faith, and the Christian Apologetics Alliance (many of which have a social media presence) and get plugged in where you can. Attend apologetics conferences if there are any in your region.
In my region (the southeastern United States) there is the annual SALT Apologetics Conference in partnership with Tactical Faith. There's even an organization in Dallas called the Bible & Beer Consortium (no, seriously) that actively engages the community on issues of apologetics and invites people to come and ask questions while sipping on pale ale and listening to apologetics talks. Engage the culture, but first engage yourself. Jump in and learn. Seek the Scriptures diligently and think of effective ways to communicate your faith and the realities - seen and unseen - of this universe that God has created.
Don't take defense classes (apologetics lessons) from the slap masters. Go to the warriors who know how to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17), who rightly divide the word of truth, and honor God with all of their mind - as intelligently and responsibly yielded to God - along with all their heart, soul, and strength (Luke 10:27), and do likewise(1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:8-9).
I recently went down a deep rabbit hole in search of more intellectual and literary treasure among Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton, and have been reading quite a bit on George MacDonald, who influenced all three of them; whom we have to thank for igniting Lewis' spiritual and fictional imagination; and without whose books the Narnia series probably would not exist. I've also been reading about his book 'Phantastes' (which I still have yet to actually read - only summaries at this point), which seems to have directly influenced C.S. Lewis and has some elements similar to his friend Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" - except with more Christian symbolism/focus. A brief summary on MacDonald and his writings can be found here. In turn it appears MacDonald was influenced by a Scottish theologian and minister named Alexander John Scott who wrote an influential book called "Discourses" that sounds interesting. Reviews of that book that I found say this about A.J. Scott and his book:
"George MacDonald regarded A. J. Scott as the greatest man he had ever known.... Scott's belief that creation is a sacred expression of the divine and his conviction that what is deepest in every human being is the image of God stood in stark contrast to the reigning Calvinism of 19th-century Scotland. 'Creation,' he said, 'is a transparency through which the light of God can be seen.'"
"Of the three discourses, I enjoyed "On Revelation" the most, I think. If you want to read an excellent, brief exposition on the variety of ways God reveals Himself to humanity -- you should look here. The man makes a mountain of sense, and you can definitely see hints of some of the things in him which impacted George MacDonald's thinking so greatly. I think, even, we can see in these discourses, especially "On Revelation", the philosophical foundation upon which MacDonald's meaning-rich fantasy -- and that of others after him -- was built. There is a pedagogical relation between Scott, MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis on the "mythopoeic" (a term coined by Tolkien and Lewis) method of conveying truth through the imagination, which makes a prototheoretical appearance in Scott's written teachings... ... In other words, I would consider "On Revelation" by A.J. Scott to be a sort of prequel to a chain of related essays by some of the fantasy genre's founding influences: MacDonald's "The Fantastic Imagination", Chesterton's "The Ethics of Elfland", Tolkien's "On Fairy-Stories", and Lewis's "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's To Be Said". Lewis was influenced in this regard by Tolkien, Chesterton, and MacDonald. Tolkien was influenced by Lewis, Chesterton, and MacDonald. Chesterton (preceding both Lewis and Tolkien) was influenced by MacDonald. And MacDonald was influenced by A.J. Scott's teaching on ways of communicating truth: "revelation"."
I love discovering such a rich cornucopia of Christian writing (and the history of "who influenced who") that not only is theologically rich but is also creative, poetic, literate, sparks the imagination, and applies the God-given faculties of the mind to spark a deeper search and appreciation of God's truths in the readers' minds. I think that is why people like MacDonald, Chesterton, Tolkien, and Lewis are as influential and interesting to read as they are, because they combine erudition and a heart to share the truth of Jesus Christ with creative expression and a full engagment of hearts and minds through writing; whether through fictional device or no-nonsense examination of various topics (like Lewis' Mere Christianity or Chesterton's Orthodoxy). So here's to discovering more rich literary treasures that profit the mind, spirit, and soul!
I have some brief thoughts that I would like to share regarding a bit of theological perspective for my fellow Christians concerning how we ought to perceive the "signs of our times" when things, rightly, concern us in the world around us. If you have been following any of the major social, cultural, and political issues going on in the world lately - say just even in the last 6 months - that have been tracked and commented upon by Christian organizations like The Gospel Coalition (who do a great job for the most part in addressing issues, tough or not, head-on), or other groups and churches that engage in discussion on modern issues from a Christian perspective in any form of media; and if you look at the number of those issues that were major controversies, scandals, debacles, moral quandaries, and other public issues which concerned you, tell me then if you don't think this verse describes accurately what God does with all the world's affairs as the clock ticks down ever closer to the moment of Jesus' return:
"See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain." (Hebrews 12:24-29)
Then ask yourself if God does not have everything that goes on in history very well planned out, and consider if anything thwarts His plan or surprises Him. Can we then begin to see the shaking, and even tribulation, as good? As a process by which all things which can be shaken are shaken to pieces so that only the glorious eternal remains? When what is done in darkness is exposed to light? When the gloves come off? When the darkness becomes darker, and the light becomes brighter?
The more the shaking, the more that the perishable and corruptible will pass away. And even as the Jewish leader Gamaliel correctly observed in Acts 5, concerning how long lasting something that is not of God will endure, he said, "If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men" (Acts 5:38b-39a). Though the above passage in Hebrews may primarily be speaking to the church who hears "him who speaks", and seems to allude to the future time of the new heavens and new earth, it is also true that God will shake all things and judge all things, based upon the foundation that mankind builds upon (Matthew 7:24-27). And though judgment begins in the house of God, it certainly does not end there (1 Peter 4:17).
And finally, just for fun, perhaps also listen to this Petra song and just reflect on the lyrics, while standing in amazement of God's sovereignty: