by Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana
To live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God is to live by faith. Faith is a painful and awkward thing. It is not at home in our flesh. For our flesh is weak. It wants its own way. It wants satisfaction. We like things that we think are strong. Our flesh prefers bread for our bellies to the Words of God´s mouth. But the just shall live by faith. In weakness God’s strength is made perfect.
The just shall live by faith – but it will hurt every step of the way.
For the just on this side of glory still struggle with the old man. They are still attacked by the devil. He dislikes nothing so much as faith. His temptations are always to the things he thinks are concrete: to works and success, to things that can be quantified and measured, to things that can be seen, heard, or felt, even to fame and honor with men. He would have us live by anything and everything, by logic, reason, experience, or even feelings, anything and everything but faith. But the just shall live by faith: whether they like it or not.
Those things our flesh craves and thinks are lasting and practical are actually fleeting. Bread rots. But the Word of God endures forever. No one will care either in heaven or in hell about how many people knew your name or what they thought of you, how wealthy you were, how fast you could run, how good looking and smart or clever you were, or how good you were at your job, or weren’t. In fact, no one really cares now – except you. Repent.
Faith wants us to live now as we will live then, by the Word of God without concern for food or any bodily needs and certainly without sin, with only one God. Faith is not nice. It is not sensitive to society´s manners or the politics of pluralism. It is extreme, radical, and unexpected. Men fear it. When faith becomes reasonable or practical it is no longer faith. It is just the devil’s doctrine hiding behind pious sounding “God talk.”
On this side of glory, where Christ is, there the devil is also. Thus the famous saying of Luther: Where God builds a Church the devil builds a chapel. He found Our Lord hungry and alone in the desert. He finds you as well. That is why you suffer, why you face so many temptations. The devil is attracted to the Truth and to faith. That is why the prophets were persecuted, why the apostles were martyred, why they killed Jesus, why the world hates you. Satan doesn´t attack his friends and co-conspirators.
Satan is well trained in philosophy and he has had the entire history of man to practice his craft. All the encouraging victories of God, from the slaying of Goliath to the resurrection of Lazarus, all the encouraging victories of God which occur prior to the Last Judgment melt under the devil ´s glare. Arguments, logic, reason, works, exegesis, history, tradition, and experience are of no help.
Only Christ, the Word of God made flesh, by which we live, can come to our aid. Satan´s wisdom is thwarted by the statement “the just shall live by faith. ’ God is for us in Jesus Christ, fighting for a world that the Devil, too, is trying to conquer.
The devil seeks to conquer by violence and threat. Christ overcomes Him and us by submitting to violence and by promise. Satan´s power is not unlimited; he must stay within specified bounds, but until doomsday those bounds are as wide as the whole world. Thus are you attacked and suffer. But Christ´s power is unlimited. It is wider than the world and longer than time. 1
Thus you have an Advocate with the Father, a Kinsman-Redeemer back from the dead, a Hero and Champion, the Stronger Man, who has destroyed your enemies within and without, who calls you Brother and Sister, Son and Daughter, Beloved Bride and Friend. He has taken up your Flesh, was born into your filth, suffered for your transgressions, and has redeemed your soul. He gives you His Name. He shows His love for you to the Father in His scars. He places His Spirit upon you. He was tempted in every way, but He did not fail. He has even believed for you. He, Himself, lived by faith. He overcame the devil´s lies with His own Word for you.
When His trials in the desert had ended angels ministered to Our Lord. So they also minister to you. That is not to say you won´t be tempted or suffer. You will never be free of these things prior to removal from this world. God forgets our sins and casts them into the deepest part of the sea, removing them as far as the East is from the West. But our fallen minds and our aching members remember. They still crave forbidden things. And our fallen spirits are timid. They are afraid to believe. They’ve gotten their hopes up before and been disappointed. So they hold back. They are suspicious.
But God is not like us. He doesn’t break promises. He doesn´t fail. His angels protect you, pray for you, and sing with you. But since that kind of dependability and love is outside of our experience it is hard to believe. That is not what we are like. Thus we must live by faith.
This trouble you now feel is simply the struggle of that faith. The flesh wants the upper hand. It wants proof or excuses or a plan to make things better.
Give up. Stop fighting. Stop trying to be something, to experience something, to feel something, or know something. Don’t analyze it. Just quit. Quit everything. Let God do all the work, even the thinking. Jesus died – on purpose. He also rose again. He knows what He is doing.
He has overcome all these things for you. You are forgiven and clean, pure and holy, righteous and whole, whether you feel it or not, whether it seems like it or not, whether or not it makes sense. Jesus died and rose. That is the Truth. And that is what matters. Don’t worry about anything else. Just let it go.
We all have bad habits and self-destructive behaviors. We all have grudges and prejudices. We all repeat our mistakes. But that doesn’t matter. Jesus died and rose. That matters. You can´t fix your family or friends, the synod or America, let alone yourself. You can’t undo the past or take it all back. But you don´t have to. Jesus died and rose.
You are forgiven. Live in the present, in the reality of grace. For Jesus didn’t just die and rise again. He died and rose again FOR YOU. And that is really what matters.
In +Jesus´ Name. Amen.
1 Paragraph based upon and modified from 0 “Luther Against the Devil’ by Heiko A. Oberman Excerpted from “Luther: Man Between God and the Devil”, published by Yale University Press on February 15, 1990. Copyright © 1989 by Yale University. This article appeared in the Christian Century, January 24, 1990, pp. 75-79, copyright by the Christian Century Foundation. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org.