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First, as regards kingship, every Christian is by faith so exalted above all things that, in spiritual power, he is completely lord of all things, so that nothing whatever can do him any hurt; yea, all things are subject to him, and are compelled to be subservient to his salvation. Thus Paul says, “All things work together for good to them who are the called” (Rom. viii. 28), and also, “Whether life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours; and ye are Christ’s” (1 Cor. iii. 22, 23).

. . .

This is a spiritual power, which rules in the midst of enemies, and is powerful in the midst of distresses. And this is nothing else than that strength is made perfect in my weakness, and that I can turn all things to the profit of my salvation; so that even the cross and death are compelled to serve me and to work together for my salvation. This is a lofty and eminent dignity, a true and almighty dominion, a spiritual empire, in which there is nothing so good, nothing so bad, as not to work together for my good, if only I believe. And yet there is nothing of which I have need–for faith alone suffices for my salvation–unless that in it faith may exercise the power and empire of its liberty. This is the inestimable power and liberty of Christians.\

Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty

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definition of faith

Martin Luther doesn’t so much spell this out, but he talks so much about faith, describes exact things we are to believe and has enlarged my idea of “faith” amazingly. Perhaps I can write about some of it here.

But I wanted to post what I think is his definition of faith.

Faith is the confident trust of God’s favor towards me.

Can I have this in suffering as much as in abundance? Can I have this when God takes away as much as when He gives? Can I have this faith as much in pain as I do in happiness? Can I believe this when I obey and when I sin?

Can I always, every day, in every joy and trial, success and failure, confidently trust that God looks upon me with favor because I am in Christ?

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

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There’s a good book by this title written by Tim Kimmel. And I’m currently re-reading that book.

But I want to talk about grace-based parenting from what I learned from Martin Luther.

Martin Luther got a lot of things right and figured out so much that we, even true believers, have forgotten or never gotten. I think this is because Martin Luther struggled with life’s most foundational question. His struggles about salvation and being accepted by God worked incredibly deep insights in his thinking.

And one thing I’m learning from him is this: that salvation IS The Thing in ALL of life, every single day. It’s not a first step, it’s not a topic that I settle then move on to deeper stuff. Salvation IS the stuff.

I highly recommend reading his work Concerning Christian Liberty. Just google it, and you’ll find it online somewhere. Especially parts 2 and 3. He understands how faith is not just the foundation of life, it is the entire structure. Anything else that really matters is a product of right faith.

I recently was in a conversation about children’s obedience, and I just couldn’t figure out what was bothering me, trying to apply to obedience what I knew from reading Martin Luther, compared to what we most usually hear as christian parents.

So I sat down and went through the first half of Concerning Christian Liberty, part 3, then I wrote out my conclusions (or philosophy) about obedience in the form of a letter to my kids. Here’s the letter. And I think that in the process of doing this excercise, God used Martin Luther to help me understand the grace basis in parenting. See if you notice it.

A letter to my child, to be discussed throughout your young life, on why you should obey me:

Dear child:

You should obey Mommy and Daddy because God commands and desires it of you. Christ has alreay completed your obedience–He lived a perfect life that is now accounted to you, and He died to be punished for the sins (of disobedience, etc) that you do.

This is vital for you to believe–that in Christ, God is perfectly satisfied with you. You are free now to serve God with joy and love, not out of any fear.

Being in Christ means that you are now a servant, like Christ was for you. And this is the main way God has asked you to serve right now–by obeying your parents.

And this obedience takes work, but God has put His Spirit in you to help you and give you power. You won’t ever be perfect, but God will forgive you when you fail, and the more you understand your faith in Christ, the more God’s power will be in you to obey.

love,
mom

I think this is the key thought of grace: “In Christ, God is perfectly satisfied with you.” It’s hard to start with an attitude of acceptace with our kids, you know? There’s just so much that needs changing!

And sadly, so many of us as Christians have the secret drive of wanting to please God, the idea that sanctification is something I do. First, Christ fulfilled the law for my life already; then, my righteousness is not a result of me, only of Christ anyway; third, my good deeds aren’t getting me any further up on God’s “In Good” list. There’s only one name on that list: Jesus Christ; and we all come in under Him.

What I’ve come to understand is that:

  1. Yes, I teach obedience, and I discpline, train, and disciple them.
  2. About half of what irritates me will be grown out of; I don’t have to live in a pressure cooker that I need to perfect my kid. It’s doesn’t mean I let it all go; it means it’s not all sin-level issues.
  3. God changes us starting with acceptance. He doesn’t change us through fear, manipulation, achievement, etc. This is the heart of grace. He starts with acceptance, and that’s the open door to transformation. When I started parenting, I came at my kids from the wrong end–“I’m here to fix you.” It wasn’t grace. Now I can relate to them starting with acceptance.
  4. I’m not a big one on giving advice, but for some of you out there who need a balm . . . Don’t be a lazy parent–it’s a huge temptation. But don’t be thinking that you, as parent, are the end-all of your child’s destiny. That’s way too much pressure for a parent to bear, and, especially as christian parents, we are very susceptible to this internal guilt and weight. In Christ, God accepts you as you are; He will use even your sins, failures, and weaknesses to work all together for your good. And as you understand and believe more and more deeply the depth of His acceptance of you through the law-fulfilling life (lived on your behalf) and the atoning death of Christ, the more you will be naturally transformed. So don’t focus on your parenting. Focus on right faith in God.

amen.

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by Martin Luther.

Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach the people. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon Your Word. Use me as Your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.

The “sacristy” (Latin, connected to the word “sacred” and synonymous with “vestry”) is a “a room in a church where sacred vessels and vestments are kept and where the clergy vests.” (Merriam-Webster)

So I gather that this was Luther’s prayer he said while in the back room preparing to preach.

Perhaps this prayer could be altered for almost any profession or calling we find ourselves in, and I want to modify it as my prayer as a mother.

“A Groggily Laying in Bed Early in the Morning Being Awakened by Small Hands and Voices Prayer”

Lord God, You have appointed me as a Mother in this Family, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach our children. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon Your Word. Use me as Your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.

AMEN!

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[This post is a continuation of my “take” or elaboration on Martin Luther’s tract Concerning Christian Liberty. The content of this tract is going to be Vitaliy and my “sermons” for the rest of our lives, when counseling when speaking, etc.]

Martin Luther wrote this tract in the context of salvation and justification. That was the crux issue of his time. That certainly is still the crucial issue–justification by faith alone, not our works. However, perhaps today we still wrestle with issues concerning our sanctification. And that is one topic where this tract by Luther speaks to me. My sanctification is accomplished by faith in Christ alone, not a drop of my work.

The first care of every Christian ought to be to lay aside all reliance on works, and strengthen his faith alone more and more, and by it grow in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who has suffered and risen again for him.

A right faith in Christ is an incomparable treasure, carrying with it universal salvation and preserving from all evil.

A right faith. This is a key point, for there are all kinds of faith, and Christians need to be grounded in a “right faith.”

Luther goes on to explain this right faith, but let’s stop first and think about wrong faiths we may be encouraged to believe or may simply rise up in our hearts. First is a faith in ourselves, in our own works. This kind of faith is extremely pervasive in our nature. I’m not saying that we are incapable of “good;” but the point is that our “good” is not what gains us any type of favor with God after we are His children.

Another example of a wrong faith is positive thinking. If I believe everything will be OK, it will. For the thinking person, it’s easy to see why this is a misplaced faith. It assumes that events or people I have no control over will do what I consider to be right . . . if I just believe in this. Or that in the end, it will all come out in some way I consider acceptably good.

Luther defines three qualities (“virtues”) of right faith. They really are life-changing and worthy of digging into for a lifetime. I will summarize them here.

  1. The promises of God (the new covenant in Christ) fulfill His laws. God both made the laws and fulfilled them. By believing in Christ, the fulfillment of the Law is mine.
  2. Believe God to be worthy of trust; this means believing that He really is true, righteous, good, etc. This is critical because this belief  then shows my soul “prepared to do His whole will . . . gives itself up to be dealt with as it may please God. For it cleaves to His promises, and never doubts that He is true, just, and wise, and will do, dispose, and provide for all things in the best way.” **In counseling people (and myself), this point is critical: do we really believe that God’s ways and His personal leading are best for us? This is one point where we all need our faith strengthened.
  3. Faith unites my soul to Christ; my soul and Christ become one flesh. “Whatsoever Christ possesses, that the believing soul may take to itself and boast of as its own, and whatever belongs to the soul, that Christ claims as His. If we compare these possessions, we shall see how inestimable is the gain. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation; the soul is full of sin, death, and condemnation.”
  • Christ is Priest and King. As Priest, He prays and preaches. As King, He rules over all. In our union with Him, we have these two states communicated to us. In Christ, we also are worthy to come to God and pray, we also preach (the priestly rights and functions). As King, all things are subject to Him.  In Christ by faith, “all things . . . are compelled to be subservient to his salvation.” (Again, one of my favorite points, useful with myself and others I counsel.) By faith in Christ I rule over every circumstance in my life (NO victimization!)— it ALL works for my good! It all serves me, to lead me to God.

So, in conclusion:

Preaching ought to have the object of promoting faith in Him. . . . And this faith is produced and is maintained by preaching why Christ came, what He has brought us and given to us, and to what profit and advantage He is to be received.

Yes, teaching the “right faith” and its qualities more and more is the work of a lifetime! And it’s the only faith worth that.

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[This post is my “take” or elaboration on Martin Luther’s tract Concerning Christian Liberty. The content of this tract is going to be my “sermon” for the rest of my life, when counseling women, when speaking, etc.]

Introduction: When we are having a hard time in life, we ask ourselves questions like: How can I be happy?. . .  How can I escape this? . . . Where is the exit? . . . How can I have a good marriage? . . . How can I get married? . . . How can I get more money? . . . Why can’t I get more money? . . . Why can’t I get a better job? get promoted? . . . Why aren’t my plans working out?

We also bolster our questions by reviewing our motives: I was going to tithe 20% when my business was successful. . . . I devoted so much of my time to youth ministry hoping that God see my work and bless my business. . . . I have been submitting and submitting, and my husband still hasn’t changed–he’s even worse than before! . . . I went to a Christian college so God could give me a Christian husband, but I’m still not married . . . or my husband has turned away from the Lord anyway. . . I took my kids to church every week so they would trust in God, but they still haven’t and are living reckless lives. . . . I’ve been reading my Bible and praying every day, but I still can’t control how I eat!

In the first case, when we ask why I can’t have what I want or how can I escape the problems I have, we are asking the wrong questions. We’re revolving our thoughts around issues that aren’t in our power to answer, issues or people that we really have no control over.

In the second case, concerning our motives, we reveal that we wanted to earn certain favors from God by our works. Think about it: As Christians, we have come to the point where we agree with God that only by Christ’s work on the cross can we be saved from judgment and have eternal life. Yet, when we start our new life in God, we go right back to trusting in our works for our sanctification. Greek myths have such plainly human-like gods–they are jealous, steal, demand favors, etc. They are gods made by men in man’s image. Yet, even we as believers are guilty of doing this with God when we, for example,  1) feel ourselves more holy and more pleasing to God than other Christians because of our standards, 2) expect God to bless or help us in a certain way because of our “good” works, 3) think that we could be more holy if we worked harder, spent more time in prayer and Bible reading, or sinned less (at least the sins we know about), 4) categorize Christians by their perceived godliness or lack thereof.

Though we may admit to being unable to be good enough to earn or deserve eternal life, we sure want to be able to earn a “rank” in this life, in our sanctification, in our place among other Christians. We often teach that salvation is God’s work, but  sanctification is my work with God, it’s not just God’s work. . . . Is it possible? Will God share the glory of my sanctification with me? with anyone? Our human nature runs to be under law; we want to have a measuring stick; we want to be able to earn favors; we want to be able to think ourselves better than others.  We seek self-approval or the approval of others. And we think we get God’s approval the same way we get it with others or with ourselves. Without consciously thinking, this is how we operate. And that is why we desperately need to consciously think about this.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free [from the Law]; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery [being under the Law]. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision [a requriement of the Law], Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision [submits to being under the Law], that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified [in this life and the next] by law; you have fallen from grace. Galatians 5:1-4

Another concept we need to consider carefully is our division of earthly life and eternal life. I used to think, yes, when God considers my acceptance before Himself, He sees Christ’s righteousness. But I never really applied that to how God sees me now and every day of this earthly life.

The truth is, every moment and day of this earthly life, God sees me in Christ. Christ’s perfect life is accounted to me. God sees me as perfect in this life, and He alone will lead me into actually living that; I can’t lead myself into living it.

OK, time to put Vika to sleep. So far, this was mostly me. When we get to Luther, it gets better!

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