You’ve won an all-expenses paid vocation!!

No, the video has it wrong. It’s vocation not vacation.

A few weeks back, I made a comment in these postings that to a large extent, all you’d find here would be further illustrations of Law & Gospel, because that’s how Lutherans “do” theology. I wrote an entire post about Law | Gospel. In our (my wife and me) catechesis classes (yes, our synod takes the faith seriously and deems it important to catechize even adult converts), we recently talked about Law | Gospel. During the instruction, I had several of my ideas and thoughts and ideas affirmed, and that felt good. However, there was also a point where I realized I had misspoken concerning Law | Gospel.

In my first post on the topic, I called Law | Gospel a paradigm to use to interpret scripture. I also spoke of viewing the scriptures through the lenses of Law and Gospel as though it was a technique that can be applied in order to aid one’s understanding, as though it’s an optional method of scripture reading. From the outsider’s perspective, paradigm is probably a fair word to use, but in hindsight, I don’t like that I wrote this way.

Law | Gospel isn’t just an appropriate way to read the scriptures, it’s the appropriate way to read the scriptures. Since the beginning, God as spoken a law that we’ve broken (Genesis 3), and he’s spoken a Gospel through which he saves us (Genesis 3:15). When Paul writes of our standing in Christ, he’s already walked us through the nature of the law -that it’s powerless to save. When Christ speaks in parables concerning the way of salvation or preservation from evil, it’s accompanied with his reminder of the 2 chief laws (love of God and love of neighbor), and his promise that he’s fulfilled them for us. Indeed, the law rests heavily upon us. We are called to pursue perfection. But Christ’s yoke is easy and light because he’s fulfilled the law for us and stood condemned in our place. Oh, sweet exchange!

This past Spring, I spoke at a prayer breakfast in the Baptist church in which I was a member (and in which I still have some of the best friends I’ve had in my entire life). I spoke on this topic. I’ll quote my speaking notes:

Our scriptures that exposit truth and life embrace both a resting of one’s self in Christ, that his merit is necessary and sufficient for our justification, and that faith without our works is dead. That’s a difficult thing to reconcile! How does one both work and rest simultaneously?

I’ve heard it explained through the years that our works are evidence of our changed hearts, and therefore of our salvation. You can’t disagree with this. It’s true. But as is often the case with truths meant to comfort us, we sometimes wield them as weapons to keep ourselves or others in line, and turn these restful truths into a burden that nobody can bear. I’ve seen this explanation used very badly before, and perhaps you have too. I don’t think it’s uncommon.

Perhaps for you it’s gone something like this…

You been told the truth that God in Christ has taken the world’s sin away. You’ve had the gospel preached into your ears, and it permeated your heart. You’ve believed it. You’ve been saved. But then it happens. You sin again. ….well, THAT wasn’t supposed to happen!… except then you sin AGAIN.. and AGAIN… And you read all of the passages on obedience, and faith evidenced by works, and “be perfect as I am perfect”… and it all seems so HOPELESS. So FUTILE.

…So you start to think: “I’m just going to pretend that I don’t have a sin problem, and I’ll put on this appearance that I’ve got it all together so I keep the respect of my Christian friends.” …or, how about “I must not be saved! My fruit does not demonstrate it!” …so you just simply give up and walk away.

And here’s the truth: It is hopeless and futile. Our works never meet the standard. The most righteous of our works are tainted with the evil in our hearts.

So what hope is there? When you’re good, how are you supposed to know know you’re good enough? ….You rest in Christ. HIS work. OUR inheritance based on our adoption as sons in Christ.

Even though our works are never good enough, yet because of Christ’s work, God takes pleasure in our good works. In this regard, Christ can tell us that even a cup of cold water given in his name is as valuable to God as serving Christ himself. Think of that! Something as small as giving a cup of water pleases God!

I then quoted an article on the doctrine of vocation, and I’ll quote a different section here to make the point more concisely:

For Luther, vocation, like justification, is ultimately God’s work. God gives us our daily bread through the vocations of the farmer, the miller, and the baker. God creates new human beings through the vocations of fathers and mothers. God protects us through lawful magistrates.

Vocation is, first of all, about how God works through human beings. In His providential care and governing of His creation, God chooses to distribute His gifts by means of ordinary people exercising their talents, which themselves are gifts of God.

In my time as an FE, I heard many exhortations to love my neighbor. In the gentlest manner possible, the 2nd-greatest commandment was described over and over. Help those in need. Honor your father and mother. Serve your employer well. It is the right thing to do, and God will be pleased with you in doing these.

These are good and proper things. I’m thankful for churches that still teach this. Yet, teaching of this type does not take into account God’s messages of Law and Gospel. I think a typical FE church has a great grasp on parts of the above quote, but not all of it. FE’s understand well that God cares for us in our interactions with each other, but what’s missing is the message of God’s saving grace in Christ! What’s also missing, as it is in nearly every FE doctrine, is the emphasis that God uses Earthly means to carry out his divine and gracious will.

Remember, the law hangs heavy above us. We are to serve and love our neighbor as ourselves. This is an impossible burden in our sinful state. The best that the FE, who does not have Luther’s doctrine of vocation, can say is that God will help us obey the 2nd-greatest commandment. But for the Lutheran and others in the reformation, we can say that God has blessed us in vocation so that by merely performing our vocation, we love and server our neighbor. Plainly stated, vocation is God’s gift of grace to us, whereby we fulfil God’s desire that we serve our neighbor. How can this be? Because vocation, like justification, is all an act of God. There is no need for hand-wringing and worried minds to know if you’ve done enough to serve God: in Christ, you please God, and he serves others through your hands by virtue of your daily work. So, take rest in Christ!

The White Horse Inn is currently in the middle of a series on this topic. I highly recommend the first show,. In it, they point out the feverish pitch at which the modern FE church searches for the extraordinary, and for the radical.