The Power of Words and the Nature of Sin

By Kevin DeYoung. This article is from his Gospel Coalition blog

To be a Christian is to be a person who cares about words. We care about definitions and implications. Our aim is not to be contentious or obstreperous. Our aim is to be true and to speak in a way that strengthens the truth. We care about words because words communicate ideas and ideas have consequences. We pay attention to language because God has revealed himself through it. Words matter to God. They should matter to us.

Having said all that, I’d like to suggest we think more carefully about one of our new favorite words: brokenness. I’m not on a crusade to ban the word from the evangelical lexicon. You don’t have to apologize if you say the word in front of me. It’s not a bad word. It’s just not an adequate word.

What do we communicate with the word “brokenness”? It seems to me the word is a rough synonym for “messed-up-ness.” Worship leaders ask us to confess our brokenness. Pastors tell us we all have brokenness. Sinners under conviction reveal their struggles with brokenness. Often I hear the word used with reference to sexual sin. Someone with a porn addiction may admit his sexual brokenness. Or someone speaking against homosexuality may be quick to assure his audience that we all struggle our own form of sexual brokenness. The word shows up in many delicate situations.

And yet, the word is inadequate at best and misleading at worst. On the good side, “brokenness” conveys an important truth about sin. When we develop an insatiable appetite for porn, when we long for same-sex partners, when we can’t live without people’s approval, we are not functioning the way God intended. God’s Edenic design for human flourishing did not include addictions, unnatural lusts, and fear of man. Marred by sin, none of us is the way we are supposed to be. We are all broken.

But as a metaphor for sin, “brokenness” is seriously limited. The term does not convey a strong sense of moral culpability. If anything, it suggests a helplessness in the face of external forces and circumstances. It gets nothing of the Godward direction of sin. In fact, the term “brokenness” sometimes feels like a safer, less-offensive euphemism for sin. Instead of confessing rebellion, disobedience, guilt, or moral evil, we only have to acknowledge that somethin’ ain’t right. We don’t work the way we should. We’ve been wounded before. We’ve had a hard go of it. I’m not suggesting those who use the term “brokenness” are trying to avoid their sins or the minimize the sins of others. But the language can have that effect.

In Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck examines the different Hebrew and Greek words for sin. The list of definitions is daunting: missing the mark, departure from the right way, twistedness, wrongness, deviation from the right direction, crossing a set of boundaries, breaking a covenant, apostasy, rebellion, deviant conduct, godless behavior, offense, unfaithfulness, infidelity, betrayal, disobedience, violation, lawlessness, guilt. “By far the majority of these names, Bavinck maintains, “describe sin as ‘deviation, a violation of the law.” In citing 1 John 3:4, he concludes that “Scripture consistently views sin as lawlessness” (3.129-30).

Granted, it is no violation of Scriptural truth to use non-biblical language and metaphors to describe our sin. But overtime it usually proves unwise. The biblical language for sin is stronger and more God-directed than makes us comfortable. The present Christian culture gravitates toward language that is inner-directed and therapeutic. We prefer the language of brokenness and woundedness, even though these words in the Bible tend to describe physical pain or divine punishment (Isaiah 30:26). Sin is almost never, if ever, described as personal malfunction. It is, instead, seen as an offense to God, a violation of his law, and liable to punishment. We may be broken, but that doesn’t describe the half of it. We need a Savior, not just a Handy Man.

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Masaaki Suzuki on Bach

News Flash: J. S. Bach was a Christian – Why Suzuki Gets Bach

From Cyberbrethren by Rev. Paul T. McCain

One of the world’s premier interpreters and conductors of Bach music is the Japanese musician Masaaki Suzuki. And he gets Bach, unlike many Westerners. I am sick and tired of discussions of Bach by secularists who do everything they can to avoid, dismiss, denigrate and intentionally ignore the fact that J.S. Bach was an orthodox Lutheran Christian. It is the height of intellectual dishonesty to do so. But not Suzuki. I was reading my friend, Pastor Weedon’s blog and he has a great post of some YouTube clips of Suzuki performing Bach and Robin Lee offered this comment [the Bach clips follow]:

I like what Masaaki Suzuki wrote in the liner notes to the first recording of Bach Collegium Japan. Responding to the question of how the Japanese could “dare play the music of Bach”, Suzuki wrote:

“… [T]he God in whose service Bach laboured and the God I worship today are one and the same. In the sight of the God of Abraham, I believe that the two hundred years separating the time of Bach from my own day can be of little account. This conviction has brought the great composer very much closer to me. We are fellows in faith, and equally foreign in our parentage to the people of Israel, God’s people of Biblical times. Who can be said to approach more nearly the spirit of Bach: a European who does not attend church and carries his Christian cultural heritage mostly on the subconscious level, or an Asian who is active in his faith although the influence of Christianity on his national culture is small?”

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A Simple Way to Pray

Source: Lutheran Witness  By Rev. Matthew Harrison

After about a year and a half in this position, I’ve discovered that, if nothing else, being Synod president does tend to improve one’s prayer life. A prayer Luther often prayed at night says it all: “My dear God, now I lie down and turn Your affairs back to You; You may do better with them. If You can do no better than I, You will ruin them entirely. When I awake, I will gladly try again.’

Because of a feisty barber named Peter Beskendorf, we not only know exactly how Martin Luther prayed, but we have what is probably the greatest and most practical little pamphlet ever written on how regular folks can pray: “A Simple Way to Pray” (Luthers Works, v. 43, pp. 189211). While Luther was getting lathered in the barber’s chair, Peter asked the Reformer how he went about praying. Luther gave Peter the lowdown in the chair and then sat down and peeled off his little book shortly thereafter. Because there are so many unbiblical things said and written about prayer all about us, every Lutheran should have “A Simple Way to Pray” and read it. Luther’s little book on prayer will revolutionize your prayer life.

The genius of Luther’s approach is that it anchors prayer in the biblical or biblically based text so that it doesn’t float off into self-absorbed drivel, quite disconnected from God’s mandates and promises in the Bible. Luther’s approach balances the issue of order and freedom, written prayer and ex corde prayer–but in such a way that the biblical text determines the content and inspires the mind to pray freely as the Spirit moves.

Luther followed a simple, fourfold pattern:

  • Instruction
  • Thanksgiving
  • Confession
  • Prayer

I call it I.T.C.P. This is how Luther prayed the Small Catechism–something I’d long heard about but had not the slightest idea what it meant. Virtually any text of the Bible can be prayed this way, or for that matter, any biblically based prayer.

It’s Lent. I invite you to pray daily with me the greatest prayer ever written (aside from those in the Bible): The Litany (LSB 288–89). This 1500-year-old prayer, which Luther loved, covers the extent of real spiritual and physical need for the Church and the world. And it’s all right out of the Bible. When you come to the following text, let Luther’s I.T.C.P. mode kick in. Heres an example: We poor sinners implore you . . . to preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living.

Lord, You INSTRUCT us that it is Your deepest desire that pastors love and stick to Your Word, for themselves and for others. It’s horrible when a pastor forsakes the Word and falls into error or gross sin and does untold damage in the Church. We also know that it is Your deepest desire, Lord, that we pray for our pastors.

Lord, I give You THANKS for my pastor and all pastors of the Church. In this crazy day and age, it’s a miracle that I have a pastor who believes the Bible, preaches Law and Gospel, loves his people and serves me and my family.

Lord, I CONFESS that I fail to pray for my pastor. I dont even think about our seminaries until we have a vacancy. I’ve been stingy in supporting my pastor. I have not always put the best construction on his actions and have failed to follow Matthew 18 when I’ve had a concern. I have disregarded the fact that You have placed this man to dole out your previous gifts of the Gospel to me.

Lord, I PRAY, enlighten me by Your Word and Spirit. Be with my pastor, and strengthen him today. Cause him to love your wholesome Word. Protect him and his wife and family from the evil one. Sustain him in holy living, and give him joy in his vocation. Cause me to be a source of joy in his ministry, and give me a generous heart that I may support the ministry of the Gospel in this place in every way. Amen.

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The Meaning of Marriage

Source: Lutheran Witness by Rev. Matthew Wietfeldt

A recent study by the National Center of Health Statistics shows that the number of unmarried, cohabiting couples having children has quadrupled since the 1970s. Should this surprise the Christian? Absolutely not. Why? Sin.

Sin destroys everything and everyone that it touches, including marriage and the family. However, our Lord loves both dearly, so He makes them holy through repentance and forgiveness.

As Lutherans, we take the words of the Lord seriously. We take Him at His Word. We believe that the Scriptures don’t merely contain the Word of God; they are the Word of God. So when trying to determine if living together outside of marriage is acceptable, we look to what our Lord says to us.

When marrying our first parents together in Genesis 2, God the Father said to them, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” That means marriage. Through the act of marriage, God makes two people into one flesh. He provides them with the means to support one another through all things until death parts them. The Lord also gives man and woman the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” Marriage begins the family, and sex and children follow.

Later, in Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), our Lord gives us a more detailed explanation of the scope of marriage. He says in the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther explained this to mean, “We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husbands and wives love and honor each other.”

What does “sexually pure and decent” really mean? It is sex between a husband and a wife and no one else. That means that we are deliberate in how we speak to each other and how we act with one other. Don’t act like a husband if you’re not a husband, and don’t act like a wife if you’re not wife. Instead, get married and actually be husband and wife, loving and honoring one another.

When asked about marriage and divorce, our Lord, Jesus Christ, said, “What God has joined together let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6). When He puts things together, they are to stay that way. Conversely, when they haven’t been put together, they stay that way until they are put together by the Lord. When our Lord blesses something, He then also provides strength, support and forgiveness for it. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in and on us, making our marriages holy.

So what are we as Christians to do in a culture that rejects God’s gift of marriage, sex within its bounds and children? Repent. Turn from your sin. Receive Jesus’ forgiveness. And do not forget to pray. Pray for all marriages and all families, that the Lord who makes two into one flesh would richly bless them with His love, joy and mercy.

The state of marriage is under a full assault from the devil. He will use whatever means necessary to destroy what God has created. Pray also for all God’s children. Pray that love may abound in all homes. Pray that forgiveness may be the first word spoken between husbands and wives, parents and children. Pray that you and all people receive an increase of the Holy Spirit, for it is only through Him that we may repent of our sinful lives, amend our ways and live joyfully in the comfort of God’s grace.

 

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Japan Quake Map

Quake visualization begins at the 41 second mark. Watch through 3/11.

 

With the recent earthquake, there has been much talk about how to help the people especially affected, especially in a material sense but also an emotional sense.

Here are a couple of articles (posted last year as well on this website) that do not downplay these immediate needs after the earthquake, but especially emphasize needs of eternal matters:

Update from Japan: How You Can Pray

This is an update from Japan on the Gospel Coalition website. It is written my Keiko Takahashi, a Christian in Japan. I appreciate the article because it touches on God’s faithful presence admist these times, then moves on to the greater eternal struggle, and how we can pray for Japan.

Here is one quote from the article:

The challenge for Christian workers is the significant biblical illiteracy in Japan. “Most Japanese people,” Keiko explains, “have never heard of the true meaning of God’s grace given through the cross of his Son.”

Another article is written by John Piper:
Japan: After Empathy and Aid, People Want Answers

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What is Gnosticism?

A major heresy addressed in the New Testament is called gnosticism, which referes to a “knowlege” that is supposed to save. Gnosticism teaches that creation was a mistake, and that the God of the Bible is ignorant and arrogant. He is mocked with disdain. Gnosticism teaches that although humanity is trapped in this evil matter in which we were created, we are saved when realize the divinity within ourselves.

Peter Jones, in his book The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back, writes”Historically the Gnostics escaped by throwing off the shackles of the Old Testament and the God of Israel. In this new-found freedom, they reintepreted the New Testament according to the religious world view of pagan culture around them.”(?)

In Gnosticism, salvation comes from self-knowledge and self-realization- again, knowing one’s own divinity. They teach that salvation comes from withing ourselves. The so called New Age is a return to gnosticism. Creation worship, feminist spirituality, the breaking of sexual norms, Eastern religions, etc. are all connected to gnosticism- the Creator God is rejected, creational structures are destroyed, the concept of sin eradicated, and salvation dehistorized and spiritualized. Christ becomes a symbol of the gnostic believer, and by their own efforts gnostics obtain the “knowledge” that they are a god also.

Gnosticism and the New Age offer false spiritual renewal, theological confusion, and spiritual defeat. the goal of it is to create a new humanit and eliminate faith in the true God of the Bible.

Because of the resurgence in gnosticism, difficult days may lie ahead for Christians who hold to “outdated” and “narrow minded” beliefs.

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Forgiveness and Mercy from Luther’s Catechisms

In the explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism, one of the questions is: “What does it show when we forgive others? “ The answer given is: “It shows that we truly believe that God has forgiven us.” This comes from the section on the Lord’s Prayer, specifically about the line, “forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Or we might says, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The Small Catechism also explains that we sin everyday and deserve nothing but God’s punishment, but in the Lord’s Prayer we ask for God’s gracious forgiveness because of Jesus Christ. And when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are not worthy of the things we ask and pray for, so we ask for God’s forgiveness to pray to Him with a good conscience, and God wants us then to forgive and do good to those who sin against us because He forgives us.

Also we can listen to these words from the Large Catechism, which explain how we are sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned in the way that that we also forgive are neighbor:

“If therefore, you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you. But if you forgive, you have this comfort and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven. This is not because of your forgiving. For God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches. But God says this in order that He may establish forgiveness as our confirmation and assurance, as a sign alongside the promise, which agrees with this prayer in Luke 6:37, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” [598-99]

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