Sunday, September 10, 2006

There but for the Grace of God

Today's sermon is from the Gospel, according to Paul.

Romans, chapter 7, starting at verse 7 is widely understood by Christians to be an inspirational passage, giving hope to millions. For if a man like Paul, chosen by God Himself can be so conflicted by sin, then there is hope for all of us.

7. What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. or in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

So Paul says in verse 24, "What a wretched man I am!"

If I were to write these words today, you would likely (and rightly) call me a typical whiny liberal, devoid of character, who can't take responsibility for my own actions. It is just one small step from saying, "The devil made me do it"

Paul is introducing a new concept to the faith, that we humans are not merely sinners, but completely and utterly depraved, and that we are saved only by the grace of God.

And this, I think is the source of self-loathing.

Fast forward 1500 years to another great self-loather, Martin Luther. From Wikipedia:

"Luther dedicated himself to monastic life. He devoted himself to fasts, long hours in prayer and pilgrimage, and constant confession. Luther tried to please God through this dedication; instead however, it increased his awareness of his own sinfulness. He would later remark, "If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them." Luther described this period of his life as one of deep spiritual despair. He said, "I lost hold of Christ the Savior and Comforter and made of him a stock-master and hangman over my poor soul."

Small wonder then, that Luther was so enamoured with Paul that he considered the epistle of James to be useless. He said of James: "[it] contradicts Paul by teaching justification by works".

But what did Jesus teach?

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Matthew 25:31-40

Much of what passes for modern Chrstianity is based on the teachings of Paul, later reinforced by Luther, both self-loathing men, unable to see that is was them, not mankind who were utterly depraved.

We are not saved by the Grace of God.

We will be judged on how we treat not just our friends or our family, but the least among us.


John Hosty said...

This makes a great post John, I hadn't realized this about Martin Luther prior to your post.

John said...

From a good article in:


Luther and Calvin alike drew heavily from the Paulist theology of St. Augustine, a debauched 4th Century Catholic theologian. Jesus, His moral teachings, and any form of decent conduct are irrelevant. Thus Calvin puts believers in a moral dilemma: should they even bother trying to be good? What's the point?

I have a hard time with all organized religion. They all seem to say the same thing, that we are all scum and worthy of nothing.

I have a higher view of mankind than all these self-loathing defective people who project their own insecurities into faith.

Stuffed Animal said...

That excerpt you took from the book of Romans captured the Apostle Paul's inner turmoil, specifically what I believe to have been his struggle with homosexuality. Personally, I struggle to find wisdom in Paul's writings. To me, he is a windbag who loves to pontificate and advance uselessly complex arguments. His writings reveal him to have been given to pride, arrogance and judgementalism, not to mention his obsession with sexual behavior. He was definitely the father of fundamentalism! Martin Luther's rejection of James' writings in favor of Paul's is an example of how Christians have come to idolize the Apostle Paul and his deviations from the Christ's true message of salvation. Right there, that's where we lost our way! Pauline Christianity, if indeed it can be called Christianity, is the source of much confusion and oppression in the world, specifically against women and Gay people!

I do agree that God shows grace to humanity; He has the ability to forgive horrendous atrocities that no human being could ever forgive. I also agree that humanity needs law to guide it away from destructive and antisocial habits. Without proper direction, we can be like undisciplined children, making havoc without knowing any better. However, saying that all human beings need guidance isn't the same as saying that all human beings are inherently depraved! I don't agree with that. Only certain human beings are depraved, like Pat Robertson, Robert Mugabe, George W. Bush, and the new pope, what's his name? That Ratzinger creature!

John said...

Thanks, I appreciate the comment.

Just clarify, though, when I say that I believe we are not saved by the grace of God, I was not very precise.

I mean to say I think we are not saved just because we have faith, and therefore God doesn't care what we do, and how we treat others.

John Hosty said...

Stuffed animal, thanks for your well thought out post. I hope you can find the time to return and give us your thoughts more often. I never did get much out of Paul's writings either, John has always been my favorite, but he is all about love so for me it was a no-brainer. I struggle with having the strength to be loving enough to reach the darkest heart and I fail. I struggle with fighting off my own anger when attacked, and fail. I struggle with simply being a good, fair, just man who is not given to arrogance... still I fail. But something on the inside of me says, "keep trying, you're on the right track!" John is one of the best examples of that inner peace shining out I wish for myself, and I feel very fortunate to have him helping us.

I ever hope to grow our circle of friends to expand out and reach others of like mind. Together our voice is stronger, like the pieces of thread put together that now form a rope.

Stuffed Animal said...


I just saw the response you wrote to "Anonymous" on Jerry Maneker's website. Wise is the man who, in just a minimum of words, is able to summarize the wisdom of the Savior. If it's ever been done, you did it. May God bless you with even more wisdom.

John said...


That means a lot to me. Thank you.