It was delivered by Rev. Robert E. Waters on Ash Wednesday in 2008.
The whole thing is pretty powerful, but here's the part that really stuck with me in light of all the recent "Pronomian" and "Antinomian" debates lately...
"No, the Old Self cannot be reformed. It can only die. And no amount of resolution or willpower will deliver us from this body of death. Only Jesus can do that. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse us from what we are and transform us into what God created us to be and calls us to be in our baptism. And only daily recourse to our baptism can save us from the death we so richly deserve.
But there we find given us as a gift what we cannot generate by our own effort. There, the Old Self put to death in repentance, the New Self daily comes forth. Only watered by our baptism do we grow. Only fertilized by the blood of Christ does the faith which comes as a gift through the power of the Gospel come to flower. Only by waging war against the Old Self, instead of trying to reform him, and letting God make us into what we can never become by our own effort can we become what God calls us to be.us. It can only expose us as pious and sanctimonious children of wrath.
Only the Gospel can transform us. Only gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ can transform not merely our behavior, but our hearts. And only the work of the Holy Spirit, operating through faithful use of the Word and the Sacraments, can cause us to “go after” the things of God- the things that make for life and peace- from a transformed heart, instead of from a hypocritical, self-serving pretence.
'As soon as you do not desire to be better,' St. Bernard of Clarvaux once wrote, 'you cease to be good.' The Christian life is like being on a treadmill: the moment we cease to run, we begin to go backward.
Sanctification is God’s doing, and not ours. Yet sanctification is worked by God only in the heart which aspires to holiness, and strives for it despite its knowledge of its own inability to ever achieve it by its own effort.
Only he is a Christian who -- counting solely upon the merits of Christ, and knowing full well that while he can never attain the goal holiness by his own efforts, no failure or weakness of his own can deprive him of his goal as long as he has Christ -- nevertheless pursues it. Only the one whose heart has been changed by gratitude has a heart that will ever be changed at all.
But no heart that has been changed by gratitude can keep from pursuing that goal.
In ourselves, we can only choose to go after the things of the flesh -- the things that please the old, fallen self. We can perhaps, as the old rector in The Hammer of God puts it, 'pick sins off our lives the way we pick lint off a coat.' But God demands more. He demands a changed heart -- and we cannot change our own hearts.
Only God can do that. Only the Gospel can do that. Only God’s free gift of salvation through faith, and through faith alone, can do that. Only gratitude can do that.
And only gratitude can move us to go after the things which those children of God -- if they are children of God -- cannot help but desire.
And so, we gather here tonight to mourn precisely our lack of obedience, our lack of merit- or lack of gratitude. But at the same time, we gather to reflect that Jesus died for just such ungrateful wretches as we. We look to Him for healing. We look to Him for strength. We look to Him for pardon, and for peace. And in looking to Him, we receive what we cannot generate on our own: new and honest hearts, transformed not by our own effort, but by God’s grace.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen."
I believe that's a proper distinction between Law and Gospel as it applies to this perpetually difficult topic, but that's just me. I would love to read your comments and thoughts on this.
In a Lutheran Layman's terms, I'm a "Christian Under Construction" and the Lord is the Master Builder of anything "good" that comes from this sinful mess I call Me, Myself, And I.
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism almost 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha!). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm experiencing and/or studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!