It's been interesting for me to go back and reread one of the first distinctly Lutheran pieces of writing that I had ever put my hands on (even before getting my own copy of the Book of Concord, Small/Large Catechism, and Lutheran Study Bible) back when I fully embraced becoming a Confessional Lutheran.
I had forgotten just how life-altering and radical it was for me at the time to go from a sort of "American-Evangelical-Though-Self-Identifying-As-A-Non-Denominational-Spiritual-Island-Unto-Himself-Because-All-Denominations-Are-Bad" type of Christian to a Confessional Lutheran who was just starting to adhere to "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), which is always Christ-centered and cross-focused, because it constantly proclaims Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind and nothing else.
For that reason, I've fallen in love with this book all over again and I hope that these meager Chapter Reviews will help to explain all the reasons why while also enticing you to pick up a copy for yourself as soon as possible.
Before we get to our next Chapter Review, however, let's quickly review Pastor Fisk's main purpose in writing this book.
"In this book, I will dissect this tactic of the thief. We will look at how the devil uses such good gifts from God as your heart, your mind, and your hands to try to trick you into placing your trust not in God but in yourself. We will explore the seven counterfeit 'Christian' rules he tries to play off as if they were authentic Christianity. We will expose these rules as patterns of thinking that try to break your faith in Christianity by creating doubt. We will call these philosophical systems what they are: lies. And then we will challenge those lies with the truth given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. The crow comes cawing, promising you freedom, but telling you that YOU must earn it. He promises you supernatural wisdom, but tells you that YOU must figure it out. He promises you comfort, but insists that YOU find it inside yourself. He tells you that you're just on the other side of glory, if only YOU can create it. He offers you the world, but he leaves you hanging on a cross all by yourself, fed up with it all and wondering in anger and frustration where Jesus is. He was supposed to make it all better. He does this the only way he can: he steals Jesus' words, and he uses YOU to do it. I am not going to let that happen." pp. 21-22
Like I said once before, that's quite refreshing in this day-and-age. It was incredibly refreshing when I first read it and it's incredibly refreshing to read it again now almost 4 years later.
Ok, but what about Chapter 7? What is the next lie that Satan uses against us so often?
"Never follow a rule that doesn't like rules."
So Chapter 7 introduces us to the seventh and final rule that every Christian ought to break as often as possible -- The Ever-Lie, or the belief that you find God yourself. The counterfeit "Christian" rule behind all other counterfeit "Christian" rules, then, is nothing more than worship of yourself.
This "Never #7" is that you "Never Follow A Rule In Order To Justify Yourself. Seriously."
Seems simple enough, doesn't it? And yet, what do we do?
Each of us has a desire to change the world, to make it be the way we think it should be. We each want to find deep inside ourselves the will and power to refuse to let life be any other way. ... To this day, despite all the horrors it has brought on us, despite the sickness and the death, the pain and suffering, the enmity and deception, we humans continue to idolize self-reliance as if it were somehow our one chance to find the source of every blessing.
-- p. 231-232
To sum things up, Pastor Fisk later adds, "Its name and and its idol are the same: it is you; and your deception of you with false promises about you needs no other encouragement nor any other object of hope beyond the vacuous and willfully ignorant promise that somehow, someway, 'You can find God.'" (p. 195).
Personally, I found my re-reading of this particular chapter to be just what the Great Physician prescribed only a few days before Ash Wednesday. I found it to be quite convicting of the Old Adam withing and the Me, Myself, And I mentality that's always raging to exert full control over my heart and mind.
The rest of this chapter is pure spiritual gold, in my humble opinion! I mean, for a "Newtheran" like me when I read it for the first time (and, truthfully, even now when I read it again several years later), it is jam-packed with Biblical truths I had never encountered before.
From pointing out how Satan's scheme is the same as it was in the Garden of Eden ("Did God really say..."), to a brief discussion of the Doctrine of Vocation, to a reminder that we are simultaneously saints and sinners, these were entirely new concepts to my American Evangelical mind, but they were also a breath of fresh air too!
I learned that "The Ever-Lie" that "You Find God" is so pervasive in contemporary Christianity that "if we cannot confess that even all the best of our everything -- works, emotions, purposes, plans -- are all filthy rags, then it remains impossible for us to also believe God's own work and plan to save us from it" (page 241).
Why exactly? Well, "so long as you insist on justifying your own existence, it remains impossible for you to receive God's justification of you by grace alone" (page 241).
As usual, there is so much more I could say about this chapter, but that would ruin the fun of your discovering the truth for yourself and having an experience like I had. Just get the book! I've only been writing that repeatedly here so what are you waiting for?
In closing, here are some sobering thoughts from the book's final chapter that should serve as an appropriate exclamation point to this entire series...
The true value of a Christian is not what you do, but who you are in Jesus.
The problem is the goodness we do is still sinful, and the goodness we need to receive can never come from us. It never has, and it never will, because it is the original goodness that comes from God alone.
In the same way, the Christian life is not about trying to get close to God. The more you work to make yourself good for that purpose (which is ultimately for your own selfish sake and so not good at all!), the more you drive a wedge between yourself and the Creator, who never intended for you to be a source of goodness in the first place.
The Christian life is the fact that you can't find God, but in words from and about Jesus, God has come close to you. Now, religion is not about doing but about being done to. Now you are freed to never need to find God, to never need to please God, to never need to explain yourself to God. In Jesus, God found you.
In Jesus, God is already pleased with you. In Jesus' words, God explains yourself to you -- both your old self and your new, both killed and raised. In Jesus, God finds you, washes you, and feeds you with Himself. purging your sin but redeeming you.
The object of Christian faith is not faith. That is to say, salvation by grace through faith is not salvation through faith in faith. The object of Christian faith is Jesus -- the person, work, and words of Jesus.
Stop worrying about it so much and just enjoy it. When Christ sets you free, you are free indeed. No need to go trying to measure it in yourself. It is preached to you. 'It is finished!' Believe it!
Sin will not go away. The Christian life is not the experience of victory. The broken rules we've studied in this book will not cease to tempt you, to deceive you, to hack and slash at your faith in this good news. But none of that can stop Jesus. He is the Christ, and you are His Christian, which means it is His work to regenerate you, to feed your faith, and to restore your sight so you see things for what they really are. This is faith, not to change the world, but to call a thing what it is and to believe that what it is has been made perfect in Jesus.
Christianity isn't about what you can achieve right now. Christianity is about back then, the cross and the tomb. And it's about tomorrow (or whichever day it is that is coming very soon), when the reigning Lord will seal up the book of this age and open the Book of Life for the world to come.
Believe it. Jesus is the rule every Christian must believe, not a law but a promise. All of the reasons you cannot find God in heart or hands or world or religion are because Jesus is the promise that God finds you. He's done it before, He's doing it right now, and He's going to keep it up forever.
-- pp. 243-256
I hope you enjoyed this book review series that began way back in December 2015.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, please get your hands on this exceptional Christian book that you need to add to your own personal library right away if you haven't already.
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, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 4 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 the Bible, our Confessions, and Lutheran doctrine in general (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 not only correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1), but repent of my sin and learn the truth myself. Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) 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 I 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 footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I will 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 under-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 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!