A Jagged Contention: The Willing Christian

“But, on the other hand, it is correctly said that in conversion God, through the drawing of the Holy Ghost, makes out of stubborn and unwilling men willing ones, and that after such conversion in the daily exercise of repentance the regenerate will of man is not idle, but also cooperates in all the works of the Holy Ghost, which He performs through us.

“Also what Dr. Luther has written, namely, that man’s will in his conversion is pure passive, that is, that it does nothing whatever, is to be understood respectu divinae gratiae in accendendis novis motibus, that is, when God’s Spirit, through the Word heard or the use of the holy Sacraments, lays hold upon man’s will, and works [in man] the new birth and conversion. For when [after] the Holy Ghost has wrought and accomplished this, and man’s will has been changed and renewed by His divine power and working alone, then the new will of man is an instrument and organ of God the Holy Ghost, so that he not only accepts grace, but also cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the works which follow.

“Therefore, before the conversion of man there are only two efficient causes, namely, the Holy Ghost and the Word of God, as the instrument of the Holy Ghost, by which He works conversion. This Word man is [indeed] to hear; however, it is not by his own powers, but only through the grace and working of the Holy Ghost that he can yield faith to it and accept it.”

The Epitome of the Formula of Concord: Article II: On Free Will


Question:

According to the Formula of Concord, the gracious work of the Holy Spirit through the Word frees the will of the bound sinner. The preaching of Christ turns “stubborn and unwilling men willing ones.” What does the life of the Christian look like after he or she has been made a “willing one?” How should preachers preach to such Christians? Does the concept of simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously justified and sinful) have anything to say here?

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5 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: The Willing Christian

  1. “When our heart hears that Christ has fulfilled the law for us and taken our sin upon himself, we are no longer concerned that the law demands the impossible of us and that we must despair and abandon our attempts to keep it. Rather, the fact that the law is so high and deep, so holy and right and good, and demands such great things of us is now precious and…good; we even love and praise the law because it demands so many great things of us. The heart, which through Christ has everything the law demands, would be very grieved if the law demanded less. See, the law previously was hard and difficult, even impossible; now it becomes light and easy for it lives in our hearts through the Spirit.”

    Dr. Luther; WA 17 II, 70.

    “Therefore there is a great difference between baptized and unbaptized men. For since, according to the doctrine of St. Paul, Gal. 3:27, all who have been baptized have put on Christ, and thus are truly regenerate, they have now arbitrium liberatum (a liberated will), that is, as Christ says, they have been made free again, John 8:36; whence they are able not only to hear the Word, but also to assent to it and accept it, although in great weakness.”

    FC, SD II, ❡67

    What does the life of the Christian look like after he has been made a ‘willing one?’
    “There is a spirit of restlessness amid the greatest calm, that is, in God’s grace and peace. A Christian cannot be still or idle. He constantly strives and struggles with all his might, as one who has no other object in life than to disseminate God’s honor and glory among the people.”

    Dr. Luther, LW 24, 88.

    “The Holy Spirit now comes and fills a man’s heart and makes him to be a different kind of man who loves God and enjoys doing what God wills….He kindles fiery flames in the heart and makes it alive so that it breaks out in fiery tongues and with an energetic hand. And a new man is created who now understands, feels, and thinks differently than before. Now his understanding, insight, emotions, and heart are all alive – all these burn with the desire to do everything that pleases God.”

    Dr. Luther, WA 21, 440.

    How should preachers preach to such Christians?
    It seems to me that the Pastor should wrestle with and preach the appointed text, by proper application of law and gospel, for his flock in the time, place, and circumstances in which the Holy Spirit has gathered them. This not only may, but must, involve an ongoing understanding of the life of that congregation and the members of the body. I once heard Pastor David Petersen make a really insightful observation during and Issues, Etc. interview. Congregations want their Pastor to preach to them in a way that we don’t always recognize. A formulaic and predictable sermon, similar I think in some sense to one delivered by a guest pastor, lacks the intimacy and applicability of one guided by the text and local conditions. It may be doctrinally acceptable, but it does not allow for a real weaving together of law and gospel in a way that only the man who ministers to those particular people can give and for the purpose he may recognize as pastorally necessary.

    Does the concept of simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously justified and sinful) have anything to say here?
    “For since we receive in this life only the first-fruits of the Spirit, and the new birth is not complete, but only begun in us, the combat and struggle of the flesh against the spirit remains even in the elect and truly regenerate men; for there is a great difference perceptible among Christians not only in this, that one is weak and another strong in the spirit, but each Christian, moreover, experiences in himself that at one time he is joyful in spirit, and at another fearful and alarmed; at one time ardent in love, strong in faith and hope, and at another cold and weak.”

    FC, SD II, ❡69

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  2. The life of the converted sinner:

    “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

    Because we are freed from bondage to sin, we own our sin, it no longer owns us as slaves, and seek all the best God has to offer in Word and Sacrament – forgiveness, strength, perseverance.

    We can then aim “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

    Because, after conversion “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

    With that purpose we go into the the world and return to repentance with our failures. Always preach that there are no exceptions because we all fall far short of God’s glory, He keeps taking us back, and sending us back out.

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