Perfect in Weakness

By Jonathan Holmes –

*Jonathan is a pastor of the LC-MS returning from disability and a friend of The Jagged Word.

Anxiety is really starting to piss me off. My anxiety always makes me mad, but I’ve begun to train myself with the question, “What does it matter?” Since the answer is usually, “It doesn’t matter at all, so jog on…” But it’s other people’s anxiety that has begun to piss me off too. Now, I don’t yell at those dealing with it, like “GET OVER IT ALREADY!” No, that is neither Christ like, and usually the anxious person’s anxiety is usually increased, and it does nobody any good. It’s counter-productive. 

I think it’s because I’m tired of perfectionists; because I’m tired of my own perfectionism. Things are never going to be perfect until you meet sweet Jesus – and I’m not talking about the guy down at the fruit stand – Himself. When you die and are whisked to heaven joining your Lord in glory, that’s the moment you are. You see, God never asks for our obedience in the sense of having to fulfill God’s Law the best we can. It’s impossible for us sinners to do so. Yes, there is a new Adam who lives in the new, free obedience, but that is Christ in me who does so. I have nothing to do with that. The only thing God asks for is our faithfulness, as a bride is to her groom (Ephesians 5, anybody?).

I guess what I’m getting at is this: I am tired of people enslaving themselves to the Law, not just of God but even man. Those people prefer their rules and their regulations over anything else. They end up living so enslaved to the Law, they forget that there is this thing called “freedom.” Now, I’m not talking about “freedom” in the US of A “land of the free, and home of the brave” kind of freedom. I mean, come on; look at all the Laws we have to follow here in the US. The Constitution isn’t that short of a document, and has anyone ever seen a driver’s manual before? The one here in California is pretty thick. So much for the land of the free.

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I’m talking about the freedom of the Gospel. The freedom Christ gives us through His death and resurrection. It was, after all, Jesus who came and removed the shackles the Law had us in before. The Law that showed us our sin and made us cower away into a dark abyss. Now, that is no longer the case. For we are no longer slaves of sin and the Law, but slaves of Christ, which in actuality is freedom. Our Master is the master of grace, forgiveness, life, and salvation. Our master wants us to be free and live with a clear conscience. Our Master doesn’t want us cooped up in our house and never leave it. HE WANTS US TO LIVE A LIFE, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!

Yes, we’ll screw up all the time, but that is why the Christian life is one of not just repentance, but forgiveness as well. The free forgiveness of our sins frees our conscience from itself. God tells us that our sins are not just erased – you can typically still see some pencil lead after erasing – but that they are Christ’s sin. They are no longer ours! He who knew no sin, He who had lived a perfect life, He who was the purest man throughout all human history, became your sin. He was the very embodiment of sin. No, it doesn’t make sense, but thanks be to God it doesn’t. Now that’s true love, Fatherly love that only God can provide. His removal of our sin is our righteousness and enables us to live a new life.

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So, anyone who is reading this, when you forget to water the lawn or your plants and trees in the back yard; when you go off schedule when something even more important comes up, or even something not as important comes up; when you make that little mistake, whatever it may be, don’t go too hard on yourself. Most of the time those sins are only bound by the law of man, not by the Law of God. I speak from experience here, especially when I was going through depression. You have no idea how relieving it has been to finally be set free by the Gospel, to let forgiveness from God and the forgiveness from a fellow brother or sister in Christ become a key to living your life. Live a life. In fact, Luther in a letter to one of his students who struggled with melancholy – the ye old word for depression – told him that when the devil tells you stop drinking to drink more, even to get drunk. (This letter can be found in Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel. If you’ve never read this book, I can’t recommend it enough, especially his letters on anxiety.)

Is this easy to do? No. I won’t lie. We all get set in our ways, and those ways are hard to get out of. But forgiveness changes lives. That, my friends, is worth more than all the platinum, gold, and silver in existence throughout the cosmos. You were purchased and set free by the giving of a broken body, and the shedding of precious blood. Your eternity starts now, so live like it. Sin Boldly so you can Live Boldly.

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6 thoughts on “Perfect in Weakness

  1. It is an ongoing Lutheran preoccupation with the tension between Law and Grace. Some almost hold the Law in disdain, being confined by the idea of following some seemingly confining rules….even if God Himself commands us to be under self control and…..actually be more obedient! There is a balance believers need to remember. Being under grace can be used as an excuse to go to the other extreme, which some Lutherans seem to do when they disparage the mere idea of striving to be obedient to the word of God. True, we do a poor job at most times. True, we do not want to be legalists or Calvinists or hyper about our faith. True, Christ freed us from much of the burdensome tension of the law, but He never said to walk away from it. The Christian life in its practical application calls for the wisdom to understand Law and Grace correctly, and if we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we find truth, and balance.

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    1. I think you’re right, John, that we are certainly called to strive after holiness, but when we talk about Law & Gospel, it seems to me the issue is when to apply one rather than the other. It’s both an art and a science.

      When depression and despair rear their ugly heads because of the Law, we must have Gospel, not more Law. As veterans, I think we can understand this well. Guilt and anger because of our experiences overseas might easily lead us to hate ourselves. Feeling disillusioned and abandoned by our politicians and the people we fought to protect can make us feel like our sacrifices were for nothing. With that guilt, with that anger, with that sense of not belonging or being accepted, we need Gospel, not more Law.

      Same can be true in many Christian settings. When we see our sin and feel desperation, more Law will only drive us to despair. We need Gospel in those moments. I struggle with particular besetting sins. In my former church, I was always taught to doubt my salvation when I sinned because I might not have “true” faith, but might only be deceived. I needed assurance and good news. Ironically, now that I walk in the assurance of the hope of the gospel, I am actually able to say no to sin more easily. Now that I’m not constantly measuring myself against the Law and condemning myself, its easier to obey because I’m living and walking in joy and peace.

      After the military, while in college, I felt the crushing burden of the Law of Liberalism. Take shorter showers to save water. Eat organic, locally grown to save the environment. Use public transportation to avoid producing more pollutants. Don’t eat too much meat, cows produce methane gas. Feel really bad because you’re a priveledged white male. Even that can become a crushing and burdensome Law, because we can’t save the planet. The planet is cursed because of our sin. We can’t end all racism and sexism, because those things are the natural bent of the Old Adam.

      There are times when we just need the freeing power of the Gospel. Especially those of us who are more naturally inclined toward depression and despair. The Gospel is the best medicine available.

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      1. I suppose I have been blessed in the matter of outlook, because I have not reacted to life’s many trials by falling into despair or depression. Perhaps on a temporary basis, in the midst of a crisis, but not for long. Why? I cannot say. I have always felt God was watching, understood what was happening, and would never ever abandon me. Assurance of His omnipresence can put depression to rest, but I do understand that the sufferings of others is real, often overwhelming, and psychologically debilitating. Everyone is different. Two servicemen go into combat together, both experience similar horrific events, and one comes out with PTSD and lifelong depression. The other veteran does not suffer PTSD, resumes a normal civilian life, avoids contemplating and mentally dwelling on past trauma, builds a firewall within his mind to cope with and bury the past. I am the second GI, the one without PTSD. My own dear father, a veteran of World War II, suffered with PTSD for many years, even being hospitalized several times during my youth. In his forties and until he died at 94, his PTSD was no longer an issue. He was Catholic and I believe his faith was strong throughout his life, but even his faith did not make PTSD easier to confront in his returning years. I know many veterans have dealt with this issue, and some had serious problems with alcohol and drug addictions. I hope the VA never underfunds the treatment programs needed to help them. I think it might be an area for churches and ministries to also work harder.

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      2. Ken,

        Having grown up Lutheran, I have not directly experienced the same kind of doubt you have under crushing law. I do have contact with it in others. My own experience being at odds with God was different. I pray that you hold on to grace and continue to avoid the Accuser.

        But I disagree with some of your statements. whether or not we can end sexism or racism, we are not to be sexist or racist and we dare not deny that these things are real and ingrained in our systems and are at odds with God because they do further sin. Whether or not we can save the planet, our neighbors are served when we exercise proper stewardship. We must always be mindful that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” Our fallen state and the curse of Original Sin does not absolve us from the responsibility and walking according to the third use of the Law is living free of the curse, not pessimistically doomed to it or dooming others. We should not think that we can hasten the end of suffering by letting it run rampant.

        We cannot say how soon this will all be over and we ought to live as though the consequences of our actions with respect to others have great meaning and will for along time to come. Otherwise, it may prove true that “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” God promised to bless all generations through Abraham and God continues to bless all generations through us as we walk in the good works prepared for us. Let our evil be buried and let God’s good live on in each of us, each day, until the end.

        Like it or not, fresh, clean water is an issue that is affected not only by our use but by our stupidity in creating runoff systems (as was done, idiotically in Southern California), by the garbage sprayed on fields and laws and collected in cesspits of CAFO’s. Organic methods are not only cleaner but reduce the foolishness of using genes and seeds patented and regulated by the likes of Monsanto. Talk about messing with creation! Our transportation system is burdensome, not only in terms of pollution, but in the long-term, ignored costs of maintenance. Roads and bridges crumble and need labor and funds to keep them in repair but the same political talk that speaks against the same things you do typically doesn’t want to pony up the taxes needed to make the repairs. Fine, then learning to live without the burdensome costs, to find alternatives, is essential. None of this is guilt-inducing. Even if someone tries to attach a worldly morality to it, they cannot. But we can see that there is real morality in it and that we can honor our Creator and serve our neighbors and we can work alongside others and speak our convictions and motivations and the Gospel in our actions and interactions. We can tie ecology to the Gospel. No one can tie indifference, pollution, deliberate or unconscious waste to Christ (unless the liberals can point to the angry, snarling Christian.)

        Essentially, not being able to be perfect is not a reason to avoid being better and having grace is no excuse to simply accept the way we are – “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” How is being a good steward, thinking about the welfare of others and making intelligent decisions to do better a burden? Guilt is a signal. When we feel it, we should examine ourselves to see if there is, in fact, something we are doing wrong. Is what we are doing the right thing to do? Is what we are avoiding the right thing to avoid? Could I better serve my neighbor? People are harmed by pollution – no other argument needs to be impressed upon a Christian. Can we eliminate it? No. Can we reduce and mitigate it? Yes. Can we increase it and just bull ahead? Certainly. Of the two things we can do, which is good for others? which most respects God’s property? For the free Christian, good works are done for the glory of God and benefit of our neighbors. We do good for the joy it brings because nothing eternal is tied to our efforts. More than that, God is working through us and what good comes of it is His good. When we fail, because we are no longer slaves to sin, sin no longer owns us, we can truly repent, boldly confess, receive forgiveness, and set out, again. How could there be no joy in sacrificing, working to live lighter, and use less on behalf of our neighbor and better care for God’s property so that it may bless others? How can such good possibly feel like a legalistic burden to a Christian?

        If God can work our salvation through us murdering Jesus, we can surely be God’s hands in perverting the “Law of Liberalism” to the Law of God, with a knowing smile.

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