Lack of spiritual freedom, God's aid to us in the Law, God's foreknowledge as grace, the freedom of good works verses compulsion to good work, and a reminder that strength does not justify. Lots of topics. Isn't this fun!?
Jeremiah 18:1-11 (Semicontinuous)
Verse 6 is cited through editorial insert in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.24), along with several other passages, to remind us that our spiritual freedom does not exist outside of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not have it in us to convert ourselves, to reshape ourselves.
Verse 2 comes up twice. First, it is quoted by Luther in the preface to The Large Catechism (LC Preface.10) as encouragement "to occupy one's self with God's Word" as the most helpful way to wrestle "against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts."
Verse 2 is also quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 6: Concerning the Third Use of the Law (SD 6.4) as a workaround in the issue of whether or not there is a third use of the Law. It's actually quite elegant: "To explain and settle this dispute definitively we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that, although Christians who believe faithfully have been truly converted to God, and have been justified are indeed freed and liberated from the curse of the law, they should daily practice the law of the Lord..."
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (Semicontinuous)
Verses 14-16 are quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 1: Original Sin (SD 1.36) as one of several passages used to show that God is still the creator of humans--"body and soul" (SD 1.38)--even though we are corrupted, but not the creator of the corruption.
Verse 16 on its own is quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration 11: Election (SD 11.4) as one of several passages that begin to make the distinction between God's foreknowledge and God's predestination of the chosen to salvation. The point here is really God's providence even with the foreknowledge. "...before it happens, God sees and knows what the perverted, evil will of the devil and of human beings intends to and actually will undertake and do. Even in these evil activities and works God's praescientia (thetis, his foreknowledge) preserves order, in such a way that God sets the limits and boundaries for the evil which God does not will... Besides that, God the Lord rules all things so that they must promos the honor of his divine name and the welfare of his elect to the shame of the godless" (SD 11.6).
Some part of Philemon is cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 4: Good Works (SD 4.17). I have to write "some part" because something has been lost in translation. The index citation is verse 14, but the text talks about finding the phrase "from necessity." The citation is not an editorial insert, so that's not the issue. The section of the SD is looking at ways Paul uses the word "necessity" and cognates. Our challenge is that the NRSV doesn't use the translation "from necessity." The KJV does use the phrase "from necessity" in Philemon 14, so it comes down to translation. Here, thankfully, the NRSV translation skews Lutheran. As SD 4.17 notes that in this passage "'from necessity' means what is wrung from people against their will, through coercion or in some other way, that they act outwardly, as a pretense, but indeed without and against their own will." This is set over and against the call of the Holy Spirit active in Christian faith that brings good works about "freely or from a free and willing spirit" in Christians (SD 4.18).
Verse 31 is quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.168, octavo ed.) within a quote from a sermon of Bernard of Clairvaux in a call to be honest with ourselves about our inability to justify ourselves, especially in the face of greater force, but that justification comes only through God's kindness.
There is a balance between calling people into faithful discipleship and coercion. For Christians, whether you're a preacher or not, choosing coercion is a failure of our own faithfulness. Forcing others to do good works is not pleasing to God, even when the goal of the coercion seems like it would be. The ends do not justify the means. Only God justifies.
- If you include a call to action in your sermon, is it through invitation or guilt?
- When we lift up good works done by individuals, congregations, or denominations, are we forgetting to count our troops to see if we are already outnumbered?
- How can we hear God's indiscriminate providence as good news?