Easter 6 A

I'm fairly sure that our culture doesn't think too much about the quality of humanity. Are we by nature good or evil? It seems to me that people make a decision about this without much reflection and then don't think about it again. Well, it's probably worth thinking about it some more. 

Acts 17:22-31

...nor is [God] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live...     --Acts 17:25-26

Verses 25 and 26 are cited near the end of a string of citations in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 1: Original Sin (SD 1.34) as scriptural assurance on the difference between human nature, original sin, and sin. "To describe the matter accurately: the distinction must be maintained between our nature, as it was created and preserved by God and in which sin resides, and original sin, which resides in our nature" (SD 1.33). This is a helpful reminder that Lutherans do not officially believe in the total depravity of the human being, but recognize that by nature we are pure and holy. Sin is but an interloper in our being.

For "In him we live and move and have our being"; as even some of your own poets have said, "For we too are his offspring."     --Acts 17:28

Verse 28 is quoted a little later in the same article (SD 1.42) as the Lutheran reformers, after Luther's death, think about where sin comes from. Their though is direct: "it is God's creation that the human being has a body and soul and can think, speak, act, and accomplish anything." So sin does not come from God. Instead, sin is "in its origin a handiwork of Satan." This does not free humanity from culpability for sin, but identifies the source and root of sin that God had to deal with in order to accomplish our salvation.

While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent...     --Acts 17:30

The last half of verse 30 is quoted in Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Section 3: Concerning Repentance (SA 3.3.34) as the final quote from scripture deconstructing the legalistic understanding of contrition and penance, particularly the idea that any human--save Jesus--is capable of living so holy a life that they never need to repent. For while God creates us good and holy, because of sin "we are all lost, neither hide nor hair of us is good, and we must become absolutely new and different people" (SA 3.3.35). There's a strong both/and proposition for you!

1 Peter 3:13-22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit...     -- 1 Peter 3:18

The last part of verse 18 is quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 8: Person of Christ (SD 8.37) as an example of clearly stating in which nature Jesus' acts were done. Jesus "was put to death in the flesh," not in his divine nature. This seems a small point, but as is raised up in this article, if Jesus did not die as a human, then his death means nothing for us.

TheoThru

Lutherans walk a fine line on the question of the quality of humanity. It might even be called aspirational theology. Juxtaposed with the promise of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, this set of readings points to the simil iustus et peccator--the reality discovered by faith that each of us is simultaneously saint and sinner every moment of every day. We are by nature good and holy, and we also are constantly in need of being entirely reborn in the faith of Jesus. This is the humility and hope of the Lutheran approach to Christianity: no one is so good that they are beyond God's forgiveness because sin still resides in them, and no one is so bad that they are beyond God's forgiveness because they are God's own creation.

  • Who gets to determine whether or not "you're worth it"?
  • Why does it matter who gets to make this declaration?
  • For whom does the Advocate advocate?