Archives For Martin Luther

idolatryIn 2007, Tim Keller penned an excellent (lesser known) article entitled “Talking about Idolatry in a Postmodern Age“. There has been a considerable amount of material published about idolatry, including articles, books, and sermons from various evangelical leaders. Perhaps none have been more helpful in helping to shed light on functional idolatry than Tim Keller.

In this little article, Keller draws from Martin Luther’s Treatise on Good Works to make an insightful relationship of the law to the gospel. Keller via Luther makes the case that by breaking any of commandments two through nine necessarily includes breaking the first commandment. In other words, the command “have no other gods before me” is violated when idolatry is functionally manifested in violating any of the other commands. Here’s the pertinent excerpt from Keller’s article where he explains this insight:

Luther - Real Idolatry

No one grasped this better than Martin Luther, who ties the Old Testament and New Testament together remarkably in his exposition of the Ten Commandments. Luther saw how the Old Testament law against idols and the New Testament emphasis on justification by faith alone are essentially the same. He said that the Ten Commandments begin with two commandments against idolatry. It is because the fundamental problem in law-breaking is always idolatry. In other words, we never break the other commandments without first breaking the law against idolatry. Luther understood that the first commandment is really all about justification by faith, and to fail to believe in justification by faith is idolatry, which is the root of all that displeases God.

All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in His favor, grace and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry, even if they were to do the works of all the other Commandments, and in addition had all the prayers, obedience, patience, and chastity of all the saints combined. For the chief work is not present, without which all the others are nothing but mere sham, show and pretense, with nothing back of them… If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false [savior]…. (Part X. XI) Excerpts from Martin Luther, Treatise Concerning Good Works (1520).

Here Luther says that failure to believe that God accepts us fully in Christ—and to look to something else for our salvation—is a failure to keep the first commandment; namely, having no other gods before him. To try to earn your own salvation through works-righteousness is breaking the first commandment. Then he says that we cannot truly keep any of the other laws unless we keep the first law—against idolatry and works-righteousness. Thus beneath any particular sin is this sin of rejecting Christ-salvation and indulging in self-salvation.

For example, letʼs say a person cheats on his income tax form. Why does he do that? Well, you say, because he is a sinner. Yes, but why does his sin take this form? Lutherʼs answer would be that the man only cheated because he was making money and possessions—and the status or comfort from having more of them—more important than God and his favor. Or letʼs say a person lies to a friend rather than lose face over something she has done. In that case the underlying sin is making human approval or your reputation more important than the righteousness you have in Christ.

The Bible, then, does not consider idolatry to be one sin among many (and a rare sin found only among primitive people). Rather, all our failures to trust God wholly or to live rightly are at root idolatry—something we make more important than God. There is always a reason for a sin. Under our sins are idolatrous desires. (emphasis mine)

When I contemplated the relationship of justification by faith with functional idolatry, it helped me explore the ways I seek to find self-justification through violation of the law of God. As Keller noted, there is a reason why we lie. It is because we find greater comfort in believing falsehood rather than being exposed by the truth. When we are justified by faith in Christ alone, we are freed to be a people who love truth and are willing to live exposed to the truth of God’s Word (Heb. 4:12-13).

There is a reason why we steal. It is because we do not trust in God’s provision for our lives and value the stuff of others (going from I like to I want to I must have at all cost) to the point of making them our own.  When we are justified by faith in Christ alone, we are freed to be a people who no longer steal but work with our own hands to provide for others in need (Eph. 4:28). Where self-salvation led to depriving others of their belongings because of functional idolatry, the salvation Jesus brings leads to generosity for others because you value Jesus more than anything else in this world.

This kind of elaboration can extend throughout God’s law. I think Luther and Keller are right. When we break God’s law, functional idolatry has taken place. No only have we outwardly violated God’s revealed will, but inwardly (the sin beneath the sin) we manifest a life under our rule (instead of God’s) and justification for living for self-salvation and satisfaction. When we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, we turn from idolatry in repentance and faith in ways that the gospel fuels obedience in every way idolatry fueled our disobedience.

Taking the counsel of Luther, we can discover specific ways to apply the gospel to our lives and grow in repentance and faith. When we cry, “I believe; Lord, help my unbelief!” God’s law shows us the various ways we are prone to functional idolatry and where can turn with fresh repentance and faith to all that God has given us in Christ.

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Atmospheric Repentance

Tim Brister —  August 17, 2011 — 2 Comments

That’s a new term I learned from Dr. David Powlison after watching the video below.  Atmospheric repentance is based on the initial cry of the Reformation as articulated by Martin Luther in the first of his 95 Thesis:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

The point is that the expectation of every follower of Christ is to experience Godward change and transformation that begins with the heart.  The means by which we become more and more like Christ is through repentance and faith as the gospel mode of operation.  Christians are commonly called “believers” because of faith in Jesus Christ.  Christians should also commonly be called “repenters” because we are daily turning from sin and self-reign to glad submission to the reign and rule of Christ as King.  Our response to Christ is simultaneously a repenting faith or believing repentance, and when that characterizes the predisposition of a follower of Christ, it is atmospheric.

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Continual Repentance

Tim Brister —  October 4, 2009 — 3 Comments

This week (and maybe longer), I am going to give particular attention to the subject of repentance in the Christian life.  By that I do not mean repentance at the point of conversion but the ongoing work of repentance at every point from conversion until complete conformity to Christ.  Martin Luther, signaling the start of the Reformation through his 95 Theses, began on this note:

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

I believe this is one of the most underrated truths in contemporary evangelicalism, and I want to draw our attention to the fact that our entire lives should be one of repentance.  Here is a prayer from the Valley of Vision called “Continual Repentance” that I am praying for myself and those who seek to join me in the upcoming days.

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And now on a lighter note . . . the Reformation Polka

Oh, and if you are really down for some more Reformation music, check out these songs (one and two).

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martin-luther-wittenburg-door.jpgI think it is safe to say when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on Wittenberg’s Door that he would have imagined the impact it would have 490 years later. It is rather fitting to find myself writing on a medium that has democratized the voice of Christians in the 21st century in a very similar fashion that Luther utilized the Gutenberg Press to promulgate his translation of the Scriptures to the masses. I am quite confident that, were Luther alive today, he would have taken full advantage of such mediums of communication as blogs to proclaim the gospel of justification by faith and herald the battlecry of ad fontes!

In the same year I was brought into this world, another birth came about, namely the birth of the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention. I am forever grateful for the ways in which God providentially brought about the recovery of something which Luther held so dear–the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. With every passing year of my life, the mile marker will remind me that I am a beneficiary of a generation of Southern Baptists who believed that the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Scripture was something worth fighting for and dying for. I pray God never allows me to take for granted the blessings and benefits I have received as a result of such a resurgence, not the least of which include me being saved, licensed to gospel ministry, ordained, and now being theologically trained.

Nevertheless, with nearly three decades of the Conservative Resurgence under our belts, the Southern Baptist Convention and the churches of which it is comprised, is no better off now than when we did not believe in the principle of sola Scriptura. During this span of time, we have not seen an increase in people being saved and baptized, even in the midst of a heightened emphasis on church growth and rise of megachurches. We have effectively replaced one bureaucracy with another and have failed to realize the implications of what the recovery of the formal principle in our churches. Setting all political and personal agendas aside, it would be only fair to conclude that the Southern Baptist Convention is currently a denomination that is halfly reformed.

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