Why the Cross? Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation
Back in Action, September 7, 2011 — The Problem of the Will
Beginning September 7, 2011, we will resume our regular Wednesday evening meetings at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Nashville, Tennessee. We begin at 6:00 p.m.
If you have been following over the summer months, we have examined the first 12 theses of Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation that have dealt with the law, the works of man, the heart of man both before and after conversion. Luther demonstrates how the Word of God cuts to the very heart of man and exposes the weakness of our flesh, our complete inability to do what is required under the law to be righteous and have that right standing before God, and our security and self-righteousness after our conversion. Where this takes us is the realization that every work of man, even the best works like those of the prodigal’s big brother in Christ’s parable of the Prodigal Son, are the works of dead men. For we are DEAD in our trespasses and sins. This is the DOING.
One more thing is left on the agenda to address as we examine the heart of man, our very own hearts. That is the problem of the Will — man’s innate ability to think and reason, that which distinguishes us from all other creatures in God’s creation. Our reason and senses still have power to seek and choose — we can choose to do good, to seek God and His Will. Certainly we can know of God, seek Him with our minds and find Him. After all, we can study and learn about God from our natural surroundings, Right? Our minds tell us that, if God truly gave us rules that we cannot keep, He must have known that we do not have the physical ability to do what is required of us under the Law. Therefore, all that can be expected of us is that we try our best — do that which is in us. That makes sense! If I try hard enough, and my intentions are good, that is all God really expects of me. Maybe we just need some supernatural help from God, a little bit of Grace to push us along. This is the SEEKING or wanting to DO. So what about free will? Theses 13-18 address it this way:
13. Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin.
14. Free will, after the fall, has power to do good only in a passive capacity, but it can always do evil in an active capacity.
15. Nor could free will endure in a state of innocence, much less do good, in an active capacity, but only in its passive capacity.
16. The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.
17. Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of Christ.
18. It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.
These are the Scripture references that we will focus on in connection with these theses:
Genesis 2; Romans 1
Matthew 18:1-6; John 8:21-36
Matthew 13:1-23 Matthew 23:12
Romans 3:9-18 Mark 10:13-16
These scripture readings focus on man’s condition both before the fall and after the fall. Jesus’ words and teachings take central importance, and prepare us for the next sections which focus on the saving work of Christ and the creative work of the Gospel.
I have a couple of requests to make for this discussion: (1) we keep the discussion focused on the Scripture references listed here; (2) we walk through these together and do not jump ahead. We will not be chasing any rabbits or having abstract, philosophical discussions about the freedom of the will. We can do that another time over coffee. Let’s keep it simple and to the point. The text will teach us and lead us where we need to go.
Readings for June 29, 2011
3. Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
4. Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.
In these two theses, we are comparing the works of God with the works of man. In making the comparison in connection with the readings ask the following series of questions for Thesis 3 and 4 respectively. For thesis 4, ask the additional question of what these Scripture references tell us about God Himself.
How do/How are they….
The works of man vs. The Works of God
Always seem attractive Always seem unattractive
Always seem good Always appear evil
Mortal sin Eternal merit
Mortal Sin is synonymous with condemnation and death, while eternal merit equals life and salvation.
Consider also — What happened to the land God gave to His people? What did God do to His people? What did He propose to do to the nations? Why did God do all of this? How was Israel judged? What did the nations say about the God of Israel?
The readings as they apply to each thesis are as follows:
Thesis 3: Psalm 5, 14, and 53; Isaiah 44:12-20, 1 Samuel 13:15 Ezekiel 36.
Thesis 4: Genesis 22; Exodus 7:13-14, 8:15, 10:1,20, 11:10, 14:8, 32:15-33, 34:5-7, Numbers 16:31-40, Mark 10:45, 1 Sam. 2:1-8, Isaiah 53:2, Ezekiel 36.
If you have been keeping up with the reading, let the Word wash over you in regard to works — our works (TO ME attractive, good, but Death), and the work of God (TO ME unattractive, evil, but LIFE).
Readings for July 27, 2011
We are now looking at Theses 5-12. They read as follows:
5. The works of men are thus not mortal sins (we speak of works which are apparently good), as though they were crimes.
6. The works of God (we speak of those which he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.
7. The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.
8. By so much more are the works of man mortal sins when they are done without fear and in unadulterated, evil self-security.
9. To say that works without Christ are dead, but not mortal, appears to constitute a perilous surrender of the fear of God.
10. Indeed, it is very difficult to see how a work can be dead and at the same time not a harmful and mortal sin.
11. Arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work.
12. In the sight of God sins are then truly venial when they are feared by men to be mortal.
The readings as they apply to the individual Theses:
Thesis 5: Romans 7
Thesis 6: Ecclesiastes 7:15-20, Proverbs 24:15-16
Thesis 7: Revelation 21:22-27, Psalm 143, Psalm 32, Matt 6:12, 14-15
Thesis 8: Psalm 51 — recall again David’s story that led to the writing of this Psalm; Luke 11:15-32 Cf. also Pharaoh and the Exodus; Joseph and his brothers; Matthew 23:1-35
Thesis 11: Jeremiah 46:28, Isaiah 36:18; 1st Commandment — Luther’s Small and Large Catechism
Thesis 9: Ephesians 2:1-3, Matthew 12:22-37, 1 Kings 18
Thesis 10: Proverbs 15:8-9, Luke 13:6-9, Colossians 2:13
Thesis 12: Isaiah 43:26, Psalm 141:4, Luke 18:1-10
Theses 9, 10 & 12 go together, as do Theses 7, 8, & 11. These Theses, as a group, continue to examine the Works of Man, that is, those things we do. These are not just works that we do to earn salvation. Luther hones in on every work of man, whether it is before salvation or after. They focus on our security, our self-righteousness both before and after conversion.