Monday, February 4, 2008

IF....

It's a little word, but it can say a lot. "If" makes us pause and consider what comes next. It can qualify what comes next, or simply remind us of what will result from certain actions. Often in the Divine Service God's people recite John's familiar words: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8,9) Denying our sinfulness sets us up to be liars. However, confession occurs under the assurance of God's constant forgiveness. Notice that the apostle did not say that God's forgiveness is dependent on our confession. It exists prior to it. It is a reality in the very nature of God that finds its fullness in the cross of His Son. In technical terms we call this "objective justification."

This morning as I was reading an online devotion I ran across an "if" that didn't sound quite right. It felt as if it limited this prior grace of God to act mercifully on our behalf regardless of our sins. It read: "
No matter the depths to which we may fall, if we turn in faith to our Lord, we have help and forgiveness in Jesus’ name." Now in fairness, I realize that the second part is an example of "subjective justification," that is, the reception of God 's grace in Christ by the Spirit-born faith of the believer. However, God is not limited by our faith. And more so, he helps even unbelievers in times of needs without a single prayer from their lips. Remember Jesus' words of sending rain on the just and the unjust? This is First Article stuff. Out of the mercy and love of the Father the world is sustained. I suspect that the author of the devotion believed this, but it illustrates a tricky part of using the word "if."

My sensitivity probably comes a Reformed tendency to qualify God's grace by the faith of the believer. IF you believe enough, God will heal you, or take care of your financial concerns, or whatever. You hear it repeatedly from the TV preachers who capitalize on this conditional "if."

Now IF I pray, I know even then that God hears me and will answer me. But that's a different use. This is simply faith believing a prior promise. And I realize that some things are limited by faith. Prayer, for example. Prayers uttered outside of faith and in the name of one who is not the true God is not prayer. Still, does this limit the truth that God might help this unbeliever? No. God's grace is already there. And that's my point. Now, again, the author of the devotion probably agrees with this, and I'm not faulting him. I'm just tired of hearing any limits placed on the boundless grace of God, even the bounds of my faith.

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