What Is Wrong With Lutheranism

Ephesians 1:13-14  In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession to the praise of His glory.

Notice in this text that the Holy Spirit is an inheritance.  An inheritance is not something you receive that later makes you a member of the family.  Rather, you had better already be a member of the family if you expect to receive an inheritance.  An inheritance is something only a family member can receive.  An inheritance is not something the gardener receives.

The Holy Spirit is given as a pledge of His people’s inheritance.  A down payment, if you’d like. And He is given with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession.

In other words, the reason why the Spirit is given is because God has a possession that He has redeemed.  How has He redeemed this possession?   He redeemed it with the death of His Son.  His Son’s death redeemed the possession.  Notice that this is a has been done issue.

In most Protestant churches today, the kind of redemption you hear about is a redemption that God will accomplish at some point in the future.  Under such a scheme the listener is left with hopelessness and despair, because the message leaves open the question of whether he will ever be redeemed.  Hopelessness, because if the death of the Son of God was not enough to redeem me, then what is enough?  Despair, because I can never measure up to Christ’s perfection, and if His death hasn’t redeem me, then what hope do I have that I will ever be redeemed?

In view of this hopelessness and despair, people are taught to look to their obedience for assurance.  How do I know I will be redeemed?   Guess I’d better check in with my performance to see if I have improved.

Like their German predecessor, who sparked a cultural and ecclesiastical revolution in Europe 600 years ago when he nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of the Wittenberg church, Lutherans today continue to rightfully recoil from this idea of looking to personal obedience for assurance.  Sadly though, also like their predecessor, they still fail to grasp the real object of assurance.

Lutherans maintain that the grace of God, rather than personal obedience, is the object of assurance.  The grace of God.  Not the cross of finished propitiation and redemption, but rather the grace of God.  Notice that.

The gospel informs us that Christ died to redeem a select few whom He had chosen for salvation from before the foundation of the world.  His death was an act of perfect obedience to God on behalf of His people.  More than this, His death was also a sacrifice to God for the sins of His people.

At the cross, God charged the guilt of His people’s sins to Christ.  God credited Christ with their guilt.   And there upon the cross, God poured out upon Christ the full and eternal measure of His anger that He held against His people for His people’s sins.  Christ took the full measure of God’s anger in obedience, and in obedience died on the cross.

Christ had satisfied God’s anger that God held against His people for His people’s sins.  To prove this, and to prove that Christ did it obediently without ever having sinned even once, God raised Christ from the dead.  Christ’s resurrection is the proof to God’s people that Christ has fully redeemed them from the punishment of death for their sins.

In dying for His chosen few, Christ accomplished what no goat, no bull, no dove, no lamb or sinner’s pledge of improved performance had ever done or could ever do – that is, He fully satisfied God’s wrath on behalf of His chosen few, and thereby fully and perfectly atoned for their guilt.  His death did not make redemption possible.  Rather, His death actually redeemed His people.  His death satisfied God’s anger that stood against His chosen few.  His death is why His people are brought to faith.  His death is why His people are made willing to believe.  His death is why not one of His people shall be lost to eternal death.

It is within the context of this message that believers are commanded to look to Christ alone and what He accomplished at the cross for His people as the proof of their salvation, rather than to their works.  But this is not what unbelievers are commanded to do!  THIS IS NOT WHAT UNBELIEVERS ARE COMMANDED TO DO!

Unbelievers are instead commanded to believe that the message itself is true.  Only after believing the truth about the cross can a person then look to that cross as proof of their salvation.  A person who attempts to look to the cross without agreeing to the truth of the cross is only going to wind up looking to a false cross.  That is exactly what Lutherans do.  They look to a false cross.

Lutherans have severed the truth about the cross from the command to look to the cross.  They have removed the truth of accomplished redemption from the cross, and in its place have set up a command to look to the cross as a sign of God’s grace.  Look to what about God’s grace though?   Um . . . uh . . . for proof that God is nice?

It is no secret that Lutherans deny particular atonement.  They do so even while proclaiming that salvation is not by works of the law, but rather by grace.  Grace in what, I ask?  Grace in a Christ who failed?

A man sits in a pew somewhere, listening to a Lutheran preacher tell him that he needs only to believe Jesus died for his sins in order to be saved.  Okay, he thinks, I’m fair game, I’ll accept that Jesus died for my sins.   How does he not go home convinced that he saved himself by act of believing?   After all, if has Jesus died for his sins, then it follows that He has died for everyone’s sins.  And isn’t that what the preacher told him anyway, that Jesus died for everyone’s sins?  If Jesus has died for everyone’s sins, but not everyone will be saved, then Jesus’ death on the cross cannot be the reason why people are saved.  There must instead be something else that when added to the cross makes the death of Christ effective.  If my act of believing is what made the difference, then my act of believing must be what saved me.  Voila!  Back to the Garden of Eden.  The serpent was right, I am as God, and I have just made myself righteous by choosing good over evil.

The gospel commands people to believe, but it does not command people to believe that their belief has redeemed them.

The Lutheran gospel sounds quiet enough until we begin to dig beneath the surface with questions.  Who, what, when and why?  And what we soon discover when we begin digging is the stink of dead men’s bones. They call me a Calvinist.  I call the Lutheran gospel a rotting grave.

The irony is that Lutheranism is actually works salvation in disguise.   The grace that Lutherans point to is a grace that has failed to save.  It has not redeemed, it has not atoned, it has not propitiated.  Like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it has instead made it possible for me to employ the concept of a nebulous grace in order to accomplish these things myself!  Lutheranism makes sincerity its righteousness.  Their sincere choice to believe is what Lutherans believe redeems them.

The truth is that the gospel is revealed by faith in the cross of a redemption that is both particular and accomplished.  Faith has an object, and that object is not itself!  To ignore this fact is to deny the gospel.  To preach contrary to this fact is to preach a false gospel.  Salvation by grace rather than works is a moot point.  God does not reveal His righteousness by faith in some nebulous notion of grace.   Rather, He reveals His righteousness by faith in the Christ who has graciously and successfully redeemed His people.  I do not deny grace, but I do deny the idea that grace has no context.  Grace most certainly does have a context, and that context is not the messenger’s sincerity.

About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church http://www.gospeldefense.com/about.html
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One Response to What Is Wrong With Lutheranism

  1. Kirk says:

    Thanks for the essay David. I had a conversation with a Lutheran. Mark’s and your essays helped.

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