March 25, 2017

November 29, 2009

The Gospel Is for the Broken

As I post this I have tears in my eyes as I once again acknowledge that I came mighty close to being “one of the sad ones” that this man writes about.  God preserved me and saved me yet again, and I am blessed and thankful beyond words.

But all around us the church is messing up—and messing up bad.  We will be held accountable for the “sad ones” that this man writes of, and all of the little children who are lost from the grace of Christ.  The gospel is the most freeing and joyful message in this world.

If you’re not feeling free and joyful, then something is wrong.  It may not be with the message you are hearing, or with the messenger.  But on the other hand—it might be.

From Tabletalk again:

When the major stress in pulpit and curriculum shifts from “Christ outside of me, dying for me” to “Christ inside of me, improving me,” the upshot is always the same: many broken, sad ex-Christians who despair of being able to live the Christian life as the Bible describes it. So they do what is really a sane thing to do — they leave. The way it looks to them is that “the message of Christianity has broken them on the rack.” To put it bluntly, it feels better to have some earthly happiness as a pagan and then be damned than it feels to be trying every day as a Christian to do something that is one continuous failure — and then be damned anyway.

The key question here is a very basic one: Can the cross and blood of Christ save a Christian (failing as he is in living the Christian life) or not? Most of us would say, I hope, that the shed blood of Christ is sufficient to save a sinner all by itself. So far, so good.

But is the blood of Christ enough — all by itself — to save a still-sinful-Christian? Or isn’t it? Is what Luther said about the Christian being simul justus et peccator biblical or not? Can Christ’s righteousness imputed save a still-sinful Christian? And can it save him all by itself? Or not? I think the way we answer this question determines whether we have anything at all to say to the “sad alumni” of Christianity.

Has the Law done its killing work on these “sad ones?” Boy, has it ever. They need more of the Law like they need a hole in the head. For them, the gospel often got lost in a whole bunch of “Christian-life preaching.” And it “did them in.” So they left. And down deep there is a sadness in such people that defies description.

C.F.W. Walther said that as soon as the Law has done its crushing work, the gospel is to be instantly preached or said to such a man or woman. What the “sad alumni” need to hear (perhaps for the first time) is that Christian failures are going to walk into heaven, be welcomed into heaven, leap into heaven like a calf leaping out of its stall, laughing and laughing as if it’s all too good to be true.


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Thanks for posting this. Rod Rosenblat hits it out of the park. 

[1] Posted by David Wilson on 11-29-2009 at 01:21 PM · [top]

Read this when my TableTalk arrived, and thought it was absolutely brilliant.  Would love to read his longer piece, referenced in the article.

Anglicans need a TableTalk magazine, one that uses the Daily Office.  But TableTalk is generally excellent, and this article is one of the best I’ve read in the magazine, ever.

[2] Posted by RomeAnglican on 11-29-2009 at 01:30 PM · [top]

I think that you have touched upon a serious problem in Christian life.  Sin is real and terrible, but it should not be allowed to destroy the faith of the broken.  Salvation is never earned and justice should be tempered with mercy.

I love the last paragraph.  It made me cry, then it made me smile.

[3] Posted by RicardoCR on 11-29-2009 at 01:42 PM · [top]

After I became a Christian, I heard that your life would be blessed… if you just had enough faith. When I struggled with sin I heard… if you had enough faith you wouldn’t sin. When I wondered if I was save I was told… if you had enough faith God would change my heart. When I found the Charismatic life and had the same questions…. I was asked if I speak in tongues.

It took me a while to be able to articulate to others how I knew I was saved. Quite simply God desires that none should parish. God makes salvation effective for us when we receive Christ. It cannot be lost anymore than I can obtain it, nor anymore than I can undo the work of the cross. Then something amazing happens when the Holy Spirit works in us - the old person is renewed, sometimes instantaneously but most time gradually, allowing us to choose the things that please Christ. Often we speak of a Christian life a fairy tale. James wrote, “... you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” It is not a fairy tale. It is a road filled with potholes, tests, blessings and trials, and in between, allowing our life to be used by God to bring Him glory. It’s a journey experienced by all. The difference for a Christian is where we place our hope, and where we have our destination. Do we sin? Yes. Does it nullify our salvation? No. Paul wrote, “... the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed.” Guaranteed indeed, not by works of the law, but by God in Christ Jesus to all who believe.

[4] Posted by Festivus on 11-29-2009 at 02:17 PM · [top]

I’m reminded of William Cowper, the Evangelical poet and lyricist (Hymnal ‘82 has his O for a closer walk with God , Sometimes a light surprises and God moves in a mysterious way ).

He suffered terribly from what would be seen today as depression or maybe bipolar disorder, and treated with medication.  The “lows” caused him no end of distress, as he doubted his own salvation because of them.  And even today there are groups in the church that would consider a person on medication to be somehow deficient in faith.

This is a great post.  “Law - grace - law” says it all - church can be the great bait & switch gimmick.  I wonder if other clergy will find this article useful, either to temper any creeping “law” in our teaching or to comfort us when we look honestly at all the sorry ways we fail to live up to our high calling.  If failures don’t get in, then ordained ministers don’t have a prayer.

[5] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 11-29-2009 at 02:57 PM · [top]

It is amazing, but my wife and I just read this very article at lunch today.  It was great.  We read every word of Table Talk each month, and all should get it.  I found F. Schaeffer’s book “True Spirituality” also of great help in my Christian walk.  Many do not realize that Paul was writting to the Galatians about this very thing.  While they had it down that Justification was by faith alone apart from works, they were being badgered by false teachers that now our sanctification was of works of the law.  The Holy Spirit applies our salvation in all three tenses-past,present, and future. Our resurection and glorification in the future is not of our works either.  Our old dead and decayed body will be made alive and perfect by the same Holy Spirit.  Of course the devil still has his false preachers who are preaching that since God loves everybody, he would never condemn anyone.  They pack them in with the pssitive wealth and health and do your own thing which is another curse—-but it sure sells.  Part of the wonder of heaven is seeing how the Lord really did take care of all our sins. A godly preacher,  when asked by a works-salvation teacher who accused him of teaching that he could do what ever he wanted to and still go to heaven, replied, “Why yes, I can do what ever I want to do and I even do more than I want to do!”  We are a work of God in progress.  I’m glad Dr. Sproul brought this writing to us.  And by the way, the author is co-host on the radio show “White Horse Inn.”

[6] Posted by PROPHET MICAIAH on 11-29-2009 at 03:17 PM · [top]

Only once did the question of shouldn’t faith mean I had a right to expect my life to be free of major suffering?  I was seven my father had just recently died and I was totally grief stricken and devasted.  I had recently made my First Communion and not having my father there increased my sadness.  My mom was not the most stable of people and she turned her grief outward in anger against the world.  My sister and I especially bore the brunt of this.  So in addition to grief I also had to deal with a parent who made it clear she hated me. 

One night I had enough.  I looked at the crucifix above my bed and said to God. “I don’t believe in you anymore.  I can’t believe in you when I am so unhappy.  I hate you.”  And I went to take the crucifix down.  And at that moment grace came.  I know I could not not believe.  That no matter what, God was Truth, that Christ on the Cross was Truth.  And my grief, rage and loss were not evidence of God’s absence or non existence but reminders of the suffering Christ shares with us.  That He was real and that He was with me.  I did not wonder about salvation at that point nor did I have any notion of justification.  I just knew in that instance that faith was not an option for me and that faith did not free me from sorrows. 

And yes it also made me realize that beyond the strictures of my mom’s anger and my grief I did indeed have a blessed life.  I had a blessed life because Christ had me.  I had a “mother” in the Blessed Virgin.  I had a father in God.  I was not abandonded or wounded beyond repair.  So for me the question of faith and suffering was answered when I touched the crucifix to put it out of my life and instead God touched me and brought me into His life fully.

[7] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 11-29-2009 at 03:37 PM · [top]

Unfortunately, too many people have turned “faith” into yet another work.  As Paula mentioned, the problem of not feeling blessed or holy is said to be with us because of our lack of “faith.” 
Faith, itself, is a gift from God.  It is not something that we can, by our own efforts, acquire.  We cannot will to have faith.  Faith is given by God and grows by our exercising it.  I like to think of faith as a verb rather than a noun.  We faith - we trust in God in all things.  We faith - we believe that God will not abandon us, but will see us through all circumstances in our lives.

God never promised us that our sins would cease or that our suffering would end.  Indeed, Jesus told us that we would suffer even more when we followed him.  One thing that we, as Americans, have forgotten is that suffering can bring us closer to God.  Failure should not bring us to despair, but to the realization that we can’t do it on our own - nor are we called to!  Failure - even failure in faith - should cause us to fall to our knees in cry out to God for Him to lift us up.

Phil Snyder

[8] Posted by Philip Snyder on 11-29-2009 at 04:37 PM · [top]

Thanks for the article. For years, I rode the wave as new Christian, grateful that my past was forgiven.  I took seriously the admonishment in Matthew 3:8 that I should “prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God.” I thought that all sins from here on out would be minor. I took pride in my new life, and how it looked to others. 

Then, with a new season in my life came new temptations, new trials, and a new major league failure.  I wondered, was my conversion real in the first place? If it was real, how could I have stumbled so badly?  Do other Christians face this type of a mid-life crisis? What should I do now?  These are life and death questions. Too little time is spent discussing this issue.

[9] Posted by Going Home on 11-29-2009 at 04:46 PM · [top]

Other than the Holy Spirit working in me, what has helped me most in maintaining my Christian equalibrium is reading the Old Testament stories about great men of God.  The realization that, if King David was a “friend of God”, there has to be grace for me also.  I’m so glad the O.T. doesn’t whitewash the lives of the patriarchs and sages, that it portrays them in all their fallen humaness. I’m glad that the New Testament doesn’t portray the 12 Deciples as double-distilled saints either.  I have always to remember that the person in the pulpit is also subject to human error and that it is my responsibility to know when the preaching departs from Biblical truth.
Thanks for posting this article.  It is is good reinforcement, and I need that.  Frances Scott

[10] Posted by Frances S Scott on 11-29-2009 at 06:13 PM · [top]

Thank you for posting this!

[11] Posted by physician without health on 11-29-2009 at 08:51 PM · [top]

Thank God that someone else realizes that the Gospel is for the broken. This world is broken and needs Jesus…NOW!!
Rick Morris saw this and God gave him this song…and video
to reach the people… Check it out on youtube by clicking the link below

[12] Posted by webe on 11-29-2009 at 11:37 PM · [top]

There are a couple of important comments to be made.

1.  Election is the ultimate guarantor against despair.  It is God who chooses.  It is God who seeks out and redeems all He has chosen.  He does not leave behind even one.  We can therefore be confident that not one will be lost of those whom God has set apart for Himself.  All those who are supposed to be saved will in fact be saved.  No one in Hell will ever say “If only I had been told” or “If only circumstances had been different.”

2.  The word ‘broken’ is an unfortunate word choice.  One typically associates the word ‘broken’ with liberal thinkers, and they use the word as a substitute for ‘sin.’  It conveys an idea of moral neutrality that simply does not fit in a world corrupted by disobedience and idolatry.  Broken things are not evil.  Broken things are non-functional.  Broken people need to be fixed.  Evil people need to be redeemed.  That is a critical difference.


[13] Posted by carl on 11-30-2009 at 01:04 AM · [top]

When the major stress in pulpit and curriculum shifts from “Christ outside of me, dying for me” to “Christ inside of me, improving me” . . .

Isn’t it possible to have both?

And, I should note, there is a difference between “Christian-life preaching” without the reality of Christ at work in us, and the reality of Christ living in us by the gift of His Holy Spirit. As James says, ‘show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.’

We are all sinners. Yes, God loves us even when we are in our sins, and yes, God saves us when we are sinners, by His grace and power and not by our own. But there is still a difference between a penitent sinner and an impenitent, between one who struggles against his or her sin and one who does not. Anyone who undercuts that truth runs the risk of ‘speaking often of the danger of relying on works, and but little of the danger of being lost for want of them’ (Pusey, Letter to the Bishop of Oxford). No ‘gospel’ is in accordance with Scripture if it does not urge us to seek after ‘the holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord;’ or, as Paul put it, to ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you.’

I’m not saying that the LCMS professor quoted above is necessarily advocating such a position, but he does sound awfully close to it.

[14] Posted by tk+ on 11-30-2009 at 05:15 AM · [top]

Thanks for posting this Sarah.  I’ve been marveling again today at the lavishness of God’s grace, and this fits right in with that theme and encourages me today.

One of the most helpful books I’ve ever read was Jerry Bridges the Disciplines of Grace, which reminds us that we as believers still need to hear the Gospel message of God’s grace to us in Christ.  It’s not just the message for unbelievers.  Bridges states: “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond REACH of God’s grace, Your best days are never so good that you are beyond NEED of God’s grace.”

It is sad how quickly we try to make our walk as Christians about our own efforts, our own faith and are often too quick to discard or set aside God’s grace - I do so often because I don’t want to be NEEDY, I want to be strong.  But it is in needing God and coming to Him that I receive grace and strength.  Oh Lord help us to more and more believe in and live in Your grace and to preach it to ourselves and others daily!

[15] Posted by Karen B. on 11-30-2009 at 07:05 AM · [top]

RE: “Election is the ultimate guarantor against despair.”

Boy oh boy oh boy do I disagree and disagree strongly with that.  Election was in no way a guarantor against despair for me at my worst, it was a horrible thought and the cause of yet more despair.  Nor is it a guarantor of despair with me now when I am sure—but rather God’s goodness is that.

Carl I sometimes wonder if you ever talk to anyone who is in despair.  Do you know anybody like that? 

RE: “The word ‘broken’ is an unfortunate word choice.”  One typically associates the word ‘broken’ with liberal thinkers, and they use the word as a substitute for ‘sin.’”

I use the word in addition to the word sin.  And I think it is exactly the right word for this article, as it conveys something beyond sin in the idea of the consequences of sin, which inevitably leads to brokenness.

RE: “Broken things are not evil.  Broken things are non-functional.”

Humans are non-functional at the highest level [in the fullness of being perfected humans] because of their and other’s sin.  In this article this man is talking about the sin of the church against others, which produces yet more non-functional and broken people [albeit sinners] as in: “the message of Christianity has broken them on the rack.”

He is pointing to the sin of churches and preachers in preaching a false message and “breaking” other human beings.

[16] Posted by Sarah on 11-30-2009 at 07:58 AM · [top]

Boy oh boy oh boy do I disagree and disagree strongly with that.  Election was in no way a guarantor against despair for me at my worst, it was a horrible thought and the cause of yet more despair

I’d wholeheartedly concur with that statement. Election is all fine and good when I’m in a more pure rational sense, but when fighting any sort of depression, it does really nothing for me. I will begin to doubt quite quickly if I’m one of the Elect and that about the time that doctrine stalls, stops producing any lift and I end up in a tail-spin. It is recounting God’s mercies, sometimes globally as found in Scriptures, but more effective is to me in the past that helps me get through those “dark nights of the soul.” Holding onto the concept of His goodness, even when I can’t see it, is what gotten me through those periods.

[I’d agree with your assessment of sin & brokenness too, but former really spoke to me. When I read of saint of past, often there is a blurb about their “dark nights of the soul” they too have faced, somehow I find that is missing in the narrative we have of the Christian life today and there was much fuss that Mother Teresa struggled with her own doubts and questions. To our loss, I think, for it is in those dark nights that I am truly bringing all myself, including those rotten bits, broken bits and doubts, insecurities to the LORD, which He knows anyways, but I read St Paul in 2 Cor as a beaten, but sustained man than macho super Christian and ponder how much suffering Joseph endured to transformed into such an encourager that we forget his given name to be know to the rest of us as Barnabas—that’s when the Scripture really become alive for me and speak into my world, which may not always be rational at that moment].

[17] Posted by Hosea6:6 on 11-30-2009 at 08:33 AM · [top]

election is “Good News” when you know you are among the Elect.  But when depression hits or when you begin to doubt that you are among the Elect, the doctrine of Election can cause you to fall deeper into despair.  “If I am not of the Elect, then there is nothing I can do to be saved.  If I am not of the Elect, then nothing else matters.”

I believe that the doctrines of predestination and free will are both true, but depend on your temporal frame of reference.  From the standpoint of eternity - from outside of time, everything is predestined.  But from within time, we have free will.  God sees us making all our choices and knows the outcomes of each and, until we make those choices, all the possibilities of each choice are open to us and God sees them all.  But when we make each choice, that choice cuts of some possibilities and God no longer sees them.

I do agree that God’s grace needs to be preached and that we cannot win God’s grace.  We cannot earn it.  We cannot lose it.  It is there and all we have to do is to accept it.  But when we accept it, we also accept the responsibility of living in it.  We accept the responsibility to repent when (not if) we sin and we accept the responsibility to seek more grace and to live from the power of God’s grace more each day.

Phil Snyder

[18] Posted by Philip Snyder on 11-30-2009 at 09:21 AM · [top]

Sin for all time was borne by Christ on the cross. 

Therefore, the issue facing mankind for the last 2000 years is no longer sin - it is whether or not we accept Christ’s gift of grace by believing in Him, through whom the universe was created, who sits at the right hand of God, who is the Good Shepherd. 

Will we choose to have a relationship with Him?  Will we choose to walk daily by reading scripture and praying?

[19] Posted by B. Hunter on 11-30-2009 at 10:51 AM · [top]

At bad times, I too have questioned whether I was among the “elect.” If I was, why would I fall into sin?  Is heaven like sorority rush, and I am out? It can be a scary, and depressing, thought when you are in the valley of the shadow of death.  It was better for me to simply identify with the thief on the cross. Its never too late; you can always start over.

[20] Posted by Going Home on 11-30-2009 at 11:40 AM · [top]

[16] Sarah

Boy oh boy oh boy do I disagree and disagree strongly with that.  Election was in no way a guarantor against despair for me at my worst

I wasn’t considering the perspective of the one who walks away.  I was considering the perspective of the one who feels responsible for the one who walks away.  It’s an awful thing to think “But for me he would have been saved.”  We must remember that no matter how badly we screw up, we can never drive the Elect beyond the reach of God.  We may drive them away from us.  But God will seek and He will find.


[21] Posted by carl on 11-30-2009 at 12:31 PM · [top]

I think I get carl’s point in #13 about the use of the term “broken people.”

“One typically associates the word ‘broken’ with liberal thinkers, and they use the word as a substitute for ‘sin.’  It conveys an idea of moral neutrality that simply does not fit in a world corrupted by disobedience and idolatry.  Broken things are not evil.  Broken things are non-functional.  Broken people need to be fixed.  Evil people need to be redeemed.  That is a critical difference.”

Is one difference that which is seen between an external cause of the loss of function versus an inescapable original sin? Or is the difference in the cure?

[22] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 11-30-2009 at 01:54 PM · [top]

Regarding “broken” verses “sinful,” C. S. Lewis referred to us a “bent men” in his Science Fiction trilogy.  With that in mind, I don’t mind broken - it means that we need to be fixed.
We are born broken and we consider it to be our “normal” state and we rebell against those forces that try to fix us (e.g. God).
I remember many years ago, my daughter (then about 5 or so) received a Tinker Toy set as a gift.  She decided to make the figure on the box without the instructions and, of course, she got it badly wrong.  She brought it to me and asked me to fix it.  Seeing where she had gone wrong, I started to take the figure apart so that she and I could put it together properly.  She grabbed it back from me saying “Daddy!  I want you to fix it, not to break it!”  I told her that I needed to break it in order to fix it.  She turned away with “I’ll do it myself!” and proceeded to make it even worse.  She came to me again and asked me to fix it.  I asked her if I could break it this time and she said “yes.”  So I broke it and helped her to make the figure correctly.

We need to be broken to be fixed.  We are already broken and all too often we try to fix our brokenness ourselves and we only make it worse.  God needs to break what we have done first so that He can help us grow correctly.

Phil Snyder

[23] Posted by Philip Snyder on 11-30-2009 at 05:47 PM · [top]

The term “lost” is equally benign; but Our Lord favored the image of the lost coin and the lost sheep - without any perjorative meaning attached.  Did the sheep or coin try to get lost?

[24] Posted by Fidela on 11-30-2009 at 06:06 PM · [top]

I have often wondered if the person who is beaten and robbed in the Parable of the Good Samaritan had been warned not to go down that path alone.  I bet he had been. I know I was. In any event, I am him, stripped, completely helpless, and totally dependent on someone else to rescue me. 

I have no claim to being in the “elect”, I can’t presume that God favors me over another, I certainly don’t deserve eternal life more than any one else.  I need hope that, against all reason, and regardless of what I have done, I can be saved through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

I think our communities are full of people with these doubts and fears. Our churches need to be able to articulate a message of hope in our dying culture. In the debate over Biblical authority, we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured as judgmental and unloving. Our real message is just the opposite.

[25] Posted by Going Home on 11-30-2009 at 07:32 PM · [top]

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (II Corinthinians 7:10)

In my experience on several boards that had to deal with errant preachers, I noted that some were arrogant, blamed others, and had no sorrow.  They immediately went on to another job in “ministry.”  However, the ones I percieved to be godly, were overwhelmingly sorrowful, and needed much counsel to convince them that they could ever be forgiven or restored to usefulness.  Now some would be sorry they had been caught, or sorry about the consequences, but they never were broken.  We all should struggle agains the fall in this world and in ourselves.  The church must understand the theology behind all this and point broken Christians to the truth that sets us free.  ISTM that the lost don’t really seem to have a deep “need” for this.  I guess another way to say it is that the non-elect don’t seem to realize it or care.  Only Christians have any reason to complain.  We are made to do what we don’t naturally want to do.  The heathen get to do what ever they want.  God knows how to turn us around.  It is better to go to the house of mourning rather than the house of mirth.  But it doesn’t have to feel good at the time.  The Lord knows those that are His and Romans 8:28-29 still stands.

[26] Posted by PROPHET MICAIAH on 11-30-2009 at 07:44 PM · [top]

Thanks, prophet.

[27] Posted by Going Home on 12-1-2009 at 12:48 AM · [top]

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