JESUS IS GOD’S LOVE.
HE GIVES US NEW HEARTS –
TO LAY ASIDE OUR OLD WAYS,
TO BELIEVE AND FOLLOW HIM,
TO LIVE WITH HIM EVERY DAY.
I recently had a pair of multifocal spectacles that just weren’t right. Everything was slightly off. No matter how I twisted my head or swivelled my eyes, my vision was not clear. Outdoors, horizontal lines, such as house gutters, took on a blue-halo effect. Eventually I had the lenses replaced. Now, with new ones, I can see clearly.
When we read the Scriptures, we also see them through lenses of various types, and I don’t mean spectacles. In times of distress, God might lift up passages that you previously glossed over. In times of joy, words of praise will leap off the page. In a tight spot, words of encouragement will be there. When struggling with sin or guilt, you will read words of forgiveness and reconciliation in Jesus’ name. In times of persecution, you will see the hosts of heaven praising God in eternity. The Scriptures reveal God’s love for us in real, living ways as he meets us where we are at.
Our immediate situation, however, is not the only lens that shapes our reading of Scripture. Many lenses work together, just as they do when an optometrist tests your vision. We usually don’t notice them, just as a fish doesn’t notice the water it swims in. When the lenses work together well, we see clearly, but when they don’t, they distort our vision to varying degrees. Such lenses include culture, gender, race, affluence, poverty, pride, greed, prejudice, and many more. They can help or hinder the clarity of our vision. Some we choose, some we don’t.
We Lutherans also openly read the Scriptures through the lens of our Confessions, which we accept as ‘true expositions of the Word of God’ (LCA Constitution 2.1). Very specifically, they are the documents contained in The Book of Concord of 1580. (If you don’t have them, you can find them online at sites like https://bookofconcord.org/.) If you’ve ever read the Small Catechism, for instance, it is from our Confessions. The ancient Apostles or Nicene creeds we use in worship also are included. The Confessions are the lens which confirms us as trinitarian, small ‘c’ catholic (ecumenical), scriptural, sacramental (baptism and communion), and evangelical (the good news of Jesus Christ).
The Book of Concord, or ‘agreement’, comes from a time of great turmoil in western European society and the church. People died in defence of the truth, and people died in defence of error. Wrong was done on many sides. Holding on to the gospel of Jesus Christ, despite the violence, division and potential ruin of the time, took more than ordinary human vision. It required a very sharp focus, which came from the central scriptural witness to Jesus Christ and the doctrine of justification by faith, not by works.
God reveals his boundless love at work in the world through the cross, as summarised in Augsburg Confession IV: ‘ … we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:21–26] and 4[:5]’.
This is our confession. This is who we are. Without the gospel, the forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake, we are nothing. But our God is faithful. We can rely on him. Focused on the central teaching of justification by faith, we know the love of God, deeply and confidently. It is our clear vision for the way forward. As the Scriptures say, Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life. No-one comes to his Father but through him (John 14:6).
Rev John Henderson
Bishop Lutheran Church of Australia