Fear, love, and trust
What are you most afraid of? What or who do you love the most? What or who do you trust the most? "You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." So says Luther in the Small Catechism as he repeats and explains the first commandment. What do you think people fear the most? Perhaps loss of a job or livelihood, loss of health (think Covid), the illness or death of a loved one, or even one's own death. What do you suppose people love the most? Maybe their spouse, or their family, a close friend, or possibly some material thing like a car or a home. What about trust? What do people trust the most? People may trust their skills and abilities, or their wealth, maybe a political leader, or their family and friends.
When we think about all the things we fear, love, and trust, Luther's explanation becomes even more striking. We are to fear, love, and trust in God above everything else. The Psalmist writes, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). In Deut. 6:5 we read, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." In Psalm 37 we read, "Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act." We see that Luther's explanation is very Biblical. Anything that we fear, love, or trust more than God becomes an idol for us. Now, that doesn't mean we shouldn't love or trust other people. Not at all. It means that God should occupy the highest position. Luther puts it this way in the large catechism, "As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol."
Love and trusting in God are things we typically understand, but fear of God is the one that people often find confusing. Fear certainly means awe or reverence toward God. But knowing that God is all-powerful, and that Christ is our judge and realizing our sinfulness naturally leads to some actual fear as well! Jesus says, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). He is speaking about Himself. But to God's beloved children, believers in Christ, Jesus says "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." A healthy fear of God then is recognition of His holiness and our own sinfulness, but also of His mercy and love for us in Christ Jesus. Because of Jesus we "fear no evil" (Psalm 23:4).
Is Jesus God?
When Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do people say that I am?," the disciples gave various answers that they'd heard bandied about. What do you think people's response is to that question today? Who do people say that Jesus is? You might hear answers like a wise man, a good person, a powerful preacher, a skilled teacher, a 1st century Jewish Rabbi, an historical figure. All of these are true of course, but these answers miss the mark. Others might say Jesus is a myth or fairy tale. The Jehovah's Witnesses would say that Jesus is "a god" but not the same as god as the Father. For them, Jesus is a created being. Mormons might say that Jesus is the brother of Lucifer who we know as the devil! Even some lifelong Christians from other churches don't understand the divinity of Jesus.
On Trinity Sunday we read the Athanasian Creed in our service. The focus of the Sunday is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but the Athanasian Creed also hammers home the point that Jesus is truly God. "We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man." Or as we say in the Nicene Creed, Jesus is "of one substance with the Father." So we Christians can answer the question "Who is Jesus?" by responding that Jesus is the Son of God, truly God and truly man, our Savior.
Why does this matter? Sound doctrine isn't important just so we can be right. What we believe actually matters. What if Jesus weren't truly man? Well then, He wouldn't be one of us would he? He would have been a faker, an imposter. He wouldn't have experienced the temptation, the anguish, the sadness, and pain that we feel. In speaking of Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15). What if Jesus weren't truly God? Well for one, that would make Him a liar since He repeatedly applied God's name to Himself (For example, in last Sunday's Gospel reading from John 8:58), and told the people that He and God the Father are one. And what of Christ's sacrificial death? A mere human's blood cannot cleanse the sin of another. But Jesus died as the God-man, the perfect, spotless, unblemished lamb of God. God the Son died on the cross, and God's blood does cleanse us from all sin. "In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph 1:7). Thanks be to God for our Savior, true God and true man.
Law ahead, Gospel behind
As Lutherans, we are taught the difference between Law and Gospel. The Law consists of God's commands to us. The Law keeps society in order, it shows us our sin, and acts as a guide for how we should behave as Christians. The Law is about what we do. The Gospel, on the other hand, shows us our Savior, Jesus, and proclaims that He has died for our sins giving us salvation as a free gift. The Gospel is about what God does for us. All well and good, but how does knowing that help us in our daily lives?
First, consider what Satan would have you think about yourself and your actions. Satan wants you to look at your past, all the rotten things you've done, the mistakes you've made, the hurt that you've caused other people, and wants you to think on those things through the lens of the Law. It's like Satan wants to say, "Look at all those terrible things you've done. You've certainly made a mess. How could God love you considering what you've done. You're not much of a Christian." But the devil also wants you to look to the future through the lens of a distorted Gospel. It's as if he wants to say, "Go ahead and do whatever you want. God will forgive you anyway!" Regarding your future thoughts, words, and deeds, the devil doesn't want you to consider the 10 commandments. The devil is a liar and is twisting God's word.
This the opposite of how God wants us to understand Law and Gospel. The Lord wants us to look at our past through the lens of the Gospel. "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more,” says God in Jeremiah 31. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 103, "as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us." "I forgive you all of your sins," says God to you through the pastor on Sunday morning during the Divine Service. Or as we pray in Luther's evening prayer, "I pray that you would forgive all of my sins where I have done wrong." Furthermore, God wants you to look to the future, those things which you will choose to do and not do through the eyes of His good and gracious Law. His desire is that we fear, love, and trust in Him alone, and would treat each other according to the 10 commandments. That's what we pray for in Luther's morning prayer, "... I pray that you would keep me this day from sin and every evil that all my doings and life may please you. ..." Luther also advises that you go to work "singing a hymn, like that of the 10 commandments." Beginning the day with prayer, hymns, and God's Word prepares us to live that day as one of God's chosen people. Thus, the title of this article; look ahead to your day with God's law in mind, and look back on your day trusting in the Lord's forgiveness as proclaimed in the Gospel.
If you're not in the habit of praying Luther's morning and evening prayers I encourage you to try it. They can be found in the hymnal on page 327, or find them here: Luther's morning and evening prayer