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May 22, 2010

1

God Comes First

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

For Lutherans, part of understanding why Christianity is so broken up into denominations and inter-denominations and location-specific house churches is to accept the very reality that theology divides. And that, in itself, is a good thing. LCMS Lutherans believe, teach, and accept the unaltered Book of Concord, the confessions of the church, as the true exposition of Holy Scripture. However, most LCMS Lutherans really don’t care much about the Book of Concord; they want the spiritual strength given by our Father in heaven to His people through the means of grace in order to live life in this very sinful world.

The relationship of God and humankind is very specific in the Lutheran context — the Triune God is the Creator, the Provider, the Redeemer, the Faith-Giver, the Sustainer, and the Sanctifier. We are just reminded that God gives this all to us out of a love we’ll never understand because He loves us. This grace comes from on high, not because we’re deserving of it, but because He loves those whom He created.

When looking around at other religions and Christian faiths, in particular, we see churches professing a kind of self-spiritualization. God is there, but you have to make the first move. Of course, if this kind of a God was all loving and caring, why would He wait for us to take the first step? A loving God takes that step before we can ever think of it, and within the Lutheran worldview, this is central to our understanding of God and humanity.

God comes to us first.

Before we could even dream of taking that step toward God, we Lutherans believe that God has already taken that first and most important step to our hearts and minds through His Holy Spirit.

This spiritual worldview is not very popular. The world of Christianity challenges us and defends its “We Open Our Hearts to God First” theology, which, to be honest, is very comforting for sinful people. For in this theology, we believe that we’ve changed because we’ve made ourselves strong. Too bad, it makes no logical sense.

I started thinking about this last night after my interview on KFUO-AM Radio with Roland Lettner. The topic we discussed dealt with whether or not a Christian can lose their salvation. Of course, the answer to that theologically challenging topic is “yes.” But not all Christians believe this is true; they say that once a Christian receives faith and salvation from God, they can never lose it.

In the somewhat educated opinion of this parish pastor, this does not jive with the theology of “We Open Our Hearts to God First” preached by these theologians.

For if one can open their hearts to God and let Him in, then why can’t they kick Him out?

To understand God in a biblical sense, God has always come to His people, just like He continues to come to us today through the means of grace, His Word and Sacraments received happily and openly by God’s sinful, yet forgiven, children. God doesn’t wait for an invitation — He comes to comfort and forgive us sinners, building us up to live our Christian lives is service to Him and our neighbor.

That is just one reason why church still matters.

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