Herman Sasse, a German, came to Australia in 1949. He was a theologian and author who was a member of the faculty of a Lutheran seminary in Adelaide. He wrote an article entitled Luther’s Legacy to Christianity. He wrote in his native language and the article was translated by Lutheran pastor Matthew Harrison.
Some of what Sasse wrote fed the flames of my heartfelt desire to see the members of churches, especially including the leaders, start to exhibit genuine Biblical honesty in their lives.
Let me explain! Several years ago I was speaking to a young man entrusted with the leadership of a congregation. In the course of our conversation a realization struck me, which I voiced, “I don’t know a truly honest pastor!” I had been speaking to him about being transparent in all his dealings with people. The upshot was that my young pastor friend wasn’t impressed, and hasn’t spoken to me since. What I said apparently didn’t coincide with the wisdom he had obtained in the denominational college from which he had recently graduated.
For many years I stood before congregations of silent people, who would stand to sing hymns which expressed great Biblical truths. No matter what the hymn expressed, contrition, repentance, or great Calvary joy, their faces and voices remained the same.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I was not seeing the real person reflected in those faces, I was seeing masks which people put on when they attended congregational meetings, both Sunday and mid-week, the same masks I saw when on pastoral visits.
Back to Sasse, who wrote, “As the rediscoverer of the Gospel of the grace of God, h e (Luther) was the Reformer of the Church, and not only the church of one land, rather the entire, the one church of God on earth.
Only he has understood Luther, who understands him as the Reformer of the Church. The legacy which Luther left behind can be properly grasped only by one who realizes that this legacy applies to all of Christendom on earth. For if Luther - as he himself thought and the Evangelical church believes - with his discovery of the saving truth of the justification of the sinner through faith alone, did nothing other than bring the holy gospel to light again, then his discovery has a significance as universal as the Gospel itself.”
These words were written by Luther on the 16th of February, and found after his death as he speaks of the unfathomable depth of the Bible: "No one can understand Vergil in his Bucolics or Georgics unless he has been a shepherd or farmer for five years. No one can understand Cicero in his letters unless he has served in a significant position in government for 20 years. No one can apprehend the Holy Scriptures unless he has governed a congregation for a 100 years with the Prophets." The note concludes with the sentence: "We are beggars: This is true." Sasse says, “This is true”, and adds, “The words ‘We are beggars’ are written in German for emphasis.”
He goes on to say, “They (the previous words) ring powerfully already in the first words of his lectures on Romans of 1513, where he notes that it is the intent of this letter 'to destroy, root-out, and bring to naught all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh, and this to fortify and make sin great.'
Luther understood that even though "by grace alone" was understood by Roman Catholicism, he insisted that "through faith alone" MUST be added, because, unlike R.Cism, he understood that "Even in the best of lives, our deeds are naught", and that the forgiveness of God and in the power of His Holy Spirit, we are NEVER righteous by what we are and do, rather always ONLY through that which Christ is and what He as done for us.
So many leaders, whether assigned the tile Bishop or Pastor, Elder or Deacon, seem to have no idea that the pious masks which they exhibit , cause damage to themselves as they struggle to maintain the charade, and damage to those they lead, who are looking to be encouraged that sanctification DOES NOT come through seminary training, longevity of tenure or title.
Count von Zinzendorf’s words declare the truth of the matter:
Jesus Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress
With it before God shall I stand,
When I heaven shall enter in.
No matter who we are, Wesley, Calvin, Dave Black, Alan Knox or plain ol’ Aussie John; if we are saved, then it is not because of our amazingly pious life or prodigious work, or diligence, faithfulness or longevity in ministry, but because the Lord Christ died for such poor beggarly sinners.
Paul clearly understood that God has made Him for us "Wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption" (I Cor. 1:31). IN HIM is our wisdom! IN HIM is our sanctification, and IN HIM is our redemption. And Luther is right, until the day we leave this life, we remain those who must come to HIM for bread, beggars who had to come to HIM for life, beggars who, to one degree or another, retain the dregs of the sin that put HIM on the cross, no matter who we are, or what level of spiritual growth we imagine for ourselves.
What utter danger we put ourselves in if we ever come to a place in life where we assume that we are no longer bearers of our Adamic heritage which causes man to stand proud before God.
Sasse reminds us of this danger as he quotes Luther’s bold assertion: "Be careful never to endeavor to obtain such purity, that you no longer find yourself a sinner, much less desire to be one. Christ dwells only among sinners. This is why he descended from heaven, when He dwelt among the righteous, so also to make His dwelling among sinners. Take note of this His love time and again and you will experience the sweetest consolation... And so only in Him, through having despaired of yourself and your works, will you find peace. Here you will learn from Christ Himself, that He, as He has received you unto Himself, has made your sins His own, and His righteousness your righteousness."
How could we ever allow ourselves the humanistic luxury, which appears to pervade much of leadership today, of thinking we are something better than Luther confessed at the end of his life?
Because that which Luther described as “a profound evil corruption of human nature," prevents us from understanding our beggarly state. He said that, “… it must be believed on the basis of holy Scripture." That we are sinners "Even in the best of lives"! Even in the best!!
And as Sasse continues, “ the "best" Christ is perceived in the daily and rich forgiveness of sins, this human reason cannot grasp, and it will not accept it for true when it hears it spoken. Original sin can be compared to one of those mental illnesses, a sign of which is that the sick person can no longer recognize his illness, and believes he is entirely healthy.”
There is the real problem: We are like a sick person who cannot acknowledge his ill health and believes that all is well! We seem to think that when we came to Christ with hands outstretched seeking the morsel of living bread He offered, that was the end of our lowly state. No wonder Christians, including leaders, have nervous breakdowns, depression leading to sinful behavior, etc., etc.
These are induced by the effort of dishonesty in wearing our masks! No one can do it!
In works induced, meeting attending, tithing, knowledge fed pride, Christians have largely entered a self-righteous state because we refuse to believe the whole picture the scriptures paints of the state of mankind. We fool ourselves into believing we have nothing to confess to one another, no struggles with sin to contend with and we become liars. We are “good people”! We measure ourselves against the murderers, the rapists, the more public sinners such as homosexuals and abortionists, and settle into smug self satisfied comfort because “we are not like them”!
Preachers stand in pulpits and quote the experts, the gurus, their favorite authors, both past and present. Listen carefully to the messages of many preachers and you will hear the works of so many bygone men of God being regurgitated, often word for word. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent as leaders travel huge distances to attend conference after conference to hear how to do it, how to say it and what to do and say.
The answers, apparently, are everywhere but in the Word of God.
Well, my brethren, we are like them! And we remain beggars, even though saved by grace, through faith in the finished work of Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. This beggar is so thankful for that..