Professor Haemig provides a study on stewardship using the apostle's Creed. Using Luther's meaning of the Creed, Professor Haemig then begins to engage the person in understanding how Stewardship can be lived out within one's daily life. This is a three part series in which each of the three articles of the Apostle's Creed will be examined.
Stewardship Study: The Apostles' Creed Unit 2
The Second article: On Redemption
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
What is this? Luther explains:
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human being, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.
When we studied the first article we reflected on what kind of God we have. Specifically, we considered the generosity of God in creation. Now we reflect on the generous God again; we consider the God who is so generous that he is willing to give himself for us. God not only gives us the goods of creation -- God gives himself.
Luther writes about the second article in the Large Catechism:
"Here we get to know the second person of the Godhead, and we see what we have from God over and above the temporal goods mentioned above, namely, how he has given himself completely to us, withholding nothing." 434, 26
Who is this Jesus Christ? Getting to know God "my lord"
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human being, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.
- Who is my Lord? Jesus Christ! According to the creed adopted by the early church and followed by nearly all Christians, Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully human. But Luther's chief interest is not this theological point (though that is important and he assumes it) -- rather it is what Jesus does for us.
- Luther explains in his Large Catechism: "What is it "to become a lord"? It means that he has redeemed and released me from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all misfortune. Before this I had no lord or king, but was captive under the power of the devil. I was condemned to death and entangled in sin and blindness." (434)
- I confess that Jesus Christ is your Lord. Nothing I do, say, or think makes him this. I confess that he is my Lord, I do not make him my Lord.
- When we confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord we are also confessing that other lords are, at best, secondary. So too, we do not cling to all our resources (including our money) and worship them as ultimate in our lives but rather we cling to Christ.
Luther, commenting on Matthew 6:24 wrote:
"...every Christian..when he has the Word of God..honors and keeps it, regardless of whether this irritates the world or whether it costs him his success. This is his attitude: 'There is my wallet and money bag, my house and home. But here is my Christ. Now, if I have to forsake and surrender one of them, I will let it all go in order to keep my Christ.' That is what Christ means with the words: 'No one can serve two masters.' Eventually they will come into conflict and one will have to yield to the other. Therefore it is vain for you to persuade yourself of the idea that you will keep them both as your masters..." Luther's Works 21, 188-9
What other lords have competed for your attention in life? How have those lords sought to convince you that they are your lord? In what ways do societal influences try to convince us to follow other "lords?" Consider the results of following other lords in your own life.
What Jesus Christ has done for us
He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.
- How are you (a human) described? In Luther's words we are "lost and condemned" --- NOT bad or evil! What God has created is not bad but we are lost and condemned in our sin.
- From what have we been freed? "sins, death, and the power of the devil." What are these? Think of the matters that challenge you now, that vex you, hold you captive, frustrate you, yes, even threaten to destroy you. God has freed you from all these. No, he won't pay your mortgage or medical bills, magically cure your family problems, heal your illness, or create universal lasting peace now, but he will change your vision so that the evil and hurts of this world are no longer what shape your view of life.
"He has purchased and freed me"
- God paid something, it cost God something.
- Reflect on God's stewardship --- God is the extravagant giver. God spends himself in Jesus Christ-- God does not just give some stuff he has created, God gives himself. And for what does God give himself? For you!
What did it cost God? Read again: "Not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death."
- God purchased and freed you with something more important than silver and gold -- God gave himself in his son Jesus Christ. This puts silver and gold in perspective -- God (who owns all the silver and gold) gave much more for us -- he gave himself. He was willing to give everything for us -- his life, his work, his reputation, his death, and his resurrection. What is money (or anything) compared with that?
- Reflect on the fact that our gifts of money (silver and gold) are far less than what God has given for us.
Why? Why would God give not just what he created, but his very self for us?
He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.
- God did all this for a reason! You have not convinced God to do something for you. Rather God has taken the initiative, acted with unfathomable generosity, and given himself for you. Christ does not merely come and set a good example -- he gives himself FOR YOU, making you his own, placing you in his kingdom, and enabling you to serve him.
- Notice the language here is not a demand or a statement of what you should or ought to do (You should live like this. You ought to do that.) Rather it is a statement of what we now are -- we belong to him, we live in his kingdom, and we serve him.
- Christ makes it possible for us to live as we were created to live -- in other words, as the first article says we are to live -- we thank, praise, serve, and obey God.
- Just as surely as Christ is risen from the dead and rules today, he has made us his own. You can build your life on this!
- Consider the verbs: Belong, live, serve. What do each of these mean?
This is most certainly true.
- When you say "This is most certainly true" you say that this is true not just abstractly but true for you.
- God calls us in creation to live as he intended and in redemption calls and enables us to be his, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him. God's action for us in Christ shapes all of our other relationships, including relationships with family, friends, work, community, and our resources.
- How do your relationships reflect God's generosity toward you?
- How does your use of your financial resources reflect God's generosity toward you? When you set up a monthly budget or make a major financial decision, do you ask yourself how it reflects God's generosity toward you?
As you consider these questions, reflect on two words from Luther:
Luther wrote about what Christ has done in his great hymn "From Heaven Above" (ELW 268)
Welcome to earth, O noble Guest,
Through whom this sinful world is blest!
You turned not from our needs away;
How can our thanks such love repay? (v. 8)
In speaking of our response to God's generosity Luther writes that the Christian ought to think
"...my God has given me in Christ all the riches of righteousness and salvation without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes that this is true. Why should I not therefore freely, joyfully, with all my heart, and with an eager will do all things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to such a Father who has overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches? I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me; I will do nothing in this life except what I see is necessary, profitable, and salutary to my neighbor, since through faith I have an abundance of all good things in Christ."
Behold, from faith thus flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing, and free mind that serves one's neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, or praise or blame, of gain or loss. For a man does not serve that he may put men under obligations. He does not distinguish between friends and enemies or anticipate their thankfulness or unthankfulness, but he most freely and most willingly spends himself and all that he has, whether he wastes all on the thankless or whether he gains a reward...Just as our neighbor is in need and lacks that in which we abound, so we were in need before God and lacked his mercy. Hence, as our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another... The Freedom of a Christian (1520) in Luther's Works, volume 31, page 367
Professor Mary Jane Haemig is Associate Professor of Church History at Luther Seminary and Director of the Thrivent Reformation Research Program.