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 3
Third Article -- On Being Made Holy
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
In this article we confess (once again) that God is a generous God. God's generosity shows itself in the efforts God exerts to make you his. Our persistently generous God never stops his efforts to make you his own.
In his Small Catechism, Luther explains this article:
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins -- mine and those of all believers. On the Last Day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
- Go back over this explanation and list everything that God the Holy Spirit does:
Calls me through the gospel
Enlightens me with his gifts
Makes me holy
Keeps me in the true faith
And not me alone!
The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth
keeps us together with Jesus Christ in the one true faith
What happens when our relationship with God and others goes bad?
The Holy Spirit forgives all sins -- mine and those of others
Even in death we are not abandoned!
The Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life
Quite a list! Let's think further about this generous God.
God's Generosity to you
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith.
- Throughout this study we have been talking about God's gifts. The generous God has shown his goodness to us and for us in creation and redemption. We are overwhelmed with God's generosity. But the generosity is not yet finished. This God is so generous that he does not leave his relationship with us to chance --- or to us. Instead, God the Holy Spirit, has created and completed the relationship with me. Even the faith I have is a gift from God! Even my relationship with God comes from God.
- In the Large Catechism Luther describes what God the Holy Spirit does:
"Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe in him and receive him as Lord, unless these were offered to us and bestowed on our hearts through the preaching of the gospel by the Holy Spirit. The work is finished and completed; Christ has acquired and won the treasure for us by his sufferings, death, and resurrection, etc. But if the work remained hidden so that no one knew of it, it would have been all in vain, all lost. In order that this treasure might no remain buried but be put to use and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which he has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply to us this treasure, this redemption. Therefore being made holy is nothing else than bringing us to the Lord Christ to receive this blessing, to which we could not have come by ourselves." (436, 38)
- "Sanctification" can be a loaded word. Certainly Christians have understood it in different ways. Many Christians believe that sanctification is something we do after we have been saved. They believe that we try to make ourselves better and thereby "more holy". Sometimes they think that God helps us in this. But in general they think becoming holy is a human project.
- Lutherans have a different view of sanctification. Luther makes clear that "To sanctify" or to make holy is to bringing to Christ. This is the Holy Spirit's work alone. The Holy Spirit makes us holy by bringing us to Christ, placing us into the proper relationship (faith) with God. Sanctification is not our achievement. It is not about being "extra good," "real faithful," or even "truly believing." Rather it is about the relationship of trust that God wants to have with us. He wants it so much that he gives it to us! And now we see and understand our lives differently. We could not do this on our own.
- Sanctification doesn't just happen once -- it happens daily! God the Holy Spirit continually calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us.
God's generosity toward you is intimately related to his generosity toward others
God the Holy Spirit not only makes you holy by drawing you to himself, he sets you in relationship with him and with others.
...just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.
- You are not the only one whom God has called and drawn to himself! You are part of a church that is called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by God the Holy Spirit. God has called you in and into this church, a church he has created and sustained.
- In this community we hear God's Word, both God's good intention for how we are to live and his forgiveness when we fail. We experience this Word again in baptism and the Lord's Supper. We also experience this Word in what Luther called "the mutual consolation of the saints." This Word both judges us and reconciles us to God and to one another.
God's persistent generosity
Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins -- mine and those of all believers. On the Last Day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
- Not only does the Holy Spirit seek us and put us into relationship with God, not only does the Holy Spirit seek us and put us into relationship with others, this Holy Spirit acts daily to counter the effects of our sin, our acts against the way God intended relationships to be. God the Holy Spirit forgives my sins, that is, he grants me a new beginning every day. His persistent generosity grants new life even in the midst of sin, evil, and failure.
- Not even death stops the persistent God! The Holy Spirit does not want your relationship with God to end when you die. God the Holy Spirit cares for us even through death and raises us to new life
This is most certainly true.
We can never repay God for his generosity. We can only respond to that generosity. We respond with thanks to God and service and generosity to God and our neighbor.
- Consider your own generosity. Do your gifts of financial and other resources match your thanks to God for his gifts? Do they match your God-given capacity for service to others?
As you think about this, consider two words from Luther on thanksgiving and service:
- Thanksgiving. Consider what Luther wrote in his commentary on Genesis
"..the Holy Spirit does not bestow His gifts for money; nor does God accept Gold and silver for the forgiveness of sins, for life, eyes, senses, and all blessings. No, God's munificence dispenses His gifts to the grateful and the ungrateful. The only thing it demands is thanksgiving, so that we say: 'Blessed be the Lord God in His gifts,' so that divinity is attributed to Him, that is, that we acknowledge Him as God..." (Luther's Works volume 4, page 397)
- Service. Luther, writing about the freedom the Christian has, makes clear that our freedom is not for ourselves but to serve others.
"Man...needs none of these things for his righteousness and salvation. Therefore he should be guided in all his works by this thought and contemplate this one thing alone, that he may serve and benefit others in all that he does, considering nothing except the need and the advantage of his neighbor. Accordingly the Apostle commands us to work with our hands so that we may give to the needy, although he might have said that we should work to support ourselves. He says, however, "that he may be able to give to those in need" [Eph. 4:28]. This is what makes caring for the body a Christian work, that through its health and comfort we may be able to work, to acquire, and lay by funds with which to aid those who are in need, that in this way the strong member may serve the weaker, and we may be sons of God, each caring for and working for the other, bearing one another's burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ [Gal. 6:2]. This is a truly Christian life. The Freedom of a Christian (1520) in Luther's Works, volume 31, page 365
Professor Mary Jane Haemig is Associate Professor of Church History at Luther Seminary and Director of the Thrivent Reformation Research Program.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.