Posted on October 30th, 2016
The ghosts that haunt us are not the ones hanging from trees around our neighborhoods every October. We have our own Dickensian specters, the wraiths in our minds poking at our memories, haunting us with past abuse, wrong decisions, deeds that seemed pleasant but are now recognized as worthless, destructive, evil.
A conscience not yet entirely seared is haunted by past sins. Worst are the besetting sins, the sins we return to like comfort food. These ghosts that haunt us whisper, “You will never change. You are my captive, and we will continue on this path that leads to destruction.” We grow to love our captors. The world is deep in the throes of Stockholm Syndrome. Are you in danger of joining them in this strong delusion?
Martin Luther was a monk haunted by such ghosts – or we could say demons. The demons beguile and seduce, then guide us to self-justification. “You’re not so bad,” they whisper. “Certainly you’re better than that fool over there. Look at him! Pompous jerk. He doesn’t work, not like I do. Look at her! She gossips and preens, acts like she’s the queen. Thank God I am not like them.”
Such are we. Luther was different. Luther had many sins, but self-justification was not one of them. The ghosts that haunted him did the opposite. With Luther they took up the chief work of Lucifer, the work of accusation. As he advanced from monk to priest to doctor of theology and professor, he saw that he could not advance in the Christian life to the degree demanded by God. For God’s law demands perfection, and the medieval church had developed elaborate systems for achieving that perfection through the payment of money and the performance of church-created works not instituted by God.
The doctrine of Justification still matters.
It’s hard for us to imagine the degree of bondage Luther experienced through God’s Law and the pope’s demands. For our age has the opposite problem. Everything has become free, and our age demands everything be free. Free love, free healthcare, free prophylactics, free education. When a politician comes along saying there will be a reckoning, we will have to pay for the life we’ve chosen, he or she never stands a chance. With similar scorn, the church of the Lutheran Confession still stands today to say the same thing theologically, even to a decadent, hedonistic age: “There will be a reckoning. Your sins cost something. They must be dealt with.” So the doctrine of justification—the teaching that only in the death of Jesus is there a proper reckoning, a full payment—still matters.
Here too we find ghosts that haunt us. “Luther was an anti-semite!” the accusers cry; “He was the precursor to the holocaust!” “Luther tore the church apart!” “You Lutherans worship a man, a tradition, a German heritage. You are too conservative, too exclusive, too narrow-minded.”
The content of the Faith is what matters, not the messenger or his culture.
But the churches of the Lutheran Confession thriving in Africa know little of a Germanic culture or European problems, other than they know that it’s the Europeans who are now evangelizing them with the Gospel of Hedonism and Sexual Revolution. They recognize what we must recognize: that the content of the Faith is what matters, not the messenger or his culture. This is why the famous statues of Martin Luther show him holding up the Scriptures, and the famous painting of Cranach has him off to the side, pointing to Jesus in the center.
Confront the ghosts that haunt you with that same finger point to Jesus. Confront the ghosts that haunt you with the Words of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit drives away every demon with this declaration: “Jesus Christ, your God and Lord, died for your sins and was raised again for your justification.” The Holy Spirit scatters every specter with the cry, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
So when the ghosts haunt you of your worthlessness, say, “What of it? Yes, I am worthless, but worthy is the Lamb who was slain. In Him is all my worth, for He has made Himself my Brother, and I am now God’s beloved child. In me—even me!—He is well pleased.”
When the ghosts haunt you about your guilt, say, “True, I have fallen many times! But my Lord Jesus comes for me as a Good Shepherd seeking out His lost sheep, and even now He is carrying me home on the same shoulders that hung upon the cross.”
When the ghosts haunt you regarding your corrupt nature, with its eating disorders and lusts and addictions, and finally your broken, cancer-ridden, oozing body, reply with all boldness, “True, I am sick in mind and soul and body, but by His stripes I am healed; Jesus gives His living body to my dying body, and He will grant me to eat of the Tree of Life, which is for the healing of the nations.”
This Reformation is ongoing in our lives, and it will continue in the Church until the end of the world. With Luther and all Christians we will continue to confess. “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord; I believe that the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” Scatter the specters with Scripture’s teaching: “Yes, I have fallen short of the glory of God, but I am justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Put to flight every ghost that haunts you with these sure and certain words: “Into Jesus I have been baptized, a baptism which now saves me. He gives me His true body and true blood to eat and drink, which gives me life. In Christ will I live, in Christ will I die, and His will I be forever.” +INJ+