Today, many people think that theology is too difficult for ordinary people. Doctrine is for theologians, professors, clergy - and not even ordinary clergy, but the really serious egg-heads. This point of view says that normal people cannot be expected to understand complicated theology, especially when many doctrines are mysteries of faith that even the experts have trouble figuring out.
This point of view becomes an excuse to avoid Bible Study and the Divine Service. Ignorance of theology is seen as a virtue rather than a shortcoming. Instead of earnestly studying the Word, people rely upon their common sense and their feelings.
Now, I want to acknowledge that there are indeed some doctrines that are mysterious and beyond human reason to understand. Yet we should not rely on our understanding, but upon the wisdom of God's Word. Common sense and feelings will mislead us, but the Word never fails.
Still, there is the concern of "How much?" How much doctrine does a believer NEED? Is it enough to have not only a simple, childlike faith, but also simple, childlike knowledge? How much should we believe, and how strong should our conviction be?
Moses says, "Turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." People can agonize over whether they are certain enough of what the Bible says. When doubts and questions nag us, we may wonder whether we truly have faith and whether we are truly saved.
If you have ever experienced doubts and uncertainties, you are not alone. If you wonder whether these doubts mean that there is something wrong with you, then you should know that the answer is: Yes, there is something wrong with you. It is the same thing that has been wrong with every human being since Adam and Eve. It is called your sinful flesh, and it wants to judge everything by good works and merit and self-righteousness.
Your sinful flesh does not want to be content with the free grace that fills Scripture, but instead wants to ask: Have I done enough? Have I said enough? Am I sincere enough? Am I good enough? Our flesh even wants to turn faith into an "enough" question: Have I believed enough?
But Moses is not talking in terms of good works and earned merit, but about the righteousness that comes by faith. He is not speaking a command based upon the Law, but the command to believe and trust in the promise of God. For Moses, that promise was in the future. But for us, it has been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
Because Moses is speaking about the free promise of God, he says, "This commandment that I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'" Moses is saying that this is not a distant, difficult command, but easy and close to us. We do not have to go on a long pilgrimage to a far off holy land. We do not have to perform a hard penance. We do not have to overcome obstacles. We do not have to attain a mystical state of enlightenment or saintly piety.
In fact, there is nothing we have to do to receive the grace of God, because the grace of God is by definition freely given, without any merit or worthiness in us. We do not deserve His love, we do not earn it, we do not pay it back.
Therefore, it is not up to us to bring Christ down from heaven. He already descended by becoming flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by taking the form of a servant, and by choosing the path that led to the great descent into suffering, death, and hell. He descended so that He could lift us up. Since He has lifted us up, how shall we accomplish more than He has done? For the essence of grace is this: that Christ is our strength and our righteousness. So let us turn away from our own merits and throw them away as worthless compared to the merits of Christ.
True theology and true doctrine amounts to this: to put Christ at the center of everything. The point of theology is to make sure that our good works do not try to do what only grace can do. The main thing that should be at the heart of all we teach from Scripture is that we are justified by grace through faith on account of Christ.
Since this is so, true theology and doctrine are a source of incredible joy to us believers, because in every doctrine we see the face of our loving Savior. In every doctrine, we are pointed toward the sweet grace of our heavenly Father and the glorious Gospel by which we are redeemed. The more we study Scripture, the more we are filled with the pleasure of seeing how much our God has done for us. Far from being a difficult chore or a mysterious puzzle, theology is the very source of our identity as the saints of God. It is our life and our joy and our salvation.
This is because theology is simply to study or talk about God. We do not talk about God the way the world does, using our own sin-tainted common sense and feelings. Instead, we say about God only what He has revealed about Himself in His Word.
We see in this Word what great blessings are ours. We see that the Lord our God rejoices and delights in us. We are His treasured possession, a source of great joy to Him, because He is our God and we are His people.
We see His delight in us in the multitude of blessings He has poured upon us. Above and beyond all earthly blessings are His Holy Word and Sacraments through which we receive forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation from satan. Through the Word and Sacraments, God floods us with His grace and unites us with the death of His Son. Through these means of grace, God strengthens our faith. He unites us as the one body of Christ, the communion of saints. As He feeds us with the Bread of Life, we receive a foretaste of the never ending feast when we will be in perfect fellowship with Christ in heaven.
The Holy Spirit continue to teach you to both crave and be satisfied with these gifts of God, and to never rely on your own goodness, so that you thirst for the true doctrine of pure grace in Christ Jesus, never tiring of the beauty of God's Word in which lies your life and salvation.
In the Name of this One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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