In his Heidelberg Theses of 1518, Luther’s explanation of what the reform he was proposing was all about, at its very heart, was that theologians of the cross have the courage to “tell it like it really is.” The father of lies teaches us not only to try to deceive others with misrepresentations of what is in fact real and true, he also leads us into self-deception. He obscures our vision of reality and lets all manner of false messages assault our hearing and thinking. Sometimes it seems easier to find out the truth about ourselves from our own observation and judgment. But often, as the poet Robert Burns sensed, we should pray that some power gives us the gift to see ourselves as others see us, particularly to see ourselves as Jesus views us. That gift would indeed free us from blunders, foolish notions, and false estimates of who we are as sinners and who we are as the children of God, re-created by the word of absolution. The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck spoke of “people of the lie” in his study of narcissism published in 1983, but Satan has led us all into believing falsehoods about ourselves, others, and God all too often. He has trained us well in the art of crafting our own reshaping of reality to suit our misguided purposes and desires. That new shape of the truth we try to pass off to ourselves and others as reliable information and judgment. Sometimes we deceive ourselves in a vain effort at self-defense. But our self-deception also creates fear and fosters mistrust and distance to both our Creator and our fellow creatures. Our self-deception creates shadows of fear and doubt in our lives, and finally strangles us.
Christ enveloped all evil into His body as it died on the cross. That includes the sins which bind us tightly and wrap us into ourselves in a suffocating rigidity that seizes us as we try to defend ourselves. Because He has set us free, we enjoy a freedom of movement in His world, under His grace, that loosens our tongues to sing His praise. We enjoy the freedom to come into the presence of our heavenly Father in guilt, with the heavy burden of our own stubbornness in the face of God’s commands. We can freely give ourselves permission to confront our own stupid rejection of God’s love and defiance of His lordship. In German, the word for “debt” and the word for “guilt” is the same word. Luther confessed that all the goodness we experience in life comes purely out of God’s “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in me,” since I came into this world without a stitch of clothing to say nothing about any other things to claim as my own, with one exception. He was already prepared to give me my relationship with Him and with those human beings and natural gifts He gives me to love and serve. “For all that I owe it to God to thank and praise Him, to serve and obey Him.” From the beginning, I was behind on what I owe. Christ came to cancel my debt, which consisted of not living life as God created me to live it. That is, it consisted of death. Jesus wrapped my debt up in His own person, took it to the cross, burned it up in His passion, and swallowed it up in His tomb. I am free and have absolutely no need for any compunctions about trotting up to my Father, jumping in His lap, and snuggling there for the duration.
Jesus wrapped my debt up in His own person, took it to the cross, burned it up in His passion, and swallowed it up in His tomb.
We enjoy the freedom to come to our Maker covered with shame from playing in Satan’s muddy playground, for rolling in his filth, for smearing ourselves full of sin’s grimy rubbish and waste. Jesus has scrubbed us clean with His blood, washed us with baptismal water, thrown the cloak of His person over the nakedness which exposes us and reveals not only our foolish decisions and blundering mistakes but also our vulnerabilities and helplessness in the face of the Devil’s assaults. We enjoy the freedom to bounce into His presence, leaving every menace and threat quaking in the face of Jesus. For He has stepped between us and all that menaces us, intimidates us, bullies us, all that strikes terror into our hearts. There are things to fear beside fear itself, but our Lord is the Lion of Judah. His roar sounds forth from the mouth of His quivering tomb, where He terrorized death, strangled Satan, and buried our sin. Fear we may, but at the same time we recognize nothing is so fearsome that it will dominate our future or wreak vengeance from our past upon us.
This freedom also liberates us to talk about ourselves in ways we could not when our sinfulness still mastered our thinking. Believers enjoy the freedom to become honest with themselves and others about their failures and mistakes, and even their doubt of God’s Word and their defiance of His will. Believers enjoy the freedom to say, “Forgive me, pardon me, please take my sin away.” They even have the freedom to return repeatedly to the One who set a limit of 490 times to the necessity of their forgiving others—and then forgets His own limits when He deals with us (He actually presumed we will not be able to remember the count ourselves and will always forgive at least one more time, again and again, just in case). For the Jesus who expressed infinity by taking the perfect number times ten and multiplying it again seven times is the same Jesus who goes to seek the lost sheep of His people no matter how many times they stray.
Believers enjoy the freedom to become honest with themselves and others about their failures and mistakes, and even their doubt of God’s Word and their defiance of His will.
Jesus also frees us to be able to say, “Thank you,” to Him and to others. “Thank you” confesses my delight at receiving and my need for a gift, and it can imply dependence or obligation. It may be seen as weakness, but it is evidence of strength: Of our own strength in our recognition of human interdependence, and of God’s strength and power to provide. Saying thanks takes seriously the person with whom I am in a relationship, of absolute dependence on God and of interdependence with all other human beings, as well as dependence on the gifts of nature which keep coming from God’s providing hand. Saying thanks also means God’s model of constant and full provision is a model for my calling as a giver to others.
We have the freedom to go to Him with our every request as well. We can risk asking for things for which we should not be asking because we know our prayers are not magic incantations that take Him captive and force Him to do our will. Whether we say it or not, we know “Thy will be done” will govern His decisions on how to react to our advice and suggestions. His governance provides us with a comforting margin of safety that enables us to pray recklessly, knowing He will say, “No,” to what would harm us. We have the freedom to risk embarrassment, rejection, sacrifice of time, goods, and the world’s respect in reaching out to others to serve them with our witness and our aid. We have the freedom of children to blurt out the family secrets, to betray to others what our heavenly Father confides to us about what kind of a God He is and who Jesus has remade us to be.
Freed to be truly human again under the shadow of God’s protection and guidance, we are the people who are free to go to God with the Holy Spirit as their paraclete, their counselor and advocate, and with Jesus Christ as the One who shares new life, along with death to sin with us. Freedom to go to God with the clear conscience given in baptism (1 Peter 3:21) liberates us for fullness of life in His world.