The Introduction: Our Father Who Art in Heaven

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This article begins an eight-part series inspired by the Lenten themes of catechesis, prayer, and repentance found in the Lord’s Prayer as Luther taught it in his Small Catechism.

The Lord’s Prayer, though not the theological center of the Small Catechism (that belongs to the Creed), is the practical center of it. Having been put to death by the law presented in the ten commandments, and brought to life by the gospel summarized in the Apostles’ Creed, it's in the Lord’s Prayer where we find ourselves as new creations in a not yet new creation.

Jesus’ innocent suffering and death have redeemed us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. We are his own and live under him in his kingdom. But Christ’s kingdom is still under attack. Though the war is won, fighting continues. The enemy still needs driving out. Jesus lives and reigns victoriously to all eternity, but sin, death, and the devil still contend for territory in his realm.

This contentious battle takes place within the Christian. Though justified, we still sin. The Holy Spirit has called us to faith by the gospel, yet our sinful nature works to dishonor God’s name, oppose his kingdom, and impose our will on God and our neighbors. It forgets the giver of the gifts we receive to support this body and life and turns them into wages. And, it ignores its own sin while withholding the forgiveness our neighbor needs. Likewise, the devil works through all manner of temptation and evil to pry us from the gospel by misleading us into false belief and despair as he did Adam and Eve. What are we to do?

The introduction of the Lord’s Prayer has...“a death and resurrection built right into it.”

It is in this context that Luther’s explanations of the third chief part unite the other chief parts of the Catechism together and bring them to bear in the daily struggles of our Christian life. We see this already in the introduction of the Lord’s Prayer and its explanation:

“Our Father who art in heaven. What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true Father and that we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask him as dear children ask their dear Father.”

The introduction of the Lord’s Prayer has, what Jim Nestingen points out of each petition, “a death and resurrection built right into it.” This death and resurrection are brought about in our lives by the Holy Spirit, most notably first in baptism, which unites us to Christ’s death and resurrection, making us children of God (Rom 6:3-11). The old self is drowned, and the new self is raised to life.

The daily dying of the old self and rising of the new self comes about in daily repentance through prayer.

But our new self is attacked and questioned daily by the devil, the world, and our old sinful nature. Yet despite “living in the crucible of every day,” as Nestingen phrases it, “we have to be encouraged to pray.” Luther, in his explanation, labels this encouragement as a tender invitation to believe and trust in the promises God has revealed in Christ.

The daily dying of the old self and rising of the new self comes about in daily repentance through prayer. This daily repentance, this changing or turning from our will to God’s will through prayer, is not a work we decide or do. It comes about by the word of God, which he first speaks to us and then gives us to speak back to him.

The Lord’s Prayer begins where the Apostles’ Creed ends, calling us by the gospel to live in faith. Only, this gospel call comes in different words because it calls us back to what we have already received.

By giving us the words, “Our Father,” Jesus invites us to recognize anew the everyday reality and consequence of the faith that the Holy Spirit has called us into by the gospel: by the forgiveness of our sins, we are still God’s true children and siblings of his Son by whose sacrifice we were adopted. As such, we join Jesus in calling upon God as our Father, both his and ours, one and the same, together with all boldness and confidence as only Christ could.

To call on God as Father in full assurance of who he is, and who we are to him, is an act of faith in which we die to ourselves.

Though simply stated by Luther in the Small Catechism, to ask God as our true Father in all boldness and confidence is no easy task. It is not a task we can do at all. It must be brought about in us by death and resurrection.

To call on God as Father in full assurance of who he is, and who we are to him, is an act of faith in which we die to ourselves. It is an acknowledgment of a reality our sinful nature would rather not recognize. We are not in control. We are in desperate need of help. We are not the god of our life. God, the creator of heaven and earth, is.

To pray to God as our heavenly Father is to call upon God in faith. We do this not only believing he is able to do all we ask but also believing he is our good and gracious Father as we are commanded in the second commandment and confess of him in the Apostles’ Creed.

God is eager to hear our prayers and give us all that we need, even as he has given himself entirely to us in his temporal gifts, in the person and work of his Son, and in the forgiveness of sins. All this he gives and does out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in us as he raises us from the dead to new life in Christ.

In this way, the Lord’s Prayer brings us into a daily dying and rising under the sign of the cross as we struggle and contend with our old sinful selves and the sin-filled world around us.