Friday, May 3, 2013

Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted

One of the simple ways in which the distinction between Law and Gospel has been explained is the phrase, "Afflict the Comfortable and Comfort the Afflicted."  The idea is this.  If a person is proud, is content to be in their sin, if they think that they are doing okay -- then you preach the Law.  You show them that there is nothing to be proud of, that they ought not be no longer striving against their sin, let them see that they do fall short.

And when this has been done, when they see the remaining and continuing depth of their sin - then the Gospel is proclaimed, then we are to be the peacemakers, consoling them not with their own works, worth, or merit, but with Christ Jesus and His loving death and resurrection for them.

It's a simple guide.  Afflict the Comfortable.  Comfort the Afflicted.

Thinking on the Sanctification Dust-up of April, I think this simple guide shows why I end up thinking the way I do.

If you are calling for more third use, more exhortation, more guidance... I tend to think you are probably "comfortable."

"Well, how dare you assume that!"

Actually, I think it's a fair assumption.  Consider another saying - the Law always accuses.  This is truth... but then there is the retort, "But it doesn't only accuse!"  See, there are other things the Law does... and what are you expecting it to do?  Not accuse you, but merely guide.

That's being "comfortable" in yourself.

Or consider the thrust that the call for more exhortation is rarely focused on the self (as in, "Preachers, preach more exhortation because *I* need it"), but rather on the neighbor -- you preachers need to exhort those people over there because they need it!

Or in other words, I'm quite comfortable and good right now -- but those folks there, they need to learn.  That's being "comfortable" in yourself.

And of course, the lament that I don't want to look at my cooperation, or spend a lot of time looking at it.  Why do you keep looking at Christ, Brown -- because in myself, I am never comfortable.  I know my sin, and it's ever before me.

I feel the selfishness as I stayed up until 10 last night instead of sleeping early... because I get up this morning to take care of my son and with less sleep I will be a touch more cranky.  I feel my hypocrisy, that is the disdain I feel towards those who think they are better than others and think that they don't need to learn.  Whenever I look at myself, I am afflicted.  And exhortation won't fix that.  Only Christ and His comfort.

Pastors are not theorists.  We are not dealing with abstract truth or mere theories of theology.  We are dealing with the Truth, Christ Jesus - the One who is the Way and the Life as well.  People do not need our subtle and deep thoughts, they need the peace of Christ Jesus.  Really.  That's what they need.

If they do not see this need - then the Law.  Don't worry about "improvement" - God will use this same afflicting Law to also guide.  When they know their need - give them Christ Crucified for them.  Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.  This is the theologian and pastor's task.


Steve Martin said...

Short and sweet.

Very well said, Rev..

Very well said, indeed.

Steve Martin said...

I can't help it...I just had to come back for more.

Your observation that the ones calling for "more exhortation", more often than not, are aiming it at spot on. "It's that other guy who really needs what I am saying". They sure as heck don't plan on doing anything differently themselves. One look at their lives will tell you that in a second.

The law is written upon our hearts. We know what to do (BEFORE the exhortations).

We just flat out refuse to do it. And if we do do it, there are those pesky ulterior motives.

No way is a steady diet of law (for betterment) going to bring about the un-selfconscious acts of love that Jesus describes in Matthew 25-35.

Law preaching for betterment is much more apt to bring about the attitude, "Well...we did this that and the other thing in your name, didn't we?"


That's enough. I'm starting to ramble now. Starting to do what they (the law bangers) do (it's in us)...write a long tome with endless Scripture quotations...all pointed at 'you'.

Nathan Rinne said...


"They sure as heck don't plan on doing anything differently themselves. One look at their lives will tell you that in a second."

No judgment there. : )

Actually, while this is true of all of us, I know of some persons I consider to be very highly sanctified who nonetheless are very eager to hear words of correction. Doesn't the Bible say that somewhere?

Come on guys. Much love in Christ to you both....

Yes, that was law I just left you with. I say it to you not to make you Christians because I consider you Christians.


Steve Martin said...

Hi Nathan,

"Highly sanctified"?

How can you know? As opposed to others who are only slightly sanctified??

Thanks, friend.

Nathan Rinne said...


Check out part I first.

Love in Christ brother,

Steve Martin said...


Thanks for the link. I went and read.

Not too crazy about it. Not too crazy about cooperative work talk towards justification OR sanctification.

One thing they got right was that God does this. He sanctifies us in the true faith.

Sanctified means to be 'made holy'. To be 'set apart'.

Can you help do that? Can anyone?

The true Church is hidden from us. We don't mess around with the wheat and tares. That's God's business.

Someone may be in church twice on Sunday, be on the church council, on every committee, and work at the homeless shelter in his/her spare time...and it is possible that they aren't even a Christian.

I much prefer to let God complete in me that which He started.

And He will do that, quite often in spite of my 'help'...not because of it.

Thanks, friend.

Nathan Rinne said...


Do you think church discipline, for example, can ever be done then?

Also, this post I just did at BJS may help:

The author of those holiness posts was me by the way.


Steve Martin said...


Sure, church discipline can be done. That's another matter.

When we start down the road of cooperative or progressive...anything...when it comes to matters of the Christian faith, then we might as well return to Rome. Or become Southern Baptists.

In Christ we are truly free. Yes, freed from the religious self-ascendency project...and freed for the neighbor.

But our relationship with God does not depend on 'how we do'.

That talk of "how many mansions we will receive in Heaven" and stuff like that is not helpful. It screws up our motives something fierce.

There's such a thing as rabbinic hyperbole used in Scripture.

We ARE DECLARED righteous and holy (sanctified) for Jesus' sake, Nathan.

There it is. I said it. I hope one day you will believe it, my friend.

Nathan Rinne said...

"We ARE DECLARED righteous and holy (sanctified) for Jesus' sake, Nathan.

There it is. I said it. I hope one day you will believe it, my friend."

I do believe it Steve. Never said I didn't.


Steve Martin said...


If you believe it...then...why?

Why all the progressive/cooperative language?

What does that do for the sinner?

Since the law (exhorting to...whatever) cannot make us better...but only WORSE (St. Paul).

My advice is to leave to God, the things of God...and to just focus on the neighbor.

We don't even want to do that much. That ought reveal to us how well our cooperative efforts are going.

Thanks for the discussion, Nathan. I have to get ready for work. Enjoyed our brief exchange.

I'll let you have the last word, friend.


Steve M.

Nathan Rinne said...


Just know I know I can't be any closer to God than what I already am. He has done it all in Christ.

That said, there are things I see in Scripture that cause me to say what I do.

I'd simply encourage you to look at some of my postings over the past two weeks - particularly the one's linking to Pastor Strawn and Sonntag's papers. If you would read those papers in full when you have time, I think you might understand what I am saying a bit more, even if you were still wary of it.

Believe me, I intend, by the grace of God, to defend the doctrine of justification until my dying breath. It must always be distinguished from sanctification.

It is all I have.

In Christ!


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

"Actually, while this is true of all of us, I know of some persons I consider to be very highly sanctified who nonetheless are very eager to hear words of correction."

I find the language of "highly sanctified" dubious myself - but if we are to speak that way, there cannot be a "highly sanctified" person who wouldn't want to hear words of correction.

Reprove a wise man...

Nathan Rinne said...

Pastor Brown,