Knowing About Christ; Knowing Christ


When I was in grade school I collected baseball cards.  My favorite baseball player was Orel Hershiser of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I knew very well that he was the 1988 World Series MVP, earned the 1988 Cy Young Award, received the 1988 Golden Glove award, had 59 consecutive scoreless innings and was known as the 'bulldog.'  I had over 100 different baseball cards of Orel, a book and pictures.  I knew a lot about Orel but ultimately did not know Orel.  He had never met me, he never approached me, called me or wrote me.

The reason why I share this story is that I had a conversation a while back with an individual who was reflecting on their Christian walk.  They said to me, "Pastor Matt, it seems to me that I knew a lot about Christ but I really didn't know Christ."  How can it be possible to know a lot about someone and simply not know them?

In C.F.W. Walther's book, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, we read, "What good is it if someone tells me: 'There is a great treasure.  Go get it!  All you have to do is haul it off,' yet he does not tell me where the treasure is, how to get there, what methods to use to get it.  Then I would say, 'Enough of your foolish talk about your treasure!'" Walther goes on to comment about some preachers that employ this, “…a preacher might say, ’Here I have a treasure,’ yet he does not put the treasure plainly before them or give them the key to unlock it.  Then what good would this treasure be to them?  They lock up the treasure in front of us that they ought to lay plainly before us…  They preach the existence of a treasure in fine terms and then take away the key and bridge that would put me in possession of the treasure.”[1]

What Walther is expounding on is the grave error in renouncing or withholding the means by which we obtain Christ.  In other words, Walther is pointing out that many in the church over the ages have spoken a lot about Christ but failed in delivering the Christ.  Christ and the Gospel are pointed out, explained, but then the recipient is essentially told, “now go get Him.” 

What are the ramifications of denying the means by which one obtains Christ and His benefits?  What are the consequences of confessing Christ crucified but then telling one, “good luck finding Christ; good luck acquiring this salvation.”  Essentially, this results in a person knowing a lot about Christ and in effect not knowing Him.  Furthermore and tragically, the Gospel is placed within a framework of Law.  “Here is the glorious treasure.  Now, all you have to do is find it, then go get it and figure out how to haul it off.”  All of a sudden the good news isn’t so good anymore.

In the CLBA statement of faith it states, “The knowledge and benefit of Christ’s redemption from sin is brought to the human race through the means of grace, namely the Word and sacraments.” 
What grand news that our God and Savior not only accomplished salvation for us but also delivers it to us!  Salvation has been accomplished (past tense) and is continually delivered to us (present tense).  No having to look!  No having to ascend to God to acquire it!  No having to concoct a strategy to harness and haul off this salvation!  Simply delivered to us!  Simply brought to us!  Simply received by us through faith!  This is my body and blood given for you for the remission of your sins.[2]  Your sins have been washed away.[3]  God has reconciled you to Himself through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.[4]  As a close friend of mine once said, “salvation was achieved by Christ, delivered to us by the means and received through faith.  Achieved, Delivered, Received!”  Now this is good news!
We personally possess Christ and all the benefits of Calvary through the Word and sacraments; therefore, we not only know about Christ but also get to know Christ personally.  We know about the treasure of salvation and we also get to personally enjoy it. 
I am still waiting for my personal visit or maybe that phone call from Orel Hershiser, but in the mean time, I get to enjoy Christ and the benefits of His redemption as they are continually brought to me.

[1] C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible (Concordia Publishing, 2010), 179-180.
[2] See Matthew 26:27-28
[3] See Titus 3:5; Acts 22:16
[4] See Romans 1:16, 10:17


Dan O'Day said…
I'm still confused about this. If my understanding is correct, Lutherans tend to insist that everything is already done for us in Christ, and we receive this by grace through faith. And this faith itself is a gift from God. So if someone asks, "What do I need to do to enter His grace?" The correct answer would thus be "nothing! He's done it all for you!" But there are plenty of people who do nothing and care nothing about God. In Acts, to this question the apostles answer: "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins...." Yet by telling people to seek out baptism, in a sense we direct them to a work. Granted, Lutheran believe Baptism itself is a gift and not a work, but this all tends to get very semantic and confusing. This also does not account for the person who lives in unrepentant sin and yet has been baptized and regularly participates in Holy Communion. In fact, many Lutherans would propose that people are asking the wrong question if they say "what must I do to be saved," asserting they can "do" nothing and that their view of being "saved" is tainted by evangelicalism. Yet we have the simple reply in Acts 2.

Then we have the problem of Romans 4 and James 2 - "see Abraham is justified by faith apart from works," and conversely, "see Abraham is justified by his works, not by faith alone." The Lutheran understanding is very semantic and confusing to "get around" this apparent contradiction. To me the easiest solution is that Paul is speaking of the Mosaic Law, while James is speaking of "the obedience of faith." However you slice it, there seems to be a trend of faith involving both cognitive assent (belief/pistis) as well as actual obedience which demonstrates this faith. This obedience is not (nor can it) earn salvation, but it always accompanies faith (Luther: "faith alone, but not a faith that is alone"). Yet when this is stated in plain language, Lutherans cry heresy! And yet many are saying the same thing only without the confusing language. Grace is opposed to earning, it is not opposed to effort.

I hope I am making sense. So in a nutshell, my question is "What must I do to be saved?" How would you answer this by not attacking the question and yet not directing to works of my own nor telling me that I must do nothing? The apophatic definitions of salvation in Lutheranism are helpful but without a simple catophatic answer to this question, we leave a lot of people lost and confused.
Hey Dan,

Great questions. Here are some pithy thoughts off the top of my head:

Question: What must I do to be saved?

Answer: Two ways of answering this... A) Nothing OR B) Believe in the Lord Jesus.

Now the question arises, "We have to do something, don't we?" As a redeemed children of God this is the wrong question. The question now is, "What are we going to do, now that we don't have to do anything?" The Augsburg Confession is not interested in 'something' but is after everything! (Forde)

In the words of Martin Luther, "Christians are lord of all, completely free of everything. Christians are servants, completely attentive to the needs of all."

It seems to me that there are two questions and they are not the same nor opposed.

Question 1: What must I do to be saved?
Question 2: As a saved child of God what do I "get" to do?

Also... when we talk about good works and faith/salvation, do we see good works as prescriptive 'for' salvation or descriptive 'of' salvation? Big difference here.

Gotta run. Great thoughts and interaction!

Dan O'Day said…
Thanks, profound thoughts. I will chew on those for a couple of days.