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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning Monastic Vows – part 18

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Philippians 3:12–16

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning Monastic Vows 

Virginity is recommended, but for those who have the gift, as has been said above. However, it is a most insidious error to believe that evangelical perfection lies in human traditions. If it did, then even the monks of the Mohammedans would be able to boast that they have evangelical perfection. Nor does it lie in the observance of other things which are called “adiaphora.” Because the kingdom of God is righteousness and life in the heart (Rom 14:17), perfection is growing in the fear of God, trusting the mercy promised in Christ, and devotion to one’s calling. Paul also describes perfection this way: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). He does not say that we are continually receiving another hood, or other sandals, or other girdles. It is deplorable that such pharisaic, even Mohammedan expressions should be read and heard in the Church: that the perfection of the gospel, of the kingdom of Christ, which is eternal life, should be placed in these foolish observances of vestments and of similar trifles.

Pulling It Together: I take a bit of exception to Melancthon’s verb choice—although I agree with him if I understand what he intended to say. I do not wish, however, to put my words in his mouth. When he says that perfection is growth, there is need for clarity. Can we become perfect in this life? Does this happen through such things as devotion? Perhaps a better question is: are we supposed to be perfect? Jesus said so: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Jesus said that we must be perfect like God is perfect. That seems like a stretch for someone like me. Yet, all things are possible with God (Matt 19:26). Perhaps that is all Melancthon meant.

Like Paul, I confess that I am not perfect. Or am I? When I look in the mirror, I see a sinner—yet one who is baptized: a clean babe in the Father’s embrace. May I hold on to what I have already attained. No matter how I look to myself; how do I look to God? The Father sees me through rather rose tinted glasses, or more exactly, through blood stained lenses. I am clothed in Christ through baptism (Gal 3:27). This means that Christ is my righteousness—my perfection. It means that when the Father looks at me, he sees one dressed like his own Son, as though Christ were standing before him. God help me if this is not true.

Because I am a baptized child of God, this life is spent in striving to make Christ my own, just as he has made me his own. How can I do so except by fearing God, trusting his mercy that is promised for Christ’s sake, and remaining devoted to my calling into the family of God? If this must be called “growth,” then let us understand growth as maturing—through continued faith in Christ Jesus—into what what we already are through baptism: beloved children of the Father.

Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for making me your own. Amen.

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The Sacraments is a ten-week study, including sessions on Baptism, Communion, and the Office of the Keys. The Bible Study lessons in the Sacraments unit of the Sola Confirmation Series emphasize the connection between Old and New Testaments, by drawing on sacramental themes foreshadowed in familiar Old Testament stories, and how the promises of God "for you" are expressed and fulfilled in Christ.

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