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The Christian Life from Two Angles, by Helmut Thielicke

16 August, 2010

Click for Thielicke wikipedia entry

“This [Christian] life may be described from two angles.

The longer we are in the presence of Jesus, the more deeply we know our sin and the sharper our conscience. This being so, we plunge ever deeper into debt with God. Those who know the Christian life only from outside find it hard to understand that the longer a Christian is with Christ the deeper his indebtedness, so that he can never leave the school of Christ as a completed and accomplished graduate free from all faults or omissions. But because this is so, and we increasingly realize our guilt in the light of Jesus, we have an increasing love for the One who wills to be the Savior of our life. He who is forgiven much, loves much. Theologians have constantly debated whether there is development or progress in the Christian life. Does not fellowship with Jesus necessarily bring growth? Or is the Christian state complete from the very first? Is sin forgiven once for all? is there no progress beyond it? Well, there is surely a kind of divine school in which we move up from class to class. There is surely development and growth in the Christian life. Yet we must not think of this progress in terms of our always becoming more holy and blameless. If we fall into this error, serious reverses will bring us back to soberness and a salutary anxiety.

We may, however, come to love Him more and more—and this is perhaps the true progress of the Christian life. Indeed, it undoubtedly is. And this progress in love does not mean that our soul acquires an increasing ability to love. It rests on the fact that we are increasingly forgiven. The more Jesus Christ humbles us, the greater our joy and the more jubilant our thanks. We do not increase before God. His goodness increases, and it is for this reason that we love Him more. “I must decrease, but he must increase.” This can be said only by great sinners, by those at the frontier. The last words of Luther after his great Christian life were not: “Look, Lord, how much I have progressed in love for you. For your sake I have known the greatest distress of conscience, the deepest loneliness and supreme achievement. Now you must open heaven to me.” Luther did not speak in such terms. His last words were simply: “We are beggars, that is true.”

But do you not think that God heard rather more in this dying confession than merely that we are beggars? Do you not think that in heaven He heard the unspoken accompanying statement: “Therefore you know, O God, how greatly I must love you”?

Nothing of myself I bring, You, O God, are everything.

Do you think that He heard this statement too?”

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