Every so often, someone will ask me, or it will be asked via a third-party conversation (which is mostly when this happens) questions like this: Why are we doing this or that? What is its purpose? I must admit to being slightly surprised by the question. After all, discipleship ought to be self-evident.
But since this is October, the month when we remember the beginning of the Reformation, a little Luther is helpful to answer this question:
“We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor…He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love…” (Luther’s Works, 31. 371.)
This paragraph comes from Luther’s treatise, The Freedom of a Christian. This long writing can be condensed into a simple premise that a believing Christian is free from sin through faith in God, yet bound by love to serve the neighbor.
Where might Luther get such an idea? The same place we get our ideas of witness and service. The gospels. One example is Matthew 25:39-40, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
God’s family is pretty large. Our family members in Christ are across the street, and across the world. When we serve anyone, we serve Christ. If we remember to see Christ in our neighbor, we no long have to ask the questions “why” or “what.”
As Luther also said, “God does not need your good works. But your neighbor does.”
Clifton D. Eshbach,