Steven Paulson

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Steven Paulson is a part of the faculty at Luther Seminary. He has written many great works, including Lutheran Theology (part of the Do Theology Series), and Luther for Armchair Theologians.

Quotes

“I forgive you…Luther taught and demonstrated that these simple words give absolute, indubitable certainty, and no one is more dangerous than a person who is certain. The certainty was no based on human self-certainty; it was the opposite of that. It was the certainty of forgiveness because of what the Son of God did by taking the sins of the world upon himself and defeating them at the cross. The decisive cosmic battle of God against sin, death, and devil was already waged and won when Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish. They were simply – free.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Faith in Christ’s promise, not works of the law, alone saves. But we will have to be very careful, since the word “faith” is one of the most abused words in our vocabulary. It does not mean for Luther “accepting,” or “deciding for,” or “committing oneself for Christ,” or any of the misuses this word has received. Faith is perfect passivity for Luther–being done unto by God, or simply suffering God. It is literally being put to death as a sinner and raised as a saint, which is decidedly God’s own act through preached words.” -Steven Paulson

“Christ is not a category of ideas or laws, but is the unique, incarnate, historical, individual who came down from above in a permanent act of interference in his own creation. When that sacramental Christ is predicated in preaching, then hearers have nothing left but to conclude, to their horror or joy, that they have no other God than this man Jesus Christ. It may surprise you how seldom this happens, especially in people who talk endlessly about Jesus and his Christness.” – Steven Paulson (Justification is for Proclamation)

“Preaching elects, first by counting the trespass and denying the righteousness of the hearer, and then by creating anew.” – Steven Paulson (Justification is for Proclamation)

“Sin sees Christ as intolerably narrow; faith receives Christ as the fullness of life eternal.” – Steven Paulson (Justification is for Proclamation)

“Lutheran theology begins perversely by advocating the destruction of all that is good, right, and beautiful in human life. It attacks the lowest and highest goals of life, especially morality, no matter how sincere are its practitioners.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“The one thing outside that must be planted is Jesus Christ, the God who is a man. No righteousness that comes from us, from our doings or our heart will endure before God. Only Christ’s righteousness lives in the future, ‘this righteousness which is utterly external and foreign to us.’ We must become other, foreign to ourselves in the one person of the Jew, Jesus, who was crucified.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“For thousands of years Christians routinely described life using an allegory of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. They said life in general, and Christians in particular, were on an exodus out of vice and into virtue. They were on a journey away from badness toward goodness. But Luther bluntly said faith is not a transition from vice to virtue, it is the way from virtue to the grace of Christ.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Lutheran theology starts where all others end. Virtue is not the goal of life, virtue is our problem. Religion is not given for morality; it is there to end it. The picture of progress upward to happiness is toppled, and in its stead is the apocalyptic end of righteousness in this world so that only Christ remains, who alone is righteous in the eyes of God.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Christ is utterly confusing within the legal scheme. How can a person be my goal? Do mean to imitate him in his virtue? Yes, Christ is to be imitated, but only after virtue is ended. Taking leave of virtue and going to Christ is apocalyptic; it is a new life outside the legal scheme without law at all. It means to have a new life outside one’s self, who is dead according to the law, and in Christ exclusively.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Human reason is revolted by the thought that there are two kinds of righteousness, legal and fiduciary, and the two are not complementary. They stand in eternal and deadly opposition so that any striving for virtue ends by crucifying God when he comes to live among us. Divine righteousness destroys the goal of human righteousness through the law, and in its place raises Christ from the dead as its glory and ‘goal.’ – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“What a vast difference it makes for a preacher to stand before a congregation and assume their wills are bound rather than to stand before a group and assume their wills are merely in need of motivation. The difference is as great as that between God’s work through the Holy Spirit and through Satan.” – Steven Paulson (The Captivation of the Will)

“True freedom is being captivated by Christ’s promise of forgiveness of sins. It is like getting a tune in your head you can’t get rid of, only this time instead of a legal refrain, ‘have you done enough?’ it repeats a promise: “God is pleased with you, on account of Christ.” – Steven Paulson

“Everything sinners are and have Christ takes (the awful), and everything Christ is and has he gives to sinners (the joyous). If you are a sinner, what Christ gives is the deal of a lifetime. If you are holy, you must fight against this to your dying breath.” – Steven Paulson

“The sins of the world were laid on Christ; we communicated them to Christ by means of rejection of His words; what he communicates in return to sinners is unlike anything we have known: it is grace that is free and that creates a new world out of nothing – the law and sin are left behind forever because they have created nothing. This is why sinners confess that we have no other God than this man, Jesus Christ – since any other God is without the cross, without our sins taken and conquered, without the preached word of forgiveness, and so a God that remains unpreached. But God’s righteousness and our own are now tied together in simple trust that Christ has forgiven our sin.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Instead of living life so as not to die (what the world pushes us to do), we proclaim what it means to die so that we may truly live.” – Steven Paulson (Justification is for Preaching)

“Sometimes blood is spilled and we call it martyrdom, but more often it is easier to execute a preacher in a bloodless coup. If the preacher can be enticed to give something else than Christ as the proper predicate for the true Subject, the Creator, then a death occurs with no apparent violence. It seems like the perfect crime. Just predicate something other of God than Christ – you have the freedom to say whatever you want, do you not? Consequently, the largest offenders against God’s mission on earth are preachers themselves.” – Steven Paulson (Justification is for Preaching)

“The formula for bad preaching is simple, you mix law and gospel and come out with a law that sounds like the gospel in its excessive religiosity like: “Grace means unconditional acceptance of your good creation,” or even “acceptance of your acceptance while unacceptable,” “Try, but if you fail God will not condemn.” “The Gospel is free, now all you need to do is join God’s mission and spread it.” “God is love, so there is no law,” or “Christs stands for no barriers or divisions.” Most especially, bad preaching offers Christ as a principle or a sign that is supposed to influence you to become like him as measured by the law. The intermediate mixups in preaching are many and common.” – Steven Paulson (Justification is for Preaching)

“Christ is determined not to stop until he has taken everything of yours. He comes as a thief in the night, and thieves not only surprise us with their untimely arrival, but they actually rob us of our possessions. Jesus robs us of our best stuff – our righteous deeds by the law, our hopes that things will work out (with a little grace), and the belief that God will find us pleasing on our own account – but he also robs us of the worst…In the cross, Jesus is relationally determining us to be without anything worthy of exchange or negotiation in the eyes of God, nevertheless Jesus exchanges his priceless worth for our filth.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Conversion is not a change of mind, or feelings, or religions, or even behavior; it is the most radical change possible – to die and be created new.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Lutheran theology begins perversely by advocating the destruction of all that is good, right, and beautiful in human life. It attacks the lowest and the highest goals of life, especially morality, no matter how sincere are its practitioners. Luther said the “sum and substance,” of Paul’s letter to the Romans “is to pull down, to pluck up, and to destroy all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh.”‘ – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Lutheran theology begins not as an attack on our lack of knowledge of the good, it is attacking the good itself along with the hearts of righteous people who “proving themselves to be wise, became fools” (Rom 1:22). The first task of theology is to witness to sin and make it great, so great that it kills. This is no less than the task given to the prophet Jeremiah, picked out by a strange act of divine election from the multitude of people of earth and told to `pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow’ (Jeremiah 1:10a). Paul extended this to the whole world, magnifying sin until it was revealed in the very hearts of the righteous.

The second task of theology is to make way for the declaration of a completely foreign, new righteousness that has no law in it at all- “we must be taught a righteousness that comes completely from the outside and is foreign. And therefore our own righteousness that is born in us must first be plucked up”‘ God’s call to Jeremiah concluded, “to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10:b). Luther concurred, “Everything that is in us” must be destroyed, and “everything that is outside us” must be planted and built. What is outside us? Is it not life’s goals that have not been reached? Is it not the great principles of morality and the very laws that order nature? Is not my striving toward the good the very best thing about me? No.The one thing outside that must be planted is Jesus Christ, the God who is a man. No righteousness that comes from us, from our doings or our heart will endure before God. Only Christ’s righteousness lives in the future…” Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“The law was given in letters in order to kill, and the gospel was given in promises to raise the dead. God first assaulted the pious, then created them a second time-from nothing- by merely sending a preacher to say, ‘I forgive you.'” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“…But a sermon is the cross, which appears as nothing and has no glory in the world even while it is the cosmic power of God to create out of nothing.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“The same charges that were made of Paul resurfaced among the Lutherans: “Shall we sin the more that grace may abound?” “Is the law to no avail?” “Do I do nothing?” Luther’s kind of preaching is a nuclear reactor-so much energy produced from so small a core-and yet the fear always hovers among those who are nearest that the thing will implode and destroy life rather than generate it.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“When a preacher arrives, justification of the ungodly is unleashed. Faith ceases being a mere virtue or human activity, and becomes the name for the new creation of the Holy Spirit. Faith arrives in the form of a purely passive gift that kills the old being and raises the new. Luther concludes: ‘no one can give himself faith, neither can he take away his own unbelief.'” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Predestination is meant to be the greatest comfort given to humans because it reveals what God’s precious promises are-but instead it has become the single most troubling assertion of theology (and life), so troubling that it has knocked theology out of the sciences altogether in the modern world, and banished it from the society of reason.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“The law speaks in the language of what “should be,” but its purpose is not to accomplish that, it is to reveal what is, but should not be.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Preaching is not neutral inquiry, nor is it merely thinking ideas or feeling emotions-and it cannot wait interminably for investigation into mysteries of being; it announces sin by using the law, then it bestows new life in the form of freedom by using grace.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Most people seek in the Scriptures only topics of virtues and vices” They go to the Bible to find out what they are to do to be right with God. This misses everything, because it misses Christ. But what if this inquiry considers Christ as a model of the godly life who shows us the way from vice to virtue? Then, even when it speaks of Christ, it misses Christ and his benefits.When the legal scheme is in place, we miss Christ because he has no power other than modeling good behavior. Be like Christ! But that is not the power of Christ. Christ forgives sin. Forgiveness is the power the law does not have, and marks the difference between speculation and proclamation. The one speaks admiringly of Christ who sits on a pedestal, the other unleashes his power to be applied to the truly sick who need it. Speculation keeps Christ on the shelf to contemplate; proclamation applies him actively.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Hearing a preacher is God’s choice, not yours. Specifically it is the work of the Holy Spirit who bestows Christ’s benefits only when and where he will-not where the hearers will.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“By the time the preacher arrives it is too late for any moment of decision; the decision is God’s and it is already made once and for all.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“The purpose of the sacrament is not the law’s satisfaction, but the bestowing of a promise.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“The gift is God’s essence which is not there to be sought out, imitated or even participated in, but something which God bestows. God does not sit waiting to see if you will find him. God is in essence the justifying God who does not wait for repentance or merit, but takes the bull by the horns and makes the unjust just by an authored act of forgiveness that creates out of nothing. God is creator, and the gift of God himself is to become a new creation.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Paulson)

“God does not pursue that which he finds lovely, but that which is unrighteous, unlovely, the direct and determined opponent of God. God loves the unlovely by bestowing faith where there was none.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“God gives, and what God gives is no less than his own self. “God’s self-giving” has been an important point in modern Lutheran theoloy. God does not operate simply as a great “Cause” with many little effects. The post office also gives, but what it gives is this or that letter or package, not itself. What God gives is not merely various gifts, as if these expressed some affection, or stood as signs of his care as in a birthday card. God gives not just “things,” or “effects,” but his own self. When Adam and Eve ate the good fruit from the garden, they consumed not just an object of creation, but God himself. When God gives, he gives sacramentally, not figuratively; he does not give signs of his affection, he gives-Him.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“To those who are seeking righteousness through the law, there is a constant fear that too much mercy leads to sinners getting ting worse, not better, as Paul anticipated: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1 NRS). If forgiveness is the gospel, then it seems to give the green light to every sin. The legal scheme cannot grasp the extent of Christ’s forgiveness, which is the point of all Jesus’ parables. His forgiveness not only fulfills the law, but breaks it open like new wine in old wineskins, spilling out onto new ground without any law to guide or limit its effluence.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“It is true that Christ pays debt, suffers punishment, and pays ransom to the old lords of this world, but not to let the legal scheme rule. Christ’s blood empties and silences them all, creates an entirely new kingdom where the law has no service to render, no claim to make, and no more accusations against sinners.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“For the Son of God truly is crucified for us, that is, this person who is God” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Christ is determined not to stop until he has taken everything of yours. He comes as a thief in the night, and thieves not only surprise us with their untimely arrival, but they actually rob us of our possessions. Jesus robs us of our best stuff-our righteous deeds by the law, our hopes that things will work out (with a little grace), and the belief that God will find us pleasing on our own account-but he also robs us of the worst. This is possible since human identity is relational, not substantial. We are determined by what others say and do with us. In the cross, Jesus is relationally determining us to be without anything worthy of exchange or negotiation in the eyes of God, nevertheless Jesus exchanges his priceless worth for our filth. When he does this, he is not assuming abstract, bookkeeping, non-historical, or impersonal sins. When Scripture says he takes the sin of the world, it means that eventually he gets around to taking your own personal sins.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Both humility and pride in this matter become disdain for Christ-as if to say that your sins are so small and slight you need not bother Christ with them, or they are so onerous a burden that he would never take them. The pharisaical (fake) sinner, who thinks his or her sin is not great enough to need Christ, is one kind of problem; Luther calls such a person “an imitation and counterfeit sinner.” The other is the person burdened with guilt, but Christ did not come for little, sham sins, but for huge sins, in fact for all sins, “and unless you say you are part of the company of those who say `our sins,’ . . . there is no salvation for you.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“The sins of the world were laid on Christ; we communicated them to Christ by means of rejection of his words; what he communicates in return to sinners is unlike anything we have known: it is grace that is free and that creates a new world out of nothing-the law and sin are left behind forever because they have created nothing. This is why sinners confess that we have no other God than this man, Jesus Christ-since any other God is without the cross, without our sins taken and conquered, without the preached word of forgiveness, and so a God that remains unpreached. But God’s righteousness and our own are now tied together in simple trust that Christ has forgiven our sin.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Faith does not stand by itself as a substance that God counts as worthy; what makes faith justifying rests in the object it grasps.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“God creates faith in order to receive the word-by means of that very word. Promises do that; commands do not. Once created, faith clings to that word alone even while sin, suffering, and death are all that is seen and felt. Thus, faith takes leave of the old self and flees to Christ, listening only to him and to no one else-especially not one’s own self.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Conversion is not a change of mind, or feelings, or religions, or even behavior; it is the most radical change possible-to die and be created new.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Faith has nothing to do with free will-except that faith is given only after death and the annihilation of a free will’s desire. Faith is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does not make new demands, but gives his own self.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“What is this baptism, then? Baptism is not a religious act of the free will that fulfills a law by undergoing a required ritual; it is an attack on sinners by God.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Baptism frees you to belong exclusively to God, the justifier who is Creator-out-of-nothing. Baptism is therefore the life of the Christian from which there is no progress. All life “daily” returns to baptism because of its promise, “if we have died with Christ we believe we shall also live with him” (Romans 6:8 NRS). Baptism’s promise is given once and stands against the greatest enemies sin, death, and devil-whose attacks are daily. Sin is then taking leave of this promise in order to fight sin solely on the basis of the law; faith is returning to baptism’s promise which it finds always there-unshakeable. This promise’s power is not past, it is (as a promise must be), always ahead of us, always accessible to the ungodly-day in and day out-useful to no other creature since sinners are the only ones who need such a thing.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Baptism does not end life’s struggle, but begins it in earnest. It does not remove the old world from you, but positions you in that old world so that you are no longer a timid, “obedient slave” of sin, but become a troublemaking rebel against sin. Baptism makes a Christian an eschatological revolutionary-a true fighter. The baptized fight sin; those without the promise obey sin.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Copernicus saw that law de-centered the earth and places the sun at the center of the solar system, baptism now de-centers the sinner and the accusing law, placing Christ at the center. As long as I, the sinner, determine Christ’s presence, Christ will be made absent. But when Christ determines whether or not I am present to him, then Christ becomes abundantly-majestically-always and everywhere present in his ubiquitous body and divine power.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“It is a shock to be promised that Christ has taken your sins in his body so that you ‘may bear fruit for God'” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Good works follow faith as definitely as 2 + 3 = 5, and nevertheless contribute nothing to faith; Justification remains faith alone. The Holy Spirit is trusted to produce good works in the body that Christians no longer need in order to manufacture righteousness. Once the body has been freed from the rigid requirements of merit, it becomes pliable for the purpose of helping the neighbor.” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

“Lutherans ruin the idea that good works have any standing before God, but does that mean that there is no such thing as a good work? God forbid! A real good work must first have the doer removed as its cause or purpose, or, to say it in reverse, good works must be taken away as the object of a person’s trust. God does not need good works, he does not collect or count them or hold them in a treasury; good works are for the person who needs them, whom Scripture calls, ‘the neighbor.'” – Steven Paulson (Lutheran Theology)

 

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