To the Readers' Forum:
When people disagree about the meaning of Jesus, Lutherans have two questions to test any statement said to be Christian: Is the teaching based on the death and rising of Jesus? Does the teaching use the death and rising of Jesus in a way that comforts peoples' conscience?
These questions make Jesus the center of Christian teaching, and they make the benefits of Jesus - forgiveness, mercy, love, goodness in the sight of God, and eternal life - the basis of our relationship with God.
A Christian is one who trusts Jesus. That comforts one's conscience because it assures Christians they are forgiven because of Jesus, and not because of what they have done or not done.
In contrast, take this teaching (Readers' Forum, April 16): "I believe a Christian is supposed to be one who learns, adheres to, and follows the teachings of biblical teaching."
Notice that Jesus is not mentioned, nor are his death and rising. This teaching depends on what the person does, not on what Jesus does.
This second teaching from the Readers' Forum letter was used to judge President Obama as to whether he is a Christian. The same letter stated, "I have a dilemma with the president declaring himself to be a Christian" because he "supported, encouraged and implemented resolutions, laws and motionsthat oppose fundamental biblical principles that are not difficult to understand and follow."
It is odd that Jesus welcomed and ate with prostitutes and sinners who also went against biblical principles. Jesus welcomes those who do wrong. He dies for those who do wrong.
People are Christian not because of what they do, but because of what Jesus has done.
When that writer had a dilemma about the president declaring himself a Christian, he also judged the millions of people who agree with the laws President Obama has signed and said they were not Christian. If it is written in Scripture, "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged" (Matthew 7.1), can we say of that Forum writer that he is not Christian because he did not follow a biblical principle easy to understand but not easy to follow?
But we cannot judge because being a Christian is about trusting Jesus - a matter of the heart. And we cannot judge what is in a person's heart.
Our actions sometimes may show faith in Jesus and at other times, our actions will not show faith in Jesus. So it is a good thing, a comforting thing, that Jesus promises people they are his because he died for them, not because they mostly acted the "right" way.
Pastor Timothy Hoyer