The Lord is always at work. He never takes a vacation.
Jesus told the Jewish leaders persecuting him for healing a man on the Sabbath, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). The one who brought the world into existence by the power of his word continues to sustain it, day after day. The sun remains at the proper distance from the earth because the Lord speaks the word. We have the oxygen we need because the Lord commands it to be so. Were it not for the Lord’s continual work, nothing and no one could continue to live.
The Lord who formed Adam from the dust of the ground continues to form people today. Many don’t recognize that, because the Lord hides behind the process of reproduction he established at creation. The fact remains that the Lord is the maker of all. What the psalmist said is true of every human being: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13). The Lord continually forms people as part of his ongoing work of creation and preservation.
In a special way, the Lord forms his church, whom he describes as “the people I formed for myself, that they may proclaim my praise” (Isa 43:21). The Lord forms his people by a miracle of his grace. All human beings are born spiritually dead and enemies of God. Through the word of Christ, the Holy Spirit graciously raises some from spiritual death to spiritual life. In other words, he gives them faith through the gospel. He enables them to believe what they could never have accepted on their own: that Jesus has rescued them from everlasting punishment and that they are God’s adopted children. Those who are members of God’s family through faith in Christ can take no credit for that. All glory belongs to God, because “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).
When the Spirit creates faith, he also forms a new self within the individual. “If anyone is in Christ,” the Apostle Paul writes, “the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Cor 5:17). The new self loves the Lord and eagerly desires to serve the Savior. That new nature, overwhelmed by the astounding grace of God, longs to live in a way that glorifies the Lord for his full and free forgiveness.
The Lord Jesus gave himself into death, St. Paul says, “to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14). Jesus released us from the dominion of the devil. By his perfect sacrifice, he freed us from the eternal destruction we deserved because of our sin. More than that, he also set us free to serve the Lord by serving those he places around us in our homes, congregations, and communities. By the gift of the new self, the Lord forms his people for a life of service. The new self within us needs no external compulsion to do what is right. Because the Lord has given us a new nature, we are both eager and able to do what God commands.
Unfortunately, the sinful nature remains. It stubbornly and incessantly fights against the new person within the Christian. God’s people know only too well the bitter struggle of which the Apostle speaks: “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Rom 7:19). While the sinful nature does not reign in the Christian, it does frustrate the new nature’s designs on living for the Lord.
Thankfully, the Lord never stops working. He doesn’t leave his people to fight their own battles against the old Adam and the devil. Day after day, he forms and reforms his people through his Spirit-inspired Word. Each time God’s children listen to their Savior’s voice in his Word, or read it, or reflect on it, the Lord is at work. He’s forgiving their sin, covering them with Christ’s righteousness, and empowering them to be his people. When they receive the body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper, the Lord frees them from their sin, strengthens them in faith, and makes them eager to declare his praises in everything they say and do. As they hear the word of absolution from their pastor or another Christian, the Lord declares them righteous and moves them to love and forgive others.
The Lord also forms his people for service by giving them abilities and talents he has chosen specifically for them. To one, for instance, he gives the gift of serving, while to another he gives the gift of generosity, and to still another the gift of leading. His intent is to work through his people, and the gifts he has granted them, to bless others. Every blessing ultimately comes from the Lord, but he chooses to bestow those blessings through his people. He forms them with unique gifts and places them exactly where he wants them to be, all so that they might have the privilege of being channels of his love. He makes them instruments through which he blesses others, be that in the home, the workplace, the church, or the community.
The Lord has formed the professors at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for their privileged work. Not only has he worked Christian faith in their hearts and given them specific talents to use in service to others, he has also provided them experiences in congregations and mission fields throughout North America and in places across the world. Since they are all pastors by training and experience, the professors know personally the work for which they are preparing others. They have experienced the joys and challenges of serving in gospel ministry. They have witnessed, firsthand, how the Lord graciously works through “jars of clay” (2 Cor 4:7) to carry out his ministry. The Lord who formed them for service as pastors aims to work through them to form more pastors who are eager to proclaim his praises to the world.
The Lord has worked in the students at the seminary a desire to be pastors in Christ’s church. Through the Word of God preached in daily chapel services and pondered in every class, the Lord is always at work. He strengthens their faith in his promise of forgiveness and multiplies their joy as the children of God. At the very same time, he increases their commitment to use everything they have been given for the Lord’s glory and the benefit of others. He forms them to proclaim his praises in the public ministry of the gospel—an extraordinary grace!
President Earle Treptow teaches courses in systematic theology.