As sons and daughters of the Lutheran Reformation, today we celebrate the fact that the truth of the Gospel has set us free. The truth is the saving grace of Christ Jesus our Savior. He has pierced the darkness of law-based work righteous religion. It is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the scriptures alone that we see that salvation is found in Christ Alone!
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Some time ago, back before I attended MLC. My pastor at my home congregation and I were working with a prospect member. She was a younger woman who had come in with her boyfriend, he was a member of our church. It was a rather simple straightforward meeting. My pastor had asked if I would walk her through the great exchange presentation with her and that he would be there to answer any difficult questions that might come up. Are you all familiar with what I mean when I say “great exchange?” It’s a simple explanation of Law and Gospel. What a sinner deserves v. what God gives us in Christ, how our sins were put on Jesus and God exchanges our sin for Jesus righteousness freely as a gift! And we are declared not guilty.
Anyway, we got to that part of the discussion – that pure gospel message of sins forgiven in Christ – and instead of nodding in agreement, instead of smiling, her eyes well up with tears and she put her face in her hands. Then straining to hold back the tears she said, “I can’t believe that, I’m sorry.”
My pastor sitting there asked if there was some reason why. At which point she began to cry harder. Her boyfriend put his hand on her back and said, “It’s ok, you can tell them!” She collected herself a bit and said, “I had an abortion.”
See this young woman had gotten an abortion some years ago before she was dating the man who was a member of our church. She did so for all the obvious reasons – because she didn’t want the responsibility of a child. She wanted to continue to live life as she wanted to live it – recklessly and without accepting the consequence for her actions. So, she must have buried the guilt. She must have listened to all the voices that said, “It’s not human life, it’s just a collection of cells.” She joined the chorus of those voices that shout out against and try to drown out our natural human conscience that says taking a life is wrong. For years she buried that guilt she hardened herself to it and now that voice of rebellion against God was echoing in her head so loud that it was virtually impossible for her to hear that Gospel promise that The Lord receives sinners. So submit to him, and then beyond all reason he accepts us!
PART I – He Seeks Us
Like the young woman I used as an example, for all of us, it is often our first reaction and seemingly the easier route, to bury our guilt. Admitting wrong doing or sinfulness of any kind would require us to be knocked down a few pegs. We don’t want to be found out for our sin. Especially if it is a sin that we take some enjoyment in. Especially if it’s a sin that is a part of us, ingrained into our personality or our psyche – if our tongue isn’t tamed, if we are prone to anger, if our eyes are not tamed and linger where they should not. If our hands work only to glorify ourselves and if our feet go where they should not go – What does Jesus say in the gospel for today? Cut them off, pluck them out get rid of them! He’s calling for a drastic change.
James writes, “7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil.”
Admitting our guilt, submitting to God, cutting off that sinful limb of our souls – resisting the devil. That’s hard! There is no doubt about that here.
You know what an addict goes through when they are on the road to recovery, especially if its one of the harder drugs? The withdrawal symptoms are painful and often unbearable – the temptation is to slip back into use of those drugs just to ease the pain. Or what a homosexual person goes through when they abandon their former sinful lifestyle – yet they still struggle with that same-sex attraction. Or when a young man or woman realizes that their partner wants to live together before marriage – The temptation can be overwhelming and oppressing!
But James doesn’t just say submit and resist because, well it’s the right thing to do, it will build character or make you a stronger person – No James says, Submit to God resist the devil!
Resist the devil and He will flee from you! Draw near to God and he will draw near to you! Trying to hide our sin is a futile attempt and altogether pointless. For God is God and he sees us anyway! There is no where we can hide – Except in him! We cannot run to far afield, there is nowhere we can run except back to him.
These commands, submit, resist, draw near, humble yourselves – these are not cold hearted commands! James is urging us to do this, pleading with us to do so. Because in the end there is nowhere else to go, there is no one else to submit to, that is worth submitting to or humbling yourself before. Because there is a promise connected to these commands to submit and resist! The devil will flee from us! God will draw near to us – not as an overbearing judge waving his gavel in anger. But as a loving father who sees his child when they are along way off! He rejoices, and runs down the path to find us he seeks us out that his daughter or son might return home. And the roaring lion the devil will not approach our fathers house. When we go to God in repentance he seeks us with the comfort of the Gospel message, put’s his arms around us and sets a watch over us. The devil cannot harm us. That evil prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none, he’s judged the deed is done and one little word can fell him. Do you know what that “One little Word” is? “Liar!”
PART II – He accepts us
When the devil tries to convince us that our sin is too great. That the divide is to far. That our hearts and our minds are too stained with sin for God to love us. One little word can fell him. “Liar!” Devil you lie! What kind of strange pride does Satan try to fill us with? That we would ever think that our sin is to great for God to forgive!
It’s just like the woman I began talking about today. She said, “How can God forgive me, if I can’t even forgive myself?” This is what was holding her back from seeing the Gospel message! This is what held her back from seeing God as a loving father, that rejoices that his daughter would return. She, herself, was getting in the way! She wasn’t grasping that she is not her own judge, we are not our own judges! God is judge.
Humble yourself before the Lord and he will life you up!
I am not my own judge. We are not our own arbiters. Humble yourself before the Lord. Turn to God in repentance, abandon your sin yes – but also realize this involves throwing off this notion of am I good enough, or am I not good at all.
Our own opinions of ourselves don’t really matter. I’m a sinner I know, I have failed in 10,000 different ways – and yes, the process of humbling ourselves, the process of resisting the devil, submitting to God and repenting – this can often Turn our laughter to mourning and our Joy to grief. Because the process of turning from sin and repenting can often leave us feeling like we don’t deserve the love of God because it causes us to deeply reflect on our own sinfulness and failings. But we are not the ones who determine whether we, or anyone else for that matter, is acceptable in God’s sight – He is.
Believers are humbled by the gospel message and realize that God accepts us not for our own sake but for the sake of Jesus his son. Jesus, who in every sense of the word knew what it meant to submit to God and be humble before God. As Paul says in Philippians, Jesus, Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
When God looks at us, this is what he sees! This is the submission and humility he sees – that of our Savior Jesus. Of course, this is not an excuse to go on sinning, as though it didn’t matter! Rather it’s that we recognize that not even the sin of murder, abortion, slander, lust, lying, covetous, or pride can overshadow what Christ has done for us.
There is no reason then to bury guilt, to hide our sin – there is no reason to act as a judge over ourselves, to look inward and focus on every way that we’ve failed. Rather, right along with St. James, look to the Lord and see that he has sought you out with the Gospel, to comfort you. And that he accepts you for the sake of Jesus. So, submit to the Lord, resist the devils lies, and humble yourself before the Lord, because he receives sinners. Amen.
5th Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, tell me what these three things have in common: a piece of fruit left out on the countertop, a plant left in a dark room, and my house. What do those three things have in common? Let me tell you. A piece of fruit left on the countertop will soon spoil, rot and start to smell unless measures are taken to preserve it. A plant that’s been placed into a dark room without light will soon shrivel, dry up, wither, and die. And my house. My house where adults are soon to be outnumbered 3 to 1 to children quickly goes from order to disorder, from clean to unclean quite quickly. My wife has to work incessantly hard to keep things in order (and she does a great job, by the way J). But that’s not just a piece of fruit, a plant or my house, is it? That’s the world we live in! The tendency of the whole world and the tendency of your life and mine is to disorder and disintegration. That’s why we need salt and light. And what we’re going to look at this morning from Jesus’ sermon on the mount is salt and light, first we need it, second, we have it, and third, we share it.
First, we need it. One of the main uses for salt at this time was that it was used mainly as a preservative. They didn’t have deep freezers, so the only way to keep meat from spoiling immediately was to salt it like crazy. Salt was a preservative. They also didn’t have electricity at Jesus’ time, you knew that, right? J And if you’ve ever been in a situation where there is no light- no moonlight, no light seeping through the cracks, but utter darkness, you know that it quickly makes you disoriented and gives you a sense of dislocation. They needed salt and they needed light.
But that’s really the truth of all of human existence. On its own it inevitably goes to greater and greater disorder, dislocation and disintegration. Things fall apart. That’s the name of a famous novel by an African novelist that I read in college- I don’t remember what the novel was about, but I remember the title, “Things fall apart.” Think about your body. We’re falling apart and it takes a great amount of effort to stop it, but inevitably it happens anyway. It’s tendency is to fall apart. Someday we die and we literally fall apart. Everything is moving in that direction. It’s also true about the social aspects of the world. Think about our nation. We’re sharply divided between two political ideas. Think about our congregation. It takes a lot of work to maintain a spirit of unity and peace in a congregation. Think about the fundamental human relationship of marriage. If you don’t incessantly work like crazy on your marriage it will fall apart, it will unravel. There’s misunderstanding, resentment, anger. I know a lot of people who are hard workers, they work really hard, they would be deeply offended if someone called them lazy, but though they are hard workers they are terribly lazy husbands or father, lazy wives or mothers. The natural tendency to things is to fall apart. Disintegration, disorder, dislocation. Things on their own go to pieces. So, what Jesus is saying is the world needs salt and the world needs light. Salt and light- we need it.
Second- we have it. You see, if everything in this world falls apart, we need something from outside of this world. And there is salt and light from outside of this world. Jesus is the light of the world. You see, under Jesus’ power, bodies that are falling apart – the deaf, the lepers, the mute, yes even the dead- are restored, the disintegration is reversed. In a world disoriented by the darkness of error, the darkness of unbelief, Jesus comes as the Light of the World, the way, the truth, and the life. Into a world lost and hopeless in sin, here Jesus comes to suffer, be crucified, to die on a cross, to rise from the dead. For what purpose? To preserve us for eternal life; to show us that He’s won heaven for us and has given it to us as a free gift.
The light shows you everything else. If we didn’t have lights in here, you would never see the pews and at some point you would run into them. We have lights so we can see the pews. The pews cannot show us the light but the light can show us the pews. You see, the light is the way in which you see everything else. When you have the light of Christ it changes the entire way that you view life. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who walks in my light will have the light of life and never walk in darkness again.” Jesus is the true guide, He shows us the way, He guides us to reality. Only Jesus can really restore our relationships, only Jesus can give us God-pleasing marriages, only Jesus can give us true peace, only Jesus can restore our disintegrated and dead bodies. Only with Jesus’ preserving power and His illuminating light can we be salt and light in the world.
So, salt and light, we need it, we have it, and we also share it. “You are the salt of the world.” “You are the light of the world.” Salt exposes decay and light exposes darkness. In fact, salt was used for many centuries in healing skin injuries and is even used today as saline solution. Putting salt into a wound actually kills certain types of bacteria. Salt preserves meat because it doesn’t allow bacteria to grow. Jesus says that you are salt and you are light. That means that if you are light, your life should be so beautiful that when it comes into contact with other things in life it shows them up for what they really are. What that means is that simply by being Christian, your very presence reveals the dishonesty of those around you, the way you speak reveals gossip of your coworkers and friends, the pureness of your life reveals the impure life of those around you.
If your life, by its order, by the way in which you handle pressure, by the way you take criticism, by the way you treat people, if you are like Jesus, the beauty of that is going to show up the reality of the environment. A good light shows you true color, right? This happens to me almost every Sunday morning unless I lay my clothes out the night before. I pick through my sock drawer and trying not to wake Katie I have only the closet light on, it is virtually impossible for me to determine whether the socks are blue, black or brown. A good light shows true colors.
If you’re living like your Savior, then the beauty of your life shows everybody around you what is good and what is bad. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds.” “good” in Greek has two words. Agathos and kalos. Agathos means good as in quality. Kalos means beautiful. Here it’s beautiful. People ought to say “Amazing!” about your deeds. Being a Christian means you look different than the world. You’re not simply a husband, you’re to be a remarkable husband to the world. You’re not simply a wife, you’re a remarkable wife to the world. You’re not simply a good employee, you’re a remarkable employee at your job. You’re not just a student, you’re a remarkable student.
That’s the question. Is your life so remarkable that it shows up the contrast between the beauty of Christ and what’s around you, or do you blend in, and there’s nothing remarkable about your life at all, there’s nothing about you that stands out?
Secondly, if you’re salt and light, that means you bring joy to the people around you. Salt – as you know – is not just a preservative. What is it? It’s a seasoning. It brings out taste. It makes things taste good. Light is good because it shows the beauty of things. That window is most beautiful with the light shining through it. As a Christian you don’t just look at a situation and say, “What can I get out of this? How can I get the most out of this situation to advance myself? How can I enhance myself?” Rather, a Christian acts like salt and says, “How can I bring the best out of this organization, out of this group, out of these people? How can I make this the best possible place?”
Now this applies to every area of your life- at work, at groups you’re a part of, in your family- but perhaps most of all for each of us here at church. Do you bring joy to your church family? Do you serve with an attitude of joy and spilling over with grace and light up the lives of others here? Or are you negative, down, a black hole that just sucks the excitement out of the people around you? Do you complain about this or that? Are you grumpy about this or that? Or do you serve here at church with a self-less, joyful attitude of service? Or are you thinking about yourself and what you want? The way we interact as a church is the way the rest of the world can see Jesus. The church is not a club. It’s a new humanity, it’s different from the rest of the world. It is to be a shining example of what family life and what friendships and relationships can be under the lordship of Christ.
To be a light, you first have to be lit. Are you lit? Good news, you were baptized, you’ve heard God’s Word, you’ve been nourished by Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus has lit you with His grace and His forgiveness for all your sins. So, nourished by His grace again this morning live as who you really are: the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Amen.
4th Sunday of Advent
2 Kings 20:12-19
Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom us the captive Israel! Amen. In the name of Jesus, who humbled himself to save us, dear friends in Christ,
How many of you here today have bought or made gifts for at least one other person for Christmas? How many of you anticipate (whether you want to or not) receiving at least one gift from someone this Christmas? How many of you understand why you’re giving or receiving gifts at Christmas time? What’s the history behind giving gifts? To a secular person who doesn’t believe God’s Word, gift giving at Christmastime supposedly originated with a pagan Roman festival called Saturnalia that was celebrated at the end of December. People would party, become intoxicated, and exchange cheap gifts as a means to secure a prosperous new year. A secular person will claim that Christians hijacked this festival and Christianized it and adopted the act of gift giving so people wouldn’t become upset. As a Christian, however, you can trace gift giving back further than that to the time of the Magi who came with gifts to honor Jesus. But even more importantly at Christmastime we may exchange gifts as a reminder to each other of the greatest gift of all: our Savior.
Well, long before the Roman festival of Saturnalia, before the Magi, even before Jesus’ birth, we’re told here about Hezekiah who received many, many gifts in his life. We’re continuing in our preparation for Christmas with one final week: Self-deprecate. Our text probably happened actually before the Assyrian’s had invaded Judah and were about to lay siege to Jerusalem (which we looked at last week). Some messengers from Babylon came to Judah to give a gift to Hezekiah. Why would the king of Babylon do this? Well, Babylon is struggling under their enemy, the ruthless Assyrian kingdom. And when the king of Babylon hears that Hezekiah isn’t going to cater to Assyria- this is good news. Any rebellion against Assyria will lighten the pressure that he feels against him from Assyria. So sending messengers was kind of his way to encourage this little insignificant kinglet Hezekiah without making any formal agreement, alliance or commitment.
But what does this mean from Hezekiah’s point of view? This is huge! This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around every day! Little Judah is being favored by the Babylonians! He’s thrilled! If he can curry the favor of the Babylonians, they can be a very useful ally against Assyria or any other major threat. But he’s forgetting about who’s an infinitely greater ally than any nation: God.
So these messengers from Babylon come. Hezekiah has a prime opportunity here. He has right before him a ready made opportunity to glorify God, magnify God’s greatness and glory and grace to these pagan Babylonians. But what does he do? That’s not what he does. Instead he succumbs to glorifying himself and trying to prove to the Babylonians what a worthy partner he could be if they wanted to team up together. And so we get this picture of Hezekiah scuttling and scurrying around showing off his little treasures and the Babylonians are giving their polite approving nod when really they had seen treasures way greater, way bigger in their own nation. It’d be like me trying to show off the glory of my bank account or possessions to millionaire who would politely nod and say, “Very nice.”
Well, what happens next? Isaiah the prophet shows up. Notice that Hezekiah didn’t call upon Isaiah, invite him, summon him. Isaiah just shows up. That must have been somewhat disconcerting to the kings of Israel. At any moment a prophet from God might just show up to call you to account and rebuke you for some sin in the Lord’s name. (How would you like to have your pastor just all of a sudden show up on your doorstep after you commit some sin? J) Isaiah questions Hezekiah: what did those men say? Where did they come from? What did you show them? And how does Hezekiah respond? He knows that he can’t get out of this so all he can do is try to make it look like he was being hospitable. And you can almost sense some defiance from Hezekiah: “They saw everything in my palace…there is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”
Then Isaiah announces the sad news that one day all the treasure is going to be hauled off to Babylon and Hezekiah’s own descendants are going to be servants to another foreign king.
Hezekiah had a prime opportunity to glorify God, but he didn’t. Instead he was prideful and tried to glorify himself. He wanted to look good to other people. He treasured the gifts and ignored the Giver. Do we do that? Does God give us prime opportunities to glorify him but we take the opportunity to try to glorify ourselves? Do we take credit for what we’ve achieved in life, what we have in life, where we’ve come in life, or does the glory go to the Lord?
Now there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the things you have, enjoying the talents you have, enjoying your life achievements. Provided one thing: provided you acknowledge who has given them all to you, who they all really come from and that’s the Lord. A proud person will take credit for anything they achieve or get in life, a humble person will see it all as a gift from God. Pride is claiming to be the author of that which is really a gift.
But perhaps there’s a more subtle and deeper way that pride infects us. It’s the entire way that you view life. You can either view your life as worse than you deserve or you can view life as better than you deserve. You can go through life with this deep sense of owedness. You can go through life thinking that you deserve it, you’re owed everything. But here’s what will happen: you’ll be miserable. Because either when good things happen to you- you’ll react by saying, “It’s about time, this should have happened sooner.” You won’t even be able to enjoy good times. Or, when bad things happen to you, you’ll react by saying, “I don’t deserve this, this shouldn’t be happening to me, what did I do to deserve this?”
But you know what that is? At the heart that’s exactly the problem Hezekiah had- it’s pride. It’s like sitting around the Christmas tree expecting to get presents, expecting to get certain presents, and being disappointed with your gifts. But, you see, for this whole gift giving thing to work, a gift, by it’s very nature is undeserved, unearned, a surprise.
The reality is, your whole life is a gift. Hezekiah’s life, your life, my life is way, way, way better than what we deserve. What do we deserve? We deserve God’s wrath, His abandonment, we deserve eternal pain and suffering, we deserve punishment for our sins, we deserve eternal death in hell. But that’s not what any of us get! We get a life way, way, way better than what we deserve and way more!
Hezekiah did a foolish, prideful, arrogant thing here. But that’s not to negate the fact that Hezekiah was a good and godly king. But he wasn’t The King. We need someone better than Hezekiah. We need someone who has perfect humility, who did not come to be served but to serve and give his life up as a ransom for many, we need a King who had perfect trust in God and perfectly glorified God. And that’s exactly the gift that God has given to each of us in that tiny baby placed in the manger. In that baby Jesus is the ultimate gift- God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. With the gift of Jesus, you have life, you have peace, you have joy, you have eternity, you have heaven!
And if that’s all that God gifted us, we’d have more than enough reasons to praise and glorify him for all eternity. But that’s not it! “If God did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Everything you have in life is way better than you deserve, everything you have in life- your spouse, your children, your job, your wealth, your health, your stuff- it’s all a gracious gift from God. It’s all dessert! My wife likes to cook and she’s good at it and I like to eat. But there are times, like on my birthday, where she made this breakfast dessert that my mom used to make growing up- I had no idea that she had made and she surprised me with it- it was great. But that’s exactly what everything you have in life is- it’s all dessert, it’s all a surprise, it’s all undeserved.
Because of that baby in the manger all of life is a gift. It’s all a gift! It’s all mercy! It’s all a surprise! It’s all dessert! And that’s what it means to self-deprecate, to be a gospel humble person: to see everything as a gift from God and glorify Him for it. Because of that baby in a manger you have the greatest gift of all: forgiveness, eternal life – everything else is icing on the cake, frosting, dessert, a gift. So prepare this final week of Advent by being humble, seeing your whole life as a gift. Amen.
15th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus,
Why do criminals commit crimes? Of course there’s millions of answers to that question. But it’s something that we deal with day after day and especially when we read online or in the newspaper or hear about on TV just heinous crimes that happen even in our area. Why do criminals commit crimes? The prevailing thought in our modern times that is just starting to be challenged is that criminals commit crimes because of low self-esteem. That criminal behavior stems from a “desperate attempt to compensate for a prevailing sense of inadequacy” (Psychology Today). That the criminal has to build himself up by tearing others down, has to control or overcome others in order to feel better about himself. So, you hear people say to criminals, and I’ve heard it myself, “You’re better than that!” As if having a higher opinion of yourself is what you need in order to not commit crimes. This idea that crime stems from a low view of yourself is really only a modern idea. Throughout history it’s been the opposite. The reason people did bad things was hubris, or pride, or a too high view of themselves. And why is it that attributing bad behavior to having too low a view of yourself so popular and attractive? Because you don’t really have to assign blame, instead it was all the negative influences that the person had that made them do what they did. Instead of assigning blame you simply have to support people and build them up whereas in previous times a bad person was clamped down on, convicted, and called bad. This idea has seeped into many aspects of human life as well. I remember helping coach a middle school soccer team when we lived in TN. At the end of the season- we didn’t do very well, but there was still an award ceremony at the end where every person the team got a trophy for 6th place (or something like that)!
So, we live in a world that is saturated with pride and the way many try to deal with that is by fueling more pride. We need to hear Jesus’ words. Jesus addresses the insidious sin of pride in our text for this morning. It happened that a prominent member of the Pharisees invited Jesus to his home to eat on a certain Sabbath. Now, given what you know about how the Pharisees felt about Jesus, it’s surprising that one of them would invite Jesus. But notice what we’re told: “he was being carefully watched.” In other words, hypocritically the Pharisees invited Jesus so that they could perhaps find something wrong with him. But instead of them finding something wrong with Jesus, the exact opposite happens: Jesus finds something wrong with them!
Jesus observed how the people who were invited were vying for the places of honor at the table. Let’s think about that. This really shows what pride does. The guests at the meal were not just happy and pleased to be at the meal and to find enjoyment in the meal, no, their enjoyment was all tied up with being in a better place than someone else. That’s what pride does. Pride is a continual comparison game. Pride doesn’t take pleasure in just having something, pride takes pleasure in having more of it than something else. We might say someone is proud of their wealth, or their knowledge, or their good looks, but the reality is that the person is proud of being richer, smarter, or better looking than someone else. If that person is all of a sudden in the presence of someone how has more money, more knowledge, or better looks, he loses all the pleasure that he had. Pride is a continual comparison game.
And Jesus illustrates just that. He points out how it works in the world. If you go to a wedding feast and you presumptuously take a place of honor and are feeling pretty good about yourself and then someone more distinguished than you comes, the host will tell you to go to a less important place so the more distinguished person can sit in your seat and you’ll be disgraced and humiliated. You were doing fine until someone more important than you arrived. So pride not only puts you in a continuous comparison game it also sets you up for a fall. Then Jesus points out that even in the way the world works humility is better off because if you do go to a wedding and sit in a less important place, the host may move you to a better place.
Jesus illustrates a number of things that pride does to someone. It makes someone empty, busy, and hurt. First, pride makes someone empty. Notice what they are doing. They are trying to find their sense of worth, value, identity, enjoyment in life in having a better seat at the table than someone else! Think about how empty of a life you must have if your goal is to have a better seat at the table than someone else! Someone once said, “If you try to put anything in the middle of the place that was originally made for God it’s going to be too small” (Tim Keller). But what empty things are you and I looking to for our sense of worth in life? Our career? Our talents? Our family? Our stuff? If it’s anything but God, it’s going to leave us empty. Pride also makes someone busy. It’s always playing the comparison game. It’s not about being at the dinner, it’s about having a better place at the dinner than someone else. It’s not about being blessed with enough money to spare, it’s about having more than someone else. It’s not about having a godly spouse, its about having a better looking or more capable spouse than someone else. But the truth is, you’ll never win by comparing. It will either lead you to view yourself too highly – as if you’re better than someone else, or it will lead you to view yourself too lowly by thinking you’re worse than other people. And finally pride makes you hurt. Pride comes before a fall. A pastor once said, “Every person has a choice between being humble or being humbled.” (Charles Spurgeon) If I’m looking for my self-worth from anything other than God – from my successes in life, from my good grades, from my income or career, from what people say about me, it will inevitably fail me. Someone will give a harsh bit of criticism and I’ll be terribly troubled by it, constantly turning it over in my mind, keeping me up at night.
The opposite of pride is humility. And what is humility? Humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it’s thinking of myself less. You see, the insidious nature of pride is that it causes you to always think of yourself and what’s going to benefit you. The way you relate to someone else is how are they going to benefit you. In Jesus’ 2nd parable here that’s what Jesus is saying. Don’t invite your friends, relatives or rich neighbors to your dinner, because you want to get something from them, you want to be repaid – you’re still thinking about yourself if you do. Rather, invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind- they can’t repay you. In other words, you’re doing what you’re doing totally in service to others instead of service to self.
So how do you get there? How do criminals get to a place of humility where they are no longer feeling like they deserve whatever it is that they are expecting to get out of their crime? How do you get to a place where you’re not constantly feeling better about yourself based on what you do or don’t have, what others think of you or where your seat is at the dinner? How do you get there?
Jesus gives us the indication here. It’s at the very end of the text where Jesus says “at the resurrection of the righteous.” He’s pointing to the Last Day. Who are these “righteous” ones? Those are believers. The word righteous is the word dikaioi and it’s a courtroom term. You see, if you’re prideful, you’ll always be in a sort of courtroom. You’re always looking for a verdict, what are people going to think of me? What are they going to think if I sit at this place at the dinner table? You’re seeking to impress, if you’re the best one in the room – you’re doing great, if someone better comes along, you’re devastated. The verdict in the courtroom is always determined by what other people think or what you think of yourself.
God gives us the real answer to pride. The key to a humble life, the key to a self-forgetful life is taking to heart what Jesus calls you here. He calls you “righteous.” It’s a courtroom term and it means “innocent.” Now wait a minute, I know I’m not innocent, I’m guilty, I’m prideful, I’m arrogant, I’m sinful!” But that’s why Jesus came, he came to go to court for you. He was judged guilty and he paid the sentence with his death on the cross for all your pride and all your sin. And not only that, God has taken Christ’s perfect performance and has imputed that to you as if it were your own. And so God can look at you and me and say, just like he said of Jesus, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”
Almost everything in life and every false religion in the world runs on performance leading to a verdict. If you perform well, if you do this, if you do that, if you’re good then you’ll be rewarded. But God’s way is so different. In God’s way, the verdict leads to the performance. The trial is over, the verdict is in, the court is adjourned: you’re innocent, your sins are forgiven, you’ve been washed clean, you’re God’s child. And you know what that means? That means you can live with humility and self-forgetfulness. You already have all the worth, all the significance, all the value for eternity in Jesus your Savior and with that you can stop trying to impress others or even impress yourself, but just serve others for the joy of serving. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus who has given you and me priceless worth, dear friends in Christ, Have you ever heard of the story about Kathy Ormsby? The NCAA track-and-field championships were being held in Indianapolis in 1986. She was a premed honor student and a track star at North Carolina State University. She was also her college’s record holder for women’s ten-thousand meter run. During the championship race she fell behind and couldn’t seem to catch the front runner no matter how hard she tried. All of a sudden she ran off the track and out of the stadium to a nearby bridge where she jumped off. The forty foot fall that she took left her paralyzed from the waist down. I have no idea what was going through her head, but I can take a guess. My guess is that she was believing two lies: first, “I need to be perfect” and “my worth in life is determined by my performance.” And since she was believing that lie, when she was facing failure, it led her to a point of total despair in which she wanted to just end it all.
I think this, too, is a lie that each of us is tempted to believe- hopefully not to the degree of Kathy Ormbsy. Think about it, if you played any kind of sports – or, if your children play sports- how are they graded? The kids who perform well get awards and praise, the kids who don’t, don’t. And as a child did you let your performance on the field or on the court determine whether you’re happy or sad, do you feel low and worthless if you played terribly? You’re probably believing this lie. What about school? We have a grading system so that the kids who perform well get good grades and are put in advanced classes, while those who don’t aren’t. So, when you were in school or are in school did you equate your worth in life with how well you scored or what kinds of grades you got? This last week I spent taking a continuing education class which ended with a final review exam on Friday morning- as I stayed up late and got up early to study and cram for the test, I’ll let you decide if I thought I’d be a pretty pitiful person if I did horribly on the test. J Or, think about work. What’s the usual question when you meet someone new after you find out their name? “What do you do?” Think about the response, “Oh, you’re a doctor” vs. “Oh, you clean porta-potties.” J Do you equate how good of a job you have or how much money you have or make with your personal worth as a human being? In other words, if you suddenly had a low-level job and lost ¾ of your income would you feel worthless and tempted to do what Kathy Ormbsy did?
Believing this lie will really put us into to dangerous situations. If I perform well and enjoy success, I feel pretty good about myself and begin to look down on others as less important. Or, if I don’t feel I’ve achieved much, done much, I can feel worthless.
In our text this morning the Apostle Paul is dealing with certain people called “Judaizers” who had infiltrated the church in Philippi. In essence, they were saying that in order to be a good Christian you needed to perform, you needed to do this or that. In other words, you need to be circumcised as the OT law said, you can’t do any work on the Sabbath. So Paul tells them, “If you think that we’re going to be saved by who we are or what we’ve done, look at me. Please note, that Paul’s simply making a point here, he’s not bragging. Notice what he says about himself, “Circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel.” That shows that he’s from good stock, he comes from a very religious family. He also says that he’s from the tribe of Benjamin. You know how special that is? Many of the Jewish people couldn’t trace their lineage- remember how the whole northern kingdom- the northern 10 tribes had been completely destroyed? Only the southern two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, survived. The fact that he could trace his lineage made him a “Jew of Jews.” He was also extremely zealous and religious as a Jew, so much so that he was a Pharisee. That meant he belonged to that special group that didn’t only claim to keep all the OT laws, but 613 additional laws that they had come up with. He was also so zealous for what he thought was the true faith that he persecuted those who didn’t believe. And he comes up with the conclusion that if someone could earn God’s favor by being religious and zealous and pious people would have called him “faultless.”
If one of us were writing this list, perhaps ours would look a little different. Perhaps we would say that we come from a very religious family, we finished confirmation class in 8th grade, we have an almost perfect church attendance record, we pray every night, we fight off temptation better than others. And then come to the conclusion, because of who I am or because of what I’ve done or not done in life, I’m worth more and loved by God more than others. And the opposite of this thought is just as much wrong. Perhaps you know your life and the terrible things you’ve done and you know that you deserve God’s wrath and punishment and you’re just living in fear waiting for God to get you back for those things you’ve done in the past. Whether you’re believing that or you’re believing you’ve earned God’s favor, it means you’re believing the lie, “My worth is determined by my performance.”
But all that changed when God appeared to Paul. On the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, Jesus appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.” He was literally knocked to the ground, totally terrified. All of his pride, all of his life’s achievement, all of who he was and what he had done came crumbling to the ground with him. Not only had he been persecuting Jesus by persecuting His people, but he fell far short of God’s standard of perfection. And that’s exactly where you and I will be if we think our performance is what determines our worth before God- crumbling in fear because none of us, none of us even comes close to God’s standard of perfection.
You see, what Paul realized, was not that he was worthless, but that everything that he did in comparison to everything that Jesus did for him was worthless. He said, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” He continues by saying where his pride and his worth was now found. (vs. 8) “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”
Everything that I’ve done in the past, good or bad, is rubbish, garbage, junk, filth- useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal, KJV “dung”. Paul no longer sees his identity or his worth in what he has done but rather in what Christ has done. Anything that you’ve done in life that makes you feel “worth it” is really rubbish. Anything that you’ve done or not done in life that makes you feel “worthless” is really rubbish. When it comes to pride, your grades, your job, your income level, your achievements- those all are absolutely nothing in comparison to what Christ has done for you.
How do you determine something’s value? An auction is really a good illustration of this. If I had a pen and I asked each one of you, “How much will you give me for this pen?” Some might say a penny, another might say 5 cents, someone else might say 25 cents, still someone else might venture even a dollar. Then this pen would be worth a dollar because that’s what someone is willing to pay for it. That’s how you determine something’s value. So, how much was God willing to pay for you? “For you know that it was not with gold or silver that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect.” How much are you worth? You are worth the blood of Jesus, the blood Jesus paid with His death on the cross to pay for all your sins, to win you forgiveness. How much is God’s blood worth? It’s priceless. So how much does that make you worth? To God- it’s priceless.
So often we try to find our worth in life horizontally- by what other people say about us or think about us. The truth that frees us from this lie, though, is when we find our worth in life vertically- from God, about what He says about us.
So if you want to be proud, be proud of your Savior, who is no longer going to judge us based on what we have or haven’t done in life, but who is going to judge us based on what he did for us. If you want to boast, boast about your Savior who decided to save you and call you priceless even though we were worthless. If you want to brag, brag about your faith that connects you so intimately to your Savior. Hear it in God’s Word where your Savior says, “You are worth it to me to live and die for you.” Hear it in your baptism where your Savior says, “You are worth it to me, I’ve clothed you with my righteousness.” Hear it in the Supper where your Savior says, “Take and eat, take and drink my own body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins- that’s how much you’re worth it to me!”
All the feelings of worthlessness or of sinful pride that you feel go away when we see that our worth is not determined by our performance, but by His. Amen.
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States, served as Secretary of state, was a senator, a congressman, minister to Russia, Prussia, and the Netherlands, he knew not only English but French and Dutch some German and other European languages, he learned Latin and Greek, translated the New Testament, graduated from Harvard University, taught at Harvard University. And yet, at 70 years old with most of his life behind him he is recorded to have said, “My whole life has been a succession of disappointments. I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success in anything that I ever undertook.” Most of us would agree that he accomplished a lot in his life and he experienced many successes. What, then, would lead him to conclude that his whole life has been just a bunch of failures? I submit to you that he may have believed the lie that we’re looking at today.
You know the phrase that we use all the time in some way or form. A child spills a glass of milk and you say, “That’s ok, no one’s perfect.” A coworker makes a mistake at work at you tell her, “That’s ok, no one’s perfect.” We use that phrase a lot. We know that no one is perfect. And there’s definitely a difference between mistakes and sins. Mistakes happen all the time without you even having to think about them. Sin is when you know something is wrong and bad and you do it any way. The lie we’re looking at this morning is “I must be perfect.” And I’m guessing probably a lot of us are looking at that lie and thinking, “I know that’s a lie, no one’s perfect, I don’t believe that.” But there’s a big difference between what we say on the surface and what is actually, functionally true in our thoughts and emotions.
So, how do you know if you are believing the lie: “I must be perfect.” First, do you obsess about mistakes that you make? In a conversation maybe you say something you shouldn’t have said and later on you dwell on that and wish you hadn’t said what you said. Do you constantly find yourself telling other people how they can do things better? Are you constantly correcting one of your children causing them to believe the lie, “I must be perfect”? Do people around you feel judged by you? (And, how could you know that unless you asked them ?) Do you think to yourself, “I know that God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself?” Do you find yourself putting things off and procrastinating because you’re waiting for the perfect conditions to come? Do you get really defensive when someone criticizes you? Do you find yourself having a difficult time being honest about how you are really feeling? Thinking “I need to be perfect” makes you think that you need to be emotionally strong in every circumstance and so you’re afraid to discuss your fears, hurts, problems.
Not only does believing this lie hollow you out personally, but it will also end up draining your relationships. If you believe this lie your whole life becomes a report card. Any kind of failure is absolutely devastating. So what do you do? You end up prioritizing your work and leaving relationships on the back burner. If you believe this lie you begin to find your validation in life from your performance and so when things aren’t going well or meeting your high expectations, you’re grumpy, upset, easily angered, which then negatively affects the people close to you. And you also may begin to extend your high expectations on those close to you. A mom expects her child to get straight A+’s, a husband becomes upset with his wife who doesn’t to housework in exactly the right way. You get the picture.
Here’s a quote that I found, “For perfectionists, life is an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. It’s a fast track to unhappiness, and perfectionism is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn’t a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance.” You can’t enjoy relationships because you feel you need to perform in order to be acceptable.
And if you’re thinking at this point, “So, you’re saying I should be ok with mistakes, that I should be ok with sinning?” If you think that, I can almost guarantee you are believing this lie. No, sin is not ok. We’re going to talk about that. But at the root of believing this lie is a sin. What’s underneath believing this lie is the thought, ‘If I look perfect, if I do things perfectly, live perfectly, then I can be accepted, I can avoid shame and judgment.” So you become the means to your own salvation, you’ve established your own standard and set of rules in order to feel accepted, secure, to be wanted, to be saved.
Yet, it’s God’s Word that frees us from this lie. People who believe the lie “I need to be perfect” in a weird way like rules, they like following standards and laws. But what does God say? “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” In other words, the more that you try to live up to any moral standard, the more your mouth is silenced because the more you do, the more you realize that you’ve failed. It’s really a life of self-condemnation. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” So, by following laws or rules you’ll never get to the point of arriving- instead, you become conscious of sin.
Another way of saying “I must be perfect” is saying “I must be righteous.” I once heard “righteous” defined this way: a validating performance record that gets you in. So, having good grades is a validating performance record that gets you into good colleges or universities. Having a stellar athletic record is a validating performance record that gets you scholarships. Having a great resume is a validating performance record that gets you into great jobs. We can look to all kinds of things in life for a validating performance record: being a hard worker, always having a clean house, having perfect children, etc. But what God is saying here is that no one will have a validating performance record before God by living up to some standard, by obeying certain laws or rules. You can’t get your truest security in life, your acceptance before God by following rules, by doing things, by being perfect.
But there is a validating performance record that opens the door to God and it’s apart from law, apart from doing things, apart from performance, apart from trying to be perfect. It comes not from us, but from God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” In other words, we’re all in the same boat, there’s no difference between any of us, nobody’s perfect, all are sinners, but all are justified.
Do you know what “justification” means? When we think of “justification” we are usually thinking about trying to justify our actions so that we don’t look bad for something we did. But the word in Scripture is literally a courtroom term that means that the judge declares the defendant innocent. Perhaps a better word would be acquitted, you are declared innocent of all charges. You see forgiveness has two parts. Not only does God take all your sins away, paying for them with Jesus’ death on the cross, but he also imputes to you, credits to your account Jesus’ entirely perfect life. You have been given Jesus’ righteousness, his perfect life, that identity is now yours! “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished (in other words, God didn’t strike people dead because of their sins, he was holding back to strike Jesus for all the sins committed) – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
“Where then is boasting?” If you want to know where your righteousness is coming from, what you are looking to for your validating performance record, just look at where you boast, what you take pride in. That’s what the law does- it’all about standards, looking good, making comparisons, trying to be perfect. But “It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
You see, the root problem of trying to be a perfectionist is that I’m trying to prove something, I’m looking to what I do for approval, significance, validation. So the key is not just repenting of sin, but repenting of my self-righteousness. It’s repenting of all those things that I do in order to think that I don’t desperately need God and His grace to completely cover my life.
How is that possible? Because we look at what Jesus did. He didn’t just die for your sins, He also lived perfectly for you. Because of Jesus you already are perfect, that’s your identity, that’s your status, you are a child of God, an heir of eternal life.
And so yes, with hearts cleansed by God’s forgiving grace in Christ we strive to live in a way that is pleasing to him, we strive for excellence, we strive to do our best with the talents and the abilities that God has given us, but not to earn or win or gain anything for ourselves, but because we want to out of love for our Savior. And when we fail, when we make mistakes, when we find ourselves ruminating and thinking about our mistakes, stop, and just start thinking about all your sins- even your worst sins – and tell yourself this: “Christ has forgiven me. My performance record isn’t my own, it’s what Christ has done for me, He’s bled and died for me, He lived perfectly for me.”
3rd Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ: Have you ever fallen off a ladder? Did you know that falling is a leading cause of unintentional injury mortality nationwide, that 43 % of fatal falls involve a ladder? In 2011 falling off a ladder at work (not falling off a ladder at home) led to 113 deaths, 15,500 nonfatal injuries where the worker missed at least one day of work, and 34,000 injuries treated in an emergency room. Someone has even figured out the odds of dying from a fall are 1 in 269 and the odds of dying from falling off a ladder are 1 in 8,689.
I’ve never known someone to climb a ladder expecting to fall and do nothing about it. If you think you might fall off a ladder, what do you do? You see, one of the best ways to prevent a fall from a ladder is to have someone stationed at the base of the ladder holding the ladder in place. We can all picture the movie or TV scene or maybe this even happened to you where the husband is climbing the ladder and the wife yells, “Honey, do you need me to hold the ladder for you?” And the response is, “No, dear, I I’ll be fiiiiiiiiiiiine…” Crash! If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.
The same is true about sin. One of the surest ways to fall into temptation and sin is to be overconfident. You are at your worst point, worst point in life when you think you’re invincible. When we read a portion of Scripture like this, we dare not think, “This applies to everyone else, but surely it doesn’t apply to me, this could never happen to me, I have so much Christian heritage, I’ve attended church so much, I’m so close to God, I’ll never fall off the Christian ladder. I could never fall into this sin or that sin, I could never do this, I could never do that.” If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.
That’s what the Corinthians were thinking. You see, the Corinthian Christians knew Jesus, knew what Jesus had done, were baptized, celebrated the Lord’s Supper, understood that their sins were forgiven, but they began to think they were invincible. “We’re free! We can do what we want!” They thought it was perfectly permissible to attend an idol worship feast on Saturday (and keep in mind idol worship at this time also involved a lot of sexual immorality), they thought it was perfectly fine to attend an idol worship feast on Saturday and attend worship on Sunday. “We won’t be led to sin, we won’t fall into temptation.”
So what does God say? “I don’t want you to be ignorant, brothers,” which means, “I really want you all to know this.” “Our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.” He’s talking about our spiritual forefathers, the Israelites after they were led out of slavery in Egypt. What did they have? They ALL had the cloud with them, God led the Israelites by this pillar of cloud, they could see it, they could march on ahead with confidence because GOD was with them, they could go to sleep at night knowing that GOD was with them. That’s not all, they ALL also passed through the sea, they saw the spectacular event of the Red sea parting for the entire nation to walk through on dry ground. In a sense, they had something like baptism- an incredible event through which they were rescued by God. They also all ate the same spiritual food. God fed them with manna from heaven. They also ALL had a spiritual drink – they drank from a rock. God continuously supplied them miraculously with water throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. And we’re told that Christ was involved in all of this. Christ preserved them throughout their wanderings, in fact, it’s only because of Jesus that God cared for them at all – without Jesus, God would have no reason to provide anything for us humans. So they had spiritual food from Christ, spiritual drink from Christ, they also had something like the Lord’s Supper to assure them of God’s grace and love for them.
But what happened? “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” Despite all these privileges that they had, similar privileges that the Corinthians had, they failed to get the prize, they failed to enter the Promised Land, dead bodies, corpses were strewn all over the desert. One by one they died. Why? These are examples for us to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things like them. Instead of rejoicing in the great spiritual blessings that were theirs they lusted after evil things and met with God’s wrath. Their hearts were evil.
And here’s the direct warning for the Corinthian Christians and us: “Do not be idolaters.” The Corinthians thought it was just fine to go to a temple, sit down and eat at an idol worship feast. Well, the Israelites did the same thing, “They sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” That’s what the Israelites did with the golden calf. What about us? Are we idolaters? Perhaps we might think, “I’ll never fall into idolatry, I could never do that.” And we think that since we don’t have idols lining our streets like they did in Corinth, we couldn’t fall into that sin. But idols are just as prevalent today as they were back then, we just don’t call them idols. Do you have a god before God? Overconfidence is thinking that this doesn’t apply to me. If you think you’re standing firm be careful that you don’t fall. Am I worshipping my family before God? Am I worshipping success and wealth before God? Am I worshipping my hobby or my body before God? We live in a world of vast idolatry. We are raising our children and grandchildren in a world of vast idolatry.
The next example from the Israelites is that they committed sexual immorality and 23,000 of them died. That’s more people than the population of Bemidji who died. Again, we can’t be overconfident and think, “I’m too strong a Christian to ever fall into this sin. It doesn’t matter what I watch, it doesn’t matter what I fill my mind with.” We live in a culture and society that is saturated with sexual immorality. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.” Sexual immorality is something to be fled, not flirted with. We cannot play around in our minds with such immorality and think it doesn’t have a destructive effect on our hearts, our souls, our minds, our families. Should you really be visiting that internet site? Should you really be watching that movie?
The next example: “We should not test the Lord.” The Israelites did and they were killed by snakes. What does it mean to test God? It means trying to make God comply with me, instead of complying my life to Him. I want God on my terms, if God does this for me, then I’ll serve him, if God does that for me, then I’ll worship him. That’s testing God. It’s like my children, they’ll say to my wife, “I’m starving.” She makes a meal, we sit down to eat, and what do they say? “Oh, mom, I don’t want to eat that!” They’re trying her, they’re trying her patience. We do that when we complain about what God gives us in life. And that leads to the last example. Grumbling is giving audible expression to unwarranted dissatisfaction. Grumbling and complaining is saying to God, “We know better than you.” We challenge God’s grace, goodness, love, and righteousness. “If only I had a different job, if only I had a different house, if only God had blessed me differently, if only God had given me a different life, a different lot in life.” Complaining.
These are examples for us. If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. Even though the Israelites had amazing advantages in life, they saw the cloud, they saw the Red sea split, they were fed and they drank miraculous food, they became over confident and they fell. We, too, have amazing advantages, we’ve been baptized, we’ve tasted the miraculous food of the Lord’s Supper, we’ve been nourished by God’s Word, we dare not begin to think, “God loves me, God forgives me, I can do what I want.” Christian maturity is not seeing how close we can get to temptation before we fall, it’s fleeing it. The guy who thinks that he might fall doesn’t need to be told, “Be careful that you don’t fall.” It’s the guy who thinks he can’t fall who needs to be told, “Be careful so you don’t fall.” The more self-confident we are, the less dependent on God we are, the les dependent on God we are, the more careless we are in living, the more careless in living we are, the more open to temptation. When we think we’re good, that’s when we most need to be on our guard and dependent on God.
There are two ditches on either side of the Christian life, both of which, if we fall into will destroy our faith. We’d like to think that our lives are lived right down the center of this road, hovering a little to the left sometimes and a little to the right sometimes, but for the most part right down the middle. But, unfortunately, that’s simply not true. It’s far more likely that we spend a good share of our life hovering on the brink of falling off the cliff of overconfidence, pride, self-security and then the other part of our lives hovering over the perilous cliff of despair, thinking God could never love us or forgive us. Our lives are probably a constant shooting back and forth between these two perilous ditches.
So what are we reminded of? “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide the outcome so that you will be able to endure it.” You see, when I think that I’m standing firm, when I think I don’t desperately need God, I need to hear, “I can fall, I can lose my faith.” But when I’m worried, when I’m troubled, when I’m frightened by my sin, this is what I need to hear, “God is faithful.” In fact, God is so faithful that He sent His own Son to be tempted in every way that I am but was without sin. Jesus overcame every single temptation – he did so for you, in your place. And not only that Jesus took upon Himself all your guilt, all the times you’ve given in to temptation, he suffered and died for it on the cross. He rose from the dead to assure you that you’re forgiven. And because of that God is faithful, He is with you in every temptation and promises to give you the strength to endure it without falling.
This is contradictory to our mind, but it is exactly what our contradictory hearts need. When I think I’m fine, when I think I’m good on my own, when I’m tempted to become proud. I need to hear, “Be careful that you don’t fall.” I need to hear that I can fall from the faith so I don’t become careless and indifferent. But when I’m scared I’m going to fall, when I know I’m weak and helpless on my own, that’s when I need the assurance from God which says that God is faithful, He won’t let me be tempted beyond what I’m able, I have a Savior who has washed all my sins away, I have a God who has done everything and will do everything to make sure that I will live with him forever in heaven. Amen.
Scripture presents both of these as facts: God is faithful, He promises to preserve us in the faith and yet at the same time we are warned by Scripture that we can fall from faith and lose our salvation. There is no such thing as once saved, always saved, it is false security to think that as long as I can point to a time in my life that I was “saved” that I’m good. It’s also false for parents to think that as long as I have my child baptized, they’re good. As long as I send my child to a Christian day school, they’ll be good.