Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Separated for God - July 17, 2016 - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Colossians 1:21-29
I love the people who say that children are perfect, that is without sin. When they say this I wonder if they actually have children, or have been around children, or even know what children are. Have you ever watched two little children play together? They are very selfish. I would imagine that if you gave two children one toy and asked them to share, instead of sharing there might be a big fight on your hands. Even if you were to give them two toys to share, inevitably each one would want what the other one has. Children, much like many adults even, want and think the world should revolve around them. Children are the best illustration of original sin. We adults are the same way. You hear it all the time: “it’s a dog eat dog world,” “you gotta get what you can,” “you gotta step on a lot of people to get to the top.” If that is not fighting against everything Christ taught, I do not know what is.
Our text says, “21And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:21-22). The King James version translation says that we were enemies of God. Indeed it is true, once we were alienated, separated, hostile in mind, even enemies of God, but even worse, we were not just enemies, but spiritual enemies, not passively being disobedient, but actively working, fighting against God. But thank God we have been reconciled, brought back into harmony, by Christ’s death and resurrection in His human body. Paul’s message to the Romans is his message to us today, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8b). And two verses later he says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Rom. 5:10). While we were actively working and fighting against God being His enemies, He sent His one and only Son to live the perfect life demanded by God of us in our place, to suffer the suffering we deserve, eternal spiritual death in hell for us in our place, to die the most horrible death in our place. And most importantly Christ rose for us in our place. He rose for me and He rose for you! By faith in Jesus, His work has become our work. Now when God looks at us He sees Jesus’ work as our work, and He is satisfied. Christ has accomplished all things for you!
Now Paul encourages us that we must continue firm and steadfast in our faith in the hope of the Gospel. Saving faith is not a “once saved always saved” proposition as some people would have you believe. That type of faith is not a faith in Christ, but is actually a faith in self. We are continually reminded, but in an opposite way in which it was meant, that our country was founded on the principle of the separation between church and state, with the true meaning being that the State, the government was not to impose any national religion on the citizens of this country, not that we may not attempt to influence our government while being guided by our Christian principles. What this means is that people have the right, the freedom to believe and worship as they please. Today it would appear that has been changed to the idea that people have the right to not worship as they please. Rather than a freedom for worship it has become a freedom from worship. Church has become a place to get baptized, get confirmed, get married, and get buried. I believe the affectionate way of saying it is that the church is the place where you are hatched, matched and dispatched. Church has become a place to go when we have a problem or a struggle, or when we need something, otherwise it gets in the way of our day off. Confirmation has become graduation. We think we know everything, or at least enough about God and our faith and we sit on our grace. We believe we have done our duty and it is time to get on with our real life. Faith is like a lot of things in life. It is like playing a musical instrument. It is like being physically fit. It is like being good at a sport. It is even like being good at our job. It is like all things that require daily work and practice. If we do not practice our faith, it becomes weak and non-existent. We can fall away from grace, and sometimes we do fall away from grace.
Saving faith is not something you do, or something that if “you have enough, then you will get what you want.” Do not be conned by those TV preachers who tell you that you “just have to believe enough and you can get whatever you want.” They tell you that you do not have what you want because you do not believe enough. They tell you that the Lord wants you to be rich, that He really wants you to have everything you want here on this earth. Listen real close to those statements. Who is it you are having faith in? Listen again, if you have enough faith. If you do this or that. If you pray this or that. If you! The faith is not in God, it is in you, yourself. And especially do not believe the TV preachers who tell you that you can be the person God wants you to be. If we could be the person God wants us to be then we would not need Jesus and without Jesus we would still have our sins on us and we would be lost and condemned persons. As I have said time and again, always listen for who you are told is to run the show, who is to save you, yourself, or Jesus.
Saving faith is complete trust in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection worked in us by the Holy Spirit. True saving faith is that faith which is worked in our heart by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word and the Sacraments. We did not do anything. We could not do anything. We did not decide to accept Him. We did not choose him. If it were up to us, our natural inclination would be to say, “No, Lord, not today, maybe some other day,” as we see happen every Sunday when more than half, even three-fourths of our own congregation and people across the world put something before God and refuse and reject His gifts by absenting themselves from His Word and Sacrament in His Divine Service. But that does not and never will negate the fact that He chose us and made us believers out of his love for us.
Our saving faith is strengthened firm and steadfast by continuing in the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments. He has brought us to faith; now we are to be strengthen in that faith. We are to be strengthen in faith by continuing to read and study His Word and partake in the Sacrament of His Supper. We are to strengthen that faith by attending Divine Service as often as we can, by going to Bible class, by having personal and family daily devotions, by remembering our Baptism, by confessing our sins and hearing His most beautiful words of absolution that is that our sins are forgiven, and by partaking of His true body and blood in His most Holy Supper as often as we can. Our faith is strengthen as we make and take opportunities for the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith through these very means.
Our response is one of joyful living for Christ. Our response is not dying for the Lord, we have enough people ready to do that. Everyone wants to die for the Lord today. That is too easy. As Paul says to the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It is easy to die and go to heaven. It is a lot more difficult to stay on this earth and live for Christ. There are so many temptations in this world, so many things that draw our attention away from Christ. There are so many times when it is easier to deny our relationship to Christ than to admit faith in Him and be ridiculed for it. It is difficult to live as a Christian. However, our living is not in order to gain heaven; we already have that. Our living is in response to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for us. Because of all that He has done for us we want to live our lives according to His will.
Our response is one of joyfully living, even suffering for the Lord. Sometimes our living causes us to suffer, not that we want to suffer, but because of opposition to Christ. Opposition to Him is turned on us. In other words, it is not us that people are opposed to, but to Christ. Because we are here, however, we receive what was meant for Him. I can only tell you this, rejoice in your suffering, knowing that you are worthy to suffer for Christ. When my mom was going through surgery several years ago she said, “I know the Lord chastises those whom He loves, I just wish He had love someone else a little more.” But she did not despair in her suffering. I remember her telling me that, as she was being anesthetized, she kept praying the Lord’s Prayer over and over. And although she continues to have medical difficulties yet today, she is stronger in her faith, and I believe the whole family is as well, because of her suffering. She goes on rejoicing in her Lord, Jesus Christ.
Where do we get the strength to live for the Lord? It comes through the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, makes it clear that if you think you do not have enough faith to do something, go ahead and do it, in so doing the Lord will give you the faith to do it. The Holy Spirit is with us, He will never let us down. He is the one who gives us enough faith to go on. He is with us to the end of the earth. Here in our sanctification, just as in our justification, we always get it right when we point to God doing the doing and our being done to. Indeed, the Holy Spirit gives faith, and works to strengthen us and keep us in faith.
At one time we were separated from God, actively fighting against Him, that began at the moment of conception. Now we are His because He has reconciled us to Himself through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ which he has given us in His place. Now with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can respond by fulfilling the “if” Paul includes in his epistle. That is, “-if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (v. 23). Perhaps we might say it better if we point back to God and say, as we continue in the faith, or as the Holy Spirit stirs in us to continue in the faith, we continue to have hope, which is a certainty of eternal life. May the Lord continue to strengthen you in the firm foundation in the hope of the Gospel which you have heard, always pointing to Jesus, until His kingdom comes. Ultimately then we say together, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.