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Faith is God’s Work

 

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (Jn. 6:29 NKJ).

 

“Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

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Doing and fulfilling the Law

 

“Accustom yourself, then, to this language, that doing the works of the law and fulfilling the law are two very different things. The work of the law is everything that one does, or can do, toward keeping the law of his own free will or by his own powers. But since in the midst of all these works and along with them there remains in the heart a dislike of the law and compulsion with respect to it, these works are all wasted and have no value. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:20], when he says, “By works of the law will no man be justified in God’s sight.” Hence you see that the wranglers and sophists practice deception when they teach men to prepare themselves for grace by means of works. How can a man prepare himself for good by means of works, if he does good works only with aversion and unwillingness in his heart? How shall a work please God if it proceeds from a reluctant and resisting heart?

To fulfil the law, however, is to do its works with pleasure and love, to live a godly and good life of one’s own accord, without the compulsion of the law. This pleasure and love for the law is put into the heart by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in chapter 5[:5]. But the Holy Spirit is not given except in, with, and by faith in Jesus Christ, as St. Paul says in the introduction. Faith, moreover, comes only through God’s Word or gospel, which preaches Christ, saying that he is God’s Son and a man, and has died and risen again for our sakes, as he says in chapters 3[:25]; 4[:25], and 10[:9].

So it happens that faith alone makes a person righteous and fulfils the law. For out of the merit of Christ it brings forth the Spirit. And the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be. Thus good works emerge from faith itself. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:31]; after he has rejected the works of the law, it sounds as if he would overthrow the law by this faith. “No,” he says, “we uphold the law by faith”; that is, we fulfil it by faith.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

The Visitation, Luke 1:39-56

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Luke 1:39-56

“Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” 46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.”

 

“And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk. 1:39)

Luther: God is not magnified by us so far as His nature is concerned—He is unchangeable—but He is magnified in our knowledge and experience when we greatly esteem Him and highly regard Him, especially as to His grace and goodness. Therefore the holy mother does not say: “My voice or my mouth, my hand or my thoughts, my reason or my will, magnifies the Lord.” For there are many who praise God with a loud voice, preach about Him with high-sounding words, speak much of Him, dispute and write about Him, and paint His image; whose thoughts dwell often upon Him and who reach out after Him and speculate about Him with their reason; there are also many who exalt Him with false devotion and a false will. But Mary says, “My soul magnifies Him”—that is, my whole life and being, mind and strength, esteem Him highly. She is caught up, as it were, into Him and feels herself lifted up into His good and gracious will, as the following verse shows. It is the same when anyone shows us a signal favor; our whole life seems to incline to him, and we say: “Ah, I esteem him highly”; that is to say, “My soul magnifies him.” How much more will such a lively inclination be awakened in us when we experience the favor of God, which is exceeding great in His works. All words and thoughts fail us, and our whole life and soul must be set in motion, as though all that lived within us wanted to break forth into praise and singing.

But here we find two kinds of false spirits that cannot sing the Magnificat aright. First, there are those who will not praise Him unless He does well to them; as David says (Ps. 49:18): “He will praise Thee when Thou shalt do well to him.” These seem indeed to be greatly praising God; but because they are unwilling to suffer oppression and to be in the depths, they can never experience the proper works of God, and therefore can never truly love or praise Him. The whole world nowadays is filled with praise and service to God, with singing and preaching, with organs and trumpets, and the Magnificat is magnificently sung; but it is regrettable that this precious canticle should be rendered by us so utterly without salt or savor. For we sing only when it fares well with us; as soon as it fares ill, we stop our singing and no longer esteem God highly, but suppose He can or will do nothing for us. Then the Magnificat also must languish.

The other sort are more dangerous still. They err on the opposite side. They magnify themselves by reason of the good gifts of God and do not ascribe them to His goodness alone. They themselves desire to bear a part in them; they want to be honored and set above other men on account of them. When they behold the good things that God has done for them, they fall upon them and appropriate them as their own; they regard themselves as better than others who have no such things. This is really a smooth and slippery position. The good gifts of God will naturally produce proud and self-complacent hearts. Therefore we must here give heed to Mary’s last word, which is “God.” She does not say, “My soul magnifies itself” or “exalts me.” She does not desire herself to be esteemed; she magnifies God alone and gives all glory to Him. She leaves herself out and ascribes everything to God alone, from whom she received it. For though she experienced such an exceeding great work of God within herself, yet she was ever minded not to exalt herself above the humblest mortal living. Had she done so, she would have fallen, like Lucifer, into the abyss of hell (Is. 14:12).

She had no thought but this: if any other maiden had got such good things from God, she would be just as glad and would not grudge them to her; indeed, she regarded herself alone as unworthy of such honor and all others as worthy of it. She would have been well content had God withdrawn these blessings from her and bestowed them upon another before her very eyes. So little did she lay claim to anything, but left all of God’s gifts freely in His hands, being herself no more than a cheerful guest chamber and willing hostess to so great a Guest. Therefore she also kept all these things forever. That is to magnify God alone, to count only Him great and lay claim to nothing. We see here how strong an incentive she had to fall into sin, so that it is no less a miracle that she refrained from pride and arrogance than that she received the gifts she did. Tell me, was not hers a wondrous soul? She finds herself the Mother of God, exalted above all mortals, and still remains so simple and so calm that she does not think of any poor serving maid as beneath her. Oh, we poor mortals! If we come into a little wealth or might or honor, or even if we are a little prettier than other men, we cannot abide being made equal to anyone beneath us, but are puffed up beyond all measure. What should we do if we possessed such great and lofty blessings?

Therefore God lets us remain poor and hapless, because we cannot leave His tender gifts undefiled or keep an even mind, but let our spirits rise or fall according to how He gives or takes away His gifts. But Mary’s heart remains the same at all times; she lets God have His will with her and draws from it all only a good comfort, joy, and trust in God. Thus we too should do; that would be to sing a right Magnificat. [Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 21 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 307–309.]

 

Prayer: Lord, visit us that we blessed by Your Word through Your Son, believe Your Promises, confess Your Name, live by faith, proclaim Your praises, and entrust ourselves fully into Your blessed care. Amen.

 

 

All are equal before God

 

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Jn. 7:24

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

People are tempted to see others as better than themselves, or, on the other hand, to see themselves as better than others.  Both positions are extremes and not in accordance with the way things really are.

Before God, all stand on equal footing.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), writes St. Paul.

Of these all, Paul also writes, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

Christians continue to struggle with their sinful flesh, and in this struggle, we are tempted to believe that the saints of Old (i.e. Hebrews 11) are somehow better than we are, and more deserving of God’s kindness and mercy.

Example after example reveals otherwise.

As God’s mercy extended to them, so also to us.

Others are not better than you before God, nor are they the worse because of their sin.  It is sin, period, that condemns.  Yet, such sin, all of it, and its accompanying judgment, have been accounted for through Christ’s death on the cross.

The one who believes this, whether lesser the sinner or greater the sinner in the eyes of others, is justified before God (Romans 5:1).

This is good news, indeed!

By faith in Christ alone, the believer in Christ, stands forgiven and has God’s peace. Amen.

Luther

“For it is a great comfort for us to hear that even such great saints sin—a comfort which those who say that saints cannot sin would take away from us.

Samson, David, and many other celebrated men who were full of the Holy Spirit fell into huge sins. Job (3:3 ff.) and Jeremiah (20:14) curse the day of their birth; Elijah (1 Kings 19:4) and Jonah (4:8) are tired of life and pray for death. Such errors and sins of the saints are set forth in order that those who are troubled and desperate may find comfort and that those who are proud may be afraid. No man has ever fallen so grievously that he could not have stood up again. On the other hand, no one has such a sure footing that he cannot fall. If Peter fell, I, too, may fall; if he stood up again, so can I.

Those whose consciences are weak and tender should set great store by such examples, in order that they may understand better what they are praying when they say: “Forgive us, etc.,” or “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” in which the apostles and all the saints believed. They prayed the Our Father just as we do. The apostles were not superior to us in anything except in their apostolic office. We have the same gifts that they had, namely, the same Christ, Baptism, Word, and forgiveness of sins. They needed all this no less than we do; they were sanctified and saved by all this just as we are.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p108-109)

 

Prayer: Holy and gracious God, look not upon my sin, but look upon Jesus, who died for me and through whom I am reconciled with You.  Help me to receive comfort from the examples of  the saints, for as they had your Word and promise, Your compassion and mercy, so do I. Amen.

 

 

Godly Worship

Biblical and godly worship is not merely that worship of the mouth or of the body, that which a person says or does, though it does include these.  The worship of the Christian is not merely external by nature, though it does reveal itself for others to see.

First and foremost, true, godly worship is that which originates in the heart, the very thing that Jesus addresses when He speaks of those worshiping God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

Such worship in spirit and truth is not self-derived or self-originating, as such worship does not begin, continue, or end with men.  Rather, such worship, acceptable before God and pleasing to the Father, is that worship according to the Lord’s Word which has Jesus Christ as center.

As God’s people, we do not offer any worthiness of our own before God’s altar, but humbly seek from Him His mercy and favor.  We do not dictate to God how He is to be with us.  He reveals how we are to be with Him.

Just here is where the Law convicts.  Yet, just here is also where God’s just judgment, not upon us but upon His Son, so clearly reveals itself.

Our hearts are self-serving and self-seeking.  Apart from God’s grace and mercy in Christ, we do what we do, as pious as it may be, for ourselves.

Yet Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

He did nothing for Himself.  In His godly worship to the Father, He has both fulfilled and satisfied all that is absent in our worship before He Who alone deserves all of it.

Through faith in God’s Son, worship in spirit and truth is the kind of worship of God’s people, God’s people who confess their sinfulness and God’s people who have no ounce of confidence of their own, but cling to Christ alone for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, look with favor upon us for neglecting He who alone pleases You and through Whom we have Your abiding favor. Grant to us, Your holy people, baptized into your precious Name, true worship of Jesus in spirit and truth in all that we say and do.  Bless us with lively faith, that we boldly confess Your name in the midst of these trying days, and grant us genuine love for one another, that none place himself above of another, but look out for each other’s interests (Philippians 2). Accomplish Your will in and among us, that Your Name be praised and that all glory be Yours, in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Christian Perfection

 

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

Gal. 2:15-16

 

This is Christian perfection: that we fear God honestly with our whole hearts, and yet have sincere confidence, faith, and trust that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious, merciful God; that we may and should ask and pray God for those things of which we have need, and confidently expect help from him in every affliction connected with our particular calling and station in life; and that meanwhile we do good works for others and diligently attend to our calling.”

Augsburg 27, on Monastic Vows, offers these words as contrast to those who took the taking of vows, in general, and of good works, in particular, as the means by which a Christian becomes perfect, holy, and acceptable to God. The article briefly details that monasticism, orginally, begain with good intentions, that of offering a means to study and learn God’s Word, but that in time, the practice became corrupt, as the teaching that monasticism surpassed even baptism was accepted as true.

The reformers, in their confession, which is also our own, declare that Christian perfection is not that we become perfect by making a vow, trying to keep the commandments, trying not to sin, or anything of ourselves. Changing who we are also doesn’t change our standing before God, as if we could change our standing before God.

We can’t.

Jesus says, “You will be perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Other passages reveal that such perfection is not something that we can do, earn, merit, or obtain. Perfection is not within us to achieve.

Yet, God still commands it.

This does not mean that you can then do it, that you can keep such a command as God wants it to be kept. Rather, it means that God is commanding the impossible, that you see your sin, and trust in Him who has fulfilled the commandment, each and every one, in your stead; that you trust in Him who fully paid the debt of judgment for your sin; and that you not trust yourself as you seek to keep the commandment, but trust in Jesus alone for your help and salvation.

In this, as the Reformers confessed, as do we, is Christian perfection, not that we trust at all in what we do, but trust in God our Savior, who gave His Son for us and through whom we live out our callings in the fear of God and in true faith. Amen.

Acceptable Offerings

 

Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.(Genesis 4:3-5)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

It wasn’t because of the offering itself that God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s.  Both gave offering to the Lord.  But such offering given revealed the kind of man who had given it.

As a farmer, Cain gave what he did, “an offering.”  Abel, as a shepherd of sheep, “brought of the firstborn.”

Lest we think that an animal offering is greater than that of the harvest, consider that the offering of grains and produce were commended and acceptable to God, as revealed in Exodus (i.e. Exodus 29:41).

The distinction between the offerings were not the issue, though the offerings did differ.

The difference between the offering of Abel and that of Cain was that of the heart.  Had Cain believed, at the Lord’s Word, he would have repented and not later murdered his brother (Genesis 4:8).

Cain demonstrated his unrepentance by murdering Abel.

He demonstrated his disbelief with the offering that he had given, not the first of the crop, but simply “of the ground.”

On the other hand, Abel, having offered “of the firstborn and of their fat,” demonstrated faith.  We know this because God accepted the offering of Abel, but not that of Cain.

Had Abel not had faith, his offering would not have been acknowledged by God.

Though we readily look at what is given by mere appearance (and the amount), God looks at the heart from which such gift is given.

We can’t see the heart and its disposition to God.  God can, and God does.

It’s not by the offering and what we do (or don’t do) by which we become (or are) acceptable to God.  Rather, first, we are acceptable to God, and then the offering (and works) are.

Thanks be to God that this is so!

Acceptance by God is not dependent on you.  It’s founded on Jesus Christ.

“By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus(Rom. 3:20-24).

“Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,(Rom. 5:1).

 

“Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone

And rests in Him unceasing;

And by its fruits true faith in known,

With love and hope increasing.

Yet faith alone doth justify,

Works serve they neighbor and supply

The proof that faith is living.”

(The Lutheran Hymnal 377 “Salvation unto us has Come,” verse 9)

 

Luther

“First he regarded Abel, the person, and thereafter the offering.  His person was previously good, and right and acceptable.  Thereafter, for the sake of the person, the offering was also.  The person was not acceptable for the sake of the offering.  Then again, he did not regard Cain and his offering.  So also, first he did not regard Cain, the person, and thereafter he also did not regard his offering.  From this text it is certain that it is not possible for a work to be good before God if the person is not previously good and acceptable.  Then again, it is not possible that a work is evil before3 God unless the person is previously evil and unacceptable…God in the Scriptures concludes that all works before justification are evil and of no use and he desires them to be justified and made good first.  Again, he concludes that every person, if they are still by nature in the first birth, are unjust and evil, as Psalm 116:11 says, ‘All men are liars.’ Genesis 6:5, ‘Every thought and desire of the human heart is always evil.’” (Luther’s Family Devotions, p211-212)

 

Prayer: God, forgive me for thinking that You accept me on account of my works and not on account of Your Son who died for me and gave Himself for me that I be acceptable in Your sight.  Help me to believe that, not by my works, but through faith in Jesus alone, I am justified before You. Amen.

 

 

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