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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)

 

 

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 Peace of God, John 16:33

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17 NKJ).

Hear what Dr. Luther writes concerning the Word of God and the Christian…

“One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11[:25], “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”; and John 8[:36], “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”; and Matt. 4[:4], “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing. This is why the prophet in the entire Psalm [119] and in many other places yearns and sighs for the Word of God and uses so many names to describe it.

On the other hand, there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of the hearing of his Word, as he says in Amos [8:11]. Likewise there is no greater mercy than when he sends forth his Word, as we read in Psalm 107[:20]: “He sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.” Nor was Christ sent into the world for any other ministry except that of the Word.” (LW 31, 345–346)

Thus does the Lord say, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.”

Such peace is not the peace that either the world gives and the peace that the world expects, but that peace which alone is God through His Son, that which can never be taken away, that which lasts unto eternity.The peace of the world is that which is highly volatile, dependent on the words and the ways of man, unstable, uncertain, and dependent upon mutual agreements, enforcement, and circumstance.

The peace of the world is also that which strives for what is external.

In contrast, the peace of God is that which is from God and of the heart. None can steal such peace away.

“Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:1-5 NKJ).

Because of Christ’s Word and work, you, too, have such peace, peace that surpasses understanding.

In the midst of trouble and tribulation, in the middle of doubt and uncertainty, in the thick of suffering and the feeling of hopelessness, the peace of God is yours in Christ!

God is not angry with you.  He loves you “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

God has not forsaken you.  He abides with you.

God has not left you alone, though you might feel lonely.

“Jesus Christ the righteous” is your Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1).

“The Man Christ Jesus” is your Mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5).

“As God is faithful, our word to you” is “not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who” is “preached among you…” is “not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:18-20 NKJ).

God’s promises are yours in Christ, not because you deserve them, but on account of Him giving them to you.

Such is the way God works.

If you will have Christ’s peace, His mediating, His advocating, His abiding, His love, then by faith in His Word you have them.

Apart from that Word, apart from faith, according to the dictations and notions of your own heart, you will have God’s wrath, His judgment, unrest, and no peace, wanting to go it on your own and not the way of Christ according to His Word.

The good that God gives is that of His grace, grace alone.

By God’s grace alone do you have His abiding and undeserved peace.

“To him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin’” (Rom. 4:4-8 NKJ).

The peace that Christ gives is that which He freely gives, not that which you achieve; that which is believed according to His Word, not that which is always and everywhere recognizable that which is of God and sure, not that which is of the sinner and momentary.

To His followers, Jesus promises tribulation in the world, trouble within and trouble without.

Such trouble, however great it might be, has no bearing on the peace given by and given in Christ Jesus.

The peace of God in Christ Jesus is not established by the world or by the things of the world.

The peace of God in Christ Jesus is established on the very Word and work of Christ Himself.

Just as Jesus fulfilled His Father’s will in Word and deed, accomplishing all that the Father had given Him to do in your stead and by His command for your salvation, keeping the entirety of His Word in life, in death, and in resurrection, so you have your Savior, the entirety of your peace with God.

Upon Him, your peace with God hangs.

Upon Him, it is certain.

Upon Him, it is yours. Amen.

 

Prayer: Lord, give me peace, Your peace, always, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

 

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.

 

 

The Confession at Augsburg

 

Who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Pet. 3:13-17)

 

June 25, 1530. This was the very date that the Lutherans gave a public declaration of faith before Emperor Charles V in Augsburg Germany.

The emperor sought unity against the Muslim threat.

Our Lutheran forebearers sought to clearly present, “the Confession of our preachers and of ourselves, showing what manner of doctrine from the Holy Scriptures and the pure Word of God has been up to this time set forth in our lands, dukedoms, dominions, and cities, and taught in our churches” (Preface to the Augsburg Confession).

The Lutherans did seek unity with Rome, but not at any expense.  They were willing to give up much, but not at all in the realm of doctrine, the truth, the Word of God.

Upon this they stood, standing concretely and without wavering.

In 28 articles, the Confessors state, “The Chief articles of faith” and Roman abuses that had been corrected.  Throughout, Scripture references are plentifully made.

Such demonstrate their faithfulness to the biblical text, in distinguishing themselves from Rome and in distancing themselves from other opponents of Rome.

From such Confession of the Lutherans at Augsburg did not come the unity that all sought.  The truth does divide, for not all are of the truth.

Jesus says, “He who is of God hears God’s words” (Jn. 8:47).

Rome then, as now, as well as other opponents of Rome still to this day with the Lutheran Confession at Augsburg disagree and deny.

We cannot.

Heirs of Christ, sons of the kingdom, do not and cannot deny the truth.

They also do not and cannot avoid confessing the truth.

The truth compels them to sound out.

And if such confession of Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture and testified of at Augsburg not unite in the faith, such is reason not to remain silent, but to continue speaking the truth, as we’ve been given, for there will be those who come to it.

As those before us, so we now have the confidence of God in Christ.

Our Confession is not our own.  The doctrine is God’s.  The testimony of Christ crucified.  The testament of sin’s forgiven.  God’s Word revealing.  The Christian church, living and growing. Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-Canvas Heavenly Father, as you gave our forefathers in the faith boldness to declare the truth at Augsburg, so give us clarity and boldness to declare that same faith before the world, that many more know of Your life-giving Word and believe in Christ as we and so have the certainty of sins forgiven and life eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  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.

 

 

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.

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