A person's deeds and outward bearing may tell us what type of a person he is. But the outward appearance may also deceive us. Under a rough surface there may be a soft and tender heart. Neither is all that glitters gold. The devil wants to appear as an angel of light - without changing his habits. In God's sight every person has a corrupt heart. The core is evil. "Out of the heart come evil thoughts" (Matt. 15:19). Even a believer has a heart like this by virtue of his old Adam. It gives us no peace, but must be crucified through daily repentance.
God is righteous. There is no wrong in Him. He always does what is right. God does not gently stroke the head of the evil doer, nor does he minimize the seriousness of sin. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things (1 Thess. 4:3?6). God knows the human heart. He desires truth in the innermost being.
But how can we be reconciled to God?
We are not acceptable to Him as we are, and we cannot make ourselves better. We find the answer in God's heart, which He has revealed to us: "I have loved you with an everlasting love", He says (Jer. 31:3). God is not just a God of wrath, but also a God of grace and love. The love that burned in His heart was so great that He gave His only Son to bear our sins and to atone for them. In Jesus Christ "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7).
Do not look for peace in your own heart but rather look into the heart of God. You will see God's heart revealed to you at Golgatha, where Christ shed His blood as the payment for your sins. You will see Christ in the Word of the Gospel and in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Christ has once and for all suffered the wrath of God in our behalf. He is now our Mediator and by trusting in Him we can reach our heavenly home. "He who believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36). No one is acceptable to God without Christ, but having been baptized into Christ, we have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27), and in His righteousness we are acceptable to God.
People often speak as if Christian doctrine and Christian life are diametrically opposed to each other. They believe that the Christian faith is life, not doctrine.
Which is it then, we ask: Doctrine or life?
Let it be said at the outset that the Bible does not ask this question. The posing of the question itself is alien to the Christian faith, because both doctrine and Christian life are included in the Christian faith.
Christ's mission command is also a teaching command: "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them... and teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20). The Bible always speaks highly of Christian doctrine. The Apostles defended it by denouncing false doctrine. As necessary qualifications for those men who were chosen as pastors of congregations they prescribed that they "hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that (they) may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict " (Titus 1:9).
By doctrine the Bible does not mean the hairsplitting of words. Doctrine is rather God's own revelation to us. It is a proclamation, Law and Gospel, to our conscience and heart. The Christian faith is not just any condemning, understanding, approving or forgiving. The Christian faith has a content or doctrine that God Himself has given it.
Christian doctrine creates life.
A person with a troubled conscience because of his sin finds comfort in Christ's Gospel. We have forgiveness through His blood. Through faith in Him we have received everlasting life. Christ's obedience became a counterbalance to our disobedience. With joy we hear and study God's Word wich tells us of all that He has done in our behalf and of all that He has promised us. The different doctrines of the Christian faith become dear to us. "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). We defend what we love. We do not want to lose that through which God gives us a new life and through which He gives us the strength to continue in it. Continuing in the doctrine is a matter of life and death. Pastors remember the Apostle's exhortation: "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching. Persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you" (1 Tim. 4:16).
God's children want to obey God's Word. For this reason too they need the teachings of the Bible, so that they will know what are good and proper deeds in the sight of God.
I vividly remember an elderly man in one of my congregations. I served as his pastor in the 60-ies during the last years of his life. Although he was over eighty years of age he came to the worship services on a bicycle. A distance of five or ten kilometers was nothing to him. When his physical strength began to fail, I proclaimed the Word of God to him and his wife at their home. They listened intently and accepted the Word in faith. They always greeted me warmly, but it was so cold in their house that after I left I often shivered in my car while waiting for it to warm up. The wife would sleep between sheepskins in the bed and the husband on the floor by the stove, fully dressed in his outdoor winter clothing and wearing felt boots. When one side of his body would get cold, he would turn and face the other way so that the cold side would be nearer to the stove. He would keep changing positions in this way all night and would get up very early to begin his day's work.
When his wife died, his health also failed. He was hospitalized, one of his legs was amputated and he was then sent to a Rest Home. In the Rest Home this eighty?five year old man, who had been the head of his household until now, was content. His heart overflowed with gratitude. He had never had it so good. But he was especially thankful that God had given His only Son to be his Savior and the Savior of all mankind. He could not stop marveling over the fact that God had been willing to sacrifice His only Son. This was his testimony shortly before his death after his other leg had also become gangerous.
It is said that the people of our age do not understand the Bible or sermons. This aged man, who had not even received an elementary school education, read the Bible, read books by Luther, the Lutheran Confessions and listened to the sermons of a pastor, who was a half century younger than he was. He had a good understanding of matters pertaining to faith and made a thorough study of that which needed clarification. The Holy Spirit enlightened him and led him to know Jesus as the Savior of sinners. Through the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions he refuted those who asked him to be "re-baptized" and held fast to his Infant Baptism. When we trust in Jesus Christ the Bible will also open up to us and we will learn to love God's Word.
The Bible is not some kind of incomprehensible jargon, but a clear guide to eternal life. All experience proves that the opinion - that the Bible is incomprehensible to modern educated people and therefore needs to be modernized - is a childish fancy. The real reasons why people do not understand the Gospel are: the lack of a desire to study, a bad conscience and resistance of the Holy Spirit.
Christ, the Son of God with all power, had made an apostle of Saul, a former persecutor of the Church. Known by his new name, Paul, Saul went from city to city preaching repentance and faith in Christ, who had atoned for the sins of the world. He himself knew the joy of salvation, and he created such joy in the hearts of others who received the Gospel in faith. But although he created joy without using coercion or pressure, he himself was hated and persecuted. Paul well knew that mankind would reject its Benefactor. He himself had done the same.
Man's corruption is so deep?rooted that without the Holy Spirit he hates the Gospel. He does not want to hear the message of grace because he loves sin - let it cause him whatever kind of suffering it will. Man does not want to be a condemned sinner before God, but rather wants thanks for his sins from God. For this reason the good news of Christ's substitutionary atonement is not acceptable to him, at least not as it is revealed in the Bible. He changes it to suit his own desires - changes it to his eternal damnation. All of us are inclined to do so. We may love the Gospel and its messengers only because the Holy Spirit has through the Law and Gospel converted us.
So, it was no wonder that Paul was imprisoned because of his faith and put in chains while he was in Rome. From Rome he wrote his "letter of joy" to the Philippians. In this letter he analyzed the situation he was in.
Either a sentence of death or freedom awaited him. He wrote: "But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith" (Phil. 1:22?25).
A sentence of death would have meant a far better mode of existence for Paul. He could have gone to "be with Christ". That would have been a life of perfect bliss. This is not some sort of existence without any knowledge or sensation of any kind, because Christ lives. Paul's soul would not have ceased to exist in death, but could have been with Christ. This is the kind of a blissful state Paul longed to enter.
This type of longing is a sign of faith also in Christians today. Paul, however, had not yet completed the work God had called him to do. The congregations and missions still needed his preaching and teaching. For this reason "to remain on in the flesh" was still necessary. He was content with whatever God willed for him. "But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering... I rejoice", he wrote and added: "And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me" (Phil. 2:17,18).
Jesus once spoke about a wise man who built his house on a rock (Matt. 7:24-27). The person who hears His Word and lives according to it is like this man.
On the other hand he who builds on sand is foolish. A torrential rain will cause his house to fall. A person like this hears Christ's words, but does not live according to them.
On what kind of a foundation are you building your faith?
If you build it on your own works, your building will collapse. But if you build on Christ, you will endure. He was attacked by all of our enemies. He successfully resisted the devil's flattering promises of power and honor. To the very end He traveled the road of humiliation that His Father sent Him to travel. Death and the whole world with its full weight of sin stormed against Him. Even the holy Law of God condemned Him - not because of His own sins for He had none - but because of our sins, which were attributed to Him, so that we might go free. He experienced what it means to be forsaken by God in His body and soul. But with His death He earned us life, with His suffering He earned us glory, and by placing Himself under God's wrath He earned us the fathomless love of our heavenly Father.
Christ is a tried and tested foundation. All of our enemies have already attacked Him and failed. When we do as Christ's Word tells us to do (Matt. 7:24), or in other words when we trust in Him, we are on a firm foundation. We ourselves will remain weak. Even our faith wavers. The main thing is that the foundation endures. If we build on some other foundation we will not be able to bear the trials of this life let alone the events of the Last Day. Along with the works of all mankind, our works too have been tested. The bodies of millions have been buried in the earth. Our bodies too will one day be laid to rest. But we ourselves do not have the power to arise as Christ did. We have the hope of resurrection only because of what Christ did in our behalf. In Him we have a sure hope, not just a wish or a dream. Jesus says: "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:40).
Luther lucidly brought to light the biblical doctrine of the two kingdoms: God has two kingdoms, the spiritual and the earthly kingdom.
The affairs of the spiritual kingdom are conducted by Christians with the help of God's Word in Christian churches.
The earthly kingdom is the same as society with its civil government and laws.
Luther stressed the importance of keeping these two kingdoms separate from each other. When he counselled the princes in matters pertaining to the permanent establishment of Christian congregations, he did this because these princes were good church members (praecipuae membrae ecclesiae), not because they were civil rulers.
The separation of Church and State is based on Christ's words: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" (Matt. 22:21).
Both from the standpoint of the State as well as of the Church it is right and expedient that they be kept separate. Most of the people of countries with a State church system are, for historic reasons, accustomed to thinking of these matters sentimentally. However, one should bear in mind what the Bible teaches and at the same time remember that when the State connected the Church to itself, it acted contrary to the principles of the Reformation. The proper implementation of the separation of the State and Church in these countries cannot harm the true Church of Christ, but will in time mean victory for the Gospel. The present bond between Church and State prevents many from seeing the real spiritual condition currently prevailing in Europe. The result is that there is an appalling lack of knowledge as to how to make correct and effective decisions for the salvation of souls and for their edification in Christian faith. Sometimes the whole problem is not recognized.
In the countries like United States where the separation of the State and the Church has taken place it has been a blessing for the confessional Lutheran churches, which are in minority.
Moses, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describes the creation of the world on the first pages of the Bible. We cannot know about these matters on the basis of experience; we must depend on God's revelation. "Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has informed Him?" asks Isaiah as he contemplates God's power and His works of creation (Is. 40:13). We must in humility accept God's revelation.
A significant feature in the creation account is the fact that the creation of the universe is described from the perspective of the earth and especially of human beings. The heavenly bodies show the time and provide light for the earth. At the same time they "tell of the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1).
Did God create outer space with its countless number of galaxies only to serve the earth and human beings? The Bible does not answer this question. Mankind has been troubled by the question: Is there life beyond the earth? Up to now scientists have not found an answer to this question.
God created life and its various forms. It is significant that the Bible tells us that God created life on earth, but does not say anything concerning the creation of life on other planets. On the basis of the Bible we are not able to say whether or not there is life elsewhere.
God indeed also has an invisible world, the angels. But they are not bound to time or place as we are. Christ says that the guardian angels of children always behold the face of their heavenly Father (Matt. 18:10). Their mode of existence is such that they are always before the Father in heaven and at the same time are here among people. They do not need the stars for a place of residence.
God created the earth in such a way that human beings can live here. It was given as a home for them. People have been commanded to cultivate the earth and to fill it. No promise has been given to the effect that they could exist outside the earth, independent of the earth. On the other hand neither has God forbidden the study of outer space.
The world will be destroyed because of man's sin. Not only the earth will be destroyed, but also "the heavens will pass away with a roar" (2 Pet. 3:10). What high and responsible beings God has created when He created human beings! Because of their sin the entire universe with its stars will disappear! This seems to indicate that there is at least no higher form of life outside the earth.
Let us humbly and penitently seek refuge in God's grace. It will endure forever and can protect us until the time when a new heaven and earth are created.
God did not create human beings and animals in the same way. To human beings He gave an immortal soul. "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Gen. 2:7).
The human body became subject to death as a result of sin. "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7).
There are religious groups that deny the immortality of the soul. They maintain that everything dies when a person dies, that there is no soul without a body. These groups in essence deny the existence of the soul. Jesus, on the contrary, teaches that the soul cannot be killed. He warns: "Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28).
A human being is more than mere earth. He is not a link in the animal chain and the result of evolution, but rather as a unique creation of God he is a highly responsible being. It is true that sin has brought people down to a level sometimes below even that of animals. But it has not taken away their souls from them. When a person regards himself as mere matter, he brings himself down to the level of an animal. But there will come a time when he will awaken to an awareness of his responsibility - a responsibility from which animals are free.
The immortality of the soul is a comforting fact to those who trust in Christ. The body can be killed, but not the soul. A Christian does not have reason to fear the cross or persecution, not even a martyr's death. We can say with Paul: "I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better" (Phil. 1:23).
We also know that that which is buried in the ground will one day arise. The martyrs have not even received an honorable burial, but in the Resurrection God will manifest His power and glory also in their bodies.
We have redemption in His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of God's grace (Eph. 1:7). Christ is the anchor of our souls. When He takes care of our immortal souls, we are most assuredly safe.
The Book of Job touches the hearts of those who suffer. Job had to endure almost all of the trials that can possibly come to people. His suffering, however, was not just general human suffering. It was rather the discipline that is given to God's children.
Job was "blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil" (Job 1:1). He had seven sons and three daughters, many servants and large herds of sheep, camels and oxen. At that time everything was fine.
Then God permitted the devil to attack Job. Job lost his children, his servants and his property. All this Job accepted in faith from the hand of God. "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21), he said.
Job's losses did not come about because God was angry with him, but rather because the devil attacked him on account of his true faith.
It is true that God gives vent to His anger by punishing the hardened. There may be times of terrible punishment for the hardened when their time of grace is over.
The sufferings of believers may outwardly be identical to the sufferings of unbelievers, but faith, grasping the Word of God, sees them as manifestations of God's love.
We see only the external. God sees the heart. For this reason He alone has the authority to punish.
If God tests His children we must not therefore on the basis of external suffering or the tribulations of the heart decide whether or not He loves us, but we must rather firmly rely on God's Word and trust in Christ.
Job's tribulations continued to increase. He was afflicted with boils. His wife urged him to curse God. But Job said: "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10).
Job's friends came to comfort him, but were so shocked by his outward appearance that they did not speak for seven days. Job was no longer able to keep his composure. He cursed his day of birth. His friends tried to comfort him, but did not succeed.
Then a certain Elihu began speaking to Job, who had felt in his heart that he had been treated unfairly. But Elihu said: "Surely, God will not act wickedly" (Job 34:12).
Job heard God's Law proclaimed in its severity. As a sinful human being he had no right to argue with God. All his sufferings had been deserved. God demands a completely pure heart, and Job did not have such an heart.
If only we too had such a conviction of sin that we would admit that we have not deserved even one moment of happiness, but only suffering. Our only refuge is God's grace in Christ. That the time of grace still continues is due solely to God's goodness and longsuffering. He does not give us what we deserve, but rather gives us both spiritual and temporal blessings. The suffering of believers will one day come to an end, but the sufferings of unbelievers will continue without abatement.
How ardently God desires the salvation of all people. But how hardened people have become. If they can live in peace and enjoy a high standard of living they do not care about God. They believe that God approves of their indifference and overlooks their sins. In their blindness they are not aware of God's sentence of condemnation: "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity" (Rom. 1:24).
A caring father provides for his family by taking out life insurance. But few bother to insure their souls. A family is prematurely left without a provider far less often than one from our midst is called before God to give an account. One would think, therefore, that everyone would look into the matters pertaining to eternity at least "just in case". But no. A responsible person does not participate in important negotiations unless he is well prepared, but many go to meet their God completely unprepared.
Jesus is the Insurer of our souls. He has redeemed us by His bitter suffering and death. Whoever believes in Him will most assuredly, without any doubt, be saved. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). We will not succeed if we try to defend ourselves before the all?seeing eyes of God.
But when we hide behind Christ, His righteousness covers our sins and God's attitude toward us is just as loving as it is toward His own Son. We do not trust in Christ "just in case". We know: Whoever believes in the Son has everlasting life, but whoever denies the Son shall not see life.
Jesus warns: "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." Then He relates the account of the rich man, whose land was very productive and who thought he would take his ease, eat drink and be merry. To him God said: "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have?" Jesus adds: "So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:15?21).
Our soul is safe when it belongs to Christ. It pays to take out soul insurance. It is a simple process: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."