We crave heartfelt sincerity and unselfish love. When we encounter such sincerity and love, it affects us deeply. We Christians are often poor reflectors of Christ's love. For this reason we should not seek this love from each other but look directly to the Eternal Love, as the Bible describes Christ. Then we will understand that our salvation is in Him alone.
"So His appearance was marred more than any man... He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities" (Is. 52:14, 53:5). "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). "One died for all" (2 Cor. 5:14). "The chastening for our well?being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed" (Is. 53:5). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13).
In this way the Bible describes the substitionary suffering of God's Son in our behalf.
Let us examine our lives: Just think of all the evil we have done in God's sight. Can you comprehend that God has specifically loved you in Christ and that He sent Him, His own Son, because of you? If we understand the enormity of our sins, we can only be amazed by God's love. God's Son has been sacrificed for the likes of me! But if this is the case, does not His love draw us to Him like a magnet? He exudes heartfelt warmth into our cold hearts. It is good to trust in Him.
Christ's vicarious suffering puts our works to shame. The only basis for our salvation is Christ. "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:23,34).
Forgiveness of our sins is based on Christ's atonement. If we seek a basis for our salvation in ourselves we are lost. But when we build on Christ the Rock, we are safe.
We do not gladly accept charity from others. Our sense of pride would have to waver badly before we would be ready to accept it. This is how it is among people. How is it when we are in the presence of God?
In relation to our fellow human beings we are equal in the respect that we are all people. But in relation to God we are in a different position. He is the supreme Majesty. He says: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2). His demand is unconditional. We cannot make it non?effective by belittling it. God pronounces His judgement concerning us: "There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil" (Rom. 2:9). We have not been holy, but have transgressed against His will. Therefore we deserve His condemnation.
If God, therefore, treated us as we deserve to be treated, our lot would be only suffering and tribulation. The only possible way we can avoid eternal suffering is through God's grace. We are completely dependent on it. God's grace, however, cannot be compared to the charity offered by people. God is not scornful or choosy. "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). God's grace is brimming over with heartfelt love for us, love so great that He did not spare His own Son. God's grace has been purchased with a high price, but it is offered to us free of charge. It is a generous and abundant grace. "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph.1:7).
God's Law must indeed humble us so that we will become convinced that we need grace. Accepting God's grace, however, does not decrease our worth as human beings, but rather enables us to return to God and live in communion with Him.
Salvation is by grace alone. Let God be praised for this!
According to the Bible God's works of creation proclaim that a personal God exists. "His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made" (Rom. 1:20). "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and the firmament is declaring the work of His hands" (Ps. 19:1). According to the Bible the existence of God is such an obvious matter, that "the fool has said in his heart, 'there is no God'" (Ps. 14:1).
Studying the book of nature, however, will not bring us into communion with God. This natural revelation cannot provide us with the Christian knowledge of God. It does not tell us that God is a Triune God and that He is a gracious God. For this reason God has given us a special revelation, the Word of the Bible. "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). "These have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).
The Christian knowledge of God is a matter of faith. No one can be brought to faith through scientific evidence from nature. God has chosen another way to accomplish this: "But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:23,24).
All people do not believe that God exists. Others believe, but not all of them are Christians. In other words, they do not in their hearts believe that God is gracious to them for Christ's sake. To all of you I recommend: Without preconceived opinions start reading ? the Gospel of John, for instance, or his epistles or the Epistle to the Romans. In this way you can get directly to the central issues. Now if God does not exist, as the atheists say, there obviously should be no danger in submitting oneself to a book, born through the influence of a non?existent author. If the book of nature does not speak to you about the existence of God, atheists, then surely as sincere people you will be ready to re?examine your point of view by studying another revelation, the Bible.
According to the Bible the Christian religion is foolishness to the unbelieving world, but wisdom from God's point of view. Believing in the existence of God is foolishness to the atheist. The denial of God is foolishness according to the Bible. Both the unbeliever and the believer are sure of their stand. Who solves the controversy? God!
Many people are troubled by the fact that their faith is weak. Pastors are often asked: "Is a weak faith a saving faith?"
The Bible does not tell us that faith must be strong in order to save. A weak faith is a saving faith just as surely as a strong faith. It is sufficient that we have the right kind of faith, in other words, that the object of our faith is Christ.
Faith is the right kind of faith when a sinner longs for forgiveness for his sins in Christ. Even though this longing is a weak longing, it is nevertheless saving faith. For it has as its object the Son of God, who suffered and died for our sins. We are not trusting in our faith, but in Christ. Faith is like a hand that receives Christ. This is the kind of faith God wants to create, sustain and strengthen in our hearts.
God does not, however, want our faith to remain weak. He wants it to get stronger. No one can boast about the strength of his faith. "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall", warns the Bible (1 Cor. 10:11). For this reason it is necessary that we are constantly strengthened in our faith; that is, that we are strengthened in our trust in God's grace and not in our own extraordinary ability or in the strength of our own faith.
Faith may be weak because our conscience is troubled by certain sins that hide God's gracious countenance from us. At times like this we must trust all the more in God's grace and, despite the feelings in our heart, believe that our sins have been forgiven. In this way we can receive strength to fight against sin by means of God's Word and prayer. Let us remember: First the tree must be planted and only then can we expect fruit. First we must believe our sins forgiven and only then, as a fruit of faith, will our life begin to improve.
Someone may have a troubled conscience because there are some unsettled matters between him and some other person. If we have offended someone, we are obligated to ask him for his forgiveness. And if someone has offended us, we are obligated to forgive him as God has forgiven us. If someone has fallen into the sin of embezzlement, fraud or theft he is obligated to restore what he has taken. There may, however, be matters that we should not talk about to our neighbor but only to God alone, either directly, or if need be, through our pastor. Such matters call for careful consideration and the understanding of the pastor.
But how then can we be strengthened in our faith? God has given us means for this purpose: His own Word, either preached purely, read from the Bible, written, sung or remembered. In addition He has given us the Sacraments. In holy Baptism He has adopted and made us as His children and established a strong Covenant with us. We can keep on returning to this Covenant in faith. He has given us holy Communion, which is especially for the purpose of strengthening weak faith. In this Sacrament God gives the true body and blood of His Son for the forgiveness of our sins. The early Christians continued steadfastly in the Apostles' teaching or doctrine and in the proper use of the Sacraments. In this way their faith was strengthened. Their works of love testify to this. Doctrinal aberrations direct faith to wrong matters and weaken it. Doctrines contrary to the Bible do not strengthen faith.
Although your faith may be weak, rejoice that Jesus has atoned for your sins and that they have been forgiven. If you do not believe, then without delay grasp hold of God's grace in Christ, for without Christ you cannot endure before the almighty and holy God.
And the most wonderful thing: The weakest faith in Christ is counted to us for righteousness by God Himself and is so powerful, that it saves eternally!
Speaking to those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Apostle Peter says: "You are a royal priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:9). Who then are priests? we ask. The answer is a bit surprising. According to the New Testament all those who in their hearts believe that their sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake are priests. On the basis of the priesthood of all believers, a believer has the right to confess his faith individually. But his rights do not end there. As a member of a local Christian congregation he has the right, together with other believers, to call a pastor for the congregation, who in the name of the congregation serves in the office of the public Ministry. Even after the call, a believer on the basis of the priesthood of all believers has the right to see to it that the pastor does his work according to God's Word.
The pastor is a servant, the servant of Christ as well as of the congregation. The pastor is responsible for the souls that have been committed to his care. The Bible, addressing pastors, says: "Shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness, not yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory" (1 Pet. 5:2-4).
In our day there is much confusion concerning these matters. There are many different kinds of opinions. Some believe that on the basis of the priesthood of all believers, they have the right, even without a call from a congregation, to preach publicly and to administer the Sacraments (cf. Heb. 5:4). The Lutheran Confessions says: "No one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regurlarly called." Some pastors forget that they are to be priests, or in other words believers, that they are to continue in the true doctrine and to refute false doctrine, and that that they will have to give an account of every soul entrusted to their care.
Someone once asked me how I take care of a congregation. When I talked to her about preaching, administering the Sacraments and performing other pastoral duties, she did not seem to be at all satisfied with my answer. It became apparent that what she wanted to hear about was the keeping of church records and the giving out of certificates.
A great percentage of the people of our nation have an official pastor. But how many of them would agree that their pastor is responsible for the care of their soul and that he risks losing his own salvation if he is unfaithful in this task. Would not many be offended upon hearing this and be of the opinion that a pastor fulfilling such a responsibility would be meddling in their private affairs. Most assuredly this would be the case. The office of the ministry has been weakened and secularized. It has not always been like this, nor is it like this everywhere even today. Nevertheless, the situation today is much the same as it was in the time of Christ. It is said of Jesus, that "seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest'" (Matt. 9:36?38).
Common to our time is the practice of producing works in the name of art which cheapen life's vital values. There is no lack of magazines, books, stage plays, movies, etc. in which the sanctity of marriage is treated frivolously, violence and the right to do as one pleases are championed and God is blasphemed. The creators of this type of art defend their right to create it under the aegis of artistic freedom. They define art as a medium by which a person reveals his true self.
The Bible tells us what is within a person: "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders" (Matt. 15:19). A person does not have the right to reveal this condition of his heart or to carry out his heart's corrupt desires. Those who reveal their true selves without restraint have indeed produced this type of art. But God is no respector of persons. In His sight no one is in a special position, not even an artist.
A Christian artist does not strive to reveal himself, but rather does everything to the glory of God. He has received his artistic inclinations and his gifts from God. He can use his creative ability according to the Ten Commandments in the framework of his Christian freedom, taking care not to offend God's will. In this way art provides content for our lives and satisfies the hunger for art which we have as human beings created by God. Art can be created to the glory of God as well as for the needs of temporal and spiritual life.
The Christian religion is not sad news, but good news. God has not meant it for just a few, but for all people. Also for you. The Bible says: "God... desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4).
The Christian religion is a message of salvation and joy for those who are traveling through the valley of sorrow of this world. It is a message for those who have incurred God's righteous wrath by their sins, and are helpless on the road that leads to eternal damnation. It is a message also for those who are unaware of their own eternal destiny, if they die without Christ.
That is why the good news of Jesus' substitionary atonement must be preceded by the Word of the Law, so that a person will realize that he is a sinner and will fear God's severe wrath. If a person does not feel God's wrath in his conscience because of his sins, he will feel no need to seek refuge in Christ.
It is important that we be aware of our sins and that we remember what the Bible says: "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of Law, to perform them" (Gal. 3:16). We have not fulfilled God's Law and are therefore under its curse. But the purpose of the Christian religion is not only to inform us that we are headed for eternal damnation, if we trust in our own works. In that case it would not be good news, but sad news, which would be best to forget completely.
The central message of the Christian religion is salvation. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:l6). Jesus has atoned for our sins. As our Substitute He has borne God's wrath. This He has done also in your stead, because He has loved the whole world and would have all people to be saved. Because of Christ's substitionary atonement God has also forgiven your sins. Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved. As a believer in Jesus, traveling through this valley of sorrow, you will not be traveling toward eternal damnation but will be on your way to eternal bliss.
There are both good and evil works. Good works are those commanded by God; evil works are those which God has forbidden. When, for example, we do the work that an honorable vocation requires us to do, this is right because God has commanded us to work. But if we steal, commit murder, or commit adultery, we do wrong because God has forbidden us to do these things. There are also matters that we are free to choose; they have neither been commanded nor forbidden.
If someone does what God has forbidden, he always does wrong. Good intentions do not make a wrong act right. We, for instance, do not, out of pity, have the right to kill a deformed child. God has told us to protect life, saying: "Thou shalt not kill." God has bound us to His Word. From this Word we can determine what real love is. Jesus says: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word" (John 14:23). We can easily nullify God's command with our own pretexts, with our so?called good motives and loving spirit. That is why it is so important to study the Bible so that we can learn what God's will is, and our love can then be a Bible?based love, which really fulfills the Law, and we will not be counted among those who make the Law of no effect. Jesus warns: "He who does not love Me does not keep My words" (John 14:24).
A work, however, does not become a good work in the sight of God merely because it has been commanded by Him. As a work commanded by God, it is a good work, but as a work done by us, it is stained with sin. That is why rebirth is necessary. "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce good fruit" (Matt. 7:18). All the works of unbelievers are sin in the sight of God, even though an unbeliever can do good and honorable works in the civil and earthly sense. Through faith in Christ we are new creatures, good trees, that produce good fruit. First we are given salvation as a free gift without our works. Only then does God do good works through us, and then they are works not only commanded by God, but works that stem from love for Him and our neighbor.
Nevertheless, even our good works are tainted with the selfishness of our old Adam, our desire for praise and honor, and other sins. Our good works need to be purified by the blood of Christ. When we examine our works in the sight of God, it is clear that our salvation depends completely on grace and Christ's atonement. And in spite of this - behold God's ways! - He rewards us. It is truly a reward of grace. We have not earned anything, and yet there is a payday for us!
God is patient. He does not always immediately show His anger, but rather grants a person time for repentance. However, people often do not draw the right conclusions from these extended times of grace. They do not repent of their sins, but continue as before. Our age has been given new warning signs. We are faced, for instance, with the problem of pollution.
The problem is not only one of industry and technology. It is also spiritual. The Bible tells us that God throughout history has permitted plagues of various kinds to afflict the people of the world. The Book of Revelation after describing some of these plagues says in conclusion: "And they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts" (Rev. 9:21).
God can use technology as a means of carrying out His punitive judgements. Be not deceived. God exists. He watches out for His honor. When His patience is tried to the limit, He carries out His judgements.
The pollution problem of our time is a serious warning for everyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear. It is a sign that a certain time period of God's patience is coming to an end. We should not take God's patience for granted or think lightly of it. "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4) The solving of the pollution problem naturally will require technological means, but we need spiritual help to be saved from God's wrath.
Christ has borne the wrath of God in our behalf. God's love has been revealed in Him. Let us confess our sins to Him, believe that they have been forgiven for the sake of His suffering and death, and truly repent of them. Otherwise God's wrath will come upon us in one way or another, either here in time or in eternity. Let us not despise God's goodness - it leads to repentance.
Life is good for us when we live as God's children. We know that God takes care of us. This world is aging and is on its way toward destruction, but our everlasting inheritance is preserved for us in heaven. Without Christ we would have reason to tremble and fear, but when He is our Mediator we are safe.
King Herod wanted to kill Jesus. That is why he brutally ordered the massacre of all the male children of Bethlehem two years of age and younger. Herod's brutality is shocking to us.
History repeats itself.
Our own age is no better. Every day scores of children in our country are killed before they have a chance to be born. This happens under the protection of the laws of our country and with the help of the medical facilities of our society. The mass murders mentioned in the Bible were also the result of the wrong use of earthly governments. The intended purpose of the event in Egypt, when the Pharaoh ordered all the male children killed, was the destruction of God's people. If the plan had succeeded even the Savior could not have been born. The massacre at Bethlehem was ordered for the purpose of killing Jesus.
The present abortion laws in many countries are no longer based on the standards of morality that God has written into every person's conscience and which are clearly stated in the Ten Commandments. They are rather based on man's selfish desire to live as he pleases. But despite all attempts to defend them, acting according to them will mean torturing the conscience and will lead to greater distress.
People are beings destined for eternity. They are directly responsible to God for their actions. Earthly laws at best only reflect the ethics of the Ten Commandements written in everyone's heart. Often they approve of much that God does not approve of. They cannot therefore be a guide for a Christian's conscience. Christians seek God's opinion on matters and try to maintain a good conscience before Him. "In the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self... unloving... brutal... treacherous... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Tim. 3:1?4). Therefore Christians are given this exhortation: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:2).
God is on the side of the unprotected. Their mistreatment is a sin that cries all the way to heaven. God will avenge those murdered before they were born. If someone has done wrong, let him repent of his sins and flee to the refuge of God's forgiving mercy. The penitent receives forgiveness for the sake of Christ. And to him Christ says: "Sin no more."