Here’s Pastor Mark’s sermon for the second Sunday in Lent:
Here’s Pastor Mark’s sermon for the second Sunday in Lent:
Are you really sure that you belong to God?
Your baptism was ok (it’s just a symbol of your commitment to God)…but don’t you know that you must do some things to be a Christian?
You need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
You need to really work at not sinning. Where there is sin in your life, you must cut it out. Extinguish it.
You need to forget about worldly things and get serious about studying the Bible and get serious about sacrificing yourself for others.
Are you giving enough to the church?
Are you giving enough to the homeless and the elderly in the area where you live?
Are you focusing enough on the inward person, on your spirituality?
Are you praying enough?
If you think that there is room for improvement in any of these areas, don’t you think that might be a sign that your decision for God was really a lie? Maybe you were just trying to save your own skin and you really aren’t that concerned about pleasing Christ, or helping your neighbor.
If that’s the case, then you really ought to reconsider if you really are one of God’s children.
We’ll lay it all out for you. We’ll supply you with the proper list of what you should be doing, and what books you should be reading, and what Biblical principles you should be practicing. We’ll tell you exactly how emotional you need to get, and just exactly the best way to get those ‘feelings’ that will prove to yourself (and others) that you really belong to Jesus.
Remember, He really knows you and really knows all your most secret thoughts and fantasies. You can fool others, and even yourself…but you can’t fool God.
He knows all about you.
Are you sure you’re living the Christian life? Are you sure you are even a Christian?
This is why the Reformation was necessary.
This is why it is still necessary.
What say you?
Luther said to Erasmus in his response, Bondage of the Will, concerning the fear of some form of societal and individual moral reform, “Who, you say, will take pains to correct his life? I answer: No man will and no man can, for God cares nothing for your correctors without the Spirit, since they are hypocrites. But the elect and the godly will be corrected by the Holy Spirit, while the rest perish uncorrected.”
Some interesting highlights in history seem to show that this is the greatest temptation of the church as a whole and Christians individually in changing the message of the Gospel to another gospel. This temptation is greater even than a sword to the neck.
As opposed to the theology of the Cross, all theologies of glory wet the finger and stick it in the air of time and space to measure for a doctrines ability to bring about change (for the good, a good fruit or works producer so to speak). This comes in many forms for example, “numbers and church growth, moral improvements both individual and societal, etc…”. Even Melancthon fell for this in the end and almost overthrew what Luther left after his death. History seems to repeat this. Example, a 50,000 foot survey of the Thirty Year War from 1618-1648 seems to indicate that what brought about pietism in the Lutheran bodies themselves was the view that “if this is what the doctrine of Luther brings about, forensic justification unconditionally, something is wrong with the message and Spener is the rest of the story. Can such an assessment be called Christian at all, when it is a rather pagan “finger wetting in the air”. It seems that under the stress of great persecution, the worries of this world, this faith dwindled and died in this moment in this specific situation. Yet, both Luther and Calvin in as much as they agreed on the pure forensic nature of the Gospel basically said, ‘let all hell break loose and the world go up into one conflagration, we cannot ever allow the Word of God to be changed on this.’
Repeatedly this seems to be the greatest of temptation for both the church as a whole and Christians in general. If some visible peace or change is not measurable, but in fact the opposite appears everywhere, then the Gospel cannot be the gospel, goes the thinking of the theology of glory, and something needs be added to the message to ‘get it right’ and produce the desired change. Yet, in fact shortly after Pentecost when the Gospel was highest all hell broke out in the Roman Empire. Not to forget to mention before Pentecost that all hell broke out pretty much every where and every time Jesus opened His mouth, culminating at the Cross itself (the heartbeat of the Gospel). The Roman Emperors, by the way, blamed the Christians, which is to say the 200 proof Gospel for the fall of society in their time. Again, Stephen, when preaching a 200 proof totally unconditional Gospel, and what arose around him? Peace and love? Hardly, stones to the head as the fruit police and inspectors and good works merit- mongers gnashed their teeth at him. Not all that different than the Lutheran pietist, Anabaptist and other enthusiasts of the time of the 30 Year War, and not all that different from the message changing – fruit inspectors of our day and age. After all if the forensic unconditional message isn’t producing the desired affect surely we must change its forensic/unconditional explosion, should we not, goes the rational Aristotelian thinking. This was the great temptation of the Puritans, Wesley, Conservative and Liberal Christians alike today.
Luther’s response to Erasmus is proved all the more and comes back to haunt us: “Who, you say, will take pains to correct his life? I answer: No man will and no man can, for God cares nothing for your correctors without the Spirit, since they are hypocrites. But the elect and the godly will be corrected by the Holy Spirit, while the rest perish uncorrected.”
If the Gospel doesn’t work in any given time or place, either corporately to a society, to a church or group of churches or individually does that give license to change its unconditional message? Does this ever give us right to so, “Free grace yes, but…”. The ‘but’ is always the “tuck tail and run” sign of the fear of the persecution against the Gospel proclamation. I’ve felt and tucked my tail and ran more times than I care to remember.
Here is the GREAT temptation of the “seed sewn amongst the weeds and the cares of this world” that falls away. Here we are greatly tempted to tuck our tails and run for it is always easy to get a good, “Amen”, in affirming the “yea but…”. Indeed if no man comes to faith by the 200 proof Gospel as far as we can tell our entire lives does that give us license to say, “hath God really said”, by altering the message? Is not a pastor called to preach the Gospel even if everybody walks out of the church forever?
We like to say, “bear your/our cross”, when we mean fruit and law, which is no cross at all but self appointed good works and fruits that are actually quite easy to perform in our own strength. However, we really don’t like that Cross very much when we have a cross laid upon us by the Word that is a Gospel Cross linked to Calvary itself? We are like the first thief all too often, “Jesus if you are the Son of God, get us down off of these crosses”. Or likewise, “Jesus if you are really God and have power get me to producing some fruit so I can get down off of this cross and not be so nakedly dependant upon you.”
Does such EVER allow us to change the Gospel’s utter unconditional forensic message the least bit in order to ‘firm up the fruit production’? I ask a question that expects, obviously a resounding “no” answer. Is it not the greatest sin of all to call God a liar and use men who are liars to prove the point?
Superficial optimism ultimately breeds despair. A theology of glory works like that. It operates on the assumption that what we need is optimistic encouragement, some flattery, some positive thinking, some support to build our self-esteem.
Theologically speaking it operates on the assumption that we are not seriously addicted to sin, and that our improvement is both necessary and possible. We need a little boost in our desire to good works. Of course our theologian of glory may well grant that we need the help of grace. The only dispute, usually, will be about the degree of grace needed. If we are a ‘liberal’, we
will opt for less grace and tend to define it as some kind of moral persuasion or spiritual encouragement. If we are more ‘conservative’ and speak of the depth of human sin, we will tend to escalate the degree of grace needed to the utmost. But the hallmark of a theology of glory is that it will always consider grace as something of a supplement to
whatever is left of human will and power. It will always, in the end, hold out for some free will.
Theology then becomes the business of making theological explanations attractive
to the will. Sooner or later a disastrous erosion of the language sets in. It must constantly
be adjusted to be made appealing. Gradually it sinks to the level of maudlin sentimentality.