This is an excerpt from a sermon by Pastor Charles Spomer and presented on The Lutheran Hour, June 2, 2002
Why is it that, try as I might to have a stronger faith, I am so often wavering? Why is it that when I attempt to build a foundation for faith, I only find my house washing away with the sand? It must be that I am not obedient enough to God’s righteous demands of me, or I haven’t given myself deeply enough to the working of God’s Spirit, or I haven’t denied myself and emptied myself enough for God to fill me, or I don’t have enough faith in God or His Word. Is the cure for this that I must plunge deeper, reach higher, run stronger, beat myself longer, read more Scripture, or pray more fervently?
Is that the way to come up with more pleasing fruit, the kind Jesus talks about in Matthew 7? This covering of righteousness, or clothing, seems to be the most costly because it demands the most of me and takes the most out of me. But while it appears to be one thing on the outside, in reality it is another thing altogether on the inside. What appears costly is truly cheap, and what appears to be cheap because it costs me nothing, is the most precious and costly.
If I plunge deeper, reach higher, study more and pray more and so forth, while that seems to be costly, on my part it is cheap and shoddy, precisely because it is my part. St. Paul in Romans states, “There is no difference. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No difference between what and what? No difference between Jew and gentile, between those whose lives were dedicated to obedience of the Law from the Deuteronomy lesson, performing the sacrifices God required of His people, worshiping Him and studying the Scriptures, and those who didn’t? All that expensive stuff of obedience for nothing? Absolutely! Why? Hadn’t God required it? Absolutely! Hadn’t they tried to do it for God’s glory? Absolutely! But they had ALL fallen short of the glory of God, both those who tried obedience and those who didn’t. The problem is that God demands and expects absolute obedience. Absolutely! Best effort is not acceptable. “I’m improving, progressing, moving along in my walk,” is not acceptable. For God requires, demands, and rightly expects absolute and immediate perfection in obedience to all that He has commanded. And His absolute demand is not only in relation to what we do but, most importantly, to what we are. He requires perfection not only in what we do, but in what we are.
So any effort made by a person who is not and cannot be perfect, cannot and never will be perfection, no matter how Herculean the effort we put forth. The clothing of our efforts is itself cheap, tawdry, raggedy, filthy, unfit to cover a person who is sinful and disobedient in nature. That clothing, if you will pardon the bad metaphor, is like trying to cover a pair of ugly legs with a pair of shorts. They will never bring forth fruit fit for the glory of God always falling short.
The confirmation class youth was correct. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in cheap clothing.” The clothing of the righteousness of our own making seems to us to be as costly as silver or gold, but is indeed cheap, coming up short, and worthless as a filthy rag in the sight of the God who demands perfection. And the false prophets who demand perfection, or tout the perfection of life as the sign of one’s salvation are ferocious wolves. The fruit they bring forth in life may appear to be holiness and righteousness, good deeds, the glory of God. But all of that falls short and deceives us into thinking that God is satisfied, even delighted with what it is we do and have done. They would point us to ourselves and to our efforts, our growth in holy living, as if we were perfectable. But we continually fall short and are well aware of it in ourselves no matter how much we may deny it. And that is where we get eaten up. Our doubts about our faith, about God’s goodness, the effectiveness of God’s Word loom large because we have been directed toward the wrong thing, toward things which seem important and costly to human understanding and thinking. But God directs us toward the stumbling block of Christ.
God does something which appears to be worthless, coming up short. He gives His Son into death, ignominious, torturous, tragic death on the cross for crimes He did not commit. Jesus, the Son of God, willingly gives up His life for the unrighteous, worthless sinners, enemies of God, you and me. He takes on Himself our sins and dies under their weight, because of them. He dies in our place because we have a desire to be clothed in the cheap clothing of our own works and merit, wanting God’s favor because we have done something or accomplished success in God’s sight. He died because we have denied the power and effect of our sin, despite the fact that we know we have fallen short.
There on the cross God has done the impossible. He has exchanged the precious life of His son for the worthless lives of His creatures who separated themselves from Him. He has taken the shame of punishment and death in their stead, and paid the price for their sin. He has given the most costly sacrifice which paid for sin once for all, accomplishing our freedom, and has given that freedom from death and guilt of sin freely, and free of cost to us. The costly becomes free! We are not clothed with our own efforts, which accomplish nothing. It is not because we have plunged deeper, reached higher, run stronger, beaten ourselves longer, read more Scripture, or prayed more fervently, but we are clothed with the righteous accomplishment of Christ on the cross and His merit which has worked everything perfectly for us. Christ has paid for the sin of all mankind. Peter tells us in his first letter that we were not redeemed with silver or gold which perish, but with the precious blood of Christ. God’s favor, or grace, to us is not cheap clothing, but costly. God’s favor or grace to us is free. It has cost Him, and He has gladly born that cost and not required repayment by us.
God has not let it up to us to lay the foundation of the house which will stand up to the storms of floods of life. He Himself has laid that foundation in Christ. Even its delivery is not C.O.D. but free. But, again, in God’s own fashion, the delivery is made in ordinary ways, which seem cheap to us sinful human beings that are looking for the spectacular. God comes to us in human words, in the very words concerning Jesus Christ and His death, which pays for sin, restores us to God’s favor, and therefore destroys the hold that death has on us. God comes to us in words concerning Christ’s resurrection which assure us that Christ is indeed risen from the dead, and because He is risen, we, too, shall rise from the dead on the Day of Judgement and live with Christ forever in heaven.
Words don’t seem that powerful. They are too ordinary. Where are the big building blocks I am supposed to use to build my house of faith? Where is the spectacular experience and sensation of something fantastic happening? Where is the overwhelming response I have? Where is that fire of the Spirit, being taken out of myself and transported to a higher plane? Since those things look to me and to what I expect, they are cheap clothing. It is in the ordinary words of the message of Christ’s forgiveness, the Word of God which accomplishes God’s purposes; not ours. The costly clothing of the precious blood of Christ which covers sin is brought to us in that Word of God.
The precious and costly robe of the blood of Christ is brought to us in the unassuming washing of Baptism. Baptism, that action which many regard as insignificant and merely symbolic because it has nothing to do with our action, will, or decision, is the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit says Paul in Titus 3. In Romans 6 He instructs us that we “who were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.” The precious blood shed in shame on the cross is brought to us to effect forgiveness and new birth in that action of baptism. Why? Because of the pomp, the ceremony, the pastor? No! Those are cheap things which perish. It is because the promise of God connects us in that washing to the cross of Christ and more! No less than the apostle Peter in his first letter tells us, “Baptism now saves you also. It saves you by the resurrection of Christ.” Since the death of Christ is brought to us in the washing of baptism, it is the death of the power of sin over us. The resurrection of Christ is also worked in us there in that washing of new birth as the new creation which the Holy Spirit alone can produce is brought to life in us. It does this not because it is we who perform it, but because God is the one who baptizes us. Baptism, which appears to be nothing, clothes us in the costly clothing of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Another gift of God which seems to be cheap and nothing in the estimation of human reason is the Holy Supper of our Lord. Holy Communion is seen by some as ineffective because it is simply a ceremony and involves nothing of our action, except our remembrance. It can be nothing more than bread and (God forbid) wine, because nothing else makes sense to my cheap understanding. In truth, it has nothing to do with our having plunged deeper, reached higher, run stronger, beaten ourselves longer, read more Scripture, or prayed more fervently. This Supper is nothing less than Christ Himself coming to be with us and in us. It is His promise (and He cannot lie) that together with the simple and ordinary bread and wine which appear to be nothing, He gives us His precious body and blood which were delivered for the forgiveness of our sins. This forgiveness is delivered free and freely here, unqualified as we are to receive it. Nevertheless, we receive Christ and His gifts here by faith, trusting His Word, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” We receive that costly clothing of the precious blood of Christ for our rescue from sin and death. God looks on us sinners with His favor because of Jesus’ righteousness and sacrifice for us. He sees the precious robe of Jesus on us.
God gives the costly clothing of Christ to cover us. As God has required of us complete and perfect obedience to His law, He has provided it for us and to us in Christ. As God has required of us perfection of being, He has provided it for us in the sinless being of our brother Jesus. Everything God has required of us He granted to us for the sake of the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. He has clothed us in the wedding garment required to live in His presence, because of Jesus. He has provided us with faith in Christ by His own Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are not cheap clothing because they do not require our effort. They are precious clothing because they are the result of Christ’s work for us.
“Beware of those who come to You in sheep’s clothing.'” The false prophets are those who require our action and decision and effort for God’s grace to be effective in our lives. The fruit of that ferocious teaching is the loss of our certainty of God’s favor, the emphasis on ourselves, and eventually losing sight of Christ Himself. Those thornbushes and thistles cannot bring forth the fruit of the Spirit, faith, comfort and joy. Nor can they provide the foundation of life they purport to supply.
The foundation laid in our effort or decision is sand. It shifts as we shift. It slides as we face the storms of life and the rising tides. The foundation of Christ and His promises, as ordinary as they seem, and as much as they are attacked, are the only certainty for us. Look to Christ and His cross. His promise is new birth in your baptism, a solid foundation because its power comes from outside of you. His promise is forgiveness through His body and blood in His Holy Supper, a solid foundation because it is God’s gift delivered to you. This foundation is built on the solid rock of Christ alone, which we also receive through the spoken and written Word of the Bible, and not upon ourselves. He alone will withstand the storms and floods of sin, death and doubt, for He has clothed us in the precious robe of His forgiveness and holiness. Amen
I remembered this one from a while back. I sometimes listen to the Lutheran Hour while geting ready for church on Sunday morning.
I am pleased that the local non-demon./Baptist radio station now runs The-Lutheran-Hour as part of their Sunday lineup of programming.
Any thoughts about the sermon?
You can read the entire sermon at “Shorts-and-Cheap-Clothing”