31 October 2010

Justified by Grace through Faith in Christ

Two things are true for each of you, and for everyone on earth, for everyone of every nation, tribe, tongue and people: (1.) You are a sinner, enslaved by sin, and (2.) you are redeemed by Christ the Crucified, in order to be set free by His grace through faith in His forgiveness.

That you are a sinner is true in yourself and your experience.

That you are redeemed and set free is true for you in Christ.

The first truth is made known and made worse by the Law, which judges you guilty and condemns you. The second truth is manifested and made yours by the Gospel, which judges you righteous and vindicates you.

The inherent contradiction and constant tension between these two facts cannot remain forever. If you continue in the Word of Christ, and thus abide in Him, then you will be free indeed, and you will remain with Him in the house of His God and Father forever. But apart from Christ, you remain enslaved by your sin, and you cannot remain in the house but will finally be imprisoned by the Law, sentenced to eternal death and damnation.

If you would know the truth that sets you free, then die to sin and live unto righteousness. How so? By hearing and heeding the Word of Christ Jesus, and by following Him as a disciple through faith in His Word.

Believe the Word of the Law, which exposes your sin for what it is, and so confess that you are a sinner, enslaved by your sin.

Believe also in Christ Jesus and His Word of the Gospel, which forgives your sin freely for His sake, and so confess that He is the Son of God, your Savior and Redeemer, by whom you are set free to live.

The problem is that you do not recognize your slavery, nor Christ’s freedom for what they are. You imagine that your slavery to sin is really freedom, and that your death is really life. And you suppose that the freedom of Christ and of faith in His Gospel is a burden and a bondage that imprisons you; that life in Christ is onerous, tedious, pointless and boring.

Do you not imagine that doing whatever you want would be perfect freedom?

And do you not suppose that giving attention to the Word of Christ, watching to prayer with Him, and taking up the Cross to follow Him, is rather a lot of effort and work which you’d prefer not to bother with?

Like a child (of whatever age) you falsely believe that life would be such a sweet dream and a happily-ever-after without the boundaries and rules and structures of a household and family. If only you could be in charge! If only you were the boss!

And as a proud, self-sufficient, self-righteous, independent adult, you boast of your wisdom and experience, your keen knowledge and savvy understanding, your accomplishments, your plans, your progress, your prizes, your pedigree and place in the world.

You’ll do what you have to do — to get by and to avoid punishment — but you’ll resent whatever isn’t by your own choice or to your personal liking.

Yet, for all your boasting and all your prideful self-reliance, you are not free. Not apart from Christ. To do whatever you want is simply suicide in slow motion (or on fast forward): It ends in death and the grave.

You’re so addicted to your sin, you don’t even realize or recognize that it’s killing you. What you regard as your own “free will” is really a ravenous monster, which consumes you with your own craving hunger and destroys you with your own burning desires.

You’re searching for a place of peace and rest, a place where you belong, where you are safe and sound and satisfied. You’re searching for your house and home. But you won’t find it on your own, and you won’t find it anywhere outside the Church of Christ.

Does that seem harsh or unfair? Does it seem too demanding or even legalistic to say that your freedom and life are found only in Christ, and that Christ is found in His Church, where His Word is preached and taught, confessed and prayed in the fellowship of His Family?

Again, at the heart of your sin is your confusion of slavery with freedom, and vice versa.

But, in truth, “freedom” from God is nothing but the slavery of sin and death, from which you can by no means set yourself free; whereas faith in Christ and Christian discipleship are real freedom, unto life everlasting.

Because righteousness and holiness, innocence and blessedness, and divine life are all yours by divine grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from any works of your own doing or decision.

Christ and His Gospel, His Church and Ministry are not some means to an end by which you achieve and accomplish salvation for yourself. But He and His Word, His works of love and His gifts of grace are your life and salvation, on earth now as in heaven forever.

The purpose of His Law is not that you should justify yourself. That never was the plan.

And the purpose of His Gospel is not mere information that you must study in preparation for a final test or pop quiz.

But, no, to continue in His Word; to be catechized from infancy through adulthood and old age; to live in the regular rhythms of His Church, day by day, week by week, season by season, year by year; to remember your Baptism; to confess your sins and receive Holy Absolution; to eat and drink His Body and His Blood at His gracious invitation — all of this is simply to live in and with Christ Jesus, by His grace.

To depart from these ways and means of life in Christ; to turn your back on Him; to shut your ears to the preaching of His Word; and to absent yourself from His Church — is to leave the house and home of your God and Father for the false “freedom” of sin and death.

Dear one, don’t run away from home. Don’t despise the Gospel or refuse the real freedom of forgiveness and life in Christ. Nor drive yourself to despair by seeking and striving to save yourself. You can’t do it. But neither do you have to.

Although it may seem onerous or hard, tedious or boring, the gifts Christ freely gives to you in His Gospel are blessed gifts of life and salvation. All these really are free — for you — and for all.

What neither you nor the Law could accomplish, Christ has done and accomplished for you: in His flesh and with His blood.

He has kept the Law perfectly, fulfilled and satisfied it. And He has also suffered all its judgments, condemnations and punishments in your place and on your behalf.

He has given Himself unto God in perfect faith, and He has given Himself for you in perfect love.

He has shed His own blood as the propitiation for your sins — and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world; so you need not ever fear that you and your sins are an exception or excluded.

And with that holy and precious blood, He has also redeemed you, purchased and won you, from sin, death, the devil and hell. He has bought you with that price, and you are His; not as a slave, but as a beloved brother or sister, as a beloved child of His God and Father.

Not only that, but day after day He cleanses you and sanctifies you with that same blood, so that you are without any flaw or blemish or spot or wrinkle or any such thing.

He sends His angels, His messengers, to preach His everlasting Gospel as a voice from heaven on earth, to work His works and to give His gifts in His Name. He has never failed to provide such faithful servants of His Gospel, such ministers of His Word in every gen-eration, but He has always raised up faithful pastors and teachers for His Church, to preach, teach and catechize, to shepherd His sheep and to feed His lambs.

Fear God, therefore, and worship Him, not in the terror of His wrath, but in the faith of His forgiveness. For the Hour of His Judgment has come in the Cross of Christ, His Son, who was crucified for your sins and raised for your justification. His Cross is your Atonement, and His Resurrection is your righteousness. That is how sure and certain it is.

The Hour of that Judgment is here now for you, in the giving of Christ’s Body and the pouring out of His Blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. That is His good judgment.

To eat and drink these sacred gifts is not slavery but freedom. It is to live, not as a slave, but as a son of God in your Father’s house. Even so does it strengthen you and keep you steadfast in the one true faith, unto the life everlasting. For the Son has set you free, and you are free indeed, forever and ever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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