Vol. VIII — No. 33 August 20, 1967
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. King James Version
So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard by the preaching of Christ. Revised Standard Version (RSV)
(Belief, you see, can only come from hearing the message, and the message is the word of Christ.) Phillips Modern English (Phillips)
We conclude that faith is awakened by the message, and the message that awakens it comes through the word of Christ. New English Bible (NEB)
In Christ Jesus, whose Gospel has brought us to faith and whose Gospel alone can bring others to faith, Fellow Redeemed:
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” These words of our Lord are always true and meaningful, but they become especially meaningful the most important moment of our lives—the moment when we must leave this life. That final moment decides our weal or woe, damnation or bliss, for all eternity. In that final moment the issue will be very simple: What is your relation to Christ? Anyone who breathes his last with his faith resting on Christ for full forgiveness, for defense against the great accuser, Satan, and for the certainty of life despite death—shall be saved in the fullest sense of the word. But he who dies resting his faith upon his own deeds or accomplishments or upon some vague hope of divine mercy apart from and without Christ—shall be lost in the most final sense of the word. When you pause for a moment to think on these things, you cannot but come to the conclusion that the most important asset that you possess is saving faith.
By the grace of God we possess faith in Christ which alone saves. We have sung of that faith this morning in the words:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness;
No merit of my own I claim,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
We have also confessed that faith in the second article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” when we confess these words, we do well to meditate upon their meaning as Dr. Luther has taught us to understand them: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.” Now what has He done for me to become my Lord? “Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death.” That is how He redeemed or ransomed you and me—and at what great cost! Now what was His purpose? What did He have in mind for us? “That I should be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness; even as He is risen from death, lives and reigns to all eternity This is most certainly true!”
This we believe; this we have sung and confessed. But how did we come by this faith? Each one of us has said, “I believe.” Yet St. Paul has taught us, “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” I Cor. l2:3. The Spirit of God has worked a miracle in our hearts—a miracle so great that Scripture itself compares it to the creation of light. Darkness, the darkness of unbelief, is the natural condition of man's heart. The Spirit of God alone can dispel that darkness and replace it with the light of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. You and I can say and have said this morning, “I believe.” only because the Holy Ghost has worked faith in our hearts.
But how did He do that? That is the question that we would pose this morning and answer on the basis of our very brief, but most enlightening text. We can formulate our theme and question in this way -
Chapters nine, ten and eleven of the Epistle to the Romans form a section of the letter. It is a section that must have torn at the heart of St. Paul as he wrote it, for in it he reports how the righteousness of God, which is in Christ Jesus and comes to man by faith, passed from the Jew to the Gentile because the Jews for the most part rejected the proclamation of that righteousness in unbelief. The attitude of the Jews, manifested already in the days of Isaiah, persisted in the days of Paul and continues on to our day Prophets and apostles preached, but the intended results did not follow. Messenger after messenger exclaimed in sorrowful tones, “Lord, who hath believed our report?”
At this juncture Paul makes a statement that reveals what God intended should result from the preaching. It reveals also the means that the Spirit of God uses to work faith in a human heart. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Our King James Version obscures the meaning of Paul a bit, for faith does not come by the act of hearing—hearing just anything, but faith comes from that which is heard and what is heard by the preaching of Christ. The Spirit of God works faith when the message of the Gospel is preached and heard. Thus the Gospel is the means that the Spirit of God uses to work faith in human hearts.
I wonder how many of you realize that this simple truth, that the Holy Ghost creates and preserves faith through the Gospel, is challenged and rejected by many churches in this area. Many teach and believe that the Spirit of God works directly on the hearts of men, women and children without using the Gospel as a means. In some unknown way and at some times and under some circumstances the Spirit is supposed to take hold of the individual, incite him, move him, sway him, work faith in him. The result of this error is extreme emotionalism and subjectivism in religion. The Spirit is supposed to affect the emotions almost exclusively rather than working through the sense of hearing which grasps the Gospel message and transmits it to the intellect and on through to the heart and entire psychological life of the individual. For so many the feeling of believing, the joy of salvation, the certainty of hope comes to rest upon the changeable moods of the individual rather than upon the sure foundation of the Gospel promises. The individual may jump, roll, disrobe, laugh, cry, shout, sing, dance—imagining himself to be under the influence of the Spirit of God. At the same time the same individual may reject the very means by which the Spirit of God would work—the Gospel in word or connected with an element in the sacrament.
Your faith: How did it come to you? Many of us were brought to faith in infancy when the Gospel-Word was combined with the water in Holy Baptism. Through the Gospel connected with the water the Spirit of God awakened faith in our hearts. As we grew older and were able to hear and comprehend, that faith was nourished and strengthened by the Gospel told to us by our mothers, learned in Sunday School and instruction classes, and heard preached in church. So also the Gospel, connected with the bread and wine in Holy Communion, serves to strengthen that faith. It is a most fortunate inconsistency that those who reject the truth that the Spirit of God works faith alone through the Gospel still preach and hear and read the Gospel. Otherwise none would ever be brought to faith and saved.
Let us understand and understand clearly that the faith, which has been given us by the Spirit of God, has been given to us and preserved in our hearts alone by the Gospel. When you understand this, you will understand why retaining purity of the Gospel is so vital to the preservation of saving faith. Just as impure food and water will harm the body and possibly destroy it, so also error can infiltrate easily into the Gospel and turn it into a gospel that is not the Gospel, a gospel that destroys saving faith. It is easy to understand that people who do not believe that the Holy Ghost works only through the Gospel will be less interested and concerned about purity of doctrine. But we know that saving faith depends upon the Gospel. That is why we should be willing to sacrifice all that we are and all that we have in order to keep the Gospel pure among us, for the one thing that we need when we pass from life to death is saving faith.
If the Spirit of God works faith only through the Gospel, then it also follows that we should make use of the Gospel so that He can work on our hearts. We urge faithful attendance at divine services not to merit divine favor, but to be assured of divine favor. Our service begins with a confession of sins. Sunday after Sunday we appear here and must confess that during the past days and week we have failed to live up to the standard of holiness that the Lord has set for us in the Ten Commandments. We confess that we have merited not divine favor, but divine wrath and punishment. We need to be assured that despite this state of affairs we have a gracious God who has sent His Son to fulfill all righteousness and to suffer and die for our unrighteousness. We need to hear that our sins have been put aside and that there is now no condemnation in us, for our Lord has washed us clean in His blood. When this Good News is proclaimed in Scripture reading, in the absolution, in hymn and prayer and preaching, the Spirit of God is at work strengthening our faith in the Lord Jesus. But if someone neglects and despises the preaching of the Gospel, he is starving his faith, which may perish from spiritual malnutrition, or he may be preventing the Spirit of God from creating faith in his heart.
The fact that we know how and by what means the Holy Ghost creates and preserves faith should also induce us never to cease upgrading our educational program. We buy the best of foods for our children. We would never knowingly give them impure food or contaminated milk. If we would withhold proper food and nourishment from them, the authorities would possibly take the children away from us. Our concerns in the spiritual area should be even greater. As a congregation we should want to prepare a bountiful table of good and nourishing Gospel food for our children so that they learn to know the Lord Jesus as their Savior from sin, their Comfort in all tribulation and their Hope of eternal life.
Your faith and mine has come to us by way of the Gospel. The Spirit uses no other means. As with us, so with others, for -
This truth makes a demand upon us. The demand is simply this that we help others by giving to them the Gospel so that they too can be brought to faith. This is the mission of the Church and our reason for existence here on earth. It is part of the tragedy of our time that churches today have undertaken the task of creating for man a heaven on earth. In so doing they have abandoned or are abandoning the very message that will assure the individual of heaven after this life is over. Today the big cry in the churches is “civil rights.” The spiritual and also economic and political force and power of the churches are being mobilized to bring civil rights to all citizens. We will by-pass the consideration that this is an area which belongs to the state and not the church. But just think for a moment: If the churches were able to succeed in bringing civil rights to all people and if they were able to bring about justice for all men here on earth, would that save a single soul eternally? No! Civil rights and social justice will give no one the forgiveness of a single sin. They will save no one from the consequences of his own sin. They will open the gates of heaven to no one.
What has been entrusted to our care—the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners—will accomplish all these things. We need to mobilize ourselves in a greater effort to spread that Gospel. In your former affiliation an established proportion of your gifts was, despite your protests, appropriated for the purpose of trying to create heaven on earth in accordance with the visions and dreams of modern sociologists. This yoke of taxation, a misappropriation of your gifts, you have thrown off. But certainly you have not thrown off the responsibility of bearing witness in all the world. Certainly you have not and cannot dismiss your calling to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. What is necessary now is that we search and find others in other parts of the country who confess and cling to the same Gospel entrusted to us, and that we then join hands and arms, wallets and purses with them in bringing the Gospel to others. As we so work, the Spirit of God will be working on the hearts of those who hear the message and will bring to faith and save all those who have been elected unto eternal life.
Lord, strengthen our arms for the task Thou hast given us to do! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.
Scripture quotations marked (RSV) are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (Phillips) are taken from The New Testament in Modern English, copyright © 1958, 1959, 1960 J.B. Phillips and 1947, 1952, 1955, 1957 The Macmillian Company, New York. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NEB) are taken from the New English Bible, copyright © Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press 1961, 1970. All rights reserved.