The First Sunday in Lent February 13, 2005
145, 376, 422, 48
May the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ lead you to contemplate your great personal gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and may that gift bring forth the fruits of faith in your life day by day. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Do you have any regrets about the past? Every Christian does. There are things in the past we would all like to change—big things and little things. There are big things like sins that we wish we had never committed and there are little things like arguments we wish we would have handled differently. Interestingly enough, this wishful thinking can actually change reality in our minds. We can begin to imagine that what we wanted to say or do is actually what we did say or do. That is one way in which the past slowly becomes better and kinder in our personal recollections.
While this tendency is probably innocent enough when we are talking about old war stories or swappin’ whoppers about fishing, it nevertheless ought to put us on guard. Realizing that our minds can literally play tricks on us over time, we have to constantly be on guard so that what we imagine to be God’s Word and will does not ever replace what is God’s Word and will.
Today’s text helps us to separate imagination from reality when it comes to God’s Word and our own salvation. These words of truth from God Himself are recorded in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the Tenth Chapter:
The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
Here ends the sacred Word of God. These words are true and perfect, for they are God’s words. Even so we pray: “Sanctify us through Your truth O Lord, your Word is truth.” Amen.
Whatever else we may think of Adolph Hitler, we would do well to remember his two propaganda maxims: 1) The bigger and more outrageous the lie, the more apt people will be to believe it; and 2) The more you tell a lie, the more people tend to believe it is true. We know from experience that both of these are accurate. When you make up a story and tell it often enough, sooner or later you yourself are bound to start believing that it is true. In your mind, for example, the fish actually becomes as big as you told everyone it was.
Again, this is amusing until we begin to grow fuzzy about more important things. It ceases to be amusing when the lines become blurred between fact and fantasy in critical areas of human existence. That’s when reality is replaced by manufactured truth. Some examples will quickly illustrate the obvious problems. Manufactured truth tells us that men and women are equally fit for combat. Manufactured truth tells us men are as good as women at being moms, that women are as good as men at being dads, and that gay and lesbian couples can adopt and raise children as well as (if not better than) the traditional man-woman family. If these things are true at all, they are true only in the rarest of circumstances. Yet, mankind wants them to be universally true so they are becoming society’s truth. We are also witnessing the brazen rewriting of history in an effort to reflect current social trends and ideas. Such things are always dangerous, to put it mildly.
The theory of evolution is another example. This theory of how all life originated (and it is just a theory) was virtually unheard of until Charles Darwin introduced his ideas in the early part of the 20th Century. For thousands of years prior to Darwin’s nonsense, the earth paid tribute to God as the Creator and Preserver of both mankind and the universe we occupy. When Darwin first introduced his ideas he was ridiculed—laughed to scorn by science and society alike, and the Christian Church led the charge.
Darwin’s lie, however, must surely have intrigued the Devil. Though there is some question whether Darwin himself later retracted most or all of what he originally said, the Devil carried the ball. Darwin’s lie was Satan’s lie—a means to undermine the Gospel itself. The lie offered to mankind a way to deny accountability to God. If man is not made by God then he is not accountable to God. If man is not accountable to God then there is no need for a Savior. There is then, in the end, nothing from which man needs to be saved. Evolution, when one follows it through, turns Jesus into a pointless novelty.
How then could it be that today even many who call themselves Christians have come to deny the creation account of the Bible and accept the silliness that is evolution? It’s the same old story: The lie was repeated often enough and it was big enough so that with ever-increasing momentum the general population began not only to believe that it was possible, but to accept it as truth.
Satan has used this lie to diminish God’s inspired Word in the hearts of many people. Once evolution’s lie was believed further lies came in a torrent as the domino effect took hold. Soon the Bible was no longer God’s Word, it merely contained God’s Word (meaning it also contained error). Suddenly the Bible’s plan for the roles of men and women was all wrong, homosexuality was no longer a perversion but a lifestyle, and killing the unborn was no longer murder but a choice. There is now nothing whatsoever that is sacred or secure. In fact, those very things that we regard as the most firmly established have become the most obvious targets. The bigger the lie, remember, the more likely human beings are to believe it.
The point for us is that we need to understand that society no longer believes that these are lies. In many people’s minds, these manufactured ideas have now become truth, and they are bitterly and vehemently opposed to anyone who would challenge their new belief system. Since in their hearts and minds these lies have become truth, the unbeliever will defend them with every bit as much righteous indignation and vehemence as we defend God’s Word—perhaps more so. Our text, together with the rest of God’s Word, represents the authoritative difference between fact and fiction and seeks to establish this difference in the hearts and minds of its readers. That is exactly why this text, indeed the entire Bible, is so precious to us. It is only God in His Word who can keep us from drifting into spiritual fantasyland. In a sense then the Bible is to Christianity what a diary or journal is to personal history. It’s pretty hard to lie to yourself (about fishing, dating, whatever) when you actually wrote down the truth as you went along and can now refer to it. In that way God’s Word is like a perfect journal or reference source. The only way you can wander from the truth is to deny that the Bible is accurate. Unfortunately, that is both the solution and the problem. The only thing that can keep us from error is the truth of God’s Word (which is the solution); but the unbeliever doesn’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word (and that is the problem). What then will keep the unbeliever from error? What will guide God’s Church if not God’s Word?
Apparently the Christian Church has come to believe that there are more effective means than the Word of God for carrying out the Great Commission. In fact many Christian churches seem to have lost sight of the Great Commission as Jesus’ own mission statement describing what we are supposed to be doing and how we are supposed to be doing it. Our commission or goal is to “make disciples of all nations” and we are to accomplish this goal by “baptizing” and by “teaching them to observe all things that (Jesus) commanded” (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).
There’s nothing too mysterious in God’s plan, except when and where human logic enters the picture. As soon as man tries to answer spiritual questions with logic, the truth and clarity of God’s Word is almost always the very first victim. Let’s trace one such false teaching to see not only how such things are born, but how they quickly permeate and dominate the church body that harbors the falsehood.
Decision Theology is as popular today as it ever has been. Decision Theology is the idea that we actually usher ourselves into God’s grace by choosing to believe in (or come to faith in) Jesus Christ. This idea grew naturally from the manufactured truth of today’s Christianity concerning saving faith, which some believe to be a rational processing of certain information followed by a decision made by man. Again, the implications of this falsehood are astounding. First, man, not God, is ultimately responsible for his salvation. Second, since children can’t process this information, they present a problem—solved in those churches by declaring that children are not accountable for their sins until they reach a certain age. (Apparently the complete lack of Biblical corroboration for this idea is not enough to dissuade those who hold to it.)
In human minds this all makes sense. Man must make his decision for Christ. That then explains why some are saved and not others and it gives man the satisfaction he requires of seeing some visible and obvious results from his work (altar calls, decision cards, etc.). It fulfills man’s need to “do his part” toward his own salvation. The only problem is that it is all manufactured truth. Faith is not a decision, it is the creation of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts. We were “dead in trespasses and sins,” (Ephesians 2:1) and the Holy Spirit made us alive. How did he manage such a thing? Paul himself answers four verses after our text: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). God the Holy Spirit works faith in the heart through the hearing of the Word, and that faith has as its heart the astounding news that God has cancelled our entire sin debt. You and I stand perfect and holy in God’s sight because He punished His Son Jesus in our place. This is the simple truth that alone saves.
There is a critically important fact to be learned here relating to our witness and outreach to the unbeliever. Argumentation and debate can no more bring an unbeliever to spiritual life than shouting at a corpse can get it to tap dance. Since the unbeliever is convinced that he has the truth, arguing opinions can do nothing but frustrate both the unbeliever and yourself. The unbeliever will always see it as just that—a debate of human opinions. Pride makes each one of us believe that our opinions are always superior.
How then do we go about winning souls? What good is our witness if the sinner cannot be convinced? The sinner can indeed be convinced, but only by the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit works through the means He has chosen—the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Christian Church seems to be shrinking? Man has abandoned the Word of Truth for ten thousand different varieties of manufactured truth. “Feel-good” religion may=y be great for adding bodies to the pews, but it’s lousy for adding names to the Book of Life. Now more than ever the world needs to hear a crystal clear proclamation of the truth—the truth as God has declared it. There are many kinds of courage, but the world needs to witness in us the courage to speak the truth—uncompromisingly and without fear of consequences.
Our text lays out that truth beautifully and with complete clarity. Every human being has been declared not guilty by God the Father. He has declared this because his Son Jesus died and paid the debt that you and I owed. That forgiveness belongs to us personally the instant the Holy Spirit brings our dead hearts back to life by his creation of faith. Note well the simple joy of these words in our text: “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” Far from manufactured truth, this alone is the reality that saves. So also now it is altogether true that “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” What a joy to hear such words and to know that they are now and forever true. Our sins are forgiven. Salvation is ours through Jesus Christ, our Savior. This in not manufactured truth. This is God’s Word of Promise. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.