The 15th Sunday After Pentecost September 17, 2006
14, 421, 477, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, who gathers His Church in a most wonderful way:
In today’s Gospel lesson we heard how Jesus set out to begin calling and gathering His twelve disciples. Jesus said to Peter and His friends, “Follow Me.” We’re told that they immediately left their nets and followed Him, and that was that. There was no constitution, no membership roster, nothing to sign, nothing on paper, just Jesus’ call. There are some people who think that is what discipleship is all about, that it shouldn’t be formalized, that it should be very spontaneous, and just “hanging out with Jesus.”
We do need to stress that membership in a Christian congregation is not equal to membership in Christ. Membership in Christ comes through faith that He is your Savior. That is where our heavenly hope lies. We find forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ, not placement in the right church. Only through the faith that compels you to confess that Jesus is the Lord can you be sure of possessing the Holy Spirit.
So who needs church membership? Why lay out a list of requirements in a congregation’s constitution (e.g., “only such can become and remain communicant members who…”). Membership in a Christian congregation does not equal salvation. But your membership does indicate a certain mindset. Paul says to the Romans: “…for those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” [v.5]
As we continue to consider what it means to be a communicant member of a Christian congregation, today we will look at THE MEMBERSHIP MINDSET. I. Membership means an active war against the flesh, II. Membership means a continuing pursuit of the Spirit-filled life, and III. Membership is crowned with the blessings of faith.
The first thing to realize is that membership means that we carry on an active war against the flesh. Let’s spend just a moment on the essentials of being members of Christ as Paul sees it: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” [vv.1-2] We are all under the condemnation of sin. We all wake up in the morning and find sin around us in the temptations we face, the thoughts that arise in our heart, and in the things we do or leave undone in disobedience to God.
Paul felt the law’s condemnation, not only on the road into Damascus when he was confronted by Christ, but every day after that. Romans chapter seven expresses Paul’s daily frustration with sin: “…the good that I would do, that I do not do; the evil that I would not, that I do.” Finally he bursts out: “O wretched man that I am? Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:19,24).
But we have been freed from sin’s condemnation through the work of Jesus Christ. Our Baptism testifies to this truth and works joyous hope in our hearts. What God’s Law demanded we could not fulfill, but God Himself has provided a remedy in the Gospel.
Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are a way of life, not just a single event. Paul put it this way later on in this chapter: “If you live according to the flesh, you will die: but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). When you become a communicant member in a Christian congregation (which typically happens as part of confirmation), you make a Spirit-led vow to “renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways.” It is by such rejection of every sort of sin in one’s life and faith in Jesus as our Savior and Lord that we are able put down Satan and his evil impulses.
Our society treats as acceptable such things as eastern religious mysticism, pagan religions, even witchcraft. We have been led by the Spirit to separate from all that and confess only one God. We cannot treat lightly the existence of the Devil, nor of his temptations that seek to lead us to disobey or dishonor the God we profess.
Since we are with Christ we are in a battle zone. We are to war against and overcome the advances of sin in our lives. If we take this seriously, we will value the Holy Scriptures as our sole “rule and norm of faith and life” (a term often used in congregations’ constitutions and in some church confessions) for in them we will find the power to live as children of God and the wisdom to walk in His ways.
We realize that we cannot bless God and curse man at the same time. Though sin will often creep into our thoughts, words, and deeds, we will strive to do what is pleasing to our God and abstain from works of the flesh as we learn to recognize them from Scripture.
When we become members of a Christian congregation, we are implying that we can approach this Christian life with a level of conscious resolve. Paul says “…if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” [v.10] The membership mindset is that we are on a continuing pursuit of the Spirit-filled life.
The Spirit of God works through the Gospel message brought to us by the Word and the Sacraments. This is the only way we can expect the Holy Spirit to be present in our lives. That is why we’ve already recognized the importance of making the Word of God central in lives. The believer will want to read and meditate on the Word of God at home, but it is also central to our worship life. It is good to gather together and worship the Lord with the Gospel—in Word and Sacrament—central in our worship opportunities.
The membership mindset follows the mind of the Psalmist in the Old Testament who said: “Lord I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells” (Psalm 26.8). The privilege of worshiping together is one of the most enriching experiences in our Christian life. We hear the Word of God applied to our lives, we take part in an organized act of worship that walks us through the essentials of Christian teaching, we are encouraged to know there are others who believe as we do, and we mutually encourage them to continue in the truth. We offer our prayers to the God of heaven and are assured that they are heard. We encounter the grace and love of God in Jesus when we come to the Lord’s Supper while understanding what it is we receive there.
Our membership in a Christian congregation means that we understand what it means to have the hope of the Gospel and that we are prepared to do what is most natural, namely, to pass that faith on to our children. We are making that a priority more important than the schooling and sports and arts activities. We understand that we can expect no one other than ourselves to give our children a good upbringing in the Word of God. We also understand that the congregation is eager to work together to help give a Christian upbringing to those under our care.
The membership mindset humbly acknowledges that from time to time we may need brotherly direct admonition when we fall into sin or spiritual danger. With church membership we are saying, up front, that if we should need it, we want our fellow members to come forward and give us the admonishment or encouragement we need. This may be a simple word of advice, or it may involve the Christ-prescribed steps of church discipline. We may not welcome it at the time, but we will undoubtedly think differently when we are gathered together in heaven.
Our membership also announces that, just as we are thankful and pleased to confess with a congregation our faith in the Christian religion and Lutheran doctrine, we are equally unwilling to compromise our testimony of Christ by being identified with any lodge, club, group or religious organization that professes ideas in conflict with Christian doctrine. This is a difficult thing for many people to deal with because many of these groups are active in charitable giving and the promotion of activities that build moral character. But we can’t forget how distinctive the Christian message is. Jesus’ righteousness received by faith is our only salvation. No other religion offers this. No other deeds can substitute for true saving faith. To hold membership in a Christian congregation and also be a member of some group that compromises what Scripture says is to risk weakening one’s own faith, and it certainly gives a confusing testimony to others.
Finally, membership in a Christian congregation is crowned with the blessings of faith. Membership in Christ has the blessings of forgiveness and eternal salvation in heaven. But, theoretically, a person can be a Christian and enjoy the hope of salvation without being a formal church member. So what privileges does membership in a congregation really offer? Only those things that will appeal to those with the membership mindset—only things that are meaningful to those who rejoice in the salvation of the Lord, those who treasure His Word and Sacrament, and those who are led by the Spirit.
To be identified with a confessional Christian congregation gives an individual Christian the opportunity to be publicly known as a believer in Jesus while living in an increasingly troubled era. This membership testifies that we value the pure doctrine in an age where people care little about truth. Membership in a confessional congregation will not usually produce much notice or applause from the world, but if you read the New Testament you’ll find that many believers were more pleased to share in the reproaches of Christ than in the pleasures of this world (cf. Hebrews 11:26, et. al.).
Membership in a Christian congregation also gives the opportunity to worship, pray and commune with like-minded believers. Actually, this can seem wearisome at times—who among us hasn’t suffered from the “grass is always greener” syndrome in this age of churches with larger numbers and bigger activities. But membership in a confessional Christian church gives you the realization that God has gathered you into this family. We didn’t choose each other and we are here to love one another and grow in our joy in Christ through service to one another.
Membership means that we can join together in service to the church through many different aspects of the ministry, Christian education, and evangelism.
Membership means that when we receive the summons and the Lord gathers us to His bosom, there will be those remaining behind, not merely to mourn our departure, but more importantly, to proclaim to the world the comforting message that we are in heaven through the redeeming work and resurrection of our living Lord, Jesus Christ.
May God cause us to treasure our congregational membership as an opportunity to witness and grow in Him. Amen
Editor’s Note: This week’s sermon is a continuation of the a series exploring what God’s Word teaches concerning membership in a Christian congregation.
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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.