Trinity Nine Sermon 2006
Two Different Faiths
Meyer, the popular television preacher, grew up as a Missouri Synod
Lutheran about fifty miles south of St. Louis, Missouri.
She learned the liturgy. She
memorized the confession of sins that begins with these words:
O, almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess
unto thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended
thee and justly deserved thy temporal and eternal punishment.
Meyer left the Lutheran Church. She
decided that she wasnít poor or miserable or a sinner.
She got tired of the negativity.
She wanted a more positive message.
Like many others before her and undoubtedly many to come, she
bristled at the biblical doctrine of sin.
It offended her. Thatís
understandable. Who wants
to be poor or miserable or sinful?
Iíd rather be rich, happy, and holy.
But if we are to be rich, we must become poor.
If we want true joy, we must admit that we are miserable. And if we would escape our sin and become saints, we must
confess our sin to God. There
is no glory except through the cross.
tells us this again and again and again.
And God shows us this. The
reality of sin is too bitter for us to face.
This is why every religious effort that originates in us will
always be an attempt to deny sin. The
religious impulse is to lie about sin.
This is done in a variety of ways.
A common lie is to deny original sin.
I recall a conversation about sin that I had with a Muslim
several years ago. He was
offended by the doctrine of original sin.
He denied that everyone was born sinful.
You are what you do, he insisted.
But he was wrong. You
do what you are. As Jesus
said, ďA good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good
fruit.Ē The Word of God
teaches that we are born in sin and have sinful desires from our youth.
This knowledge is not pleasant, but it is necessary.
natural religious impulse leads us to deny this biblical knowledge.
But open your eyes and you will see that it is true.
Everyone born into this world dies.
Why? We call it nature and leave it at that. You get sick and you die.
But thatís not what God created in the beginning.
He created us to live, not to die.
Every death we witness is evidence that God punishes sin.
Sometimes you can connect the specific death with specific sin as
St. Paul does in todayís Epistle Lesson.
The children of Israel committed gross sins of idolatry, sexual
immorality, and defiance of God while wandering in the Sinai wilderness
for forty years. Their sins brought them death.
Most of the time, you cannot connect the specific death with any
specific sin. Nevertheless,
the soul that sins it shall die. So
says Moses. The wages of
sin is death. So says St.
Paul. That which is born of the flesh is flesh.
So says Jesus. Look within yourself. Look
to find the source of life. Look
hard to find the purity, the goodness, and the love that will take you
to heaven to live with God. What
do you find? You find sin.
You find lust, selfishness, hatred, bitterness, envy, malice, and
every kind of self-centered wickedness.
But you cannot admit this so you choose not to see it.
Then, when Godís law pricks your conscience and begins to
reveal to it the true nature of your depravity, you become angry.
You delude yourself into thinking your argument is with men.
So you quit the church that taught you this bitter truth and go
off on your own, thinking you have discovered something fresh, new, and
promising. But it is all a
lie, like the initial high of an addictive drug that promises what it
cannot deliver. All it can
do is enslave you to your own desires and leave you utterly helpless in
the face of judgment and death.
listen to God! Donít shut
out His voice. Donít run
away from His interpretation of history.
After all, He writes history.
The bodies scattered in the Sinai wilderness did not die of
natural causes. Death
isnít natural. It is the
wages of sin. You think you
can stand before God? You
think you have the power to be and to do what God demands?
Look at the failure of those who have gone before and learn this
simple lesson: we must live alone by mercy.
is faith in Godís mercy that forgives us our sins for Christís sake
and then there is faith in self. These
are two opposing religions. They
are incompatible. They vie
with each other for our loyalty. At
no time in the history of the church has the teaching of faith in self
found such favor among Christians.
The doctrine of the total depravity of man is too depressing.
We are told that people want something more uplifting.
The doctrine of human potential appears to be a more positive
message than a teaching that requires us to repent daily of our many
sins. Trusting in yourself
is considered to be a sign of spiritual health.
To which the inspired apostles issues the warning to our
generation as well: let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
This is no idle warning.
Christians can and so fall away from grace. This portion of St. Paulís First Epistle to the Corinthians
makes that crystal clear. Those
children of Israel who fell from grace had tasted of the gospel. They confessed the true faith.
They confessed their sins and their need for Godís mercy in the
promised Savior. But they
were led away by temptations into sin, and by their sin, they were led
away from the faith itself. We
rightly confess that we can do nothing to make ourselves into
entirely the gracious work of God alone.
He makes the unwilling willing.
He changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
He regenerates us by the washing of rebirth and renewal of the
Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism. But
the fact that our faith is Godís gift does not mean that we cannot
kill the faith God has engendered in our hearts.
Living in sin without repentance does just that.
If you think you can stand as a Christian you need to be warned. You cannot stand. Consider
Peter. He claimed that even
if the whole world would deny Jesus he would stand firm and suffer death
before denying Him. Before
the night was over he had denied his Lord three times.
He then went out and wept bitterly.
He learned the hard way how false is the faith that trusts in
Love yourself, serve yourself, put yourself first.
So goes the modern creed of selfishness that parades as true
Christianity. To which
Jesus responds, ďIf anyone wants to be my disciple, let him deny
himself, pick up his cross, and follow me.Ē
It is when we deny our own strength and distrust our own ability
that we learn to stop trusting in our faith and to start trusting in God
instead. Trusting in faith
is an uncertain thing. How
strong is it? Is it good
enough? Pure enough? Constant
enough? Sincere enough?
Or is your faith lacking? Then
you must doubt. Then you
must fall. Then you have no
But we donít trust in ourselves.
We donít trust in our faith.
Every time we examine ourselves we find sin and death. Temptations come our way without our even looking for them.
They can bring us into sin and then we are trapped by our own
sin, loving what is killing us, deluding ourselves into thinking that
what enslaves us is really freedom. God here warns us of this, and reminds us that the
temptations that come are common to all people.
We are not unique. Our
weakness is not unique. Our
inability to stand is common to all Christians Ė indeed, it is a
feature of the Holy Christian Church on earth until the end of time.
Christians fall away.
They walk right into soul-destroying sin. A Christian will know that he has a sinful interest in
someone or something but instead of avoiding the opportunity to sin he
looks for it. He falls into
sin and then, to defend his sinful pride, he shuts out Godís voice.
A Christian who cannot tolerate alcohol goes to the bar anyway
and foolishly assumes he can handle what he has never been able to
handle. In the name of true
love Christian boys and girls fall into soul-destroying sin every day.
Theyíve not developed the godly habit of daily returning to
Holy Baptism in repentance and finding there forgiveness for all sins.
So they embrace the sin ever more tightly and shut out the voice
of their faithful God. This
is how Christians fall away. In
the midst of grasping onto sin, their faith in Godís mercy is replaced
by a faith in themselves, their desires, and their thoughts.
But God is faithful.
He invites us to reject the false faith in ourselves, to admit
that we cannot stand, and to rely on His faithfulness.
Yes, temptations will come.
But with the temptation, He will provide a way of escape.
He will not permit it to overwhelm us.
He will not permit us to fall.
We could fall. But
He wonít let us fall. He
will continue to speak to us those words by which faith is born and
strengthened. Remember your
confirmation promises. When
we promise faithfulness to the Triune God even unto death we add the
words, ďby the grace of God.Ē When
we promise never to depart from our faithful confession of Godís holy
Word we add the words, ďwith the help of God.Ē
We cannot stand. Thatís true enough. But
God can and will enable us to stand.
How will He do this? He
will destroy the false faith in self and replace it with the true faith
in His mercy. Now thatís
not always a pleasant experience. But it brings indescribable joy!
To be hammered when you are down makes you feel pretty low.
Thereís nothing good in that, or so we think.
But we think wrong! It
is precisely there and then that God comes to us to raise us up and
confirm our faith. Jesus Ė who was the eternal God and impeccably holy Ė won
the Fatherís approval through suffering.
We are confronted with temptations that would lead us to trust in
our own desires and thoughts. The
way of escape that God provides always leads us to Jesus.
little Nathan James Manning becomes a child of God in Holy Baptism. He is joined by this washing to the suffering, death, and
resurrection of his Savior, Jesus.
What can this baby do to stand?
He can do nothing. You
can do no more than this little one.
This is what Holy Baptism teaches us.
It teaches us that we must become as little children, laying
claim to no more strength or status than a baby.
It is in this weakness that we see how it is that Jesusí
suffering and death for us is so very precious.
We fell into temptation, and God delivered us from its guilt and
power. He did so through
Jesus. He faced our
temptation. He did not
fall. He did not fail. He
did not give in. His
victory over temptation He now gives to us.
He who was equal to the Father from eternity chose to submit to
His Fatherly will in all things. This
is how He gained divine pardon for us all.
For Jesusí sake God forgives us and restores us and protects us
from the evil one. We
cannot stand. But Jesus can. So
we hold on to Him with the faith of a little child, knowing that His
faithfulness is more than sufficient to blot out all of our sin and to
keep us in the true Christian faith.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus