The Twenty Fourth Sunday after Trinity
November 11, 2018
“Living Holy Lives”
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14
Our topic today is sanctification. Christians are called to live holy lives. What is a holy life? What does it mean to be holy? God is holy. We sing of God’s holiness: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of thy glory.” God is holy. He is sinless and he hates sin. Holiness is separation from sin. God calls his children to be holy. A little girl gets a beautiful new dress for Easter. Where does Mom tell her to keep it? Out in the garage with the dirty rags Dad uses to clean oil off of his tools? No. She hangs it up in the closet where it is clean and dry. She protects her precious dress from being polluted by dirty rags. We all think in terms of holiness when it comes to our stuff. This must be separated from that because this is special and that is not.
God calls us Christians to live holy lives. He calls us to separate ourselves from this world. Since St. Paul loved the Christians in Colossae, he prayed for them. He prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. To know God’s will is to know God. But how can anyone know God’s will?
We cannot know what God wants if he has not told us. If God has not spoken about it, we don’t know what he wants. To be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding comes about by listening to what God says. We have to listen. Pay attention. If we don’t, we’ll assume that God wants what we want. We’ll confuse our will with God’s will. We will attribute to God our own notions. We will remake God by our own desires.
If you want to know what God’s will is you must listen to Jesus. The Epistle to the Hebrews begins this these words:
Listen to Jesus. Paul prayed for the Colossians. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was struggling over the will of his Father. He was sweating drops of blood as he asked his Father in heaven if the cup of divine anger and punishment of sin could pass from him. He prayed, “Your will be done.” What was God’s will? It was that Jesus drink the cup. It was that he suffer for all the sins of all the sinners and drink to the bitter dregs the cup of divine vengeance against all sinners. That was God’s will
It was redemption. What good was it? How good was God’s will? St. Paul writes in our text for today:
Unless it had been God’s will that Jesus suffer on the cross, it could not have been God’s will that we be delivered from the power of darkness. If not for Christ’s redemption, we would remain in darkness, blinded by our own sin, dead to God, and consigned to an eternity estranged from him.
To know God’s will in all knowledge and spiritual understanding is to know Christ crucified for us. This is the source and strength of our holy living. It is only when we know that God’s will is to be gracious to us, and forgive us freely of all our sins for Christ’s sake, that we will be able to love and trust in him and live the holy lives he calls his children to live.
To please God and to live lives fruitful in good works requires first of all that we become pleasing to God. This is what Christ’s redemption has accomplished. When we know God in the suffering and death of Jesus, we know God as a gracious Father who holds nothing against us but rather sets us free. This is how we increase in the knowledge of God. This is how we are strengthened with all might, according to God’s glorious power. This is what produces patience, longsuffering, and joy.
Try to suffer patiently when you’re at odds with God. You can’t. People often accuse God of doing them wrong. That’s because they don’t know what they deserve for their own sin. When they suffer loss or pain or trouble, they think they deserve better and they blame God for not treating them as they deserve. You cannot acquire patience, and you certainly cannot be filled with joy and thanksgiving to God, if you think you deserve better than what you are getting in life.
Patience and endurance are key features of our sanctification. We learn to bear up under pains we can’t even understand. We have a Christian perspective. God has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. How did he do that? Did we deserve it? Did we earn it? Did we gain it by our efforts? How could we? Our sin kept us from it. But God’s love is greater than our sin.
Listen to a portion of a sermon that Martin Luther preached on the text before us today:
Our sanctification, the holy life we live, comes from Christ’s suffering for us. To ground sanctification on any other foundation will lead to hypocrisy, despair, or both.
The Christian life is not always an easy life. But it is a wonderful life! God blesses us with knowledge and understanding. He produces fruit in our lives. He makes us patient. He gives us joy. The Christian life is the good life. What makes it good is that we live this life in confidence that we have already been delivered from all evil. We are heirs of eternal life. No power on earth can rob us of our inheritance.
“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” So said the representatives of Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of Missouri in Columbia way back when I was a freshman in college. Great! I thought. God has a wonderful plan for my life. Then they said that I had to learn what it was. I had to live within the will of God. I don’t remember everything they said, but they might have cited the portion of today’s Epistle Lesson where Paul speaks of being “filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will . . .” Well, are you? Do you know God’s will for your life? Are you living in it?
That caused me much concern, because I didn’t know. What did I know as an eighteen year old college freshman? What do I know today? I don’t know what’s in God’s mind. Not if he doesn’t tell me. I know how he wants me to live. The Ten Commandments still stand as the most perfect expression of God’s moral law ever written. He wants me to hold to him alone as my God, hold his name and his word sacred, honor legitimate human authority, help my neighbor in his bodily needs, live a chaste life, protect my neighbor’s property and reputation, and be satisfied with what I have. That’s what he wants me to do. I know what he wants me to believe. He wants me to believe that Jesus is my Redeemer who has set me free from sin, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death that I may be his own now and forever. He wants me to believe this gospel however I hear it: whether in my baptism, in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the sermon, in the absolution, wherever he speaks forgiveness to me. I know what God wants me to do and I know what God wants me to believe.
I also know that there are things about him that he doesn’t want me to know. There are things about him that he doesn’t want me to believe. Do you know what they are? They are those things he hasn’t told us. Oh, yes! God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life! But beyond him wanting you to do as he commands and to trust in his promises, you don’t know what that plan is. And you don’t have to know. You don’t have to know what God has not clearly revealed to you in the Bible. This is the book about Jesus. Knowing Jesus crucified for us is to know the will of God for us. His cross reveals my sins, for his suffering was payment for them. His cross reveals God’s forgiveness of my sins, for the suffering he paid was accepted as full payment as proved by his resurrection from the dead.
We can be cheerfully ignorant about the specific details of the life God has planned for us. The good fruit he produces in us is the fruit of love. What his law requires his gospel gives. Our lives may not look like much. They may be filled with uncertainties. We may not always know just what’s going on. So what? We have been conveyed into the kingdom of God’s Son whom he loves. We are redeemed and forgiven. We are living the life God wants us to live.
Rolf D. Preus