In the name of the Father, and of the Son+, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I would say I aligned myself with Lutheran Theology around July of 2018 thanks to the online ministries of pastors like our very own Chris Rosebrough of the AALC. My lovely wife and I had decided some little time before that we should begin attending church. At the time we really had no reason to. I just kind of brought it up one day, or maybe she did, and we just kind of decided to start going to church. I see now it was the working of the Holy Spirit.
During this time, I encountered some online Calvinist pages that stirred in me some yearning for Orthodoxy and Pr. Rosebrough and others came into my perception at the right time and brought me over this way. Before Lutheranism, I grew up in the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. After high school, I left the Pentecostal Holiness church and went to a non-denominational church that was heavily involved in what is known as the “New Apostolic Reformation”, a charismatic new age Christian movement that is exactly as heretical as it sounds.
I was drawn into all sorts of weird teachings surrounding miracles, auras, mysticism, false prophecy, the list could go on forever. But by far the most damaging of any of the doctrines they taught were the ones surrounding salvation.
There are two theological words I’m going to use today that sound similar, but are very different. When we were doing the adult Sunday School we were going over this together. The two words are justification and sanctification.
To put it very simply: Justification is your standing before God; and Sanctification is your living. These two concepts are, in fact, entirely different. They are not interchangeable. While sanctification comes out of justification – that is to say, you begin living rightly (or desiring to live rightly) after salvation – they cannot and do not flow the other way. That is: You cannot save yourself with good works.You cannot sanctify yourself into a justified position, as it were.
Growing up Pentecostal and then later in the NAR, as it’s called, these two concepts are intermingled and mixed together, and the glue that binds them is emotion. This results in basing your salvation entirely on the grounds of how you feel, and what good things you’re doing!
I grew up constantly fretting and worrying over whether I was saved or not. Over whether I would make it to heaven. Now that may not apply to any of you, I may be preaching entirely to myself. And I hope I am, God be praised, I need to hear this, but maybe you do too.
My view of my own salvation was based entirely on whether or not I did the bad thing that day; or how I felt at the moment. If I was dealing with depression, it obviously meant God was far from me. Did a bad thing happen to me? I must have sinned in some way. Did I skip church to hang out with my girlfriend? Definitely going to hell. I tell you what, I have probably been baptized three or four times, and each time I promised that this would be the real thing. This time I would dedicate myself to God, if He could just find it in his heart not to hate me.
My wife and I recently finished this TV show on HBO – It’s a fictional show – about a new pope played by John Malkovich. And in this show, there is a scene where this pope is in the confessional with his Father Confessor at the Vatican.
You see, he was elected to the papacy in part because of a theological treatise he wrote on love that he titled, ‘The Middle Way’. He admits to his Father Confessor that the work is actually something his late brother wrote but never published. He admits to his Father Confessor that he’s a liar, and a thief, and that if He even believes in God at all, he believes that God must surely hate him. And he begins to yell and scream and list off every single one of his sins until he is completely broken. And finally, in a hoarse voice he yells at the priest
+-, “Is that enough, Father?”
And his Father Confessor sits for a moment and smiles at him warmly. And then says says, “No, Your Holiness. If you are trying to out-sin the grace and love of God, then it is not enough.”
Beloved we are all going to sin. We are all going to struggle with our flesh. And we will fight, and we will fail, and we will fall, and we will get up and try again, and we will do this until the day we die. Just like I said last week, we are all sinners and we all sin.
But what a wonderful hope we have in the Cross of Christ. And what a great assurance we have in our baptisms. We don’t have to look to our good works to know whether or not God loves us. We don’t have to look to how we feel to determine whether God is near us or not.
Dear Christian, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Unlike our reading from Revelation, which is written in allegory and shadowy language, St. John is being very literal here. He states the truth plainly, “we are God’s Children Now.” And we have a blessed hope in Christ, a hope that purifies us.
St. John is stating a fact. We are children of God. We are adopted through our baptisms as children of God. Regardless of how we feel we are Children of God. Regardless of the mistakes we make we are Children of God. Regardless of how poorly it seems our sanctification is going; we are Children of God. And no matter how we feel, we can know for certain how God feels about us. To quote our Psalm: “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.”
We were born again into the family of God by the water and the word. And just in case you had any doubts, in just a little while we receive the very body and blood of our Lord for the forgiveness of our sins, that we may go in peace and serve him.
Beloved, the world may hate us. They may mock us and kill us and trample us. The world and its devils may, quite literally, murder and behead us – and as we have recently seen, they will. But we have a blessed assurance through Jesus Christ our Lord that our God is for us, and our inheritance is the Kingdom of Heaven with our Father. Because we are His Children. Now and forever.
In the name of Him who set us free, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.