Boasting in the Lord
Picking up on one verse from last Sunday: But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, sanctify us in your Word, your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear Christian Friends …
I know what I’m about to say sounds almost like heresy and is probably not the best way to start a sermon but I sometimes wonder if it is really possible for even a Christian to be saved.
Let me talk for a moment about pastors, after all they’re supposed to be Christians. John Chrysostom, an early Church Father, said “Hell is paved with priests’ skulls”. In a similar vein I once heard the saying (the author of which I’ve forgotten), ‘It’s a miracle if a minister be saved.’ Now this might seem incredible that a minister of the Gospel could actually not be part of God’s eternal kingdom but when I look in my heart I can easily understand why.
You see I know I’m a sinner. I’m aware at times of my pride. I can count bad deeds better than my sins of omission. And there are moments when my reality, myself truly shames me … into silence. Now in my job I know the right words to say. In fact most of you know I’m fussy about words. I can debate and dispute various theories of the atonement. I can discuss the various understandings that the denominations have of Holy Communion. And I can quote bible texts when necessary. I can parrot off prayers of repentance and discover my mind far away. So when I think about heaven I face the danger of thinking to myself – consciously or unconsciously – “I’ll get there because I know all the right answers”. Other ministers might think “I’ll get there because I’ve sacrificed so much for Jesus” or “I’ll get there because I was a missionary” and the list can be endless.
The Apostle Paul himself said that he had to beat his own body and make it a slave so that after he had preached the Gospel to others he might not find that he was himself disqualified from the prize (1 Corinthians 9:27).
It seems then that apostles and ministers might not be saved. What about the lay people? Well, as I said earlier, I wonder about them too.
Jesus once said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Jesus warns all the people who work hard in his Church to not play act – to be real – don’t go through the motions – with no faith and your hearts somewhere else while your mouths are working overtime. He even calls such people evil doers! People who come before Jesus pulling out a résumé of religious deeds or a litany of lovely actions are in for a rude shock. “But, Jesus, I’ve worked hard in this congregation.” “Jesus, be real, I’ve tried to be your witness at work.” “Jesus, I’ve done my best!”
It seems that humanity is stuck. We’ve created language in which the most important pronouns are ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘my’. If we add such pronouns to our salvation – a little boost and boast – then we’re in trouble. And the reason for this situation is hard for us to fully grasp. It’s called ‘sin’ and we think of it as evil deeds, nastiness towards others, spite and fight – usually actions and words. However sin is about who we are more than what we do and it really separates people from God and focuses our attention onto our selves. Sin’s focus is on ourselves, our pride, our rewards based on what we’ve done (even if it’s only just saying, “At least I believe in Jesus”). The depth of our pride, our desire to be right, our self centredness is so deep that I wonder – even with all the sinful fruit all around – whether we ever know how perverse and selfish and sinful we really are.
But God does! Sin is so serious, humanity is so rebellious that God had to use the most extreme measures to rescue us. And you get can’t more extreme than sacrificing an innocent Son on a wooden cross. Your sin and my sin must be so horrible if he had to do that to Jesus to save us. And when the horrible message of this cross really comes home to us then we can’t be but convinced that we do deserve damnation and permanent separation from God.
In the shadow of the cross, life then is a dodging, weaving, ducking, and playing around, putting off the inevitable day of reckoning. No wonder so many people’s lives are full of the things of this world trying to crowd out the horrible destiny our sinful selves will one day face.
But that cross also has another message besides horror.
For the man who hung on it is now, today, alive! He rose again from the dead. He stands before you every moment of your life and through his Word in the Bible and through his visible words – Baptism and Holy Communion – he speaks to you: I forgive you your sins. I love you. I know exactly what you’re like but don’t be afraid I’m on your side, every day.
That cross has a message of unconditional love – just for you.
When this message hits our hearts and we know we have nowhere to hide then we stand exposed, with nothing to cling to – our possessions are useless, our good deeds are filthy rags, even our religious talk is just hot air – when we are naked before God then Jesus comes to us and puts his arm around our shoulders and gives us his robe of righteousness. That and only that is how a person might be saved – by receiving God’s free gift – that is why baptism is so precious – and living in it each and every day so important – that’s called daily repentance and sanctified living.
Hence the cross stands over us. But because Christians are still sinners there remains a danger that we want to add to Jesus’ action for us and that’s when the ‘I’ statements can come in … I know the right answers … I tried hard … I accepted Jesus … I was a missionary … I sacrificed a lot … I prayed the believer’s prayer. If you ever add an ‘I’ statement to your salvation then you have said that what Jesus has done for you wasn’t enough – you had to do your little bit.
This struggle is one that religious people, people of faith have; it’s one of clinging to something that can be seen and done. But Jesus says, “I am all you need. Trust me.” And all we see our bibles, words, water, bread and wine, other sinners just like us – and we wonder whether our faith, Jesus, God is real or we’re just fooling ourselves. And then the cross speaks again and again … for you!
Jesus meets you here. Does Jesus go with you back home, to work, on holidays, into your lounge room, dining room, bedroom? Does he go shopping with you, to the pub with you, and travel in cyberspace with you? Does he change your life? He wants to – for your sake; because he wants your life to be full of life (not fear, or worry, or pride). He wants to you know how much he loves you and cares for you. And he does! And Jesus wants you to know that he has prepared a place for you and he will never let you down.
That is the Good News this world needs to hear! Jesus has saved us! Jesus has done it all! Jesus loves you! Jesus is the only one who makes it possible for us to be saved.
And because Jesus has done it then my salvation is sure … all because of Jesus!
- Galatians 6:14