Sunday, August 17, 2008

Trusting in God's Certain Promises

Two months ago in my newsletter article, I referred to the importance of “Seeking God where He may be found.” My aim was to get us thinking about how when we are seeking to find God, we ought to go where He has promised to be. Or we might say, where God has located Himself for our sake. We know that God is present everywhere, as even the highest heavens cannot contain Him (1 Kings 8:27), and we cannot escape from His presence anywhere (Psalm 139). But while we can certainly raise prayers to God at any time and place, if we want to be assured that we are receiving His saving benefits, we turn to where He has surely given and promised them. In that previous newsletter I concluded with the words of Peter to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Where shall we go but to the Lord and His Word? For it is in God’s Word that He has located His promises. When we rest secure on His Word of Truth, we have the assurance of eternal life.

It is for this reason that Lutherans have stood out distinctively from many other Christians, in our emphasis on God’s “Word and Sacraments.” Word and Sacraments has almost become a catchphrase in the Lutheran church, which gives us reason to stop and reexamine why we refer to it so often. In speaking so highly of God’s Word (the Bible) and His Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), we are especially emphasizing the “locatedness” of God in these promises. Another way of thinking about the “Sacraments” is that they are the “Visible Word.” By this I mean that God’s Word is attached to, and makes Baptism and the Lord’s Supper what they are. They are able to bring us forgiveness and grace only by virtue of God’s Word that is attached to them. We can have a sure and constant source of comfort when we receive God’s gifts through these “means of grace.” Because we acknowledge that God works out His plan of salvation through these gifts, we have an objective basis for our faith. We are not left wondering whether God has shown His grace to me or not; whether some other person may be certain of their faith, while I am not.

For example: how can I be assured that I am a child of God? Sure, I may confess Jesus’ name, and pray to “Our Father,” but how do I know that God has adopted me into His family, and not just someone else? I can have that assurance by looking to my baptism, and trusting God’s objective Word and promise given to me there. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I was baptized with Word and water (Matthew 28). In my baptism I know that I have been buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6); I have been saved through baptism, given a pledge of a clean conscience through Jesus’ resurrection (1 Peter 3); I have been reborn through water and the Spirit, so that I may enter the kingdom of God (John 3); I have been clothed with Christ (Galatians 3); I have been forgiven and given the gift of the Holy Spirit through my baptism (Acts 2). All of these promises of God (to name just a few!) are made sure and were given personally to me and all baptized believers in our baptism. These promises continue to be ours by faith. Christ Jesus earned these benefits for us through His death and resurrection—He now packages and delivers them to us through baptism. Baptism is God’s work; His gift to us.

In a unique but similar way, we have the Sacrament of the Altar, or the Lord’s Supper, where we are personally given the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ body and blood (Matthew 26:28). All of these means by which God brings us His grace: His Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (the Sacraments) stand as objective truth “outside of us.” We can find certainty and comfort in trusting in these God’s gifts for us, knowing that their truth rests in what God has done, not in our changeable emotions, thoughts, and actions. Consider the contrast to putting our trust in subjective things such as our feelings (how “close” I feel to God), our good works (how good a life have I really led?), our personal will-power (how sincerely have I committed my life to Jesus?). These and other subjective things we might put our trust in will all leave us in a cloud of uncertainty and doubt when we try to answer the question of “how do I know that I am saved?” By contrast, as we so often emphasize as Lutherans, when we trust in God’s Word and Sacraments, we are trusting only in what Jesus has done for us through His cross and resurrection, and how He has delivered this to us by His Word, by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These promises do not rest on the shifting sands of our emotions or sincerity, but on what God has determined to do for you, and where He has located Himself so that we may seek and find Him.

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