Sermon — Pr. Tony Sikora — It’s Not About Morality! It’s About Doctrine!
In the Name X of Jesus. AMEN!
Beloved in the Lord,
The reformation of the church of Christ was not primarily a reformation of life, morals, good works. Such a reformation had been attempted before, all failing, because morality has to do with the Law and the Law is powerless to change hearts. The Reformation of the Church of Christ was not about morals but doctrine. When Martin Luther walked to the doors of St. Mary’s church in Wittenberg Germany 1517, he sought to discuss and debate doctrine, the teaching of Christ and the Holy Church. Doctrine is teaching. Teaching is the Word of Jesus. The Word of Jesus is life. Therefore doctrine is life because it is the word and teaching of Jesus. And the Word and Teaching of Jesus is not so much of the Law but first and foremost of the Gospel – the free forgiveness of sins on account of Jesus Himself. It’s not what you can do for God, but what God can, has, and does do for you through Jesus.
Our text this morning brings this truth to light when Jesus says, “If you abide in my Word you are my disciples indeed and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Jesus turns the hearts of his hearers away from their life, their morals, their works, and towards the Word, the truth, Himself. But these Jews who had believed in Him are fixed on themselves. That’s the curse of Adam. They bear it as his descendants and so do we. “We have never been slaves to anyone, how can you say that you will be made free?” Fallen humanity always thinks the wrongs about God and about himself. St. Paul says, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile towards God. It does not submit to God’s laws, indeed it cannot” (Romans 8:7). Thinking the wrong things of God and of man leads to hostility towards both. False doctrine divides and disables
False doctrine makes us slaves – slaves to our works. If we get the doctrine wrong, then we get the teaching wrong, and the Word wrong, and Jesus wrong. With everything going wrong how is it that we can expect to get right? Wrong doctrine leads to wrong life, wrong morals, wrong works. Thus liberty is exchanged for slavery. The Word and doctrine of Jesus is “felt” to be lacking, insufficient, not good enough. Adam’s descendants are always wanting more than the Word, more than the gospel, more than Jesus. The Jews wanted Jesus and their heritage, circumcision, the dietary laws, and the tradition of the elders. Rome wants penance, saints, satisfactions and merits, relics, even the papacy. Modern evangelicals want piety, emotions, passion, rock and roll, small groups, individualism. Eastern Orthodoxy wants whatever is old and ancient including the liturgy. What is it that you want? Signs, miracles, speaking in tongues, warm fuzzies after the service, a 10 step program for a better marriage, 40 days to a better you?
Wanting more than the Word and teaching of Jesus is actually wanting something other than Jesus. Jesus becomes a nice little add-on to sanctify whatever it is that we’re doing without the word and promises of God. He becomes our means to bending God’s nose the way we want it to go and thereby giving us the ability to work for God. When there’s something to be done we seem to think that we can do it, especially the things we add to the Word.
But Jesus won’t let us go that way. That way is the way of man, the way of the flesh, the world, and that way leads away from Jesus. That way leads to death. “For to set the mind on the flesh is death” (Romans 8:6). The Jews were set on the flesh. Rome in 1517 was set on the flesh. Evangelicalism today is set on the flesh. Morality is all about the flesh. Morality fails because of our sin, original and actual.
Morality and works, feelings and piety are not life. Reforming them only furthers the illusion that man can save himself. Man doesn’t need to reform his works. Man needs to repent. For when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said “repent” He willed that the whole life of the Christian be one of repentance. God’s Law is not given to give life, but to show how far we’ve fallen, how enslaved we truly are. Slaves need to be liberated. Captives need to be set free. We cannot do it. You cannot do it. Moses can’t do it. The pope can’t do it. Only Jesus and only through His Word.
His Word gives His person and His Work. Without His person and His Work we left to ourselves. But with such gifts we are blessed with His holy Incarnation, His baptism, His righteous life, His supper, His death, burial, resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand. All that He is, He is for us, for you. All that He does, He does for us, for you. His Works are for you. His Words are for you. No one is left out. None are sent away empty handed, . . .unless you are already full . . . unless you’re already full of yourself.
Thus His Word and His works are given to fill you up with Himself. Whoever repents and believes the gospel is emptied of his sins, washed, sanctified, justified, renewed and set free. You are set free, not because of your heritage, works, feelings, tradition, or piety, but you are set free solely on account of the blood of the eternal Son of God! Your freedom is blood bought!
For our God does not desire the death of the wicked (He does not demand any of your blood, nor that of your children) but that the you repent and live in Him who is the way the truth and the life! Our Lord wants you to live and to be free and to delight in His Word. Thus He provides the Lamb. He sacrifices His Son. He pours the wrath our works deserve onto Jesus. Everything hangs on the person and works of the one who hangs on that cross! The one who is Risen from the Dead! The one who speaks to you today, calling you to His Word.
The Word of Jesus is not hidden from us. The Word is not something we should seek after in the world, in our hearts, in the quiet moments of a long walk in the woods. The Word is in Christ’s Church. It can be found. It can be heard. It can be learned. It can even be seen. For our God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love toward us. God’s Word is an incarnational Word. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Today the Word and the Water wash away sins! The Word is hidden under bread and wine giving true body to eat and true blood to drink. The Word is proclaimed. The Word is splashed! The Word is distributed! The Word is for you and this Word is here in this place, this church.
To abide in the Word is to abide in Christ’s Church, it’s to abide in the Divine Service. In the Divine Service the Word of Jesus is sung, His doctrine is preached, His teaching is prayed, His voice is heard. “Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts like your forefathers did in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:7-8). Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day of rest from our works and it is the time to indulge ourselves in the Lord. Today Jesus speaks His Word, offers His Word, gives His Word, that you may be set free from the bondage of sin, death and devil and attain to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting on the last day. Today Jesus is working the works of God for you through your ears in the hopes of stirring within you a new heart, a clean heart, a faithful heart, a heart at rest in Him.
Beloved in the Lord, the reformation of Christ’ Church was not a reformation of morals. Morality will never be reformed on this side of eternity but must be repented of and forgiven. The Word and Doctrine of Christ give such forgiveness. Forgiven we Christians then learn to live according to the Word and teaching of Jesus, not for life not to earn our life, but because we have been made alive in Christ by the power of the Spirit.
The Reformation of Christ’s Church was a reformation of doctrine, a return to the Word of Jesus. Luther once remarked, “Wycliffe and Huss fought merely against the life of the pope. That is why they did not attain their purpose, for they were sinners just as the papists were. But I attacked the doctrine. With this weapon I defeated them. For this matter does not concern life [morals]; it concerns doctrine.” Indeed, doctrine is the teaching of Christ. Where the teaching of Christ is right, there will be right life leading to right morals and right works that are wrought from the right faith. Get the doctrine right and you get Christ right. Get Christ right and you get forgiveness, life and salvation as a gift given by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. “Lord keep us steadfast in Thy Word!” AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!