Sermon — Pr. Paul Rydecki — Faith is the difference between those who are justified and those who are not

Sermon for Trinity 11
Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Genesis 4:1-15  +  Ephesians 2:1-10  +  Luke 18:9-14

As we have learned from God’s Word on many occasions, the whole world is divided in two, and has been ever since the days of Adam and Eve.  There are Cains and there are Abels.  There are Pharisees and there are tax collectors. There are spiritually dead people and people who were once dead who have now been made alive.  There are children of wrath and children of God.  The damned and the saved. The not forgiven and the forgiven. The unrighteous and the righteous.  The not justified and the justified.

And you can’t tell them apart by looking at them.  You can’t tell them apart by the color of their skin or by how they’re dressed, how rich they are or how poor. And you can’t necessarily tell them apart by what they do.  When you get right down to it, there’s one thing that separates them from one another, and that thing is faith in Christ. Faith is the difference between those who are justified and those who are not.

You couldn’t tell any difference between Cain and Abel in how they looked on the inside.  They were both born in their father Adam’s image—his sinful image that is passed down to all of his children (except for the One born of a virgin). You couldn’t tell any difference between Cain and Abel in their worship.  People have tried to point to the different types of sacrifices each one offered—Cain with his grain offerings and Abel with his animal offerings—as if God preferred the animal sacrifices to the grain sacrifices.  No.  One thing separated Cain from Abel, and that thing was faith. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.

In the end, of course, Cain’s unbelief was betrayed by his actions.  But the unbelief was there first, the unbelief that made Cain unacceptable to God.  But didn’t Cain believe in God, too?  No, and that’s where we get confused today about what faith is.  Faith is not knowing that God exists—something that Cain certainly knew.  Faith is trust in God, reliance on God for mercy, for forgiveness.  Abel offered his sacrifices in that trust.  Cain offered his sacrifices without it. And even though Cain lived many more years, he was already dead due to unbelief.  And even though Abel’s life was cut short, he is still alive and in glory with God today.  As Hebrews says, And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

In our Gospel today, Jesus saw the true groups before Him—those who were confident in their own righteousness, and those who trusted in Jesus for mercy.  In fact, he directed His parable primarily toward those who didn’t believe in Him and so were not justified, toward the “Cain group” who hated the “Abel group” and showed contempt toward them, just as Cain once hated his brother.

We see the two groups represented in Jesus’ parable by a Pharisee and by a tax collector.  Both of them go to the temple in Jerusalem to pray.  Now, this wasn’t a church service, like a synagogue service would have been.  You didn’t go to the temple for a structured service.  You either went to offer a sacrifice on the big altar, or you went to an open area to sit at the feet of a Rabbi like Jesus and listen, or you went to find a quiet place to pray.

The Pharisee and the tax collector went to pray. Now, to the naked eye, it was easy to see which one must be in the justified group and which one in the not justified group.  The Pharisee must be justified, righteous before God!  At least, he certainly thinks so.  He’s the respected member of Jewish society, the good guy, the decent guy. He’s the law-abiding citizen who loves his country.  He’s the one who gives the big offerings at church. And if he has any minor flaws—and everyone has some flaws—he is sure that God will overlook them because, all in all, he’s a good person.

He’s so convinced of his own goodness that he feels justified in looking down on those who don’t measure up to his standards.  He’s so convinced of his own goodness that he boldly prays to God in order to thank God that he is so much better than the sinful tax collector over there in the corner.

The tax collector, even if he’s an honest one—and there weren’t many honest ones.  Most were thieves.  But even if he’s an honest one, everyone assumes he’s dishonest.  He’s considered a traitor to his country by his fellow countrymen because he works with the Roman government to tax his own people and collect the taxes, with a certain commission that goes into his own pocket.  To the naked eye, it’s clear that this tax collector is the one who belongs to the group of the unrighteous, the not forgiven, the not justified.

His prayer there in temple is so unlike the Pharisee’s prayer.  He doesn’t see anything good in himself at all, only sin and neediness.  He doesn’t hold anything up to God for God to see and smile. He can only look down and beat his breast and whisper the words, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

And then Jesus reveals what the naked eye can’t see.  Jesus reveals God’s verdict on each of these two men, and it’s just the opposite of what the crowd there before Him would have expected.  I tell you, this man—the tax collector! — went down to his house justified, rather than the other.

Why?  The Pharisee was a good person, and the tax collector was a sinner!  No.  God’s law accused them both of being sinners and equally deserving of condemnation.  The Pharisee and the tax collector—both sinners by birth and sinners by thought, word and deed, even though the Pharisee was better at hiding it.  In what they deserved, they were the same.

And, in what God had done for them and was doing for them, they were the same.  Jesus would soon get up on that cross and have the sins of both men pressed down on His shoulders.  Jesus would make atonement for the sins of both men.  He would be the propitiation—the One who satisfies the demands of God’s law for both men, and for all men.  And God wanted both men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

The difference between the two men was this:  faith.  The Pharisee stood before God’s judgment seat and held up his works under the law, while the tax collector had faith in God’s mercy and appealed only to God’s mercy, there in the temple.

Why would God forgive sins in this temple? Because this is where atonement was made for sin in the sacrifices.  This is where God had promised to be propitious—merciful, favorable— to all who call on Him here for mercy.  Literally, the words of the tax collector in his prayer were, “God, be propitious to me, a sinner!”

The temple was a picture of Christ, whom the Apostle Paul calls the propitiation-place, the mercy seat, the throne of grace.  The Apostle John says that Jesus Himself is the propitiation for the sins of the world.  The temple in Jerusalem has been replaced with a man—the God-Man, Jesus Christ.  He is where God promises to hear and to be propitious, to be merciful, to forgive sins and to justify sinners.  Whoever looks to the Son of God has eternal life, receives forgiveness, is justified.

This is why we say in the Apostles’ Creed, I believe in the forgiveness of sins. Luther’s catechism explains that phrase rightly, “In this Christian Church the Holy Spirit daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers in Christ.”  Not just this one Christian Church called Emmanuel, of course.  Wherever Christ is preached as the way, the truth and the life.  Wherever the Sacraments are rightly administered.  Here is where God forgives sins. Why do we say that God forgives sins “in this Christian Church”?  As the old WELS catechism explained, “We say this because Christ has given the Gospel to His Church on earth; in the Gospel we have the forgiveness of sins.”

But outside of this Christian Church, where Christ is not preached as the propitiation-place, where there is no faith, there is no forgiveness of sins. Whoever does not look to the Son for mercy stands condemned already, not justified, according to the words of Jesus—like the Pharisee who held up his own righteousness to God instead of trusting in the righteousness of Jesus that was being held out to him.

Is it possible to come to church and still not receive forgiveness?  Yes, just like the Pharisee.  If you come looking to offer God your good behavior in coming to church today, if you come looking to praise God for making you better than the rest, if you come just to socialize or be seen, then, even though you came to the right place today, you will not go home justified. If you come looking to Christ for mercy, you will find it.  Here it is, Christ for you!

As I said at the beginning of the sermon, Jesus directed this parable primarily to those who were like the Pharisee.  And his Word to them was that they were not justified.  But why such a harsh Word?  Just to tell them off for their arrogance and contempt?  Not at all.  But by telling them the truth, that they were not justified before God because of their unbelief, that is the very Word that cuts to the heart and convicts sinners before God so that, by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit, they may see their need for mercy and seek it in Christ where they are sure to find it.  And so Jesus concludes His parable by calling out to all of them listening, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.  But whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  Jesus pleaded with them, just as He now pleads with you.  Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand that He may lift you up.  Christ, with all His mercy and forgiveness, dwells not with the proud, but with the humble. Do not go to your house today like the Pharisee—confident in yourself and not justified.  Instead, go to your house today like the tax collector, humble before God and man, and yet confident in the merit and the mercy of Christ, steadfast in the faith by which you, like the tax collector, have been justified.  Amen.

 

 

ASSOCIATE EDITOR’S NOTE:  The discussion that follows in the comments gets into some very particular points.  This is a discussion that needs to happen for the sake of the Gospel, so we at BJS are letting it happen here.  Please note that some of the commenters are very zealous over this issue and that is sometimes reflected in heated language.  As Lutherans, we have a long history of heated language do to the seriousness of the Faith and great damage that error can due both to the Faith and also the faith of Christians.  Those making comments are reminded to temper their words and deal with the substance of the debate, not the personalities involved.

UPDATED NOTE: I have moderated a lot of comments out of the posting.  The admonition I gave in the above paragraph was not heeded by many commenters, and as a result fruitful discussion around Scripture and Confessions became impossible.  Maybe in the future we may be able to try again.

About Pastor Paul Rydecki

Rev. Paul Rydecki is originally from Stevensville, Michigan. Although baptized in the LC-MS, he joined a WELS congregation with his parents at an early age. He graduated from Northwestern College in 1995 and from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2000, when he was ordained and commissioned as a world missionary to Puerto Rico. After four years in Puerto Rico and three in Mexico, Rev. Rydecki accepted a call in 2007 to Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he now lives with his wife, Amy, and his four sons, Nathan, Jacob, Samuel and Lucas.

Comments

Sermon — Pr. Paul Rydecki — Faith is the difference between those who are justified and those who are not — 86 Comments

  1. That’s a wonderful quote from Walther, Pastor McCain.

    The more I read the sermon above, the more I’m convinced that it preaches ABOUT law and gospel, but doesn’t really preach law and gospel.

    Rather than saying, “You should humble yourself,” why not use the law to actually humble me? Rather than saying, “If you humble yourself, then you can have forgiveness,” why not proclaim to me that I actually am forgiven after you’ve already actually humbled me?

    As strange as it sounds, it almost seems that those who preach a conditional gospel lack confidence not in the power of the gospel, but in the power of the law. If you don’t trust that the law has the power to crush and destroy, then you have to build a wall of protection around the gospel just in case some people aren’t quite crushed or destroyed enough yet. But if you trust that in the power of the law to accomplish its purpose, then you can gladly and boldly proclaim the gospel without any conditions or prequalifications.

  2. Ryan Gosling :
    Can someone explain the conditional passages of Scripture as cited above, please?

    Ryan, the passages that Pastor Rydecki provided aren’t really analogous to his sermon. I pointed this out in a previous comment. When Jesus says, “Whoever believes in me will be saved”, it’s a simple statement of fact. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Whoever believes in me will saved, so you’d better go home and start believing,” or even “If you believe in me, then I’ll save you.” Or think of Christ on the cross. When he prays to the Father on behalf of the evil unbelievers crucifying him, he doesn’t say, “Father, forgive them in the future if they repent and come to faith some day.”

  3. @Aaron #2 Great points Aaron. Quite frankly: who wants to be humble? I don’t. Remembering the word “humility” has as its root, “humus”, soil, earth, dirt. The Old Adam does not want to be humble, just the opposite: number 1 and win the gold. This reminds me of the old joke: At a monastery they had a contest to see which brother was the most humble. Brother John won and they gave him the prize and he said, “I am so honored…” And the abbot immediately snatched it out of Brother John’s hands. We will be humbled and so we have humbled ourselves when the Law in all it’s sternness is preached and then the Gospel is preached in all it’s sweetness (Walther), so faith takes hold for dear life on to Jesus Christ. But when we think we are pretty good, “exalting ourselves”, that our ‘spirituality’ is better than others, we can be sure the devil is working too well.

  4. Aaron :

    Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Whoever believes in me will saved, so you’d better go home and start believing,” or even “If you believe in me, then I’ll save you.” Or think of Christ on the cross. When he prays to the Father on behalf of the evil unbelievers crucifying him, he doesn’t say, “Father, forgive them in the future if they repent and come to faith some day.”

    Aaron, I think it would be much more helpful if you would stop putting words into my mouth, or into my sermon. If this continues, then by the time this thread is done, my sermon will end up cursing Christ and denying His divinity. Or if others have their way, the title of the sermon will read, “There is no difference between those who are justified and those who are not, because all are justified” (in spite of Jesus’ own words). The whole thing will have been rewritten by the commenters on this thread who add their own strange and unjustified twists to the words that are actually written, or who take the words in the unkindest possible way.

    To all readers, please take into account my own sheep who heard this sermon as its intended audience and received great comfort from it and from the Sacrament that followed. As Josh Scheer pointed out earlier, I did not submit this sermon to BJS to be posted at all. If you wish to think badly of me, then I cannot stop you. But please don’t tell my sheep who may be reading this how they should not have taken any comfort in this sermon, or how it is devoid of the Gospel. This was a real sermon, preached to real people, not an exercise in a seminary classroom.

  5. Pastor Rydecki, as I stated at the beginning of this conversation, I’m not trying to twist or distort your sermon, I’m simply trying to communicate to you the impression that I (and apparently others) got when reading your sermon. If I’ve read something into your sermon that isn’t there, I apologize.

    Based on your last comment, though, I think I received from your sermon exactly what you meant to communicate. In your last comment, you seem to reject the statement “all are justified”. Is that correct? I think this is the point that we’ve been circling around since the beginning of this discussion.

    So that I don’t put words into your mouth or misread your sermon, could you please simply clarify if you agree or disagree with the statement: “all are justified”?

  6. @Aaron #15
    What I meant to communicate was the very simple message that Jesus Himself communicated in Luke 18. One man–the tax collector who despaired of himself and looked to God for mercy–went to his house justified. The other–the Pharisee who looked to his own works for righteousness rather than to the mercy of God–went home not justified. If I were to agree with the statement “all are justified,” then wouldn’t I have to say that Jesus was lying, since He said that the Pharisee did not go to his house justified?

    And why, again, did the Pharisee go home “not justified”? Was it because he was a worse sinner than the tax collector? No. Both were equally deserving of condemnation. Was it because Jesus didn’t make satisfaction for his sins by His death on the cross? No. Jesus certainly did that for both men. Was it because God didn’t actually want him to be saved? No. Scripture says that God wants all men to be saved. Was it because the Gospel of Jesus wasn’t intended for the Pharisee? No. “Preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” Was it because the tax collector chose to believe while the Pharisee chose not to? No. Faith is a gift of God that comes from hearing the message. The tax collector could not, by his own reason or strength, believe in Jesus or come to Him.

    So what was the difference between the two men? Faith was the difference–the very faith to which the Holy Spirit still calls men through the Gospel today and holds out in the Gospel Christ as the Reconciler and the Mediator between God and man, the very faith that lays hold of Christ and so is credited for righteousness. If you got that out of my sermon, then praise God! If not, then I hope it’s clear now.

    I think Luther’s summary of the Gospel is simple and clear and fully in line with Jesus’ words: “All men are sinners and are justified solely by faith in Christ.” (Luther’s Works:Vol. 26:p.59). That’s good news! Agreed?

  7. I’d like to offer a few more insights from Dr. Walther to add to my concern that the focus of the sermon was on faith. I would recommend people read Pastor Mark Preus’ sermon on the same text. In my opinion, Pastor Preus handles the text better.

    Here is Walther:

    Even if a person has never heard a single word about faith, once he hears the Gospel, he will rejoice, accept it, put his confidence in it, and draw comfort from the fact that he has the true, genuine faith—even though he may never have heard a word about faith. It is true indeed that genuine faith does change a person completely. It brings love into a person’s heart. Faith can be without love just as little as fire can be without heat. But the fact that faith contains love is not why faith justifies us and gives us what Christ has acquired for us and what is thus already ours and only needs to be received by us. These people do not teach what Scripture teaches in response to the question “What must I do to be saved?” Rather, the correct response to that question is: “You must believe, that is, you do not need to do anything yourself.” Because when the apostle answers the jailer’s question by saying, “You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is the same as saying, “You do not need to do anything. Just receive what God has already done for you. That is all. Now you are saved.”

  8. Rev. Paul Rydecki :
    I think Luther’s summary of the Gospel is simple and clear and fully in line with Jesus’ words: “All men are sinners and are justified solely by faith in Christ.” (Luther’s Works:Vol. 26:p.59). That’s good news! Agreed?

    Thanks Pastor Rydecki for the sermon and the clarification. I am not having a problem understanding your words or meaning, however I have seen over the past several years the tendency toward “over thinking words” and “reading meanings” into people’s motives. Then again not all of us know each other in this electronic forum.

    Having met you once in person and knowing your nature as a tender and caring soul for his flock and other Christians, I am grateful to count you as a friend. Continued blessings on your ministry.

  9. One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

    (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)

    _______________________________________________________________________

    ““Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. But whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

    Jesus pleaded with them, just as He now pleads with you. Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand that He may lift you up. Christ, with all His mercy and forgiveness, dwells not with the proud, but with the humble. Do not go to your house today like the Pharisee—confident in yourself and not justified. Instead, go to your house today like the tax collector, humble before God and man, and yet confident in the merit and the mercy of Christ, steadfast in the faith by which you, like the tax collector, have been justified. Amen.”

    _____________________________________________________________

    “Here is where Luther reveals his true greatness. He rarely appeals to his hearers to believe, but he preaches concerning the work of Christ, salvation by grace, and the riches of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ in such a manner that the hearers get the impression that all they have to do is to take what is being offered them and find a resting-place in the lap of divine grace.”

    _______________________________________________________________________

    “In our Gospel today, Jesus saw the true groups before Him—those who were confident in their own righteousness, and those who trusted in Jesus for mercy.”

    “And, in what God had done for them and was doing for them, they were the same. Jesus would soon get up on that cross and have the sins of both men pressed down on His shoulders. Jesus would make atonement for the sins of both men. He would be the propitiation—the One who satisfies the demands of God’s law for both men, and for all men. And God wanted both men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

    “This is why we say in the Apostles’ Creed, I believe in the forgiveness of sins. Luther’s catechism explains that phrase rightly, “In this Christian Church the Holy Spirit daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers in Christ.” Not just this one Christian Church called Emmanuel, of course. Wherever Christ is preached as the way, the truth and the life. Wherever the Sacraments are rightly administered. Here is where God forgives sins. Why do we say that God forgives sins “in this Christian Church”? As the old WELS catechism explained, “We say this because Christ has given the Gospel to His Church on earth; in the Gospel we have the forgiveness of sins.””

    “But outside of this Christian Church, where Christ is not preached as the propitiation-place, where there is no faith, there is no forgiveness of sins. Whoever does not look to the Son for mercy stands condemned already, not justified, according to the words of Jesus—like the Pharisee who held up his own righteousness to God instead of trusting in the righteousness of Jesus that was being held out to him.”

    ” If you come looking to Christ for mercy, you will find it. Here it is, Christ for you!”

    _____________________________________________________________________

    “Some of Walther’s best advice to preachers comes, in my opinion, in the context of his understanding of faith not as a work which man does, but as a work that the Holy Spirit does in man in response to the preaching of the Gospel. Walther states in thesis XIII, “In the ninth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when one makes an appeal to believe in a manner as if a person could make himself believe or at least help toward that end, instead of preaching faith into a person’s heart by laying the Gospel promises before him.””

    ————-faith not as a work which man does, but as a work that the Holy Spirit does in man in response to the preaching of the Gospel.—————-______________________________________________________________________

    The effects of faith or a lack of faith is what is talked about in the sermon. Nowhere in the sermon is the statement posited that you have to do “WORKS” to achieve faith. NOWHERE!

    The facts are “Faith is the difference between those who are justified and those who are not”

    FIN

    IXOYC

    http://www.confessionallutherans.org/papers/lawgospl.html

  10. [The Promise Realized Through Faith ]

    For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
    That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

    That is why his faith was

    “counted to him as righteousness.”

    But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

    (Romans 4:13-25 ESV)

  11. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #19
    “I’d like to offer a few more insights from Dr. Walther to add to my concern that the focus of the sermon was on faith.”

    Is it always wrong to preach a sermon on faith? Your objections to preaching on faith remind me of the objections others have to your campaign for more preaching on sanctification and good works.

  12. Pastor Rydecki,
    Who would or dare, to tell anyone of your sheep, or this long distance ewe, not to take comfort in this?
    I’m a real person, I’m a real sheep, and sometimes…sheep need to & should be reminded they are sheep & they need to be reminded what safe pasture & still waters look, feel, & are healthy for them. There is nothing more painful to an undershepherd, or sheep, than to see it done, let alone encouraged & allowed to wander into the thicket & briar where lions dwell.

    Again, many thanks from a most grateful, dust made sheep.

  13. @Aaron #27

    “God…promises to be merciful to all who look to Christ for mercy”

    Pr Rydecki, were you using this as a prescriptive or descriptive statement?

    To those who have criticized the sermon, would you find the sermon more acceptable if (A) the statement was intended to be desccriptive, and (B) material was added to clarify that it is is descriptive statement?

  14. Excellent sermon.

    It’s a shame that something this simple raised such a stir. It also seems extremely fishy to me that every post about objective justification doesn’t recieve the same withering cross-fire to repeatedly prove that the author isn’t espousing “ex opere operato.”

    Such discrepencies are noticeably absent from Luther’s writings and the Confessions.

  15. These are gravely serious matters we are talking about and there is nothing wrong in highlighting concerns, and frankly, making sure we are proclaiming an absolutely clear, free, unconditional and unqualified Gospel.

    Those who question, deny, or cloud the concept of objective justification are doing nothing less than making the Gospel unclear, at best, and at worst, denying the Gospel.

    Pr. Rydecki is NOT denying the Gospel, but I sincerely believe by making faith “the thing” when preaching on this text is doing a disservice both to the text and to the proclamation of the Gospel, for reasons previously indicated.

    We never want to give anyone even the remotest impression that they should put faith in their faith, or trust in their trust.

    Better to preach always about the objective reality on which faith rests: the objective absolution, forgiveness and justification of the whole world, as St. Paul teaches it consistently.

  16. Mark, perhaps you’re referring to this shameless misrepresentation of my sermon on another blog where the author writes,

    I ran across a sermon on Jesus famous story about the Pharisee and tax collector and sadly, though preached by a Lutheran pastor, it got the whole point of the story wrong. The preacher used the occasion to wax on about faith and how we must have genuine faith, real faith, living faith, repentant faith and that’s the difference between the two.

    Now that’s getting things garbled up. Kyrie eleison.

  17. @Mark Huntemann #28
    “Ex opere operato” is a Latin phrase meaning “from the work done”

    Usually the phrase refers to the false teaching that just “going through the motions” will save you, with or without faith in the grace of God through the merits of Christ. A classic example is borrowing a firetruck and hosing down the crowds along the streets to save them with baptism ex opere operato.

  18. From the original sermon above: “Is it possible to come to church and still not receive forgiveness? Yes, just like the Pharisee. If you come looking to offer God your good behavior in coming to church today, if you come looking to praise God for making you better than the rest, if you come just to socialize or be seen, then, even though you came to the right place today, you will not go home justified. If you come looking to Christ for mercy, you will find it. Here it is, Christ for you!”

    Sadly, I must admit that I have come to church to socialize, to offer God my good behavior, and at times for some inexplicable reason thinking I am better than others. I come to church with all kinds of wrong ideas and motives. According to the sermon, I will not go home justified (maybe it would be better if I did not go to church on days like that). According to this paragraph of the sermon, I must come seeking mercy in order to receive “Christ for me”.

    Gladly, what I have been taught is that Christ is still for me even when I come to church with all the wrong attitudes and motives, when my faith is very, very, very weak. So weak in fact that I doubt the church, I doubt my faith. Maybe I can simply lean on the promise that I don’t have to rely on “my” faith, and that God will somehow provide. I certainly hope so. Otherwise, it looks like I might need to wait until I am in the proper mood, and then quickly head off to church.

    Peace

  19. DA,

    You have drawn the wrong conclusion and are missing the point of preaching. Preaching is in the present tense. It is a call to repentance and faith. If you are struck by the law in a sermon for having come seeking, not God’s mercy, but something else, then the conclusion is not, “There’s no hope for me now.” The conclusion is, “Oh, I’m a sinner. I need God’s mercy. Where can I find it?”

    Answer: “If you come looking to Christ for mercy, you will find it. Here it is, Christ for you!”

  20. Indeed, DA. The sermon tells you that if you come like X, you will not go home justified. But if you come to do Y, you will be justified.

    Now, the pietist knows he’s come with the right disposition, so he loves the sermon. Ironically, he is the Pharisee. For you see, the modern-day Pharisee/pietist loves the measuring that the sermon sets forth. He knows that he meets the standard.

    For some others, the measuring creates uncertainty and doubt. They need the clear unconditional Gospel, not a conditional gospel that tells them that Christ is for them if they’ve come with the right disposition. That’s law.

    Thankfully, as agreed above, good Lutheran hymns and the Lord’s Supper supply the Gospel- the forgiveness of sins- when the sermon comes up short. Thanks be to God!

  21. The closing words of the sermon are, as Pr. Kirchner has capably pointed out, where the particularly troubling aspect of the message come:

    “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand that He may lift you up. Christ, with all His mercy and forgiveness, dwells not with the proud, but with the humble. Do not go to your house today like the Pharisee—confident in yourself and not justified. Instead, go to your house today like the tax collector, humble before God and man, and yet confident in the merit and the mercy of Christ, steadfast in the faith by which you, like the tax collector, have been justified. Amen.”

    The condition placed before the hearers is humility. One who is humble before God and man is the one justified. This is making the objective proclamation of Gospel conditioned on a human response, and one that can only be tested by emotion or introspection.

    This again brings us back to the point I have been making.

    The only comfort to give to people is not to urge them to examine their hearts, or minds, or attitudes, to see therein if they are humble, but to preach the objective reality of the good news of Christ, which is why, when this is done, there is no need to talk about faith. You are preaching it into their hearts.

    And here is where I again would ask about precisely what the object of faith is. Sins forgiven? Or a potential for forgiveness?

  22. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #38

    Similar to what Nagel taught us, from a site:

    “As Dr. Norman Nagel said on an Issues, Etc. program (I paraphrase):

    ‘Faith can never talk about itself. When you can say ‘Jesus’ in the place of the word ‘faith’ then you have faith right. Tell me your Jesus and I’ll tell you your faith. Doubt would be the direct result of taking our attention off Jesus to the ourselves. As long as we keep looking at ourselves we will end up with doubts. We must look away from ourselves and unto Jesus in order to have true faith.'”

    He must have said the same thing in a class my buddy took, i.e., “When you can say ‘Jesus’ in the place of the word ‘faith’ then you have faith right.” A fellow student took Nagel up on it and, for his protocol in the next class, as an exercise he took NT verses and substituted “Jesus” for “faith,” coming up with:

    “Your [Jesus] has made you well.”

    “Your [Jesus] has saved you; go in peace.”

    “O woman, great is your [Jesus]! Be it done for you as you desire.”

    I guess Dr. Nagel literally shook with pleasure! 🙂

  23. A Nagel acid test for determining pseudo-Gospel (law) from Gospel…ask, “Who’s driving the verbs?” I.e., who is the subject?

    [You] humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand that He may lift you up. Christ, with all His mercy and forgiveness, dwells not with the proud, but with the humble. [You] do not go to your house today like the Pharisee—confident in yourself and not justified. Instead, [you] go to your house today like the tax collector, humble before God and man, and yet confident in the merit and the mercy of Christ, steadfast in the faith by which you, like the tax collector, have been justified. Amen.”

    “You” is the subject. You are driving the verbs. There’s no Gospel in that sermon ending. It’s law.

  24. From one of the texts of the sermon, Luke 18:9: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt”.

    Seems to me that Jesus was not preaching Gospel to the tax collector in this text (the humble tax collector was not in His exclusive audience), but rather was preaching law to an entirely like-minded group of people. One of His goals was to shatter their world. The happy fate of that the hated tax collector (being justified) must have been especially harsh for the them to hear.

    It seems not to the original purpose of Jesus in telling the parable to use it as a prescriptive Gospel. As a result, indeed I have drawn the wrong conclusion and missed the point of the preaching, unfortunately.

    Peace

  25. @Rev. Paul Rydecki #12
    “But please don’t tell my sheep who may be reading this how they should not have taken any comfort in this sermon, or how it is devoid of the Gospel. This was a real sermon, preached to real people, not an exercise in a seminary classroom.”

    Your sermon preached the parable and so it convicted me of my self-righteousness and comforted me with the good news that Christ died for that sin, too. Thank you, Pastor!

  26. Pr. Don Kirchner :
    A Nagel acid test for determining pseudo-Gospel (law) from Gospel…ask, “Who’s driving the verbs?” I.e., who is the subject?
    [You] humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand that He may lift you up. Christ, with all His mercy and forgiveness, dwells not with the proud, but with the humble. [You] do not go to your house today like the Pharisee—confident in yourself and not justified. Instead, [you] go to your house today like the tax collector, humble before God and man, and yet confident in the merit and the mercy of Christ, steadfast in the faith by which you, like the tax collector, have been justified. Amen.”
    “You” is the subject. You are driving the verbs. There’s no Gospel in that sermon ending. It’s law.

    Well put, Don. Very well put.

  27. DA :
    From one of the texts of the sermon, Luke 18:9: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt”.
    Seems to me that Jesus was not preaching Gospel to the tax collector in this text (the humble tax collector was not in His exclusive audience), but rather was preaching law to an entirely like-minded group of people. One of His goals was to shatter their world. The happy fate of that the hated tax collector (being justified) must have been especially harsh for the them to hear.
    It seems not to the original purpose of Jesus in telling the parable to use it as a prescriptive Gospel. As a result, indeed I have drawn the wrong conclusion and missed the point of the preaching, unfortunately.
    Peace

    This is definitely the case. The parable is Law, being preached to those who “trusted in themselves.”

  28. My Brother in Christ will not be constructive so I will be constructive for him:

    In case you haven’t had your dose of humility for the day,
    here’s a note from Paul T. McCain

    Lutheran, Confessional, Angry?

    let’s consider how we Lutherans tend to handle ourselves when addressing problems and concerns.

    Do we come off negative, sarcastic, mean-spirited and angry? When we express concerns about problems facing the church, do we do so in a way that builds up, or tears down? Do we allow our frustrations to get the better of us and end up attacking persons, rather than sticking with issues?

    As I told a colleague the other day, I think somewhere along the line some of us were given the impression that you can only be a truly orthodox, confessional Lutheran if you are a jerk. But, the same holds true for everyone, no matter where they happen to fall on the “spectrum” of opinions: moderates, liberals, progressives, missionals, emergents: makes no difference. There is plenty of obnoxious behavior there to go around as well. Why is this?

    It’s a common condition we are all afflicted with. Perhaps you have heard of it before: SIN. And the old evil foe, and our old human flesh, get the best of us, daily.

    I can only but say a loud “Mea culpa!” as I examine myself in light of these concerns. We must all, with the Apostle St. Paul, say, without hesitation: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
    Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25).

    Perhaps the challenge is that we forget that what we are for must always take priority before we launch into what we are against.

    We tend to forget that the Reformation was not just about being against something, but it was even more about being for something. That “something” is the Gospel, purely taught, confessed and delivered through the precious means of grace.

    We do well to take note of the way our Lutheran fathers addressed themselves to concerns and issues. Pay attention particularly to the way the Epitome of the Formula of Concord does this. Note that they set forth what they are for, then turn to what they must therefore stand against. It’s a lesson we do well to learn and apply today, to whatever concerns face us as Lutherans.

    Here is what the great American Lutheran theologian, Charles Porterfield Krauth once said:

    It is vastly more important, then, to know what the Reformation retained than what it overthrew; for the overthrow of error, though often an indispensable prerequisite to the establishment of the truth, is not truth itself; it may clear the foundation, simply to substitute one error for another, perhaps a greater for a less. [The Conservative Reformation and its Theology (reprinted St. Louis: CPH, 2007), 202.]

    What did we retain? Oh, the good, sweet, old Gospel, that good news that Christ is the friend of jerks, like you and me, jerks who sin daily and are in need of much forgivness. Jerks, like us, who let their friends and family and their Lord down. People like you and me who need a strong pair of hands that were nailed to a rough piece of wood to make it possible for us to be with our Father in heaven forever. Now there’s something to be for!

    http://gnesiolutheran.com/lutheran-confessional-angry/

    Well said! Brother In Christ

    IXOYC

  29. Back to the point:

    Luther joyfully pointed people to the accomplished fact of the world’s forgiveness. It is that universal forgiveness that is proclaimed and it is that forgiveness that preaches faith into the heart. A sermon that would have the listener finally examine himself for faith and humility is a distraction from the very good news of the Gospel itself.

    “And I will remove the guilt of this land. On the day of His suffering He bore all our sins, as Isaiah writes (cf. Is. 53:4): “He Himself carried our sins.” You see, through and in the crucified Christ, God took away the sin of the whole world.” Luther, Minor Prophets III, Vol. 20; AE.

  30. Two issues vital in this dispute are:

    1.) the pure passivity of faith

    2.) the true object of faith

    Clearly, UOJ supports the pure passivity of faith. Can the adversaries of UOJ show how their position supports the pure passivity of faith.

    Clearly, UOJ supports Christ and his work, his Word, Sacraments, and pastorally pronounced absolution as the true objects of faith. This is so because those four are objects in the simplest sense that they are outside ourselves and therefore they can be objects of faith. But anything inside ourselves is a subject, not an object, and therefore cannot be an object of faith. Can the adversaries of UOJ show how their position avoids diverting the line of sight of “faith” from objects to subjects, or more bluntly, from Christ to ourselves?

  31. Dear BJS readers:
    I have moderated most of the comments away from this posting. I left the comments dealing with the sermon substance and preaching. When the conversation turned to speaking past one another, attacks on persons, and unsubstantiated claims, I and Editor Tim Rossow decided to do some editing. If you want to know the teachings on Justification, read Andrew Preus’ article. Several commenters have been put on moderated status and I am closing down commenting on this post. In the future, I plan on introducing a more moderated venue for discussion of certain points of this centered on specific definitions of words (since folks here started to make it up as they went on, claiming silly things like universalism). One of these times maybe there might be civil and fruitful discussion on this important topic. Until then, go and read the Confessions on it (see the AC IV, Apology IV specifically).