GET A GOOD GRIP ON THE TRUTH!
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."
In Christ Jesus, Who said, "If you continue in My Word, then you are My disciples indeed," Dear Fellow Redeemed,
In the year 1507, a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther was...well, I guess you'd have to say he was losing his grip! He was convinced that God hated him. He imagined Jesus Christ was a fierce Judge, just waiting for a chance to condemn him to hell for his sins. So Brother Martin tried to make up for those sins. He prayed for hours. He fasted, going for days on end without so much as a morsel of food. He slept on the cold stone floor of his monastery cell without a blanket. He whipped himself until the blood ran, hoping that, somehow, he could pay for his sins and please God. But nothing worked - he found no assurance of eternal life in these things. He just felt more and more desperate, more and more guilty.
Then one day he was reading the Bible, and his eye happened to fall on the seventeenth verse of the first chapter of Romans. There he read the simple words, "The just shall live by faith." Luther said, "It was if the gates of heaven swung open to receive me!" Suddenly he realized that no one can earn God's favor by doing good works; eternal life can only come through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Lutheran Reformation happened because one godly man got a grip on God's truth. He held on tight, and wouldn't let go for anything. Today, on Reformation Day, we remember the man and the movement. And today, the writer to the Hebrews urges us to do the same thing Martin Luther did. In the words of our theme, the Holy Spirit is issuing us...
"A Reformation Challenge: GET A GOOD GRIP ON THE TRUTH!"
I. Don't loosen up II. Get strength from God's promise III. Give strength to each other
If you ask me, there's a lot to be said for a good, firm handshake. When someone grips you firmly by the hand, it gives a good feeling of strength and confidence. Well, that's the kind of grip God wants us to have on the truth He gives us in the Bible. He wants each of us Christians - from the pastor, to the church council, to the housewives, to the smallest child in Sunday School - to hold on tightly to what the Bible teaches.
Does anybody disagree with that? Of course not - it's as clear as day! We confess our faith in what God's Word teaches, and we hold on tight to that confession, come what may. But it's not as easy as it sounds. Notice that Paul's admonition contains a note of warning: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering..." He's saying, "Once you've got a firm grip on the truth, DON'T LOOSEN UP!
That's the difficult part. If you hold on tight to your religious confession, and refuse to loosen up even a little, you're not going to be a very popular person. Martin Luther found that out. After he broke with the Roman Catholic Church, various people tried to get him to compromise his stand on a few of the so-called "minor articles" of doctrine, for the sake of joining forces with other Christians. But when it came to God's truth, Luther flatly refused to loosen up. "One article of faith is all articles and all articles are one," he said, "and if one article is lost, gradually all will be lost."
...And if you don't believe that, look at some of the larger church bodies that go by the name "Lutheran" in our country. The huge ELCA, for example: in their seminaries, the professors aren't even allowed to teach that the Bible is without error. Some of their pastors deny that Jesus ever performed a miracle; a few even say that Jesus never rose from the dead! How did things get so bad in the ELCA? Satan didn't take all their doctrines away at once. He took them gradually. He loosened their grip on God's Word slowly, one doctrine at a time, starting with the seemingly "minor" doctrines; and eventually, the most precious gems of the Gospel had slipped through their fingers. Remember the nature of false teaching - the Apostle Paul says it's like yeast: a little is enough. "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." -- Gal 5:9 NIV.
Could that ever happen to our church body? Well, that's really up to you - you're the members, after all! It's for you to say whether this church body holds on tight to the teachings of the Bible, or slowly loosens its grip by allowing the yeast of false doctrine to get in.
How can we meet the challenge? How can we strengthen our grip on the truth? Our text tells us. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." Remember the central promise of Scripture, and remember the faithfulness of the One who makes it. Get strength from God's promise!
A Lutheran pastor named Roger Kovacini once wrote a good essay entitled, "The Ten Commandments of Bible Interpretation." One of his commandments was, "Thou Shalt Not Major In Minors." We shouldn't forsake any of the teachings of Scripture, he said. However, all those teachings should be placed in their proper perspective, so that we don't lose sight of the major truth of the Bible. Nearly all the "mainstream" denominations break this commandment. Roman Catholics emphasize the sacraments and good works. The Methodists preach sanctification (the Christian life) week after week. The Pentecostal churches concentrate on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some churches, like the Presbyterian and Episcopal, emphasize one or another form of church government. They're all "majoring in minors," because those issues aren't the central message of the Bible.
What is? Which is the single most important subject that every book of the Bible deals with? Where alone can we get the strength to "hold fast to our confession?" The promise of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. That's the precious treasure of this Lutheran church. In the words of one of our old Lutheran hymns, "Christ is our Cornerstone; on Him alone we build!" When we come before the Lord here in church, or in our prayers at home, we come knowing full well that we are sinful human beings. We acknowledge that we've fallen far short of what God's Law demands. But we also come knowing that God will forgive us, for Christ's sake. His blood and righteousness covers us. We love to hear the story of the cross over and over again, because we know that's where the promise of our eternal salvation lies.
That's the promise that strengthens us: the promise of the cross. It's an ironclad contract we have with God that He will never hold our sins against us. He can't, because those sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus on Good Friday. When He gasped, "It is finished!" - at that moment His work of paying for our sins was completed.
Do you ever find your faith weakening? Does your conscience ever bother you and make you wonder whether or not you'll really be saved? At times like that I wish you'd ask yourself one question: "Are my sins so great that not even the death of God's Son can atone for them?" Ridiculous! Your sins are paid for and gone! Your place in heaven is guaranteed! It's as delightfully simple as the words of John in his first epistle: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
That's the heart of the Gospel - salvation by faith in Christ alone. That was the basis of the Reformation five hundred years ago, an that's what still makes our pure, Lutheran confession worth holding on to. We have been brought to know the love of Jesus...can we then turn around and take His Word lightly? Can we pick and choose which of His teachings we will hold on to and which will go by the wayside? No. Jesus Himself tells us, "If you continue in My Word, then you are My disciples indeed." -- Jn 8:31. "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe ALL THINGS THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU." -- Mt 28:19-20. We will not loosen our grip. We will continue to find strength in the Word and promises of God!
But our text tells us of another way that our congregation can strengthen its grip on the truth. Our text says, "Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." Not only does God impart strength to us through His Word, He also enables us as Christians to give strength to each other.
I saw a movie once where a college professor had been poisoned. One person, a young student of his, held the key to finding out what the poison was and saving his life. He needed to make sure the student didn't get away from him, so he spread super glue on his hand and stuck it on the student's arm. And that was that - they were going to stay together for better or for worse! As Christians, all of us in this congregation are tightly attached to one another. And the "glue" that connects us is the faith that we all share. Together, we have a grip on the truth, and our challenge this Reformation Sunday is to help make our mutual grip tighter and stronger and more unbreakable than ever. How can we do that?
For one thing, we can "consider one another." That means thinking about these people around you. Is there someone here in our congregation who needs help? Offer your help. Someone who could use an encouraging word from a fellow Christian? Stop in for a visit and remind them of God's promises. Someone who's in financial straits? Look into your heart and your checkbook; maybe you can assist them with some of the bounty that the Lord has given you. That's the way to "stir up love and good works!"
Our worship here on Sundays is an especially important way to strengthen each other's grip on the truth. The writer to the Hebrews says, "Don't forsake the assembling of yourselves together." We all know that attendance at Sunday worship is means to strengthen our own faith, but we often forget how much our presence does to strengthen the faith of our fellow members. You know what it's like to worship here when this church is full of people. It's great! It's so encouraging to stand side-by-side with our fellow Christians, to confess our faith together, to listen to God's Word together, to encourage each other in the Gospel! Do you want to add some glue to this bond of fellowship? -Then don't deprive us of the encouragement of your presence! Put first things first. Let Sunday mornings find you here, in God's house, joining in the praises of your Savior.
"And so much the more," the writer says, "as you see the Day approaching." Judgement Day could come at any time. If it comes on a Sunday morning, well...I'll be here. Let's all be here, drinking in the water of life...and strengthening our grip on the truth! AMEN.
ONE THING IS NEEDFUL
Lutheran Sermons for the Church Year by Pastor Paul Naumann