Today's sermon was a bit of a history lesson, but with an important spiritual message. My pastor, in a series about the Reformation (1500's), shared some information about Martin Luther. I had studied Martin Luther in Western Civilization, in what I thought was pretty good detail, but more of his personal story of faith was shared today. He was a devout Catholic who struggled to make peace with God. He lived in constant fear that he would die without first confessing his sins, then be condemned to hell for eternity. In addition, the belief that one could not enter Heaven without sufficient good works, was making him crazy. He was doing everything he knew to do--praying, saying hail Mary's, living in poverty, abusing his body to make it submit--but he still felt that he would never be righteous enough to enter the kingdom of God. Hearing this, reminded me of my own misunderstandings as a young Christian.
Many of us recall the feeling we had when we decided to give our lives to Jesus. I, personally, don't recall any special feeling, except that everyone was congratulating me afterwards. It was called "joining the church," and my mom kept after me to do it. I was about 9 years-old (about 1985) and the pastor of my home church said, "is there anyone? Is there anyone today?" I stepped out of out from my seat and the sound of applause began to ring. I walked up to the front and he asked me if I believed that Jesus was the Son of God, who died to save me from my sins; and he asked if I believed that God had forgiven me for my sins that day? I answered yes to both questions. A few weeks later I was baptized and this began my own quest to be "good enough" that God would let me into Heaven when I died. Each week, at the end of service, "with every head bowed, and every eye closed," I asked for salvation. I didn't raise my hand because sin was dirty and ugly and I was ashamed of it--if God truly knew my heart then He would know without me raising my hand. At some point during the week, I had surely committed some form of sin, I either cussed or disobeyed my parents, or if I didn't, which I probably had, surely I had sinned in my heart. I was doomed. What would happen if I died on a Wednesday and hadn't confessed my sins since Sunday. Sure, I could pray on my own, but I doubted that God was really hearing my measly, little prayers, I wasn't a minister, just a sinner.
As I said, I don't recall any particular feeling when I "joined the church," but I do recall the feeling in about 2003, when a visiting minister preached about how life brings new situations, emotions, and outcomes, but he said, one outcome is for certain. He was preaching from the tenth chapter of John. John 10:28 states in Jesus's actual words, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand." Once we believe in HIm, we are with HIm forever, sure we will sin, but our destiny is certain. If you ever have confessed your sins to the Father, and if you ever decide to believe in your heart that Jesus is the Son of God sent to Earth to live as a man and die on the cross for the everlasting salvation of man, then your outcome is for certain. Your outcome is that you will spend eternity in Heaven.
So, I don't have to confess my sins every Sunday? I don't have to get saved every week? Once I have decided to believe in God, that's it? When I ask forgiveness, it doesn't mean that I will never sin again, and if I do, I have to get saved again? What? How did I miss that part? So, during altar call, I don't have to pray the prayer and cower away from raising my hand--I'm good? Wow! This was a liberating day! This day left a distinct memory for me. Basically, until that time, I would have thought that if I didn't die on a Sunday by 2:00pm, surely I would have sinned and been doomed for eternity. And the whole thing about sharing the Good News, I couldn't do that because I was a sinner. What I understand now is that the Good News is for everyone and that it lasts forever.
Romans 6:23 states, All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Since the first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, man has fallen short of the glory of God. This verse says ALL, there is no exception buy Jesus Christ. He, actually God in human form, was without sin, but He took on the sins of man so that man could have the glory of God.
Romans 1:16-17 states "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" These verses tell us that God gives salvation to everyone who believes. It doesn't say that salvation is only brought to those who do not sin, nor to those who confess their sin just prior to their demise, but to everyone who believes. In verse 17, it tells of the righteousness of God--not the righteousness of man! Man must live by faith. Man must live through his belief in God.
Ephesians 2:8-9 states, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. Salvation is a gift. It is not something we must earn because no number of good works would ever be able to earn it. Having this knowledge and understanding is what gives me peace--a peace that I did not have for the first nearly 20 years of my salvation. This understanding was lacking for Martin Luther as he sought to please God that he might be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. This truly is Good News!
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