The Will of God
We begin the long season of Pentecost. The paraments are green, the bright green of spring, which denotes growing things. In this half of the Church Year we focus on growing in the Christ we've followed in the first half. Today we face the question, "What is the will of God for my life?" This question can burn a hole in the heart and soul especially if you think God keeps it a secret from you. O yes, God has a plan for your life; you just have to search till you find it. Baloney! The will of God, what God wants you to do and not do, is there plain as day in Scripture.
Typically people get all aflutter about things like what school their kids should go to, what job to take, what house to buy, or what person to marry. People get all worked up because they think there can be one and only one answer according to the will of God. Well, think about that for a moment. There are literally dozens and in some cases hundreds of godly possibilities when it comes to schools, jobs, houses, and spouses. If there is only one of each out there for you and if you miss that one you're outside the will of God, how can you not despair? How will you know that this person, this job, this school is the one only one God could will for you? You won't; you can't. People who think they can or have find all sorts of subjective reasons why this must be the one and only will of God for them, but how could they really know unless God let down a sign saying: "This is the one.".
You don't have to live this way. God clear as day tells you specifically what He wills for you in Holy Scripture. For example, in our text He says that His will is for you to, "Watch out for false prophets." There's the will of God for your life. Don't go following after people who teach the Word falsely. Clear and simple, isn't it? God doesn't want you to follow people who teach the Word of God incorrectly. And don't go saying, "But it's too hard; it's too confusing." That's not what Jesus says. He says, "By their fruit you will recognize them."
What does God will for your life? Simple. Be on guard against false teachers; stop thinking that everyone who comes to you in Jesus' name must be okay with Jesus. Stop watching TV preachers that point you away from the power of Baptism, Communion, and Absolution and point you instead to the power of believing. Stop listening to self-help gurus who promote trust and confidence in yourself rather than in God. Stop saying, "I can't know what prophets are true and which are false." Jesus says you CAN know and that it is His will for you to know.
Moreover, God's will is that you build your life on His Word rather than on medical, philosophical, or psychological principles. Stop building it on the latest trend in Time, Newsweek, or the Austin American Statesman. Stop building your life according to the morals and values your find in the movies or on your TV. God wills for you to build your life on His Word. But the whole Bible is so big. Okay, so start with the Sermon on the Mount.
Chapters 5 through 7 of Matthew record in crystal clear language what God wills for you and me. He wills that we let our light so shine before men that they may glorify the Father in heaven. He wills that we rejoice and be glad in suffering and persecution. He wills that before we come to the altar we be reconciled with anyone we have a grudge with. He wills that we turn the other cheek, give to him who asks of us, and not turn away from the person who would borrow from us. He wills that we pray the Lord's Prayer, not lay up for ourselves treasure on earth, and not worry. He wills that we not cast holy things before pigs, treat others as we wish to be treated, and He wills that we enter by the narrow gate.
This is the will of God for you as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount. If this is still too much to remember, then go to the 10 Commandments. There God's will is recorded for you in 10 easily memorized commandments. These are what God wills for your life. God wills that you have no other gods, not misuse His name, remember His Sabbath, honor your parents, not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not lie, and not covet. These are commandments not suggestions. They are what God wills for Christians to be doing day in and day out.
What is the will of God for you? The Sermon on the Mount expresses it and so do the 10 Commandments, but there is more. God also wills that no works of yours will save you. The middle paragraph of our text takes us to Judgement Day, and the scene depicted reminds me of a joke. A guy says to his friend, "My greatest fear is that I will be standing behind Mother Theresa and I'll hear the Lord say, us behind some "super saints" before the throne of God on Judgment Day?
Here they are with all their works, and what do you have? You were commanded to hear God's Word, and you haven't always done that. They not only heard it, they preached it! You were commanded to resist the devil, but you haven't always done that either. They not only resisted the devil, they drove demons out! You were commanded to do the ordinary will of God as expressed in the Sermon of the Mount and the 10 Commandments, but you failed there too. These "super saints" have not only succeeded they have done miracles! You'll be standing in line faced with all you haven't done, while hearing them say, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in your name drive out demons, and perform many miracles?"
These super saints not only did the ordinary will of God, they did the extraordinary, and the Lord doesn't deny it. Jesus doesn't say they didn't preach in His name, or drive out demons or do miracles. However, doing the will of God even in an extraordinary way failed to save them. In fact, far from all they did making them doers of His will Jesus says they're "evildoers." They had thought they were building on a foundation of rock by doing all that Jesus wanted them to do, but when judgement came, they found they had really built on shifting sand.
What then? Are we to seek not to do the will of God? Of course not. God is serious about His will, about us doing what He commands. But it's not God's will that anyone be saved by doing them. The Epistle makes this very clear. God has made known a righteousness apart, separate from the doing of His will. This righteousness is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus did the will of God perfectly and always, but He went to the cross bearing our sins. We've all sinned and fell short of the glory of God. Jesus did not fall short of the glory of God, yet Jesus fell all the way to hell to pay for our shortcomings.
The righteousness, the holiness, the forgiveness that Christ worked and won by doing the will of God is now available to any and all, apart from the Law, through faith. God wills to save no one by their works. I don't care what you do, how sincerely you do it, how long you do it. I don't care how perfectly what you do agrees with the will of God, it is not perfect enough. It cannot save you. So no matter if you've have done everything the people in the text did, no matter if you've done all that Mother Theresa did, no matter if you've never committed a sexual sin, a lying sin, a worry sin, or a gossip sin, you still can't be saved by what you've done.
God wills to save people only by His works. Yes, God wills for the people He saves to do all sorts of things, yet He only wills to save them by what He does not by what they do. So before you even start thinking about doing what God wills in the Sermon on the Mount or the 10 Commandments first see that God wills to save you through His works. This is exactly what Jesus says in John 6. When the crowd asks, "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answers, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life, and I myself will raise him on the Last Day."
God wills to save you not by what you have done or will do but by what Jesus did. When you talk about doing what God wills or doing good works, you are not talking about what saves you. Those in Christ, those trusting in Him for their salvation, don't claim their works or doing of God's will has any merit at all before God. On the Last Day it is the evildoers, those not known by Christ who quickly run to their works in order to gain access to the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 25 Jesus says that His sheep, on the contrary, claim to have no knowledge of ever having done anything good or according to God's will.
Do you see? This realization you have of never measuring up, of not having done God's will sufficiently, of others being much better than you are, is the one you're suppose to have. It's a godly realization. The only thing lacking is the corresponding realization that while you've done nothing good enough, Jesus did all things good enough to save you. God wants you to boldly come before Him in Jesus' name. God wants you to be confident that while your righteousness is nothing but dirty filthy rags, Jesus' blood and righteousness is more than enough to cover your sins.
This text comes at this same truth from another way. When the "super saints" put before the Lord all of their extraordinary works, they are not lying. But they are still not let into heaven. No, they still can't go to heaven because Jesus never knew them. What saves is being known by Christ. Paul makes this point to the Galatians saying, "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God." Being known by God is what counts for salvation. Just as there may be neighborhood kids who act like your home is theirs but that doesn't make it true, so acting like you belong in heaven doesn't get you in. No, just as only the kids you know as yours get into your home, so only the ones God knows get into heaven.
The crucial thing is to be known by God. Whom does God will to know? Only those in Christ. No one comes into the Father's house but through Him. So, how do you know if you're in Christ? Paul says, "As many of you who have been baptized, you have put on Christ." Jesus says whosoever has their sins sent away by Absolution has them sent away before Him in heaven too. Paul says whoever eats the Bread of Communion shares in the Body of Christ and whoever drinks the cup shares in His Blood. God wills for you to be baptized into Christ, to be forgiven by Christ in Absolution, and to be bodied and blooded to Him in Communion. God knows that you belong to His House in these 3 things.
God does have a plan for your life. It is to save you for all eternity through the merits of Jesus Christ which He gives to you in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. And He wills that you follow His Word, not in order to get into His house but because you are already in there for Jesus' sake. Safe in this house not rain, not wind, not water, not even death can bring you down, and neither will being unsure what to do in a particular situation. From the safety of your Father's House the uncertainties of life are not near as scary. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost II (6-2-02), Matthew 7:15-29