Standing on the Sacraments
Many of you are thankful God has rescued you from the Protestant error that the Sacraments depend on your faith, get their power from your faith, are only as good as your faith. You(re no longer standing on what is going on in you but on what God does in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. However, in the midst of being thankful, you(re in danger of running headlong into a Catholic error about the Sacrament. (Faith doesn(t matter as long as you use the Sacraments.(
It(s true; Baptism, Absolution, and Communion are valid, powerful apart from faith. God(s Word in the Sacraments forgives sins, gives new life, and defeats the devil even if the whole world doesn(t believe they do. However, the Sacraments are not efficacious, they aren(t effective in you without faith. If you think they are, then you haven(t paid attention to the Catechism. We say Baptism ( works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.( We say that we are not to doubt but firmly believe that by Absolution our sins are forgiven. We say, (Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training [for Communion]. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words:(Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.((
There are always 2 ditches on either side of 1 truth. On the Protestant side you have the ditch of believing your faith makes a Sacrament valid, real and powerful. On the other side, you have the Catholic ditch of believing the Sacraments are effective even if an absolute unbeliever uses them; therefore they are effective even if someone is living in mortal sin. Our Lutheran Confessions repeatedly and forcefully deny both errors. The text before us supports the teaching that the Sacraments are not effective without faith, or to someone living in mortal sin. We clearly see here that you can be Baptized, you can eat and drink of Christ and still be damned. Standing the wrong way on the Sacraments will lead you straight to hell.
Do you hear what St. Paul says? Do you hear the word (all( repeated like the tolling of a bell? All were under the cloud; all passed through the Red Sea; all were baptized into Moses; all ate and drank from Christ. (All, all, all, all participated in the Old Testament acts of salvation, yet were all saved? Far from it. (God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.( Paul makes a gross understatement. Only 2 of the generation of men that came out of Egypt, Joshua and Caleb, were not scattered over the desert. Yet, all were baptized into Moses; all ate and drank from Christ.
(Now these things occurred as examples, to keep us( from doing what they did. Did you catch that? Paul abruptly switches from talking about the Old Testament Church in the desert to the New Testament Church and do note that he includes himself. Paul, the great apostle, the writer of over half the New Testament, the one shown Paradise, says he needs to be warned about the danger of thinking you(re standing on the works of God when you(re really falling away into sin. If he needed a warning, don(t you think you do?
Paul says we are being warned against 5 specific sins: greed, idolatry, sexual immorality, testing the Lord, and grumbling. They were greedy for meat; they made an idol out of a golden calf; they engaged in sexual immorality; they tempted the Lord by speaking against Moses; they grumbled against Moses and Aaron. In every one of these cases they were not protected from judgment by the fact that they were baptized into Moses; or they ate and drank Christ. No, God(s judgment fell in every case, but Paul only lists 3. 23,000 died for sexual sins. Many were killed by poisonous snakes for testing the Lord. 14,700 were killed by a destroying angel for grumbling against Moses and Aaron.
After giving these sobering examples, Paul repeats himself, (These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.( But you don(t think so, do you? You think you can defend, excuse and justify greed in your heart because after all you(ve been baptized. You think you can fear, love, or trust something more than God (which makes whatever you(re fearing, loving or trusting in your god, your idol) and God won(t judge you because after all you stand on the Sacraments. You think you can have your pornography, your lust, your sexual immorality and eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ without it harming you. You think you are free to test God and grumble against His ministers because after all you(ve been Baptized and eat and drink the same Communion they do.
Think again; if God doesn(t judge you for such sins, He will have to apologize to those He slaughtered in the wilderness. No, Sacrament, be it in the OT Church or the New, protects against the sin of unbelief. So if you think you can keep greed, idolatry, sexual immorality, testing the Lord, or grumbling against His ministry as a pet in your home and heart, then start looking for poisonous snakes to crawl into your house and a destroying angel to swoop down on it.
Don(t take the glorious truth that the Sacraments do not depend on your faith and pervert it, deform it, into the lie that the Sacraments can excuse greed, justify your idolatry, make up for your sexual sins, or cause God to turn a deaf ear to testing Him or grumbling against Him. God slaughtered thousands of people in the desert to show you: how wrong you are, how big of an error that is, how foolish of a teaching it is. Did they die in vain?
You cannot excuse, justify, make up for, or cover up: greed, idolatry, sexual immorality, testing the Lord or grumbling against Him by 10,000 Baptisms, by a million Absolutions, by a billion Communions. You can only be forgiven for such sins by them.
Disgusted by your greed? Repulsed by how you make a god out of this problem by fearing it, out of this thing of man by trusting in it, out of this person by loving her/him? Do you see your sexual sins for all the shame, all the guilt, all the filthiness they really are? Do you see how wrong you have been for testing the Lord or grumbling against Him? Do you see that at anytime now God could send a plague, a snake, a destroying angel to strike you down? Then turn and look at the cross. There you see the punishment, the judgment, the shame, the grief, the pain, the woe that you deserve, but Jesus gets. Doubt not that your sins of years ago or yesterday are really there, for Scripture says that Christ is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
There on Calvary(s cross your sins were paid for, and by the empty tomb of Easter God the Father declared your account paid in full and therefore closed. But where is this forgiveness Jesus won on Friday and the Father announced on Sunday available to you? Don(t travel to Israel to find it because it(s not there. You would not get the forgiveness of your sins by standing at the very place Christ died or by laying in the empty tomb. No, on the night before He was betrayed Christ placed His Body, Blood, and forgiveness in a meal we call Communion. On the night He rose from the dead, He put His forgiveness in the mouths of men. Before He ascended into heaven, He placed His forgiveness in the waters of Baptism.
When you are convicted of your sin, when you want to be forgiven and freed from them, dive back into your Baptism, listen again to the Absolution, eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. Baptism can clean a conscience stained by the grossest of sins. Absolution is able to take off your back the heaviest of sins. And what sin, what guilt, what shame could be any match for the very Body and very Blood of Christ in Communion? If demons fled from Him, if demons begged Him not to torment them, if a whole legion of demons was no match for Jesus, what sin of yours, what demon of yours can stand before His Body and Blood?
You are to use the Sacraments in your war against sin, death and the devil. You are not to use the Sacraments to make peace with them, to enable you to live with them, to make your flesh feel that it can be saved in your sins. The Sacraments are weapons. Weapons are for fighting not for making peace. But do note, the Sacraments are not your weapons but God(s. See how in the text Paul points us away from our weaknesses and to God(s strength? (If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don(t fall! God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.(
When you use your Lenten devotions this week, you will be praying the Collect for Lent III where you claim to have no strength to stand on your own. (We of ourselves have no strength,( we say, and so we go on to pray to be kept (both outwardly and inwardly( that we may be defended in body and soul by Christ. How does Christ do this? By your Baptism where He puts to death the flesh and gives life to the spirit. By Absolution where He releases you from burdens you cannot bear up under. By Communion where He strengthen and preserves faith by giving you not just forgiveness but life and salvation.
The Sacraments are to be stood on because God is faithful, and because they provide a way of escape: by drowning the sinful flesh, by telling you how God really feels toward you, by body-and-bloodying you to Christ who is greater than sin, greater than death, greater than the devil. We have fallen; we do fall; we will fall to these, but Christ stands firm. No matter how many times we fall, Christ invites us to stand on Him by standing where He meets us in Baptism, in Absolution, in Communion. In these He joins us in our battle against sin, death, and the devil himself assuring us of victory in every drop of Water, in every Word of forgiveness, in every drop of Blood. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Lent (3-14-04), I Corinthians 10: 1-13