TO READ IN BOOK FORMAT, OR TO PRINT THIS ARTICLE: The Salvation by Promise
A Book of Theology for the Layman
The Rivertown Press Saint Paul
”Righteousness is of faith, in order to be according to grace, for the promise to be certain” (Romans 4:16).
1. By promise.
2. For assurance.
3. By contract.
4. Through faith.
5. For comfort.
6. For confidence.
7. By the saving acts of Christ.
8. A Funeral Sermon
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Luke 1:68, 70, & 72: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people… as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, who have been since the world began… to perform the mercy promised to our fathers.”
There is a little word in the Bible. It is a quiet word. That is, it easily could be passed by; it often may go unnoticed. In fact, it is hardly used at all in the Old Testament in the English translations.
Just the same, in the New Testament between all of the thrilling thundering announcements of the terrific acts of God on earth – in suffering hell for you, and in leading your holy life, smashing down all your spiritual foes in one spectacular victory – there it is. The Holy Spirit inserts it again and again. As the foundation of a magnificent house lays there quietly in plain sight doing its crucial task of keeping the whole structure from crashing down, yet without much notice, while all of the fanfare seems to go to the pomp of the soaring turrets, or to the sweep of the grand arches, so also this important and crucial word, sitting right there in plain sight, would seem to be passed by without much notice.
What is this word? Why does the God of the glorious gospel bring it up in such crucial places in the New Testament? because it is so important.
That word is this: “promise.”
See from the following why your loving Lord has given it so much importance! See how great and glorious it truly is! Look at the pledge of God, and –
As you would study the first sermons of the apostles in the book of Acts; as you would wade through the river of reassurances in the Epistles of Paul, you could and should be struck by one word that has been brought up repeatedly in the New Testament. That word is this: “promise.”
The promise of God: what a blessing! How imperative it is for you to stop and to focus intently on it!
So lift it up high! Raise it up to the light of the Bible! Behold all of its glories like a diamond, for they will shine down upon you, and lighten your face with the brilliancy of your gracious God and Savior, who will pour down his loving mercy upon you!
Realize that it was the high purpose of the Lord to shower benefit upon benefit on you through the means of his pledge! This is why in the New Testament age the apostles are directed by the Spirit to lift up the promises of God for your concerted gaze. Behold what wonderful things God has in store for you through his pledge!
To be sure, “the true treasure of the church is the holy gospel of the glory and grace of God,” declares Luther in thesis 62 of his 95 Theses. Understand that this is at what you need to look! Do so!
Do so now; for the Bible gives you the shocking news that you are in a wretched and hopeless condition as a lawbreaker; that though you may fool yourself into believing that you have complied with the Ten Commandments, you are really a child of his anger (Ephesians 2:3), ready to be struck down and punished by the furious Almighty for the evil in your heart; for “there is none who has done good; no, not one” (Psalm 53:3)! “The soul that sins must die” (Ezekiel 18:3). Face this terrifying truth! Do not deny it!
Then be sorry for your sins! Admit your guilt! Confess your many wrongs!
After that, realize that you need to be rescued!
Stop and think about that for a moment!
First of all, understand that a rescue from your sins could not be something physical, such as some kind of a protective shield that you could place between you and the anger of God, or a fortress to which you could flee to protect yourself from God’s eternal punishment! These will never work. Neither could you ever run away physically from God’s presence like an escaped convict from prison, or hide from him in some lone spot. God is everywhere. You could not escape him. In fact, “death is God’s arrest.”
A rescue from your sins would have to be of an entirely different nature. It would have to be the same as when the governor of a state would pardon a guilty convicted prisoner. By his rightful authority the governor, indeed, could issue a full pardon to the guilty, condemned, and sentenced prisoner. That is to say, he could issue an authoritative and binding pledge that the person serving a sentence may now go free.
To be sure, this is the manner in which God has rescued you from your sins, namely, from their guilt, condemnation, and sentence of punishment. He has pardoned you. At the heart of his pardon is a promise that it is so. Nevertheless, certain conditions had to be met before the Almighty could pardon the whole human race. But these conditions were met fully and decisively by Christ’s saving acts.
So how could you possess this pardon by God so that it would concern you, cover you, and benefit you? Ask yourself: How would a pardoned convict realize the benefit of his pardon? Think about it! The answer is: he will realize it simply by believing it. That would be the only way. On the other hand, how would he miss out on it? by dismissing it, by rejecting it, and by not believing it.
In fact, the United States Supreme Court itself has handed down this decision: If a prisoner would refuse to accept a pardon, he will remain in prison! Consider the serious implication of this! Understand that though a governor may issue a real pardon to a prisoner, that pardon will do him no good if he would refuse to acknowledge it! He will stay in prison – just as if he never had been pardoned; or just as if he had torn up his pardon. Do not be so foolish toward God’s pardon of your sins!
Thus, in order for your salvation to do you any good, you will have to acknowledge the gospel pledge of God that you have been rescued, saved, freed, and pardoned from the guilt and punishment of your sins. Believe it! In fact, say: “God’s pledge has pardoned me, a sinner!” Do not be afraid! Say it! Mean it! God wants you to! Do it!
Nevertheless, if you ever would be tempted to think that a promise just would not be enough; that it simply would be too meager – even precarious – to save your soul from an eternity of overwhelming torment, realize that God deliberately, intentionally, on purpose set up your salvation in the form of a promise. By doing this he would want you to understand that it is all of his doing – none of yours; that his almighty power could work through anything, even the most fragile, meager, and despised object in mankind’s petty estimate, and still get the job done.
Just the same, see how wonderful and wise your true and triune God is by putting your salvation into the form of a promise! Arguably and theoretically, the divine Godhead could have put his salvation into something else. For example, he could have put it into a string of beads. Yet think of how in this manner your salvation easily could be lost or stolen! Indeed, see the disastrous unbelief which is connected with good luck charms which people wear around their necks, that is, with the use of objects to drive away evil: people look to the charm and not to God! To avoid this idolatry, and to remove any other thing that would be uncertain and unassuring, doubtful and unconvincing, the Lord put your salvation into the form of a promise – the opposite of superstition – because he loves you too much and considers your life to be too precious. What a caring God he is! Out of safety concerns for your soul, and so that you yourself could and should be certain of it, the Lord did not put his salvation into this or that which could become broken, lost, or otherwise untrustworthy. He put it into a promise: his promise. Trust it!
How could this be done? When a rock would give you trouble, you simply will push it out of the way. If a tree would present a problem, you will cut it down. With people, however, it will be different. They are not lifeless objects. They are moral beings. They have souls that think and will. Therefore, you must deal with them in that fashion.
For instance, if you would like to give someone a gift, first of all, you will resolve to do it. Then you will follow through and act. Or, on the other hand, if there would be a problem, you will determine what needs to be done, and then, you will tell a person, “This is what I intend to do for you.” After this, you would keep your vow by fulfilling its obligations. This is how promises work.
To be sure, realize that every day you yourself make promises! Because the human race is made up of rational souls, we need to make promises in order to communicate, and to do business with each other. For instance, banks could not operate without promises. Indeed, our entire business structure in this country: employers, employees, and customers, would cease to exist without the important bridge to establish relationships and agreements known as a “promise.”
Just so, God knows, too, that you are a living soul, just as the angels and he is. He will deal with you as with a moral being. In other words, he will communicate with you through words, presenting knowledge to your intellect, and addressing your will with benefits in order to move you to act.
How would this work in the matter of salvation? It will work in this way: First of all, the Almighty would contact and inform lost and damned sinners that because of the grace in his heart, he will come down to earth in the future, and, as their substitute, will do the works that are necessary to pull them out of damnation and to bring them into the mansions of heaven. Then, since these acts had not yet happened (and since few sinners would actually witness the acts of Christ), and since sinners could not see into his heart, God will promise the sinful world that there is grace in his heart, and that he will perform these saving acts. This will become known by the endearing name “the gospel.”
How did this work in your case? It has been done in this manner: The Lord would give you a promise, such as one of his many gospel pledges which he has caused to be written down in his Bible. Not leaving anything to chance, he also would send ministers and missionaries to baptize and to instruct you. Before giving you his gospel pledge, however, he would first prepare you for it by preaching to you his law, in which you will be told that the “anger of God is revealed from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18) because of their hardness and their unrepentant heart (Romans 2:5); that the Almighty one day will judge and punish them with his fury. Upon hearing this awful threat, God will use his power to make your intellect convinced of it, and for your heart to be sorry for your sins.
After this, the Lord would hold up to your saddened, sin-filled soul the thrilling pledge that he, your angry Judge, has stepped in for you and intervened out of his grace, and has rescued you out of your punishment. Then the Lord would convert you, that is, he would not let you fumble or lose his promise. He would use his power to move you to grab onto his pledge, and to possess it by an act of faith, so that you would find in it alone your sure salvation. This is what our text means when the Holy Spirit points out that God “performed the mercy promised to our fathers,” “because he looked on his people and worked out redemption for them.” This is also what the apostle declares when he sums up in words of one syllable, that cannot get any simpler, saying, “God gave it through a pledge” (Galatians 3:18).
So where, then, would salvation be found? in the promises of God. How, then, could you get to heaven? by the pledges of God. Of what, then, would you need to do more? to trust in the promises of God. Do so!
Understand, then, that the entire Godhead desired to save you; that God so loved the world the he gave his only-begotten Son into death as the Savior from the guilt of sin and death; that in the fullness of time, the eternal Son took on a human body and by his substitution and through his saving acts of satisfaction took away the anger of God against you; and that the Holy Spirit works in your heart a faith in his gospel pledge and thus makes you possess the salvation which was gained for you by Christ!
What could and should be your response to all of this? See it as a promise! Then believe it! It is meant for you.
Indeed, lift up the gospel pledge high! Raise it up to the light of the Bible! Look at the glory of the great promise of God! Consider what a blessing this simple direct, yet power-packed promise of God is! How imperative it is for you to stop, and to focus on it intently! Realize that it is the only thing that will save you from the anger to come on Judgment Day! So believe it! Then look forward to heaven!
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Hebrews 6:11-18: “Show the same diligence toward the full assurance of hope until the end, in order that you may not be sluggish but would be imitators of those who through faith and long patience will inherit the promises! After having promised Abraham, God swore by himself, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, saying, “Surely, by blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply you’, and thus, having had long patience he obtained the promise; for men, indeed, will swear by the greater; and for them an oath for confirmation will put an end to a dispute. Therefore, God, desiring more abundantly to show to the inheritors of promise the unchangeableness of his resolve, guaranteed by an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it would be impossible for God to lie, we, who have fled for refuge, might have strong encouragement to lay hold of that hope which is set before us.”
What if the new mayor and the new town council of your community were to announce some new changes that would affect your future? Would you pay attention? For instance, what if they were to promise new sweeping changes that would introduce grand new boulevards; and that to do this they would have to tear up most of the town, move most of the houses and businesses, or even demolish them. Would you be concerned? Yes, you would be.
First of all, you would demand more information about how this would affect you. Then you would want assurances, guaranties in writing that would safeguard your property.
Now stop and think about that for a moment! Would this be an unusual request: to want more information and assurance regarding something new in your life? of course not. This would be natural, that is, it could and should be expected from the mayor and the council if they truly were exercising due care.
So God also has seen the need to inform and to assure you. Do not think it strange, then, when he would take the necessary steps to do so! In fact, see the high wisdom and the great benefit to you when he would assure you through his gospel pledge! See why-
In the Garden of Eden, while Adam and Eve were in their state of perfection, there was no need to teach them theology. They already knew it. When he created them, the Lord placed into their intellect the knowledge of his will and of his truth, for example, that he would provide for them; that he was a triune God; and that after a time of bearing children on earth, he would bring them alive into heaven to live with him there.
Moreover, being in a state of holiness, Adam and Eve also had no need of being assured of these things. They already were fully confident beyond a shadow of a doubt, as the expression goes.
The same would hold true for the angels. They did not need to be taught anything about the will of God. They knew it. Neither did they need to be assured of it. They never doubted in their state of perfection.
However, after Adam and Eve fell into sin, doubt was born into this world. Doubt and its children: fear, worry, panic, and terror, now ruled the minds of sin-enslaved men. No longer would there be the peace, calm, and complete confidence like in the state of perfection.
Imagine what it was like for Adam and Eve! After they had sinned they panicked, and were filled with terror. They had no hope. They knew that they would be punished with death.
What is more, God would not have been one bit less gracious if he had done just that, just as he had judged the devils that had sinned and sentenced them to punishment.
Just the same, God went far out of his way for our ruined race. Out of the grace in his heart he intervened for us, and planned a way for us to escape, a plan of salvation.
Of course, by nature Adam and Eve could not have known about this plan. The same would hold true today for you. You were born without this knowledge. Realize, then, that God would have to tell you about his subsequent thoughts, giving this information to you!
In addition, since this plan of God would be something new and surprising, in your sinful state your flesh naturally would doubt it, even resist it. Indeed, since your sinful nature actually hates the things of God, you would need to be assured of this plan before you ever would accept it; assured that it was true, and that it would be completed.
For instance, do you remember facing your road test to get your driving license? Do you recall how nervous you felt before the test? There was the fear of the unknown along with the worry. Could you have used some assurance?
Because of the astounding new situation of full and free forgiveness and deliverance from damnation for all sinners, none excluded; with all of the remarkable gospel facts which, due to his blind and evil condition, the sinner would automatically reject with a vengeance; which, even after he would become a God-powered believer, the sinner still will doubt or wonder about it at times due to his weakness, God, nevertheless, put his salvation plan purposely into the form of a promise. Why? solely for your benefit. He put his salvation plan into the form of a promise in order that he could be able to assure you of his words, with the intent that you could and should be certain and confident of them. Starting then with the first gospel promise in Genesis 3:15, the Lord gave Adam and Eve, and the rest of the race, his rescue plan which he pledged to perform.
Later, in the Old Testament, God would do even more in consideration of the weakness of the sinner. He would add assurances on top of his already existing promises, and declare, for example, “I will perform it,” or else he would even make an oath in regard to them, stating solemnly, “I swear,” or say the word “surely” (verse 14) to strengthen his promises, so to speak, not for his own benefit, for he had no need of it; but solely for your benefit. What do you think of that?
The Holy Spirit pointed this out in the text after he brought up the Old Testament case of Abraham, and stated, “After having promised Abraham, God swore by himself, because he could swear by no one greater, saying, ‘Surely by blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply you’; and thus having had long patience he obtained the promise” (verses 13-15).
In other words, 4,000 years ago God promised Abraham three things: Abraham would have a son in his old age, his descendants would be many, and that the Christ would be born from his family. Abraham patiently lived to see the first blessing come true. Just the same, for the benefit of Abraham; to make him more confident beforehand of all three future blessings, God gave him not only these promises, but, to make them extra certain and doubly sure; to make Abraham not to doubt, but to have full confidence in them, the Lord added a second assurance on top of the first by taking an oath, swearing by the only one he could swear by, namely, himself, declaring, “Surely I will do this.”
What a gracious God he is! Who else would look out for you as much as he does?
What conclusion, then, would the Holy Spirit want you to draw from this? The text has drawn the conclusion for you, and, by calling you an “inheritor” of the same promise of salvation as Abraham had, states, “Therefore, God, desiring more abundantly to show to the inheritors of promise the unchangeableness of his resolve, guaranteed by an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it would be impossible for God to lie, we, who have fled for refuge, might have strong encouragement to lay hold of that hope which is set before us” (vv. 17-18).
In other words, not just for Abraham, but for your benefit also; to drive away all doubt; to make you firmly confident of your salvation, God did not just do one thing but two in order to give you the strongest assurance.
How generous he was to do that! How he must yearn for you to trust in his promise!
See that, first of all, he gave you a pledge! Then he took an oath.
Our text draws your attention to these two actions, and then, points out two features of them:
1) That it will be impossible for God to lie when he promises or takes an oath; and
2) That both acts of God are unchangeable; they are set, done; they could not be reversed or revoked.
After stating this, the text now points out two benefits that you will have as a result:
1) God did these two acts to show you “more abundantly” that his resolve to save you is unchangeable, irrevocable; that he will not change his mind tomorrow, and declare, “Forget what I said!”
2) God did these things also to give you “strong encouragement” since you, as the text puts it, “have” by faith “fled for refuge to lay hold of that” salvation which God has “set before” you.
Do you need to flee to his promise for refuge? You certainly do. The unbreakable law of God will convict you of this truth that you are in a damnable condition as a lawbreaker and a rebel against Heaven, for you have violated the laws of God, and have had evil in your mind. To be sure, your sins will find you out. They certainly will sentence you, and drag you down into hell. See this! Admit it! Regret it, here and now!
Then recall the powerful promise of God which has been preached to you! It has been set before your eyes. It has wrestled with your mind, and has turned you from being a sinner to being a saint, from heading to hell to heaven. The Lord’s promise has assured you with an unbreakable guaranty from Heaven that the total guilt of your life has been cancelled, that your punishment by the Divine Judge has been removed, and that you have already been declared righteous by the holy life and the hell-suffering work of Christ, your God, almost 2,000 years ago.
Continuing on, the gospel pledge then hands over to you what it says it is: forgiveness of sins, and even powers your mind to take hold of it with confidence and to possess it by an act of faith. Thus by believing God’s pledge you possess salvation. You have it. That is, you are saved. You will enter heaven. Think of it! What a mighty message it is! What other words could be as powerful as to release you from going to hell, and to give you a firm grasp on heaven? Hang onto this pledge!
God knows that sin is your greatest trouble, and that his pledge is your most needed blessing.
Therefore, the Lord hands over to you his pledge to bring you peace with Heaven and with your own conscience; to provide you with the comfort of his constant companionship and protection; to supply you with a full victory over sorrow, weakness, doubt, and fear. He puts his pledge into your lap to assure you of a new wonderful existence of your soul after your death, of a resurrection of your body into a radiant glory, and of an incredibly happy existence with him in his heavenly mansion.
What could be done for lost and condemned sinners? God knew precisely what to do: to promise and to assure them.
Initially, God gave you his double assurance when you first came to faith. Just the same, realize that for the rest of your life you will need to be reassured over and over again with this double assurance; indeed, at times daily, even hourly!
How would this reassurance work in practice?
Listen to the following example! A seminary student in the 1800’s in Saint Louis went to see his professor, C.F.W. Walther of the Missouri Synod, about his spiritual distress. This student relates the following anecdote. “Serious doubts” that Christ is God “had arisen in my mind while I was his student. I was brought near the brink of despair. What should I do, remain and play the hypocrite, or give up the study for the ministry? After much hesitation I resolved to go to Walther and tell him about my miserable condition. With a trembling heart I ascended the stairway to his study. How would the great theologian, the staunch champion of Christ, receive me? Would he listen to me at all, or would he turn me out in disgust as an unbeliever? When I entered his study, he received me very cordially and asked me what my troubles were. After patiently listening to my tale of woe, he grasped my hand and said, ‘My dear young friend, you seem to think that you alone are vexed with such doubts. You are mistaken. I have the very same experiences. Why, often when I am preaching in the pulpit, or lecturing before my classes, Satan whispers into my ears, “How do you know this to be true”.’ Then he showed me that I was still a Christian, a believing child of God, because no unbeliever would be troubled with anxiety and fear on account of his unbelief” (The Reverend Julius A. Friedrich, “Dr. C.F.W. Walther,” Ebenezer, Editor W.H.T. Dau [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1922], page 36).
This is biblical reassurance. Practice it!
Understand, then, that because of the weakness of your flesh; because of the hatred by your sinful nature for the things of God, throughout your life your mind will be attacked by doubt of, dislike and distrust in the gospel promise – the only thing that could get you to heaven!
To combat these assaults, God has provided something for you: assurance, in fact, double assurance. So, look to the gospel promise itself and the assurances within! These assurances have been designed by God to demonstrate to you his truthfulness and the fact that his decision cannot be changed (verse 17). These assurances have been designed to give you “strong encouragement” (verse 18), “full assurance” (verse 11); to persuade your heart (1st John 3:19) to believe with certainty (Acts 2:36); and to plant you firmly on the gospel promise (2nd Timothy 2:14) so that you could not be moved. So believe them! That is what they are for!
Hence what is the benefit to you of the gospel pledge? It is to give you assurance. Be confident, then! Run for refuge to the gospel shelter, as the text urges, to receive “strong encouragement” that you have been washed clean of the guilt and of the punishment of your sins by the blood of the Lamb of God, for God doubly assures you that this promise is true!
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Romans 11:27: “This is the contract from me to them: When I have taken away their sins.”
According to the account of his son, a number of years ago his father, a man by the name of L. Ron Hubbard, sat down and determined to discover the quickest way to make a lot of money. He researched this way and that. Finally, he saw the answer. He sat down and wrote a book entitled Dianetics which, if you would recall some years ago, was displayed all over bookstore windows, and was advertised with powerful commercials on television. Mr. Hubbard sold a lot of these books, and made a lot of money.
What was the subject of his book? It was a new religion. Mr. Hubbard had found that the quickest way to make a lot of money was to invent a new religion.
Yet did it help anyone? Did it get him to heaven? The answers are: no. It only benefited L. Ron Hubbard. It made him a lot of cash.
Contrast this with the only true salvation: the gospel promise of God. Would it benefit anyone? Yes, it will. Would it get him to heaven? Yes, it will. Would it benefit God? no, not in the least. In fact, he received the worst of it. He suffered every sinner’s torment in hell, while every sinner got to go free to enter eternal life.
Think of it! God did all of the work. Yet he got the worst of it. Nevertheless, you received the benefit of it. What a wonder! How different is the shallow pretentious ramshackle offers which selfish small-minded men make to enrich themselves at your expense, compared to the commitment which God makes to save you from a catastrophe!
This commitment which God makes is so far superior not only because of him who makes it, but also because of what it consists. In fact, it is so superior that it is in a category all by itself.
Our text calls it a “contract.” How interesting! Look at it closely, and see –
1. It consists of salvation for you.
2. It consists of all of his doing, none of yours.
3. It consists of benefits solely for you, none for him.
The text actually is a quote of God made in the Old Testament. It is from Isaiah 27:9. When the Holy Spirit translated the Old Testament Hebrew into the Greek of our text, he used the Greek word for “contract.” That is, in our text, translated literally, God announced, “This is the contract from me to them: when I have sent away their sins.” While the King James Version and even the New King James Version here have used the old English word “covenant,” a “covenant” is nothing more than what we today would state with the word “contract.”
So of what would the gospel contract consist? Moreover, what would be its intent? What would be its purpose? It will have the very same purpose, intent, and content as that of the gospel pledge, namely, “the sending away of sins,” as the Bible so often likes to express it in the original languages of Hebrew and of Greek, doing so, in fact, thirty times in the Old Testament and forty-two times in the New, though in every instance the translators of our English Bibles rather have preferred to use instead the more familiar expression “the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 6:2). As a matter of fact, all four of these terms used by Scripture are synonymous. The gospel pledge, the sending away of sins, and the contract of God all mean “the forgiveness of sins.”
Why does the Bible bring up and stress the subject of sin so much? Because everyone needs to be rescued from sin so much. “All have sinned, and continue to come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “The soul that sins must die” (Ezekiel 18:3). To be healed and delivered from sin, from its guilt – condemnation, and from its consequence – eternal death, the sinner needs to be awaked to the awful truth of his evil condition.
The all-knowing Almighty reports that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries… thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). As a result, your sinful flesh continually will break God’s commandments, despise his truth, ridicule his pledges, and reject his mercy. Nevertheless, according to Scripture, this would be no minor matter, but will be an outrage so destructive that unless it would be removed it will damn souls to hell. In fact, if you could picture to yourself only for a moment the terrible punishment which Divine Justice would have to deal out to you for your sins; if you could realize the torture of body, mind, and soul which torments the damned; if you were able to feel what it would mean to suffer everlastingly in unrelieved pain, tears of anguish would fill your eyes, and in fright you would plead out right: “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30.)
Yet there would be nothing which you could do to save yourself. First of all, you would have no power to save yourself. Secondly, you would have no knowledge as to how to save yourself. Thirdly, whatever course of action you might take in an attempt to save yourself will give you no divine assurance that you would have accomplished it. You only would have doubts.
Just the same, the Son of God has “come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He receives sinners (Luke 15:2). That would include you. Out of his mercy, therefore, the Lord determined to save the whole ruined race of doomed rebels. As a result, God the Father sent his Son to remove the curse of your transgressions forever. On Calvary’s cross, beneath the full fury of divine anger that had been channeled and concentrated against all sinners, Christ suffered it all alone when he assumed your guilt, took on your punishment, and underwent your eternal torment. What a sacrifice he made for you! Think of it!
Yet, as a result of his loving act of substitution, Jesus Christ has canceled, removed, and destroyed your sins of the past, present, and future. He has reconciled you to the Father. With his blood he has paid off the debt of your sins so that no longer could they be charged against you. One of the rarest gems in the world is the blood red diamond. Since there are only five known to exist in the world, the 2.33-carat diamond is worth 42 million dollars. However, Christ’s blood is even more valuable than that, for the only substance in the entire universe that would be costly enough to pay Divine Justice for your soul’s release from eternal punishment; the only payment which would be recognized and be accepted by Heaven’s court, will be the blood of the Son of God spilled out on his cross while acting as your substitute. Recognize this! Then be assured of it!
This is the gospel. This is the commitment which God has made to you, and, subsequently, has carried out in his saving acts. This is the contract which God has made with you. This gospel contract consists of the forgiveness of your sins.
Why does God refer to his gospel in the text as a contract? It is because the Lord wants you to realize, in the second place, that it is all of his doing, none of yours.
To be sure, the gospel contract is not an express agreement between two parties, that is to say, God did not sit down with the human race and offer, “If I would promise to do something for you, will you agree to do something for me?” This is not how the Lord laid out his contract of salvation. Rather, like a last will and testament, he did all of the awful work to secure for you the wonderful gift of pardon and freedom. Then he simply handed it over to you as a gift without any obligation on your part. As an inheritance which suddenly would be announced to your amazement and delight, so the gospel contract is announced and its contents are handed over to you. It is all of God’s doing, none of yours. He simply hands it over to you for your possession as a gift. Indeed, Scripture purposely uses the language and the imagery of an inheritance, referring directly to you as an “inheritor” of the blessings and benefits of the gospel contract of the Lord.
Why did God not call on you to iron out a contract of salvation with him? It was so that it could be done perfectly. If sinners were to have had any say in the plan of salvation, it would have been misdirected by evil intentions, sabotaged by sinful hands, and hopelessly stalled by selfish cross purposes. As a result, it would have been completely untrustworthy. This is why God kept it out of your hands, and did it himself entirely. Consequently, you could and should be confident of it, for it is trustworthy.
Realize that God resolved, indeed, to make a commitment to you, and has put it into the form of something solid, sure, and certain! He has placed his salvation for you into the form of a promise, and has given it the added features of a binding contract, namely, he has obligated himself to perform its terms and conditions.
Think about it! God himself worked out your salvation. He was committed to do what it took to get you to heaven. As a result, nothing has been omitted. Nothing further needs to be done. The results are in. Heaven is yours. Of this he is certain. Should you not be certain of it, too?
From your study of the gospel in the last two sermons, you have learned the following:
1. That the only salvation by which God has reunited you to him is the salvation by promise. There is no other way.
2. That he not only assures you that his salvation is by promise, but he doubly assures you that it is the truth and no trick, and that it cannot be changed.
Knowing that the Lord has assured you of these things, what are you to do? Understand that he presents you with his promise of salvation with a view toward making a contract with you! This contract is called the “New Testament,” or the “new contract” to distinguish it from the old one, that is, from the Ten Commandments. The “new contract” is distinguished by its purpose. Its purpose is nothing else than the forgiveness of your sins (Jeremiah 31:31). Almost 2,000 years ago the saving works of Christ on the altar of his cross and at the Easter tomb moved God to declare you righteous, that is to say, to be free from guilt and punishment, and to be ready to enter his heavenly home.
Just the same, does not the word “contract” signify an agreement between two parties under certain terms and conditions, with give and take, and with mutual obligations, duties, and benefits? not in this case. Remember: God’s salvation is “not by works”! While the will of God, indeed, wants your will to address his promise for the express purpose of believing it, your salvation is still all for your benefit, and none for his. For instance, when it comes to translating the Greek word used in the Bible for “contract,” the authors of the biblical Greek-English dictionaries scratch their heads in wonderment, for the Holy Spirit uses this term in a special sense. For example, on the one hand, the gospel contract of God is like a last will and testament in which you receive a benefit as a gift, without doing anything to acquire it. On the other hand, it is not like a last will and testament. That is, the gospel contract does not require that the testator first would have to depart this life before his last will and testament ever could be activated, and the benefit of forgiveness enjoyed. Again, on the one hand, the gospel contract is a declaration of intent on the part of God, in which he holds himself responsible for carrying out the terms and the conditions of this contract. On the other hand, according to the terms and the conditions of this contract, there are no duties or obligations for you to perform at all. Rather, you simply would receive all of the benefits.
What kind of a contract is this? To be sure, this is not your normal contract. Nevertheless, it is a valid one. In fact, our own western legal system recognizes this species of contract, and refers to its different parts with the names of a “unilateral contract,” a “gratuitous contract,” and a “nudum pactum.” A “unilateral contract” is one in which a person makes a promise to do something for someone else without receiving from him anything in return. A “gratuitous contract” is that of which the object is solely the benefit of the person with whom it is made. A “nudum pactum” or “bare agreement” is a voluntary promise without any consideration other than goodwill to the person to whom the pledge is made. These features describe exactly what the gospel is.
Here we go to the heart of the whole matter of the gospel contract of God, namely, that this contract is not a mere wish in the heart of God, but it is the grace in his heart by which he is driven, bound, and determined to have grace for you. Thoughts of you are continually on his mind. Therefore, he resolved to make a contract with you in his heart. Literally, the English verb “contract” means “to draw together.” This is exactly what the gospel contract of God does. It draws him to be together with you. What a blessing! Will you not see it?
Then, for your further benefit, to convince you of his seriousness and of his yearning love for you, the Lord has put his contract down in writing on the pages of the Bible so that it could and should serve notice to you of the obligation which he has made to draw you closer to him. Take notice of it!
Thus the object of the gospel promise of God is solely for your benefit. That is, God receives no benefit from it. As a matter of fact, he loses. For example, Christ your God was declared guilty and sentenced to punishment while you were declared righteous and set free. He suffered damnation while you escaped it. All that God planned, worked at, and suffered was solely for your benefit, none for his. Think about that!
What, then, is the greater wonder: that God, the holy Creator of all things, lost all by making himself the worst sinner after he loaded the sins of the world and damnation on his back by his gospel contract, or that you, a lost and condemned sinner, have been declared holy by that same contract?
Of what, then, does the contract of God consist in the third place? It consists of benefits that are solely for you. Consider the following!
First of all, the gospel contract is voluntary. God has done it completely by design by a deliberate act of choice. In fact, this contract is a voluntary act of kindness, that is, it has been initiated without waiting around for a request from you, the object of his kindness.
Secondly, the gospel contract acquits, that is, it releases, absolves, and purges you of the accusation of sinfulness, and releases you from its debt: punishment in eternal torments.
Thirdly, the contract of God is an amnesty, namely, the forgetfulness of, or the juridicial abolition of your transgressions.
Additionally, this contract is a settlement in which the disputed matter regarding your iniquities and Heaven’s call for your complete holiness has been adjusted, determined, and decisively put to rest.
It is a commutation, in which the demand of Divine Justice for your eternal punishment has been met and paid for by a substitution: the payment both of Christ’s holy life and of his punishment in hell.
It is also a clemency, an act of kindness.
It is a release, a discharge of your debt by a gracious act of God.
It is not a reprieve, but a permanent cancellation of your sentence of eternal death.
What great things, then, the gospel contract serves! Think about them!
Look at all of the benefits which you have as a result! Think about them! Then confess confidently, “Praise God! They are mine”!
 Henry Campbell Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Edition (Saint Paul: West Publishing Company, 1979), page 294A.
 Henry C. Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Edition (Saint Paul: West Publishing Company, 1979), page 293A.
 Henry C. Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Edition (Saint Paul: West Publishing Company, 1979), page 961A.
* * *
Ephesians 2:8-9: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Consider this for a moment: which human promises have never been broken? For instance, think of the names that some people have chosen for their businesses that imply a promise, such as, “Precious Love Day Care,” or “On Time” delivery service! Have these implied promises ever been broken? of course they have, daily. Though the reason people have picked such names is, frankly, to attract customers, such names by themselves cannot guaranty that the exceptional care which they promise will always be provided. This is because business people are not perfect. They are sinners. No matter how hard they may try, they will fall short in everything, including living up to their companies’ names.
Which brings us back to the question: “Which human promises have never been broken?” none. All have been broken. None have been fulfilled perfectly, because all are sinners, and therefore cannot fulfill their pledges perfectly; only the Lord can. Is this not assuring to know? Does this not inspire confidence in him? So –
1. How the salvation of God is handed over to you.
2. What saving faith is.
3. What saving faith is not.
In the text Paul is reminding some congregational members of the manner in which God has set up his salvation, and of how it works. Hear the words of the text again, “By grace are you saved”! In other words, briefly, this is what happened:
After the fall into sin, Adam and Eve were cowering in hiding, and shaking with terror over the anger and the eternal torment which they had stirred up because of their sins. As well they might; for the unbreakable Bible threatens that man’s sin causes God’s anger which, in turn, causes man’s death both now and for all eternity. Indeed, hell is where the roaring fire of God’s anger rages endlessly against the guilty soul. Do not deny this, for your own conscience condemns you of the wrong done in your life! See what damage this has done; what a breach it has caused with God! Face the facts! How will you ever stand before the holy God? Regret your sins! Show remorse for them!
Then rejoice that God had grace in his heart toward Adam and Eve! His intent was to save them. His motive was to give them a gift of grace. What was this gift? It was to deliver them and all sinners from their punishment in order that they could be spared for heaven.
However, to settle accounts; to straighten things out; to set matters right with Divine Justice, your triune God would have to perform certain saving acts: that is, the Father would need to craft the plan of salvation; the Son would need to take on a human body to carry out the human part of it; then, the Holy Spirit would need to do his work also.
Thus, after Christ suffered the world’s punishment in hell, lived a holy life for everyone, and broke death’s grip for all on Easter, God Almighty banged down his judicial gavel, and decreed, “Go free! Your guilt and punishment have been taken care of by another. You are dismissed. Go, enter heaven!”
That is, according to Scripture, at that time God declared the whole world to be righteous, and ready to enter heaven. While we were still sinners, while every one of us was still ungodly (Romans 5:6-11), God decreed that he had forgiven man his sins on account of the holy life and the eternal suffering which he did on earth in a human body for man.
What excellent news! What undeserved kindness you have been shown! By grace you have been saved. Realize that this is the great, glorious gospel!
Now what? After the Lord did all of this, how was his salvation going to do you any good? Think about that! Remember, sinful mankind could not see into the mind of God; nor could it know what was going on in those acts of that most hated man on earth named “Jesus”. So, again, how was this going to do you any good? How would salvation reach you?
For instance, would the Lord without speaking, suddenly transform you inside by a process of “infused grace,” that is, in which he would pump holiness into you making you holy? Of course not!
Recall what you have heard so far in the past sermons, namely, (1) that the salvation of God is by promise; (2) that it is God-assured; and (3) that it is a contract! Yet there is an additional feature involving all three of these. That is to say, all three of these features call for you to address them. How?
First of all, the Lord framed his words into the form of a promise for the purpose that you would address yourself to it by believing it.
Next the Lord God gave you assurance in order that, stated negatively, you would not doubt his promise, and, stated positively, so that you would face it with trust as you could and should trust it: fully, confidently, and firmly.
Thirdly, through his promise of forgiveness the Lord made a contract with you so that you would be able to receive its benefits. A contract will do you no good if you would not address it and ignore its benefits.
Yet this is not all. Understand that the gospel is, moreover, an offer, or, to be more precise, a “proffer.” A “proffer” is “an offer proposed for acceptance by another” (Noah Webster). It is a proposal brought before you, or brought to your attention, for the purpose of presenting it to you with the intent that you should accept it. It is an offer exhibited so that it may be taken.
In other words, the salvation of God which affects you does not occur in this manner: God does not treat you as a rock which he would lift up and toss into heaven by means of his salvation. Rather, you are a living thinking soul whose intellect and will the Lord will engage by means of kindly announcements and by heartening assurances; by means of his warm proposals and delightful invitations.
So, after the Lord assures you of the truthfulness and of the unchangeableness of his gospel contract, he wants you to address it. After he puts his forgiveness of you intentionally into the form of a promise, he expects you to respond by trusting it. After he proffers his forgiveness to you as an invitation, he intends for you to accept it. Do so!
Thus the pledge of the Lord is not like that of a neighbor, for example, who would come up to you and promise to sweep your sidewalk for you, and then, later, would do it – a promise to which you really paid no attention, about which you really did not care, and for which you held out no real hope, but were benefited from it anyway.
The gospel pledge of God calls for your acceptance. Therefore address it and accept it! To be sure, “the Lord of promise,” as he calls himself (2nd Peter 3:9), wants you to be one of his “children of the promise” (Romans 9:8).
Observe, then, that God has arranged his salvation into the form of a simple pledge for the high purpose that his promise might be trusted by you, and thus in this manner, transfer his forgiveness over to you! Simply put: God wants you to trust his pledge of your forgiveness, in order for you to have it. How safe! How certain!
In other words, this is how the Lord connects you up with your salvation: not by intravenous tubes, not by wearing a string of holy beads, not by feeling a sense of holiness come over you, but by the nod of your head at his gospel pledge.
Realize that the function of faith is to believe a promise! Thus the function of saving faith is to believe the promise of forgiveness. Be assured that this is how God wants you to possess his salvation! He distributes forgiveness to you in his pledge of pardon. You then take it and possess it by faith. This is what it means: “You are saved through faith.” This is the way that the Lord has intended, arranged, and established for you to be saved. Moreover, it is the only way which he will recognize. See it!
In short, then, what is “saving faith”? “Saving faith” is the manner for receiving the forgiveness of God. It is the instrument, the hand, or the mode for taking it. Faith holds out its hand, it opens its mouth, and it opens up its pocket to receive the forgiveness of God. It is all taking. Saving trust is a longing for, a looking for, a desire for, and an embracing of the gospel promise.
Furthermore, faith in the promise of your forgiveness puts you at once in possession of your salvation. Refusing to believe in the gospel at once excludes you from salvation. “He who does not believe will be damned” (Mark 16:16). The salvation of God is transferred over to you when you believe that you are received into his favor and that your sins are forgiven because of the saving acts of Christ.
What is not saving faith?
Our text replies, saving faith is brought about not by man’s “works, lest anyone should boast” and contend, “I have gotten salvation on mine own.”
The holy Scriptures teach two things: (1) your faith is the result of God’s power and effectiveness; and also (2) your faith is the result of the power and effectiveness of the gospel promise. In the first place, Ephesians 1:19 teaches that you “believe according to the working of God’s mighty power.” In the second place, Romans 10:17 instructs that “faith comes by the gospel report,” and that this “gospel of Christ is the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). Look at this second item!
Know that the gospel works faith! Man does not have the ability to produce saving faith. The creation of saving faith in the mind of man is all the gospel’s doing, none of his. The creation of faith by man is impossible because natural, sinful man cannot apprehend the truth of the gospel, as 1st Corinthians 2:14 testifies. Man by nature does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he understand them for they are spiritually understood.
Therefore, saving faith would not be a conviction gotten from the use of your natural powers, but will be a knowledge and conviction accomplished by the gospel promise itself. Thus the creation of this faith will not lie within your power. Indeed, whenever the gospel promise would come to the ears of sinful man, he will want to reject it. So be aware that faith lies above and beyond human strength and deduction! Faith is created by the preaching of the gospel. Faith is the product of almighty power and is a gift of divine grace.
Thus saving faith is not a product of human deliberation or self-decision. It is not a matter in which man carefully weighs pros and cons and decides accordingly. The Lord Jesus declares, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). “It is given to you… to believe on” Christ, the apostle echoes (Philippians 1:29). Neither is faith a mere intellectual knowledge which also the wicked, murderers, adulterers, and criminals may have.
Faith is a creation of the gospel promise. The gospel is called “the Word of faith” in the Bible (Romans 10:8) because it is that Word itself which creates faith. This pledge of the gospel is that “Word of God which effectual works in you who believe,” Holy Writ testifies (1st Thessalonians 2:13). Thus the gospel pledge does not merely enable man to believe, but it produces the very act of faith in him (see Philippians 1:29). In this process of creating faith, the gospel changes man’s aversion and repugnance to the gospel into a willingness and a desire to possess the promise of God. Saving faith in the gospel does not mean merely to know the story of the saving acts of God, but to trust that it includes you. Saving faith is a longing for, a seeking for, a desiring for, and an embracing of the gospel. Do you embrace the gospel promise of forgiveness? Say: “Yes”! “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1st Timothy 1:15).
To be sure, in the Bible, saving faith is placed in opposition to all human achievements. The text doubly emphasizes that saving faith is not a work on your part; that is to say, it is not a contribution on your part toward the salvation of your soul. The apostle has to warn about this point because the sinful flesh in your mind naturally wants to “boast,” that is, it wants to delude itself about its lack of accomplishments in the area of salvation, and think that it actually has contributed something. Yet no value must be given to your saving faith in and of itself. You are saved solely by the grace of God. It is all God’s doing, none of yours. Faith saves not on the ground that it is a work which in itself is worthy, but only because it has in its possession the promise of God’s mercy. Faith saves not by itself as an act, but because of the object which it grasps. Faith saves not as a good quality, virtue, or as a compliance with the law of God, but because it believes God’s forgiveness announced and offered in his promise.
Keep in mind that, first of all, the Lord decided to forgive you. Then he put that decision into a promise. Next he handed that promise over to you with the intent that you should receive it. He did this as you either read about his pledge, remembered it, or heard about it. Then his powerful words of promise moved you to believe the pledge that you are forgiven. At that moment you were put into possession of your forgiveness: that salvation that will get you into heaven. This is how he gives you his gracious gift of forgiveness: He moves you to believe his pledge that you are forgiven. Then, ever after, to reassure you that you have his forgiveness, he repeats his gospel pledge. So listen to it!
Indeed, acquire and keep God’s gift of forgiveness by believing it! Say: “I know and am assured that I am forgiven”!
Therefore, we have seen the following today:
The gift of God’s grace, his gospel promise, is proffered by God to everyone so that they may have it. This is his intention.
Moreover the Lord wants everyone to accept his proffer. To do this, his pledged gift of forgiveness must be believed by them, whereupon, they will take possession of that forgiveness which he is extending to them. Yet how could they believe when natural unregenerate man hates all of the things of God? So how, then, is saving faith produced in sinners?
“Faith comes by the gospel report” (Romans 10:17), the Bible replies. What power and importance, then, does the gospel have!
Thus, when you nod your head in agreement to the words of the text, and profess, “I am saved through faith,” you mean that you are in possession of God’s pledge of forgiveness because you believe it. You confess that it is all of God’s doing, none of yours. You admit that there is nothing which you could do to gain heaven; that only the gift of God could do it. Do so!
This is what “by faith” means. This is what the Lutheran reformers in the Reformation meant when they used the phrase “justification by faith.”
So, how, then, is saving faith created? by looking at the gospel promise. How is saving faith kept alive? by looking at the gospel pledge. Of what, then, do you need to do more? to look at the gospel promise. Do so!
* * *
Isaiah 40:1-2: “Comfort, comfort my people!” says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is finished; that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all of her sins!”
Around Christmas time it is common to sing in public concerts the great musical work Messiah. The Messiah is a sacred oratorio, the music of which was written over 250 years ago by George Frederick Händel. God, not man, has seen to it that this piece has remained popular. In fact, when the moment arrives for the Hallelujah chorus to be sung, when such magnificent praise of the Lord is about to be given, kings and queens in the audience have been moved to rise from their seats to stand out of sheer respect for such reminders of the glory of the Lord.
However, Charles Jennens, the English coal businessman who wrote the words to Händel’s Messiah, was displeased with Händel’s musical accompaniment to his words by calling it an “entertainment.” Just the same, see in this instance the truth that God uses the men and the events of this world as scaffolding with which to build his church, for when Mr. Jennens arranged his work, he deliberately put at the very beginning of his work for emphasis, in the most prominent place, the great benefit of the gospel pledge, namely, that of comfort! Thus the oratorio Messiah begins its vocal section with the great gospel words from the mouth of God, the words of our text, in which he exclaims with a sense of urgency, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people!” Thus the very first words of the Messiah highlight what Scripture itself highlights, that is to say, that the purpose of the gospel pledge is to comfort.
Learn this lesson! Look at these words of the text, and –
This quality –
1. Comforts you from the guilt of your sins;
2. Comforts you from the terrors of death; and
3. Comforts you in your sufferings.
Many years ago a retired Lutheran pastor was asked what he would do differently if he were to be in the ministry all over again. He replied, “I would comfort more.” Indeed, this is right.
Hear again the text, this time translated literally from the Hebrew! “‘Comfort, comfort my people’! says your God. ‘Console Jerusalem, and call to her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is paid off , because she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins’!”
In other words the Lord is urging all of his gospel messengers that he wants it doubly emphasized to Jerusalem, that is, to his church, that he wants to comfort her. How would this be accomplished? through his gospel pledge.
Realize, then, that one of the key features of the gospel is to bring comfort! How could and should you be certain of this? The text says so.
Look at the meaning of the Hebrew word which is translated with our word “comfort”! The Hebrew word חם נ means “to breathe out deeply in pity over the misery of others”; “to sigh, or to groan over the misery of others, and to be moved.” There is an example of this in the case of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt. Even though Joseph had freely forgiven his ten brothers of their murderous attempt on his life years before, after their father’s death the brothers’ fear returned. They dreaded that now without their father’s presence, Joseph would no longer feel restrained, but would take out his revenge on them.
When word of their fear came to the ears of Joseph in the form of a plea in which they begged, “Pardon, we ask, the transgression of your brothers and their sin for the evil they did to you” (Genesis 50:17), how did Joseph respond? We are told that he cried, and then, he “comforted them, and consoled them” – the very same Hebrew phrase used by God in our text when he stated, “Comfort… console Jerusalem!”
Understand that Joseph had pity over the misery of his brothers’ fear, and was moved to action. He would console them with assurances that he would not take out revenge on them and punish them as he had a right and the authority to do so, but instead he would pardon their trespass, send their sin away from his memory, and be gracious to them.
In a much higher sense, this is what the great God of the gospel has done.
In fact, the brothers of Joseph were just as you are. Hanging over your head was the threat of dire judgment, for you have never loved perfectly. Despite the many gospel assurances in the past, your current sins, along with the memory of former wrongs, rise up randomly to condemn you. They send you discomfort and distress. They subject you to a fiery ordeal and to oppression. They irritate and torment, harass and hurt. Is this not so? Admit it! In fact, confess: “I have brought on all of this”!
Yet would there ever be any relief? Could your conscience ever find comfort?
It could and should find comfort, for the Lord will comfort you. That is to say, out of his grace he “has pity over your misery, and is moved to action.” He “consoles” you with his glorious, gospel pledge that the terrible debt of eternal punishment which your “iniquities” had run up has been “paid.” This is because of the wonderful good news that you “have received from the hand of the Lord twice” the amount of pardon needed for all your sins. Your guilt and punishment have been replaced with a “double” portion of pardon, the Lord assures you, for he will, indeed, “multiply pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
Take comfort, then, in the fact that as the Lord in the text had brought to a close the Babylonian warfare against the Jews, so your spiritual “warfare” has been ended “for you”! In other words, be aware that you had been involved in a spiritual battle! At first it was a one-sided battle – one-sided because you found yourself desperately losing it – because you were totally routed, defeated, and captured by your enemies: the devil, the world, and your flesh. As a result, you were helplessly headed for hell.
However, this spiritual battle has had a sudden turn of events, producing a glorious new outcome. A new ally joined your side, and counter-attacked. That ally is your Good Shepherd, God who came down from heaven in the flesh, Christ the Lord. By his saving acts which, Scripture says, he has accomplished on the cross and at the deserted Easter tomb (John 19:28, 30), the Lord has “accomplished” your warfare for you. That is, he has fought your battle and has won. Your God in the flesh has accomplished a victory far greater than a David standing over a fallen Goliath. In other words, by his glorious intervention, the Lord has remarkably reversed the outcome of your spiritual battle: your punishment has been served for you, as a result, your guilt has been lifted off you; the control which the devil, the world, and your flesh had over you has been broken, and now there is nothing left but for God to declare you innocent and ready to enter heaven. Your warfare has been accomplished.
So, “be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2).
What, then, does God, want for you? your comfort.
How will he give it to you? through his gospel promise.
What should you do, then, to get comfort? Look at his gospel pledge! Do so! In fact, plead, “Comfort me, Lord! Pardon mine iniquities through your gospel promise!”
Yet the comfort of the gospel does not stop there. It is not limited to the removal of your guilt for past and present sins. Of what further comfort does the gospel give? It provides soul-penetrating consolation even from the terrors of death.
The holy Scriptures teach that the Lord sighs for your comfort in regard to the matter of death. For instance, at the death of Lazarus (John 11:11-45), the Bible instructs that Christ the Lord “groaned in his soul, and was troubled ” (v. 33). Later he came to the gravesite “groaning within him” (v. 38).
Where have you heard that expression before? It is that biblical expression for “comfort” in our text. It means “to sigh, or to groan in pity over the misery of others, in which the soul has become troubled and is moved to action.” To be sure, in the case of Lazarus, the sympathetic Savior did act. He raised Lazarus from the dead, and proclaimed to the overjoyed onlookers, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who would believe in me, though he may die, yet will he live” (v. 25).
Thanks to Christ, then, that not only has he had compassion on you, but that he also will quiet your fears of death through his powerful promise to push death aside and bring back to life your deceased body! Consequently, he has made your earthly death a restful sleep for your body, for he keeps your soul alive and safe with him until he brings both soul and body together again in a radiant wonderful existence on the Last Day. Christ raised Lazarus from the dead in order to comfort. This is comforting proof that he will raise you, also.
So, for your high consolation, the Bible assures that Christ can, indeed, be “touched with the feeling of” your “weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15) since “he himself has suffered,” he is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18) by the terrors of death.
Exult, then, with confidence, confessing, “My soul will never die. My body will be raised in glory”!
Yet, wait! There is still more. Realize that another purpose of the gospel is to comfort you throughout all of your hardships and sufferings as you wait for heaven! In this, also, the Lord sighs for your comfort, and will provide it. What care and foresight he has!
An example of his will to comfort you in your suffering is given for your concrete consolation in Mark 7:34. In this instance a deaf and mute man was brought to the Lord for healing.
Having compassion on this request the Lord took the man aside, and “sighed” in front of him. Note again the biblical concept of comfort in which the comforter “breathes out deeply in spirit over the misery of others, and is moved to action”! Christ then comforted this man promptly by healing him.
So also the Lord assures you, “I will not leave you without comfort” (John 14:18). So “do not let your heart be troubled!” (John 14:1.) In fact, “do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to test you, as though some strange thing had happened to you, but rejoice in that you partake in Christ’s sufferings!” (1st Peter 4:12-13.) Yes, the Bible frankly states that God sends you your sufferings. Furthermore, they are fiery, namely, very unpleasant. Just the same, they are sent to you for a variety of good reasons.
First of all, marvel of marvels, God sends you afflictions not to defeat you, but in order to test you, that is, to exercise your trust in his gospel pledges, just as your muscles are exercised to become stronger; so that, as the apostle explains, the Lord “would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16). May God accomplish this in you! “May the God of all grace, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you!” (1st Peter 5:10.)
Secondly, Holy Writ teaches that your hardships have been sent so that as you endure them, you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God (2nd Thessalonians 1:5). The apostle again points out, “If we would endure, we will also rule with” Christ (2nd Timothy 2:12). We are fellow heirs of heaven with Christ since we suffer together with him (Romans 8:17). To be sure, as an encouragement Scripture points to those souls already in heaven, and declares that they are those who “came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). So, rather than complain, rejoice when you partake of Christ’s sufferings!
Thirdly, because you are a believer, loved by the Lord, your sufferings are hallowed. That is to say, every sorrow or sickness is simply evidence of his compassion, for whom the Lord “loves, he chastens” (Hebrews 12:6).
Fourthly, your Heaven-sent hardships and tribulations are really disguised blessings. “All things,” Scripture emphasizes, omitting nothing, “work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Through his almighty energy through which the loving Lord pledges, “I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5), he miraculously turns your troubles into helps, your reverses into rewards, and your sorrows into soul-strength. What seems to be a crushing blow proves, in reality, to be an uplifting purifying power. In all of these ways learn the secret of suffering: It is to bring you closer to God!
See, then, the consolation which the Lord has moved himself to give you in his priceless pledge, “I will not leave you without comfort” (John 14:18), for all the promises of God in Christ are “Yes!” and “Amen!” (2nd Corinthians 1:20); for he pledges to comfort you from the nagging guilt of your sins, to console you from the terrors of death, and to comfort you when you suffer!
Therefore, what, then, should be your response? Do not doubt the Word of the Lord! Trust his pledge! “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord which he will accomplish for you today!” (Exodus 14:13.)
 Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, editor Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1974), page 186B bottom.
 Gesenius, page 778B top.
 See Gesenius, page 544A f.
 דבר על־לב פ׳ Gesenius, page 186B bottom.
 Ἐτάραξε– aorist indicative active form of the Greek word ταράσσω “troubled.” Though this is an indicative verb, it could not be translated properly into the English idiom without using its passive form “be troubled.”
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1st Thessalonians 1:5: “Our gospel did not come to you only in word, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance.”
What would be a gospel passage? It will be a passage in the Bible that will teach the divine doctrine that God has gotten salvation for you by his saving acts. “It is any Word of God in which the sinner is assured of present righteousness and peace of conscience and of future rest and glory, because of the reconciliation effected by Christ” between God and the rebellious sinful human race.
Compare the gospel to the law of God! The law teaches what you are to do and not to do. The gospel teaches what God has done, and still does for your salvation. The law shows you your sin and the anger of God. The gospel shows you your Savior and the grace of God. The law must be preached to all people, but especially to unrepentant sinners. The gospel must be preached to sinners who are troubled in their minds because of their sins. Why? in order to make them confident that the Lord has taken away their sins, and removed them as far as the east is from the west. It is this latter matter that will prove what a blessing your salvation is when God brings it to you in the form of a promise: it will make you confident. That is to say, not only are all of the parts of his promise validated (Galatians 3:17) and guaranteed (Hebrews 6:17) by which you could and should become convinced and confident of its truthfulness, but the gospel promise itself contains divine power for the purpose of working confidence in your mind (1st Thessalonians 1:5). This is what we will look at today.
1. Be warned that your flesh will doubt the gospel!
2. Be confident toward the pledge of God as you could and should be!
The psalmist cries out, “Do not let those who look for you become confounded!” (Psalm 69:6). The Lord, in turn, responds, “My promise will not let them become confounded,” that is, “it will not disappoint, nor leave them looking foolish. It will work every time. It will not fail. So be confident!”
The last time we heard how the gospel promise comforts your soul. This time we will see how you could and should be confident of the gospel. What would be the connection between these two sermons? The logical link will be this: First of all, God will comfort you. How? through his gospel pledge. While you will be waiting for heaven, God will continue to recomfort you all the while from the guilt of your sins, from the terrors of death, and throughout your sufferings. He will do this in order “to heal” you, as he calls it, that is, in order “to give your faith new strength.” To accomplish this he will work to make you more confident in his gospel pledge.
In our text the apostle reminded the local congregation at Thessalonica of how they came to faith. He recounted how that the gospel preaching by him and by his assistant was not just with words, but with power – a power which no other words contain, namely, divine power. This is how the Thessalonians were turned around and came to believe in the salvation of God: through the power contained in the gospel pledge. Moreover, where the gospel would come, the Holy Spirit will come along with it. Furthermore, where the gospel would be preached, assurance to the believer will be preached along with it, the text guarantees. In fact, the original Greek of our text is even more emphatic. It reads that “full assurance, or full conviction” will come with the gospel. That is to say, the power of the gospel will work in you full confidence of itself.
Think about this for a minute! If this would be what gospel pledge does, will this, then, not be the way that God wants you to be? So be fully convinced! Be confident of his gospel! This is the way he wants you to be.
Realize that the entire Trinity desires you to keep alive your God-given faith, that all-important, vital component in your salvation! Therefore, the Lord will use his all-purpose tool – his gospel pledge – to keep your faith alive.
In order to accomplish this, Scripture assures you, by the use of some vivid imagery, that the Lord will heal your faith (Ezekiel 34:16) by his Word (Psalm 107:20), that is, he will bring new strength from his gospel to your weak faith.
Faith, or to be more exact, the power of faith, may increase (2nd Corinthians 10:15) or decrease (Luke 22:32). It may be strong and bold (Ephesians 3:12) or weak. You are at your best when your faith is at its strongest. The Lord knows this. This is the condition for which he is constantly working.
The Trinity recognizes the fact that due to your sinful flesh, there will be at times an unfortunate decrease in the degree of trust which you have in his gospel promise; that while your faith could and should always strongly be confident, it will not always be so. Therefore, whenever your sinful flesh would tempt you to doubt, and you would weaken and follow your flesh, you foolishly will undermine, damage, and even sabotage the confidence which the gospel had worked in you.
Remember that the function of faith is to cling to a promise! Faith will live and exist to do one thing and one thing only: to grab onto a pledge. Whenever you would doubt, you will be helping your flesh to defy your faith, to defy the purpose of the promise, and to defy God in saving you. This is why doubt is so dangerous and deadly, and why confidence is so vital and necessary.
Realize that doubt is the opposite of faith! Doubt belongs in the category of unbelief. Doubt is sin. It originates in your flesh. While doubt is not outright denial it is very close to it. In fact, if it would not be fought, doubt eventually and absolutely will destroy your trust in the gospel pledge.
Scripture describes doubt in various ways. For instance, “to doubt” is “to be greatly perplexed about something”; “to be at a loss as to what to make of it” in the original Greek of Acts 2:12. It is a state of uncertainty (Luke 24:4). It is a fluctuation of the mind respecting the truthfulness of a matter (James 1:8). “He who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). “He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8), who is in need of “purifying his heart” (James 4:8).
Doubt is the seed of unbelief. Unbelief is like handing God’s salvation back to him, and declaring, “I do not want it.” It is like saying, “I am too busy with other things. Do not bother me. I will take my chances on Judgment Day without your pardon.”
How would God react to this? Would his pardon still cover that person anyway? The U.S. Supreme Court has handed down this verdict: If a prisoner would refuse to accept a pardon, he will stay condemned. The same judgment has been declared by God. If a sinner would refuse to accept his pardon, he will stay condemned. His unbelief will damn him. “He who does not believe will be damned” (Mark 16:16). In fact, where there is unbelief, there “all [his] other sins [will] again assume their condemnatory character.”
What would cause you to doubt? It certainly will not be due to a lack of evidence regarding your salvation. God has spoken to you abundantly about it, and has assured you of its truthfulness by many promises and oaths. Doubts arise in your mind because your flesh always rejects the things of God due to its natural contempt for them (1st Corinthians 2:14).
In addition, an indifferent attitude toward the gospel will cause you to lose confidence in it. That is, whenever you would catch yourself yawning at the gospel, thinking, “I have heard all this before,” this will be a symptom of doubt – doubt that there would be much importance at all attached to the gospel.
Furthermore, you will belittle the promise of God whenever you would allow your mind to be distracted and become occupied more with the things of this world than with the holy things of God. Your Lord warns against this – against imitating the thinking of the people in the days of Noah and of Lot, who ‘ate, drank, bought, sold, planted, and built” until punishment came along and they were all destroyed (Luke 17:26-28) because they had not done what it took to keep faith in the gospel.
What is more, you will bring on uncertainty whenever you would serve sin, and would not quit it; whenever you would not purge sin out of your mind by working hard to put it down. Sin will tear down your faith bit by bit with every transgression until there is little, and then, finally, no faith left.
In addition, during periods of sufferings you will tend to doubt. While God-sent sufferings are designed to do the very opposite: to make you more confident, you will be tempted to think: “Why is God doing this to me? Where is his pledge to help? Has he forgotten me?”
So watch out for these messengers of doubt! He who would doubt the promises of God will distrust God. He who would distrust God will imply that the Lord is a liar (1st John 5:20). In fact, he who would have a hostile attitude toward the gospel will bring down God’s judgment of blindness on him, in which he will not be able to see the truth.
Moreover, doubting will bring on the destruction of faith; then, eternal death and damnation. Do not be foolish! Do not doubt! Be confident!
Saving faith trusts in the forgiveness purchased by Christ and guaranteed in the gospel pledge. Confidence is the heart of this saving faith. It is the believer’s “Amen” or “This is most certainly true” to the salvation which God has pledged. To be confident, then, the believer, first of all, has to be assured by the gospel promise.
To stay confident, the believer has to be reassured continually by the gospel. Thus these reassurances of God will be what would make you confident. Hence the only way to stay confident is to continue in the gospel words of Christ. So “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly!” Colossians 3:16.)
Scripture describes the state of confidence as having the knowledge of salvation of which the believer is persuaded and assured: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that [faith] which I have entrusted to him,” (2nd Timothy 1:12). Christian confidence is variously described as confident persuasion (Ephesians 3:12); as boldness to which the believer holds firmly (Hebrews 3:6) and does not “cast away” (Hebrews 10:35). Confidence is the state of having good courage (2nd Corinthians 5:6). It is a confidence of the heart subsisting firmly and immovably (Hebrews 3:14). It is trust (2nd Corinthians 3:4); confident boasting (2nd Corinthians 9:4); being fully persuaded (Romans 4:20); full assurance (Colossians 2:2); in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22).
To be sure, a believer must be certain of the gospel before he could be confident of it. The Bible, therefore, describes the Christian as “knowing the certainty” of the gospel (Luke 1:4).
However, to be certain, the ground of certainty must be found outside of your unsound mind. To be divinely certain, you will need to have an outside divine witness. Only the divine gospel could create in you full assurance that your sins are forgiven (1st Thessalonians 2:13). Thus your confidence will be mightily strengthened whenever you would rehear the gospel passages in Scripture. Indeed, when you could apply the gospel promise to yourself, and testify, “That forgiveness includes me,” it will mean that you are confident. This is why God chose the singular method of salvation by promise, so that you could be completely confident of it. Do you see this?
In fact, to strengthen your confidence, and to prevent doubt, the Lord also purposely will send you crosses that will prod you into firming your trust as you reach for his gospel pledge once again with an eager anxious will that is confident in his promise to save and to help; a will that is bold and firm; that is persuaded that what all the Lord has pledged is true and unbreakable; a will that is fully assured that the salvation which the Lord has promised has taken place; a mind that is safely, surely, certainly, and firmly planted in the words from the mouth of God; a soul that is made steady with full faith in all what God had done to rescue you from the damnation to come, and to make ready for you your home in heaven.
So have full assurance of faith! Why? for “the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Joel 2:13). He has cast all of your sins behind his back (Isaiah 38:17). He will clean up the spill of your transgressions, and will remember them no more (Isaiah 43:25). If you would confess your iniquities with the intent to make a good faith effort to stop doing them, God will have mercy on you (Proverbs 28:13), for he will multiply pardon (Isaiah 55:7) toward you.
What more could you ask? Be confident, then! Trust his gospel promise!
 W. H. T. Dau, Doctrinal Theology, volume II (no place: mimeographed, after 1910), page 22 middle.
 Franz Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, translator Walter W. F. Albrecht (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1970), volume III, page 548.
 See W. H. T. Dau, Doctrinal Theology, volume II (no place: mimeographed, after 1910), page 107 top.
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Hebrews 2:9: “We see, Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor on account of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
There is a difference between the promise which God gave to the Old Testament believers and then, subsequently, to the New Testament believers. To the New Testament Christians he gave additional knowledge in regard to the saving acts of Christ. That is, he gave a detailed, even minute testimony of the saving events in Christ’s life, including a listing of people, days, and hours, besides a detailed account of plot, action, and speech.
Why did the Lord do all this? He did it for one reason: for you, to assure you.
Realize that the saving acts of Christ could have been done quickly and quietly in seclusion, capped off with God’s pledge to you that it was so! However, the Lord chose the opposite! In other words, he went far out of his way and to great lengths in regard to his saving work. He did them publicly, purposely in plain view of all including trained observers and high governmental officials.
Think of it! God did not send his Son down to earth to a deserted frozen wasteland that was uninhabited, such as Siberia, where Christ, would rest down on a rock, and momentarily suffer quickly, quietly, and unseen, after which God would announce that his Son had just accomplished a salvation for the entire world! God did not want to do it in this way. Rather, it was done in this manner: the birth, holy life, death, and all the other acts of Christ were done openly in front of witnesses. For instance, shepherds and Wise men are pulled in deliberately to witness the inauguration of Christ. His birth is publicly recorded on the official rolls of the Roman Empire. Crowds are at his trial. Multiple governmental and church officials are made to view his execution as eyewitnesses. Hundreds see him after his resurrection. Why? Why did God parade these saving acts of Christ in front of so many thousands of eyewitnesses? simply and solely for this reason: for your benefit, so that you could and should be all the more certain of the saving acts which Christ did.
Think about that! What a caring Christ he is! Therefore-
From time to time in the sermons, and from your own readings in the Bible, you have heard such technical terms as reconciliation and redemption, propitiation and imputation, expiation and incarnation, atonement and testament. To what do these refer? They refer to the saving acts of God.
Look at what went on in the merciful mind of God! See the wonderful works of Christ on earth! Realize what an important part they played in your salvation! They released you from Judgment Day, and spared you from an eternity in hell.
Consider the saving acts of God! First of all, look at them in their natural order!
Before this is done, however, remember the background to the story of salvation! God had created man in his own image. This means that Adam and Eve had been created holy and righteous as God is. Just the same, in spite of these advantages, Adam and Eve chose to sin and brought upon themselves, and passed onto their children, a sinful nature, that is, an evil mind which, on the one hand, hated God and the things of God, and, on the other hand, served evil with a passion. The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth. There is none that does good; no, not one. As a consequence, this brought upon the human race guilt, slavery to sin, the anger of the Almighty (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:3), and the sentence of eternal punishment.
Acknowledge these facts! Come clean! Confess to the sin in your heart! Admit your guilt! Sorrow over the fact that your sin-stained life has separated you from God! Then “return to the Lord” (Lamentations 3:20)! The only way in which this could be done; the only way that you could become reconciled to God is that you must look to and depend upon God’s wonderful pledge that he has laid all of your sins of Jesus’ back, and has punished him on Calvary’s cross instead of you. Depend on this salvation! It has removed your sins from you.
Indeed, instead of imposing immediately the well-deserved punishment with which he had threatened the sinner, God resorted to the grace in his heart. That is, God had mercy or compassion on man who had in every way given up his right to God’s love. The Almighty stopped himself in his tracks, so to speak, and instead of punishing the sinner as he fully intended, the Lord planned a way for all mankind to escape its damnation. This plan of God would be an intervention so that the entire world could be rescued from the destruction towards which it was headed.
Nevertheless, this would not be a gratuitous deliverance. That is to say, the Almighty simply could not announce that all of the charges against mankind had been dropped; that the crimes they had committed no longer mattered. Payments had to be made, and debts paid. Punishment had to be meted out and God’s righteous anger satisfied. Rather, the plan of salvation would be accomplished in this way: the grace of God would work together with his justice. The grace of God would set up a way to meet the demands of his justice without sending the whole ruined race into eternal torment. How could this be done?
Briefly put, the plan of God was this: The Father would send the Son to earth to take on the body of a man. This mission of the Son would be twofold: (1) to fulfill the law of God for the sinful world so that the Father could decree to the rebellious race, “You have done it. You have done all that I had commanded you. You are righteous. Go free! You may enter my heaven”; and also (2) to endure as man’s substitute the everlasting punishment in hell which fallen man had deserved. We call these “the saving acts of Christ.” In brief, this was the gracious plan of God.
In spirit we Christians could and should see Jesus in his saving acts, the text declares. He was made a man, a little lower than the angels, for the purpose of suffering eternal death, so that he might taste it for everyone. Recognize in this the important biblical teaching of substitution! That is to say, in all of his saving acts Christ did not do these things for himself – he had no need for them. He did them for you. You lacked the holiness with which to enter heaven. Christ earned it for everyone. You deserved to die in everlasting torment. Christ tasted this death for all people. Thus you are now freed from them. So be assured of this! Build your confidence on it! God wants you to do so. Recognize the saving acts of Christ, for they are your salvation!
To put it briefly, the saving acts of Christ would be these: They began with his incarnation, by which he accomplished your redemption, and made atonement or expiation, that is, reconciliation, or propitiation for your crimes by his active and passive obedience. As a result of which Christ gave you an imputation of his righteousness, that is, a justification, or, in other words, the forgiveness of sins. Then, he promised in a pledge to you called the “New Testament” that this is what he had planned, had seen it through, and carried out to completion to save you fully, freely, and finally.
Take a closer look at these terms! It was the job of God the Son to accomplish the saving acts in which he would obey voluntarily the divine law on behalf of mankind, and then that he would suffer their torment in hell. To accomplish these things, he had to come down to earth and become incarnate, that is, he had to take on a man’s body. Thus “God appeared in the flesh,” Holy Writ remarks (1st Timothy 3:16). Why? Since the law of God and the punishment in hell were intended for men, and not for a spirit, he had to become a man in order to submit himself to both. These two acts of Christ have been called by theologians the active and passive obedience. In other words, Christ behaved as you should be behaving, and he made up for what you had done wrong in the past. He actively obeyed the law of God so fully and perfectly that it is now considered by Heaven to have been obeyed flawlessly by the entire human race. “By the obedience of one many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Secondly, the punishment which Christ endured in hell for all sinners has been served so fully it is as if all men had suffered it for eternity themselves, so much so that God has spent his anger, and no longer has anything against the human race. In short, as the text assures you, “Jesus, by the grace of God should taste death for everyone.”
By these two major crowning achievements on earth as a man, God has accomplished your redemption. In other words, Christ has released you from all your guilt and from all the punishment in hell which you deserved by the debt of your sins.
Literally, “to redeem” means “to buy back.” In the original Greek it meant to pay a ransom in order to set free a prisoner. In fact, realize that you were that prisoner: the worst kind! Scripture teaches that your thoughts, speech, and actions were completely captive to the cruel slavery of sin. Because of the evil which you had done, you were sealed in guilt. As a result, your sins rang up a debt, a huge debt of punishment, namely, death and everlasting punishment because they were rebellion committed against the pure, holy, and perfect God. It was real debt. It was a horrible terrifying debt. You were locked into it. It had come due. What is more, there was nothing in your power which you could do to release yourself from this debt.
Yet when you were without strength; while you were still ungodly (Romans 5), the mighty God, in the body of a man, paid off your threefold debt and released you from the control of sin, from all of your guilt, and from every part of your punishment.
How did he accomplish this? not with gold or silver – that would be a pitifully poor sum – but with the costliest price ever: God’s own suffering and death in hell, and God’s own holy life on earth. Understand that you had been held captive! A sum was needed to pay for your release. God paid that sum with his blood and life. He redeemed you. He bought you. He bought you with a price: a very dear price.
What happened after Christ paid this redemption payment? He settled God’s anger against you and gave you the holiness with which to enter heaven.
First of all, Christ settled, or appeased the righteous wrath of God which was furious over the rebellious lawbreaking of evil-loving mankind. Christ made atonement. That is to say, he did what was necessary to bring God back to friendly terms with the rebellious race through his gracious voluntary punishment in hell upon the altar of his cross on behalf of the sinful world, making satisfaction for your sins. Christ’s atonement was the loving act of a mediator between God and man that effected a change in the heart of God toward the sinner from being hateful to that of being peaceable.
In fact, in its common meaning in the Old Testament, “atonement,”as well as the terms “propitiation” and “expiation,” along with the word “reconciliation” in the meaning of Hebrews 2:17, are all translations of the same Hebrew and Greek words meaning “to appease,” and also “to clear from guilt.”
Remember: God was angry at the world over its enormous iniquity! As a holy, just, and righteous God he must punish all evil. Yet Christ “delivered us from the anger to come” (1st Thessalonians 1:20). He came down and cleared the world of its guilt by appeasing God. He did this by substituting his punishment in hell for that of the world. As a result, Divine Justice was satisfied. God became reconciled with the whole world. He changed his attitude from hatred to love; from being a foe, to being a friend. He no longer had any reason to punish the world because Christ had already suffered its punishment. “Having made peace through the blood of his cross,” God reconciled all to himself (Colossians 1:20).
Therefore, Christ has paid off your debt. Whereupon God now gave credit to your account. He banged down his judicial gavel, so to speak, and made this pronouncement: “The whole world is now freed from its debt of punishment. Moreover, mankind is now declared to be righteous, holy in my judgment, since the Son has lived a holy life for it.” This is what is known as “justification.” God made Christ “who knew no sin, to be sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2nd Corinthians 5:21).
As a result of Christ’s work, God, in his courts and decrees, in his legal ledger and register, has declared the whole world to be just and righteous, freed from all punishment, and of having a holiness capable of entering heaven.
Observe that the Lord did not give you holiness in the form of a crown, for instance, and lay it on top of your head! He did not pass a wand over you and transform you into a completely holy person. Rather, he did it differently.
He did it in a juridical manner. That is to say, he imputed holiness to the whole world; namely, he accredited holiness to the world’s account. He gave it to the world’s credit, absolving it, clearing it officially before the court of Divine Justice of any wrongdoing, of debt, and of punishment. This is called a “pardon.” This also is known as “forgiveness.” Indeed, this is the grand glorious gospel promise.
But wait! The Lord was not done yet. There still was more. Next he set up the means of grace, that is, his gospel promises in his Bible and at the heart of his two sacraments, baptism and communion, to bring this pardon to the sinner with the intent of handing it over to him, and of making it his own by powering him to obtain it and to possess it by taking it through an act of faith.
All of these saving works of Christ, and all of the juridical responses of God to them are what are known as your salvation.
In fact, realize that all of this activity of God was done not for his benefit! He had no need for it. It was done all for your benefit. So the next time that you would recite the Apostles’ Creed, and profess its list of the saving acts of God, realize that there are two words that are missing. These words are “for me.” The Lord did all these things for you.
Be assured of this! Build your confidence on it! See the saving acts of God, for this is your salvation!
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Romans 5:12, 8-9: “As through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and thus death passed to all men, for all sinned. But God proves his own love to us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. How much more, therefore, having been justified now in his blood will we be saved through him from anger!” (the author’s translation.)
Why is this body lying here dead?
It is because of sin. The almighty God of heaven and earth has threatened, “The soul that would sin, it must die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
Think about it! Should this be so strange? In July of 2011 twenty-one motorists in Minnesota were ticketed for driving more than 100 miles per hour. Another seventy-two were fined for doing more than ninety mph. If those who have broken human laws have been pulled over and punished, will not those who have broken Heaven’s laws be apprehended and punished?
Who has broken Heaven’s laws? Everyone has. “All have sinned,” the Bible reports (Romans 3:23). Therefore, “death passed on to all men, for all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Thus the entire human race marches on to its grave on account of sin, because “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18).
Why should the punishment for sin be death? The pure and holy Almighty had warned his pure and holy creatures, Adam and Eve, whom he had created, that if they would ever sin, they will be punished with death. After this, the Bible related the tragic story, “By one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on to all men, for all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
At the beginning of creation God had created man and woman pure and holy for the purpose of having them live with him in heaven. To this end God created this world for man to live in temporarily, in order to bear children, and then, after a period of time, to take the parents home to heaven one by one without dying.
However, this plan was upset by the devil. Adam and Eve were tempted to sin. After which they did not resist temptation, but proceeded to sin, burning their bridges, so to speak, so that they could never regain their holiness.
This ruined everything. The holy and righteous Almighty could not have sinners in his presence in heaven murdering each other, for instance, as Cain later murdered his own brother. Therefore, the sinful human race was not only locked out of heaven, but doomed to be punished. As a result, God set a day of reckoning called “Judgment Day.” Sinners would have to die an earthly death, be brought before the almighty Judge, and then be punished with never-ending suffering called “eternal death.”
Indeed, an earthly death is God’s arrest. Earthly death is his judgment on that evil which had infected the soul. This is why this body is now lying here dead.
Thus your sins are no slight matter. They are a slap in the face to the holy and righteous Almighty. They are a revolt and a defiance so outrageous and damnable, that nothing less than a never-ending punishment of the sinner would do.
See the truth in all of this! Admit that it is true! It is useless for you to deny it for “your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23); for “God will bring every work into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 12:4), since the Lord searches the heart… even to give every man according to his ways (Jeremiah 17:10).
So admit your sinfulness! You have grieved and offended the Almighty. If anyone should be sorry, you will be the one, and you ought to do it here and now!
What is more, realize that, out of his grace, the Lord determined to help you. He resolved to overturn the damage which the devil had done. God planned that the battle which the devil had won in the Garden of Eden should be fought all over again. This time not Adam but God himself, the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, would assume a human body and fight the devil. Since he is almighty God, victory over the devil’s temptation would be assured. Realize that this occurred decisively when the Lord Jesus Christ left his throne in heaven and came down to this earth for the purpose of resisting the devil’s temptations in your place, and, then, as your holy and powerful substitute, of keeping every law of God which you had ever broken! What is more, the Lord Jesus removed the pending eternal punishment which your sinning had brought upon you by suffering it himself on Calvary’s cross. Then, on Easter Sunday, he broke the chains that had confined you, the sinner, in an eternal death forever. See this! Declare: “I want to believe that Jesus has gotten forgiveness for me”!
So what would this action of Jesus mean? How would it benefit you?
It would mean this: Since the demands of Divine Justice have been fully met and satisfied by no less than God himself, the Lord Jesus Christ; since his announcement from his cross, “It is accomplished”(John 19:30) assures that everything required for your release from sin’s ruin has been accomplished fully and flawlessly by no less than God himself, there are immense benefits to you, the sinner who is standing all alone, facing, in spirit, the judgment bench of the angry Almighty himself.
First of all, God himself has cast all of your sins behind his back, and has declared you sinless. As a result, your guilt has been removed. In addition, your sentence of eternal death in hell’s horrors has been cancelled. Because of this, heaven’s doors now have been flung open wide to receive you after this life. Indeed, this had been God’s intention all along.
Moreover, through this good news your thoughtful Lord exerts his gentle power so that his Words of peace will put you at peace with your heavenly Father and also with your conscience, in order that you may have divine assurance from Heaven’s own pledge that God has pardoned you, become friendly and reconciled toward you, and so that you could be confident that your body also will rise to heaven, as Jesus rose on Easter Sunday, according to his promise, “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19).
To be sure, you will have to die on account of the sin which has caused the decay of death in your body, as this body lying in the casket before you demonstrates. Yet your soul, cleansed by Christ’s saving blood, will be kept alive beyond the grave safely at the side of Christ, ready to be reunited with your resurrected body on the Last Day.
All of these promises – and they are just that, are they not? Think about it! – for you never have been able to see Jesus Christ when he lived on this earth, have you? You never have been able to look into God’s mind in order to determine what thoughts he has toward you, the sinner, have you? Realize, then, that the only assurance which you ever could have that this salvation will be true, is if you would have God’s own word for it: his pledges. This is precisely what the Lord has given you. He left his pledges behind on this earth with you in order that you would depend on them and not on your own thoughts; in order that you would have faith in his pledges as your only rescue from ruin by the great God himself, since God will keep his promises. Do so!
The deceased did. In fact, all that he had was God’s promises. Think about it! He had nothing else with which to get right with God. He departed this life holding onto God’s pledges, looking forward to heaven as God had promised him. Do the same!
Hear those pledges once more!
“Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12); they “will go into everlasting punishment… into everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:46, 41) “which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
Nevertheless, “God is the God of salvation; and to God…belong the escapes from death” (Psalm 68:20);
For “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:23).
So “the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1st John 4:14) “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
“He who believes the Son has everlasting life” (John 3:36), he “will not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11).
“Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!” (2nd Corinthians 9:15.)
“Lay hold on eternal life!” (1st Timothy 6:12.)
“Believe in the gospel!” (Mark 1:15.)
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