Friday, December 07, 2007

Christ Crucified or Christ Believed

Christ Crucified or Christ Believed?

This may seem like an odd question, but it is a very important question. Most people do not even realize that the two Christs are not the same. It is for this reason that so many different doctrines are taught by so many denominations, all claiming to be preaching Jesus and Grace and Faith.

So what is the difference between the preaching of Christ Crucified and Christ Believed? The difference is the one from whom faith originates and flows.

Beginning in reverse, beginning with the preaching of Christ Believed, the emphasis is on the statement, “I believe” or “We believe.” Naturally, such language must be utilized, for where true faith exists, the person and group will speak what is believed. This is not the issue.

The issue is in the “WHY” of the statement.

Most people if asked why they believe will answer that they choose to believe. They may say that they decided to follow Jesus or that they invited Jesus into their hearts or that they chose to commit their lives to Jesus or to give their hearts to Jesus or any similar sounding actions of choice or decision on their part. In most cases they give acknowledgment to the statements of Scripture such as Ephesians 2:8-10 where the apostles keep to the words of Christ in teaching that faith is a gift of God and not a work of the individual, but then they immediately turn from these clear declarations of the Holy Spirit and insist that they themselves must do something to produce this faith. “I have to believe, don’t I?” “I have to choose, don’t I?”

Such rationalizations are contrary to the doctrine of the Scriptures. These rationalizations are like saying that after a lawnmower engine has been started that it must continue running. The lawnmower engine does not choose to begin running and it does not choose to stop running. Something may go wrong that makes the engine unable to continue. It may run out of fuel and therefore cease running. But it does not stop by its own volition and it does not start by its own volition.

Now, since a lawnmower engine is not a living thing, the Lord Jesus and His apostles did not use lifeless objects in teaching this. Rather, Jesus used the activity of conception and birth (generation) as the example. A baby is not conceived by its own volition. It does not choose to grow and develop. It does not obtain nutrients for itself nor even choose which available nutrients to utilize while in the womb. It does not choose the time of parturition. It does not pull itself into the world from the womb. After the baby is born, it does not care for itself or nurture itself. As the baby grows it is taught, by example and with words, what it needs and where to find its needs supplied.

The Lord Jesus said that no one can even see or perceive the kingdom of God unless that person is regenerated. When Nicodemus did not understand, Jesus added that unless a person is generated of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. He also said that just as people can hear the sound of the wind but cannot know where it comes from or where it goes, so the person regenerated to faith by the Holy Spirit recognizes the results but cannot explain them.

Yet when people apply their own rationalizations to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Gift of Faith, they often presume to have chosen to believe or to have decided to believe. This is why in John 1:12-13 the apostle plainly teaches that this is not how it happens. He makes this absolute declaration right at the beginning of his account of the Gospel so that as people would read and hear it that this would be ever present in their minds. He says that those who receive Jesus do so by the authority or power that God gave to them (that is, the Gospel, as St. Paul says in Romans 1:16) and that this regeneration of faith is not the result of bloodlines (who one’s ancestors are) and not the result of the will of the flesh (free will) and not the result of the will of a man (husband or father) but from God they are generated. Then in verse 14 he reveals again who this God is, just as he previously declared in verse 1 and following.

Yet even upon reading and hearing this, people tend to go forward with the rest of the Gospel and take from it that they must somehow believe for themselves and choose to follow Jesus.

The preaching and confession of this choice is the exact opposite of the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The preaching and confession of the Christ who saves by means of a person choosing or deciding to believe is the opposite of the preaching and confession of the Christ who says that He saves by means of water and the Spirit.

Thus the preachers of choice and decision turn a deaf ear to the Scriptures that teach the Christ who saves by water and the Spirit and who says that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood have everlasting life. In direct defiance of the words of Christ they teach that these clear words concerning the Sacraments do not mean what they say but must be interpreted symbolically to represent what people must do for themselves and that these Sacraments do not do what the words say that they do, but rather people must use them to choose yet again to be committed to Jesus by their own reason and strength.

But the preaching of Christ Crucified is the preaching of a Christ who not only gave Himself on the Cross to accomplish our salvation objectively, but who continues to be present to accomplish our salvation subjectively. The preaching of Christ Crucified is the preaching of the Christ who says that He does not leave us as orphans but comes to us even now as those whom He has redeemed and reconciled to God. He promises that our salvation does not depend upon what we choose to believe, but rather upon what He does for us as a true Savior. He does not demand that we muster the strength to believe in Him, but rather supplies means by which His saints may be gathered unto Him to receive Him even as the first two did in the garden of Eden and as the disciples did during His ministry among the Jews. He gives to His Church on earth means by which He supplies all that we need both for faith and for continuing in that faith. Through the pure and unadulterated preaching of the Gospel and the pure administration of the Sacraments, He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Rather than demanding that we generate the will to believe in a Jesus that we cannot see, He shows Himself present with us through these means.

This is why the preaching of Christ Crucified is such a stumbling block for those who seek to follow Christ by believing in Him. The means of grace do not require anything from us. They truly are means of grace. To any person seeking to follow Christ by means of one’s own faith, to any person believing that faith is a requirement rather than a true gift, the kingdom of God cannot be perceived. And so people seek to pray harder and to believe more firmly and to be better witnesses. They speak of knowing that God is with them because of their prayers and their faith and their other works of proof of believing. But Christ says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The preaching of Christ Crucified is the preaching of the Christ who gave Himself, once and for all, in order that we may feast upon Him with Thanksgiving and live in His grace, mercy, and peace. He has prepared the way through the water unto life and He has prepared the table for the feast. Such as receive Christ through these eagerly say with John “And from the fullness of Him we all have received, even grace for grace.”

From the fullness of HIM we have all received. Not from the fullness of our faith nor from the fullness of our efforts nor from the fullness of our commitment nor from the fullness of our service, but from the fullness of Him we have all received. This is the preaching of Christ Crucified rather than the preaching of Christ Believed.

This is why the Church dare not gather with those who preach anything other than Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. There is only one Christ who gives grace for grace.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
(Ephesians 2:8-10)

Truly, verse ten is often misapplied. The good works unto which we have been created in Christ Jesus are HIS good works, not ours. He has taken our works, which cannot ever be counted as good, and has given us His works. He calls us unto Himself to partake of His good works in order that we may walk or live in them. This is the pure preaching of the Gospel and the pure administration of His means of grace.

Why should anyone ever choose to believe anything else when what we need to believe, God gives freely by grace?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


God has been using your preaching/teaching as water for a man dying of thirst.

I grew up in the ELCA and left because I didn't here sound biblical / Confessional teaching like this. Matter of fact I didn't even know what the Lutheran Confessions were!

However, I left the Lutheran church as a whole and have missed, what I never learned: teaching and preaching in line with the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions.

I have read many of your sermons and blog entries and I usually come away looking to my Bible to confirm it, feeling refreshed and thankful, all while seeing with new eyes.

Thank you for your commitment to preaching and teaching just how wonderful our salvation is in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

I was baptized as when I was one, but I never felt "comfortable" sharing that with others outside of Lutheran cirlces.

I cowered in front of rational arguments against infant baptism and Christ true presence in Holy Communion. I was not taught very well to have confidence in God's Word.

But I have done enough striving in my short years on earth. It's real freedom to hear the truth about what God has done in the Cross of Jesus, and His provision for our salvation through the Means of Grace.

Thank you again pastor for being faithful to your calling. May you be encouraged today in the One who called you!