This is the first sermon in a five-part series written by Pastor Coons titled, “Living God’s Priorities.”
Living God’s Priorities
“The Priority of Faith”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 9, 2014
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What is a priority? If I go to my handy-dandy Merriam-Webster Dictionary app on my cellphone I find out that a priority is “superiority in rank, position, or privilege; a preferential rating.” In other words, a priority is that which takes first spot in our lives, that which is more important than other things in our lives. Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas cowboys, when asked why he had been so successful as a football coach, said, “In 1958, I did something everyone who has been successful must do, I determined my priorities for my life—God, family, and then football.” Fans of the American Wild West will find in a Deadwood, South Dakota museum this inscription left by a beleaguered prospector: “I lost my gun. I lost my horse. I am out of food. The Indians are after me. But I’ve got all the gold I can carry!” An interesting set of priorities, indeed!
What are the priorities in your life? Are they practical and realistic? Are your priorities things that actually should be priorities in your life, or are you carrying all the gold you can with priorities that are out of whack? Lent is a good time to reflect on our priorities in life. It is an appropriate time to examine our lives and to ask ourselves what are God’s priorities for us as we live as His people? Then, we must take time to see if God’s priorities for us match with our priorities. If not, then we ask the Holy Spirit to help us make the necessary changes so that we more faithfully live out His priorities in our lives of faith.
This morning I want us to consider the Lord’s number one priority for all people. It is recorded for us in Holy Scripture in 1 Timothy 2:4, God “wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That’s the Lord’s number one priority. He revealed it to us immediately following Adam and Eve’s fall into sin in Genesis 3:15, when the Lord said to Satan, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15 CSB) The Lord would send a Savior to destroy Satan, sin, and death, saving all people. And so He did.
The Savior was God the Son. “When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:1 CSB) Jesus crushed the head of the devil, that ancient snake, but was mortally wounded in doing so. Jesus suffered the hellish death of crucifixion, bearing in His own body the sins of the whole world. He endured being completely forsaken by God the Father, Jesus the Son being covered in the unholiness and filth of our sins. But in shedding His blood to atone for our sins, in suffering hell and death in the place of all sinners of every time and place, Jesus won for us the complete forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Jesus’ death and His resurrection on the third day won salvation for everyone, because God wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth that Jesus Christ alone is Savior and Lord.
Knowing and believing this truth about Jesus is the work of God. After the miraculous feeding of the 5000 in John 6, the crowd that followed Jesus said to Him, “’What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’” Jesus singled out God’s gift to them, the gift of faith that believes in Jesus as the very One whom God sent to be the Savior, to give forgiveness and life to the world.
Now, what is faith? Handy-dandy Merriam-Webster says, “Belief and trust in and loyalty to God; firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust.” The Book of Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1 ESV) Faith is trust in the heart which believes even without seeing what God has set forth in His Word, especially about the Savior, Jesus Christ. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the Early Church Fathers, wrote that “Faith is not an opinion, but a certitude.” In the Apology (or Defense) of the Augsburg Confession, we Lutherans believe, “Faith is not only knowledge in the intellect, but also confidence in the will.” That confidence and trust of the heart is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that trust and belief and confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior is God’s gift to us.
Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is God alone who gives us faith as a gift, the faith that trusts in Jesus alone as our Savior from sin and eternal death. We confess this truth each time we speak the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” When you and I say these words we confess, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith,” as Martin Luther rightly explains in The Small Catechism.
The Holy Spirit calls us to faith by the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News that God sent Jesus Christ into the flesh to live a perfect life for us, to suffer and to die in our place receiving our punishment for sin thereby winning with His death and resurrection our forgiveness and everlasting life. The Gospel Word is one of the Means of Grace, one of the ways the Lord gives us the gift of saving faith/trust in Jesus as our Savior. Another Means of Grace through which we receive faith in Jesus is Holy Baptism. Through the water combined with God’s Word of the Gospel the Holy Spirit creates faith in the heart of the baptized to believe in Christ and to receive from Christ the fruits of His cross—forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.
Through the Gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit, faith clings to Christ alone as Savior from sin, death, and the devil. Through the Gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit, faith receives what Jesus alone purchased and won for us on the cross with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. Faith receives forgiveness of sins. Faith receives eternal life. Faith receives salvation.
Since believing in Christ and receiving forgiveness and salvation from Him through the Gospel is God’s number one priority, how do you and I as Christians live the priority of faith? The Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper assures us that we are God’s children. We are redeemed by Jesus Christ and made full heirs of life and salvation. As St. Paul reminds us, since we are the forgiven children of God in Christ, we are a new creation. (2 Cor. 5:17) As a re-created person of faith in Jesus, we now desire, with the help of God the Holy Spirit, to live in Christ and to live for Christ alone.
What does living in Christ and for Christ look like? God’s Word in Romans 12 gives us a most excellent picture. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. . . . Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” (Rom 12:1ff. ESV)
This is such a comprehensive list of what it looks like for a Christian to live the priority of faith in Christ. Because we believe in Christ through the gift of faith, our lives are lived for Him and in Him. Because our sins have been forgiven and we have new life in Christ, our lives of faith reflect the forgiveness and love and life of Christ. As we live the life of faith with the help of the Holy Spirit, you and I live lives of worship to support our most holy faith. In our living of the Christian faith we teach and model it in our families. Our lives of faith show mercy to others, counting our neighbors as more important than ourselves. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we live to tell others about Jesus, so that many more people might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth of forgiveness and salvation in Christ. After all, that’s God’s number one priority, and, by faith, it also becomes ours.
In Holy Baptism, through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit has called us Christians to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith we have received the forgiveness of sins and the eternal life Christ purchased and won for us through His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection triumph over death. You and I now have the unique identity of being the people of God in Christ Jesus who live the priority of faith. We are the Church. As the Church, you and I as individuals, and as a congregation, are called by virtue of our Christian faith to live as people of faith in our everyday lives in what we do, in what we say, in how we do it, and in how we say it. Through our witness of the priority of faith, we pray that many more people would come to know the Gospel of Jesus, receive the gift of faith through hearing the Gospel, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, live the priority of faith with us. Amen.