“How Do You Know?” Lent Midweek Catechetical Sermon.
Wednesday after Oculi
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Catechism: “How Can Water Do Such Great Things?”
March 6, 2013 (2nd rvs. Vespers)
“How Do You Know?”
How do you know that you’re saved? Sooner or later that question comes. It rises within our hearts. It comes from the mouth of another Christian, or from an unbelieving acquaintance. But it must come. If not now, sometime in our lives. How can it not come?
If you are saved, will the devil permit that to go unquestioned? Absolutely not. He didn’t allow Eve and Adam to live in God’s blessing in paradise without raising questions about God’s word. “Did God really say…?” How do you know that God isn’t keeping you in slavery when you could be gods yourselves?
Satan didn’t even shy away from questioning Jesus’ blessedness. “If you are really the Son of God, why are you left alone with me in the desert with rocks for bread?”
But God also asks. He questions those who have deceived themselves with false faith, “How do you know you’re saved?” He also questions those who believe in Christ and are His children. Through the apostle Paul he exhorts Christians to question themselves. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Cor. 13:5)
So is it God or the devil asking “How do you know you’re saved?”
Is it God or the devil speaking through the chief priest to Jesus: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Is it God, seeking to have Jesus confess the truth before the high council of Israel? After all, isn’t he in the office God set up to represent His people before Him in the temple? Or is it the devil, trying to make Jesus afraid, using the high priest’s appearance of holiness to make Jesus question whether His teaching is really the Word of God?
Is it God who asks Peter, warming himself by the fire, if he is a disciple of Jesus, so that Peter will be confess Jesus before men, so that Jesus may acknowledge Peter before the Father on the day of judgment?
Or is it the devil who asks Peter, trying to make Peter afraid, saying, “Are you sure Jesus is the Son of God? Are you sure that you are saved through Him? After all, Jesus is about to be condemned to death by the high council that God gave authority to judge in His name. They’re saying He’s not God’s Son, but a blasphemer. Are you sure that you’re ready to confess Him and die as a blasphemer with Him?”
This is not a question we can avoid any more than Peter could. Are you sure that you’re saved? How do you know?
We can say, “I believe, help Thou my unbelief!” Jesus does not put out the smoldering wick or break the bruised reed. But a person with such weak faith cannot be content to remain there. He prays, “Help Thou my unbelief” because the unbelief is sin. It is painful to be full of doubts about whether God receives you or whether you will be cast into the lake of fire.
When you are asked “How do you know if you’re saved?” the devil is asking to cast doubt on God’s Word. But God asks the question to remove our faith from ourselves and place it on solid ground—His promise. God asks to strengthen faith in His Word and weaken trust in ourselves. The devil asks to undermine faith in God’s word and to fill us with false confidence or to make us despair of God’s mercy.
How do you know if you’re saved? Do you have to do something to be saved?
The answer is…no—right? No, we don’t do anything to be saved. Jesus died for our sins on the cross. God promises us in the Gospel that our sins are forgiven because Jesus suffered and shed His blood for us.
Little kids seem to find comfort in this and rest in this. But then we get older, and we are tempted or tested. Yes, someone says, Jesus died for you, but do you really believe it? And the Bible verses are there asking the question too. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says (Matthew 7). “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). “No one who abides in Jesus keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as He is righteous” (1 John 3:6-7).
How do you know you’re saved? How do you know your faith is real?
Faith is not “doing something,” at least when it comes to being saved. Faith in Christ does indeed fight the sinful nature, love God, and do good works. But we are not pure faith. If we were, there would be no sin in us. But the old Adam is very much with us, and it neither loves God nor believes His Word, nor does good.
When it comes to being saved, faith is receptive, passive. It receives. Faith says yes and Amen not to itself but to God’s work and promise.
God’s promise in the Gospel is not conditional. He does not say, “Believe and then you will be worthy of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ blood.” He says, “Your sins are forgiven through the blood of my only Son.”
So also with Baptism. How do you know you are saved? Because I am baptized, and in Baptism Jesus works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation. That which He died to earn He gives in Baptism.
But then, the question arises, or the fear and doubt rises—“How can Baptism do all that? How can water applied to sinners deliver from death and hell? Are you trying to tell me that all the godless people I know who were baptized as infants are saved, even though they clearly live unrepentant lives?”
This is how we answer. It’s not just water that does these things; it’s the word of God in and with the water; the word of God saves, along with the faith that trusts this word of God in the water.
Baptism is powerful because it is not simply water. It is joined with God’s Word and His Name. Just as God promises that Jesus’ death on the cross atones for the sins of the world, so He promises that Baptism gives forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and salvation.
But if someone doesn’t believe that Jesus’ death on the cross won forgiveness of sins, that doesn’t take Jesus off the cross. It doesn’t take away the ransom for sin that He paid.
And when we go to the Lord’s Supper, if someone doesn’t believe that they are receiving Jesus’ body and blood and that their sins are forgiven, that doesn’t mean that Jesus’ word is wrong. It is still His body and blood; and it still is given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. Our faith doesn’t make Jesus’ word true or not true.
When we go to communion, we don’t go on the basis of our own faith. We go because of Jesus’ Word. He says, “Take, eat,” “take, drink.” He invites us. He says, “For you.” That ‘you’ includes us. He says, “This is my body. This is my blood.” If we focus on how much we believe that word of Jesus, we will never go. Our faith and our feelings are not as sure as they should be. We go with our weak faith and say, “Jesus, you say this is your body and blood and that it is for me, for the forgiveness of my sins. You know how weak or how strong my faith is. But I come on the basis of your word. And I do not hold to my feelings about what this is, but to Your Word that tells me.”
That’s how it is with Baptism.
However well our lives go, however holy we may seem, we will die and face judgment.
A few handfuls of water would be a pitiful thing to trust in the face of death and God’s judgment. But we don’t trust a few handfuls of water; we trust water joined with God’s command and His holy name. We trust His promise in the water; His promise is “You are baptized; you are given life even though you were dead. You are born again. You are justified—righteous in my sight. You receive grace.”
Our faith would also be a pitiful thing to trust in when we die and stand before God. I don’t mean to be rude, saying that. But just think of how hard a time we have trusting God when we are short on money, or when people treat us with contempt! To name the elephant in the room…think of how hard it is for us to trust God when the church shrinks instead of growing. “I will build my church” Jesus said. That sounds good as a general principle, but when attendance was around 215 souls per Sunday in 2004 and in 2012 it was about 130? Then faith is not so easy. We start trying to figure out what we have to do to get God to spare us. We start looking for sacrificial lambs. We start getting testy with each other and grumbling against whatever culprits we can find.
Now imagine the heavens being rolled up like a scroll, the stars falling from the sky, and the Son of Man coming in power and great glory with His holy angels to judge the living and the dead! Do you want to try to count on the strength of your faith then? I don’t.
Our faith doesn’t make Baptism. Faith counts on God’s work and on His promise. And He has put His promise in the water of Baptism. He has signed His holy name to the promise of Baptism.
That is what we hold to when the devil or people who do not believe in the gift of Baptism question our salvation. Hold to it when your own conscience is afraid.
And when God speaks to us in His law and says, “How do you know you’re really saved with all the sins you still fall into,” then too, we hold to His promise in Baptism. That is what He wants to teach us when He questions us, when He exposes how much sin and how little faith we have. He wants to teach us to cling to His work and His word and give up on our own thoughts and deeds, and also our senses.
In Baptism God gives us all of Christ—His death and resurrection.
In Baptism God places us in Him so that we can say—I have died and risen again.
Baptism is a lavish, rich, extravagant washing away of sin. God doesn’t make His Christians rich in this world, or great in number, or powerful. Not usually. Where He is rich and lavish is in the way that He forgives our sins.
Baptism is rich, abundant washing from sin. It is a bath of new birth. It makes us new creatures, and it renews us. The Old Adam is constantly bearing fruit for death, but baptism is daily a spring of living water that produces the fruit of Christ’s life in us. Out of these bodies of death, corrupt and helpless, through Baptism Jesus bears fruit that abides forever.
God has united us to Jesus in Baptism. In His Baptism He received our sins. In ours we receive His righteousness, His life, His victory over the devil and death for us. We can say: “I have died and been raised with Christ.”
Are you sure you’re saved? Indeed I am. Not because of my work or faith, but because of God’s unconditional promise and His complete work. He took away my sins on the cross. In Baptism He gave me new birth and continually makes me new until I come to the new heavens and earth.
The peace of God…
- The Monster of Uncertainty Invocabit Sermon 2013. Matthew 4 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Baptism: God stakes His honor, power, and might on it. Lenten Vespers Sermon Feb. 20 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Satan has lost everything. Oculi Sermon 2013. St. Luke 11.14-28 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)