Collect of the Week
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us Your gifts of faith, hope, and love that we may receive the forgiveness You have promised and love what You have commanded; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified1 by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,2 so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
In the name of + Jesus.
Faith in Christ brings certainty. Faith in anything else, even the works that you do in love toward your neighbor, can bring doubt or fear, self-righteousness or despair.
It was years ago, in a Thursday morning Bible class, if I remember correctly, and I asked what I thought was a simple question: “How many of you are certain that you will be going to heaven?” I thought this was a slam dunk of a question; that all those pious Lutheran Christians would confidently raise their hands and say something like, “Yes, I know I’m going to heaven. Christ died for my sins.” But they didn’t. They weren’t certain. And after a bit of further discussion, I soon learned why.
All of them, every single one of them, believed the biblical (and historical) account of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. All of them believed that when Jesus died on the cross, He had paid for the sins of the world. All of them believed that Jesus’ resurrection was the sign of victory. But all of them, it turns out, were somehow afraid that if they didn’t do enough to live life as a Christian, they would somehow void the Gospel for themselves. They were certain of Jesus’ story, but they were still afraid that their own works would still somehow contribute to their justification—or in this case, their lack of it.
Thankfully, by the end of that session, when I asked the same question, all of the hands in the room went up immediately. Of course, they could have done that because they now knew the answer I was looking for. But I prefer to think that they had actually been reminded of what Paul writes in the passage above. I think they just needed to hear again, the Good News that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”
You see, looking to your heap of good works, or the many acts of service you’ve done for your neighbor in love, end up being the same as looking at your lack of good works—your sin—and fearing that it will separate you from the love of God in Christ. In either way, you end up trying to find your certainty—and as a result, your comfort—in something you are doing, rather than in what Christ has already done for you.
And that’s why faith in Christ brings certainty. Because in Christ, nothing is left undone. In Christ, the entire Law has been fulfilled. In Christ, everything demanded by the Father has been finished. And by faith in Christ, all of that is credited to you as your very own gift—a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.
So if you’re ever in one of my Bible classes, or I happen to run into you, and ask you the question, “Are you certain that you will be going to heaven?” Don’t think about what you’ve done; think about what Christ has done, and you will have the certainty to answer boldly, by faith: “Yes, because Christ has covered all my sins.” When Christ is your confidence, faith always brings certainty.
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Jesus lives! The vict’ry’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave will Christ recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; This shall be my confidence.
Jesus lives! I know full well Nothing me from Him shall sever. Neither death nor pow’rs of hell Part me now from Christ forever. God will be my sure defense; This shall be my confidence (LSB 490: 1,4). Amen.