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Saving Faith, Christ, and Salvation: What's the Recipe?

Mark 9:14-29

Pastor Jason Zirbel

16th Sunday after Pentecost B
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View PDF file

Sun, Sep 16, 2012 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

If a person doesn't believe or trust in something, does that necessarily mean that that certain something is powerless?  What role, if any, does my faith—my trust—play in giving something its power, efficacy, and validity?  Does my faith contribute to making something what it is?  Think about it like this: If I don't believe that gasoline is flammable, does it mean that gasoline is therefore not flammable?  Does it take the addition of my belief—my faith—to give gasoline its flammability?  If I don't believe in gravity, does it mean that I'm free to walk right off the edge of any cliff, building, or bridge?  Absolutely not!  Gravity works whether I believe in it or not!

It is with this understanding in mind that we turn our attention to the events of our Gospel lesson for this morning.  "I believe; help my unbelief!" Looking at the Gospel in a linear, chronological sense, this prayerful confession in verse 24 by a despondent father precedes and leads into the actual healing of the possessed boy in verses 25-27.  Because of the chronology of events, many people assume that the man simply needed "more faith" in order for Christ's miracle to work.  They treat this miracle of life like a recipe of sorts.  We have all the ingredients: the possessed boy, Jesus, His Word, and the dad's faith.  Well…something's not coming out right.  In the first few verses, the blame can easily be put on the disciples, can't it?  They weren't able to perform this miracle; something they had been able to done many times before.  The problem must be with them, right?  Does Jesus see it that way?  NO!  In fact, Jesus openly confronts the father (and the rest of the group) by calling them faithless. 

That leads to an interesting question: What role did the man's faith play in the healing of his son?  Did the man's faith contribute to the miraculous healing process?  If we come at this from a "logical, reasoned perspective," the answer must be "yes."  After all, the man had sought out help; help that wasn't working.  He was confronted with his unbelief and then acknowledged this same lack of faith.  He asked Christ to help and strengthen his unbelief.  Upon the completion of this request, the boy is miraculously healed.  It only stands to reason that the guy's prayer was answered.  His deficiency—his lack of faith—was answered with "more faith," thus giving the "miraculous healing recipe" that last little "oomph" it needed to make the miracle happen.

Ahhh…but this is coming at it from the perspective of man's reason and logic; his fallen, sinful, and arrogant reason and logic.  What does God's Word say about such arrogant foolishness?  "Arrogant foolishness?!" Yes…arrogant, sinful foolishness.  My friends: God is very clear throughout Scripture that He's 100%, completely in charge; He's the master potter and we are the lifeless lump of clay He breathes life into.  As almighty and all-powerful God, He does not need any help from us in order to accomplish His will.  We like to think so though, don't we? 

It is precisely this same arrogant, sinful foolishness that frustrates Jesus when the dad said to Him, "If you can; if you truly have the power to make this happen (as the Greek reads)…."  What's so bad about this?  Isn't he simply asking Jesus for help?  No, and the Greek makes that crystal clear.  That little word "IF" is a huge indicator of his doubting faithlessness.  "Jesus, if You have the power to do this, help my child."  My friends: This is all but the same language the devil used on Jesus when he tempted Him after forty days in the wilderness.  "If you are the Son of God, make rocks into bread or jump off the temple and let the angels catch you."  This is the same language the devil spoke through the people at the foot of Christ's cross on Good Friday.  "If you truly are the Son of God, save yourself and come down off your cross."  Kind of puts this man's request; his "faith" in a whole new light, doesn't it?  That's not true saving faith, is it?  True saving faith knows and trusts whole-heartedly that Jesus most certainly can heal this child with just one word.  In contradistinction to this sort of saving faith, this guy was flat-out saying, "I've heard great things about you.  I want to believe them, as crazy and far-fetched as they are.  If you really are the real deal, prove it and do this for me.  Do this for my child."

It is this conditional faith, which is really nothing more than faithlessness and doubt [conditional faith is no faith at all], that elicits Jesus' rebuke, "If I can; if I have the power!  If you had faith, you would already know that I most certainly can!  All things are possible for one who believes."  Think about that for a moment.  As Christians, we do confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord of all, that He can do anything, and that He will always provide us our daily bread.  Do we believe it though—wholeheartedly?  Don't be too quick on your answer.  Your fruits of faith betray your confession of faith.  You can fool everyone else, including yourself, but you can't fool God.

How many people do you know confess Christ as almighty and all-powerful Lord, yet openly and boldly deny His own words, "This is my body and my blood for the forgiveness of sins?" How many people do you know look to baptism as something they do in order to set themselves apart and prove to God and to everyone else that they are serious about being a committed Christian?  Yes...this has everything to do with faithful Word and Sacrament ministry!  Just think about what you see in Holy Baptism.  You witness with your own eyes God Almighty putting to death the Old Adam in that person, no matter how young or old, wise or stupid, rich or poor they may be, taking them by the hand and raising them out of the water of baptism into new and eternal life…though this reality is only recognized through the eyes of saving faith.  You witness true saving faith in action as parents bring their young babes to Christ; not to me; not to the bricks and mortar of Grace Lutheran Church, but to Christ Jesus Himself, trusting whole-heartedly that He is actively bringing His cross and resurrection to their child through the simple water combined with His holy Word and promise.  They know and they fully believe that Christ—and Christ alone—is the sole source of all life, forgiveness, and salvation for them, their children…for all mankind.  There is never a question of "If God is able to make this happen."  Instead, its just the opposite.  "We know that God can do this and will do this.  We faithfully obey our Lord's call and bring our child to Him to do exactly what He promises He will."

This takes us back to the opening questions: What role, if any, does my faith—my trust—play in giving something it's power, efficacy, and validity?  Does my faith contribute to making something what it is?  Let me ask you: Does faith put Christ, His forgiveness, and eternal life in the bread and wine of communion?  Does my faith make the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood?  Absolutely not!  It is Christ's body and blood because He says so!  This is why Paul is so clear in Corinthians in stating that those who do not discern the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine are eating drinking judgment upon themselves.  Christ says He is there, and some people insist on arguing, saying, "No you're not," essentially calling Christ a liar!  Does the parent's faith put Christ in the water of baptism?  Does the little baby's faith add to the recipe of salvation, giving this simple water combined with God's Word and promise that extra little "oomph" it needs to now be declared a "holy Baptism?" Absolutely not!  It is a precious and holy Baptism; a true gift of complete pardon and peace because Christ—and Christ alone—declares it as such.

Now, does faith play a role in our salvation?  Yes, but it doesn't make salvation.  It's not an ingredient in the recipe.  Rather, it's belief in the recipe.  "He that believes and is baptized will be saved.  He that does not believe is damned."  True, saving faith is really nothing more than a hug or an embrace.  It is nothing apart from the object it cleaves to.  That hug of saving faith contributes nothing to that which it cleaves to.  My hug on a Styrofoam ring doesn't now make that Styrofoam ring a buoyant life-preserver.  The foam ring is a buoyant life-preserver by itself—apart from me.  My faith doesn't give the Styrofoam that extra "oomph" it needs to become life-saving.  I simply cleave and hold fast to the life-preserver in faith because I know that it can and will save me.  True saving faith in Christ is no different.  It simply acknowledges and trusts Christ alone, holding fast to His Word and promise because true saving faith trusts wholeheartedly that Christ alone saves. 

My friends: When it comes to your salvation; your pardon; your peace that surpasses all understanding, Christ—and Christ alone—has already accomplished it all.  Salvation is not a recipe that requires your ingredient in order for it to now work and be effective.  That's as foolish as saying that gravity won't work unless I add my belief to it!  Jesus Christ already took each and every one of your sins upon Himself in His crucifixion.  On His bloody cross He suffered all our justly-deserved punishment, paying for each and every sin for each and every person for all time.  He had to.  Man cannot pay for even one single sin, let alone an entire lifetime's worth of sin.  The penalty for sin is so great that it can only be atoned for with the death of God Almighty.  Christ paid this debt—our debt—in full, charging all our sins to Himself, and then turning around and crediting His perfect righteousness to us; a credit which means complete forgiveness and life eternal; not because of anything we did to earn it, but solely out of His divine grace, compassion, and unconditional love for us. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ: May God grant you His peace; the peace that was won for us on the cross of Christ; the peace we were baptized into; the peace that surpasses all human understanding; the confident assurance of peace that drives away all doubt and fear and unbelief; the peace that is only apprehended and understood in true saving faith.  May He grant you this sure and certain peace as you now prepare to go out into the world to bear the almighty and blessed name of Christ in all your words and deeds; bearing that name that has already been put upon your head and heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ your Lord. 

AMEN



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